We re-launched Organizing Upgrade in 2017 to serve as a space where left organizers can discuss strategy and share organizing models that respond to the profound dangers and the real opportunities of this political moment.
The Trump administration poses a series of grave threats. Most central is the dangerous ascent of white nationalism, which — after years of racist backlash and the strategic use of race by the Republican Party — now has sway at the very center of executive power in this country. This is, in turn, is energizing grassroots mobilization among white supremacist forces of many stripes.
There are a number of other dangerous possibilities in this moment: the elimination of environmental regulations will have irreversible impacts on the planet, the public sector is under threat of dismantling and privatization, women and LGBTQ people are facing threats to a series of basic rights and the threat of war is growing ever stronger. Left organizers need a space for deep discussion and debate over strategic responses to these threats, and Organizing Upgrade will serve as one forum for that debate.
But this is not a moment to only focus on defense. There are also a number of significant opportunities for expansion and real advance in this moment. The breakout success of the Sanders campaign and his continued popularity as a political figure challenge left organizers to step into the progressive possibilities of the “populist moment.” And in response to the extreme dangers of our moment, we have seen the emergence of a powerful mass opposition to Trump, from the Women’s March through the recent mobilizations against white supremacy.
Everywhere from the base of progressive movements to progressive institutions and even well into the liberal world, there is new openness to left analyses and to radical race and class politics. And there are a lot of exciting new electoral initiatives, based on different versions of an “inside/outside” strategy, that are developing around the country. The dynamics of our moment have created real possibilities for rebuilding a left based on multi-racial class solidarity, a holistic and internationalist vision and a determination to break out of the margins and get to the center of national politics.
To respond to these dangers and threats, left organizers needs space to step back and reflect on these threat and possibilities and to place them in the context of the long-term trends that are shaping our political context: the decline of US power in the world, demographic shifts, and the growth of inequality that has stemmed from neoliberalism. We have to move beyond critical “think-pieces” and start to answer the hard strategic and practical questions of this moment, like:
- How do we convert the energy we see in the streets to electoral power?
- How do we fight racism and defend immigrants while setting a strong class pole?
- What are effective tactics for conducting the fight against corporate Democrats on Democratic Party terrain?
- And how do we do this while building the broadest possible front against Trump and Trumpism?
Organizing Upgrade will address these issues by gathering strategic reflections and case studies from left organizers around the country. Our editorial team — Rishi Awatramani, Calvin Cheung-Miaw, Julie Chinitz, Kim Diehl, Max Elbaum, Harmony Goldberg, Maria Poblet, Eric Robertson, Stina Rose Marie, Jacob Swenson-Lengyel, Claire Tran, and Bob Wing — comes from a vantage point that places the struggle against racism at the center of building a powerful multi-racial working class movement in this country. We think that the left and social movements cannot work in isolation; we need to be prioritize building broad fronts in opposition to the emergence of the right. We are all part of the political trend that is working to build left inside-outside projects that enable us to wield mass people power both at the ballot box and in the streets.
We welcome submissions that reflection these strategic positions, and we also welcome thoughtful challenges to these positions. There is no obvious path forward, and we believe that productive debate will strengthen our work. Please send us your ideas, feedback, submissions and thoughts. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach us on Facebook.
Now in graduate school at Johns Hopkins, Rishi Awatramani (he/him) brings a wealth of on-the-ground organizing experience to Organizing Upgrade. He was the Lead Organizer and Communications Director at Virginia New Majority from 2009 until last year. He previously worked as Leadership Development Director at Just Cause Oakland and as a union organizer for homecare providers and low-income women of color with both SEIU Local 1199 in New York and SEIU Local 715 in San Jose. Rishi has also worked with social movements in India and South Africa.
Calvin Cheung-Miaw (he/him) is a student in the San Francisco Bay Area who has been active in the labor, anti-war, and immigrant rights movements. In November 2016 he authored the article “Trump’s Victory Is a Wake-Up Call to the Left” and he is currently involved in efforts to build left unity around an anti-right wing, inside/outside political strategy.
Formerly policy director and staff attorney at Alliance for a Just Society, Julie (she/hers) has helped develop numerous legislative campaigns and provided education on law and policy. In addition to her work at AJS, she’s been on staff at Northwest Health Law Advocates and People’s Action. Her writing appears in Zyzzyva, Confrontation, LitHub, and elsewhere.
Max Elbaum (he/him) has been active in peace, anti-racist and radical movements since joining SDS in Madison, Wisconsin in the 1960s. The third edition of his book, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che, was released by Verso in 2018. Each fall he runs a Marathon for Peace to benefit antiwar and anti-militarist projects, most recently US Labor Against the War.
Stina Rose Marie
Stina Rose Marie (she/they) is an organizer in rural and small town WA State, not far from where she was raised. She has spent a decade working to build people power to fight for affordable housing, immigrant rights, healthy land and water, and Indigenous sovereignty with various local, statewide and national groups. Currently, she’s a member of LeftRoots and co-founder of a rural worker’s organization fighting for a just Green New Deal.
Jacob Swenson-Lengyel (he/him) is an organizer and strategist with a background in social movement communications. He has worked for People’s Action and Interfaith Worker Justice and is currently a Program Manager at Narrative Initiative. He was one of the founding members of The People’s Lobby in Chicago and he served as the membership coordinator for Graduate Students United at University of Chicago. His writing and letters have appeared in The Point Magazine, In These Times, The Chicago Sun-Times, and The Hill.
Claire Tran (they / she pronouns) is a strategist with a background in integrated voter engagement, community organizing, training, and facilitation with organizations including AAPIs for Civic Empowerment Education Fund (AAPI FORCE-EF), URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, SOUL: School of Unity & Liberation, New Virginia Majority, and the Right to the City Alliance. Claire currently works for the State Power Caucus.
Kim Diehl (she/her) is a writer and organizer whose profession is communicating stories about the power of people working collectively. Kim is a member of Freedom Road Socialist Organization and Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to opposing the expansion of the prison industrial complex. Her writings have appeared in Color Lines, Southern Exposure magazine and Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption (South End Press).
Harmony Goldberg (She/her) is a left educator and writer, based in Brooklyn, New York. Harmony helped to found SOUL, the School of Unity and Liberation, and she’s been running political education courses for grassroots organizations rooted in multi-racial working class communities ever since. She has worked most deeply in the youth movement and the domestic workers movement historically, and she is currently working closely with People’s Action and the Grassroots Policy Project. And she talks about Gramsci a lot.
Maria Poblet has a couple decades of community organizing experience, a smart mouth, and an optimism of the will. She helped build racial & economic justice powerhouse Causa Justa Just Cause, as it’s first Executive Director. She is the Executive Director of Grassroots Policy Project and also a co-founder of the US Chapter of the World March of Women and of LeftRoots.
Eric Robertson is a labor and electoral strategist who spent 18 years working in the Teamsters union as a rank and file member activist at UPS and on staff after an insurgent takeover of his union. A strong supporter of Stacey Abrams, Eric left his union job to work on various projects to support her bid for Governor. Eric currently does consulting for progressive insurgents running for office and is a member of the Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America.
Bob Wing has been an organizer and writer since 1968, and was the founding editor of ColorLines magazine and War Times/Tiempo de Guerras newspaper. He is the author of Towards Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction. He works for the State Power Caucus.