TITLE: Democracy on the ballot and in the streets
AUTHOR: Afua Atta-Mensah

“Thank you for reminding us that the struggle for justice is fought and won in every generation.” –Rep Justin Jones speaking to the Tennessee House of Representatives, April 10, 2023

April delivered a series of reminders that we’re in our generation’s fight for justice and democracy right now. And organizing in three states–Tennessee, Illinois, and Wisconsin–makes me think we’re winning.

Tennessee: The April 6th expulsions of State Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson from the Tennessee State House shocked the nation, and in their wake, Community Change’s partner, Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), alongside its allies, stepped up to help defend democracy and catalyze a statewide movement for transformational change.

To support the important work of organizers on the ground, our team provided immediate capacity to help TIRRC Votes and their allies meet the moment with digital organizing and fundraising tools, and we elevated their profiles with national funders and progressive allies. I also traveled to Nashville with a few colleagues to discuss with TIRRC how the movement might leverage this historic moment to organize and to shift the political landscape in the state. 

With the nation’s eyes on Tennessee, we saw the essential elements that a victory for democracy – the reinstatement of Jones and Pearson – requires: the long, deep organizing of statewide grassroots organizations, gifted local leadership, and strategic national intervention aligned with groups on the ground. We bore witness to a moment that changed the political possibility for the future of the state.

Chicago & Wisconsin: Days before the “Tennessee Two” were expelled from their seats, the people of Chicago and Wisconsin went to the polls and delivered resounding victories to progressive candidates. Voters of color cast pivotal votes, informed by our partners’ nearly 280,000 attempts on doors and phones across these races in the final weeks before Election Day.

In Chicago, the alliance between our partners Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) Action and Center for Racial and Gender Equity (CRGE) continued to show the power our communities can wield when we come together. Building on their victories in the 2022 midterms, ICIRR and CRGE mobilized Black, Latino, and immigrant communities to move beyond the entrenched status quo with a candidate aligned with a progressive vision of safety and security.

As Chicago mayor-elect Brandon Johnson said: “This election showed the power of grassroots voter organizing. It required resilience, leadership, and strategy at the national and state level to create the victory we witnessed. The contributions of Community Change Action were invaluable as were the field power impact we have come to expect from Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights Action. As a union organizer myself, I know what a people-powered movement can do. This is only the beginning. Let’s roll up our sleeves together for what comes next.”  

In Wisconsin, CRGE joined forces with Voces de la Frontera Action to swing the state Supreme Court left and deliver a victory for organizing, democracy, and freedom. In the upcoming term, the state Supreme Court will decide cases regarding gerrymandering that has rigged the state legislature for the right and an abortion law that traps women in 1849. This moment provided a unique opportunity to educate, connect with, and mobilize disenfranchised and disenchanted voters. 

These victories reflect the long partnership and investments Community Change Action has made in our state partners and the political power we helped them to build. We threw down with them in a multitude of ways that demonstrate the breadth of our electoral program: hybrid field campaigning; innovative distributed organizing and relational voter contact practices; and implementation of message and narrative research, delivered by trusted messengers and targeted to counter disinformation, that mobilizes voters of color. 

Progressive victories in Chicago, Tennessee, and Wisconsin set the stage for competitive state and federal races in 2024. They help to reset what is politically possible for key issues like child care, affordable housing, and guaranteed income. With year-round voter engagement, electoral capacity building, and early support, Community Change Action and our partners will be ready for the next front in our generation’s struggle for liberation.


Care Workers Can’t Wait

We have always had a strategy for child care and this month’s is no different as we stepped up the intensity with the April Care Workers Recognition Month and doubled down on sharing the demands and lives of child care workers across the country. Community Change was among the co-sponsors of the first-ever Care Workers Can’t Wait Summit held in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.We know that the foundation of a strong economy is a strong care economy, but care workers are sounding the alarm that their workforce is in crisis. We joined the National Domestic Workers Alliance, SEIU, AFL-CIO, AFT, AFSCME, MomsRising, Care in Action, and Care Can’t Wait for a historic convening of workers from throughout the care economy lifting their voices to say #CareCantWait

Our child care base showed up in a big way for this important event. Our team turned out more than 30 local leaders from eight states who traveled to D.C. to attend the summit. The plenary sessions at the event featured stories and insights from our grassroots partners and Childcare Changemaker leaders — including workshops on our partner OLE’s recent constitutional amendment victory in New Mexico and our upcoming Day Without Child Care national action. 

Some of our Childcare Changemakers and organizing partners were also selected to attend a White House event honoring family caregivers, early educators, and long-term care workers. Together, we celebrated the signing of President Biden’s historic executive actions to improve care for hard-working families while supporting care workers and family caregivers. Care workers have fought hard for years for their work to be recognized and prioritized. Given that the care industries are led disproportionately by women of color, the White House’s sweeping set of executive actions gets us closer to closing the racial and gender wealth gaps. You can read more about our child care strategy and work here

#PuttingTenantsFirst Housing Justice Tour


On April 11, we kicked off the Put Tenants First! Housing Justice Tour in collaboration with our partners HousingLOUISIANA, Detroit People’s Platform, Residents United Network, Freedom BLOC, Resident Action Project, and Residents Organizing for Change. Everyone deserves a safe place to call home, and it’s time for a transformative federal housing agenda that prioritizes housing justice, centers race and gender equity, and creates opportunity.

Community Change has been working for over a year to organize this tour, which puts officials from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) into conversation with tenants in HUD-subsidized housing. The tour will visit three cities — Lafayette, LA, Cottage Grove, OR, and Akron, OH — to advocate for local jurisdictions to end the criminalization of people experiencing homelessness and to support tenant organizing that holds landlords accountable. The tour will conclude in D.C. in a May meeting to continue advocating for tenant-centered solutions with HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge and legislators. As we embark on a national housing tour, we’re centering the voices of grassroots leaders who have the experience and expertise on local housing policies that work and could be expanded with adequate funding. With the safety and security of home, all of us can thrive.

Follow the tour on social media with #PutTenantsFirst and #HousingJustice!

Strengthening the field’s organizers


Organizers are the backbone of the movement, and Community Change is celebrating the next phases of two leadership development programs. Power 50 Turns 5 Years Old. Join us as we build the newest cohort of women of color making change. (video credit: Cristina Rayas)  

Our cutting-edge women of color leadership development program, Power 50, is launching into its fifth year! Power 50 is a 9-month, cohort-based program that provides the deep grounding, tools, practices, political analysis, and relationships that women of color organizers need to stay the course of their convictions and lead boldly in a complex world.

We also completed the second year of our Management Cohort for executive directors, lead organizers, and organizing directors of our partner groups. It is one-part hard skills training, one part coaching and mentoring, and one part group examination of management-related issues for folks seeking to build the skills required to run an organization that centers organizing.        

Although many groups offer training for community organizers, there’s a lack of focus on organizations’ management, which is vital to our field. The Management Cohort runs for seven months, grounded in training from The Management Center (TMC), one-on-one coaching, and monthly peer coaching sessions, and facilitated conversations about successes and challenges that participants are experiencing. 

Guaranteed Income + Worker Power

Community Change is working to make income support policies more broadly resonant by laying the foundation for a new framework for guaranteed income — and helping to connect the dots between guaranteed income and worker power.

At the height of the pandemic and the burgeoning strike wave, we wanted to understand how our pandemic-era safety net was helping create the conditions necessary for more aggressive labor activity. In partnership with the Economic Security Project, we started exploring the connection between cash assistance and increased worker power. We convened a wide array of labor, academic, advocacy, and organizing groups to try to unpack what we were witnessing firsthand — the best labor market for low-wage workers in decades, evidence that workers were able to quit bad jobs and upgrade their work conditions, and the continued growth of collective labor action. We raised a question that challenged the conventional wisdom: how might guaranteed income policies be helping to fuel this power shift from employers to workers?

That question has been the animating force behind this project ever since. After our first convening, we commissioned new political science research on this topic and hosted additional conversations among labor, community organizers, fiscal policy experts, and academics. This project has built trust and understanding across different economic policy stakeholders and deepened advocacy and organizing leaders’ understanding of guaranteed income as a labor power tool that has the potential to build more power for workers.

At the state level, we are supporting the efforts of a core group of grassroots partners that are developing a long-term guaranteed income strategy in their states. We will continue to use this lens of power as we craft organizing plans with our partners to win income support policies in states like Colorado, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, and Minnesota. We’re not just trying to win these policies to solve poverty — we’re trying to fundamentally shift economic power in this country.


Democracy lost, but Justin J. Pearson and Justin Jones are back

Democracy took a major hit this month in Nashville. With the expulsion of Tennessee representatives Justin J. Pearson and Justin Jones, America and the world got to see how democracy is impacted by racism and discrimination. Read more about the impact on democracy, Tennessee, and gun control laws in this MLK50 piece by Communications Fellow Wendi Thomas. 

Photo Credit: Andrea Morales

Alicia Garza’s Podcast Lady Don't Take No interviews Co-President Dorian Warren

Alicia Garza welcomes scholar and organizer Dorian Warren to the podcast. Warren, the Co-President of Community of Change, and Co-founder of the Economic Security Project, breaks down what it will take to get our economy on track, and why it’s so important to fight for change at the local level.

Mothers of Color Organizing - Changewire

Amid all of the buzz about parents’ rights, Joanna Geller, director of policy research and evaluation at NYU Metro Center, and Jennifer Cossyleon, senior policy and advocacy manager at Community Change released a report describing the landscape of organizing led by mothers of color and the leadership development that’s happening in every pocket of the country.

Mark Your Calendars: May 8 is Day Without Child Care

Join child care providers and families across the country in Childcare Changemakers’ 2nd Annual Day Without Childcare! Through in-person events to online pledges, everyone can get involved.