Meet our newest alumni from #repowerDOS

By Arianna Genis
Deputy Communications Director, re:power

Hey — meet Nhawndie, Ada, Oscar, and Nancy. Our latest #repowerDOS alumni who’ve joined a bench of digital organizers dedicated to inclusive politics

Inclusive politics is a framework that makes space and creates structures for the leadership, needs, and victories of who we have identified as our communities: primarily people of color, and specifically, women of color. It means that those lived experiences, perspectives, and ideas are represented in our government and power structures.

We just wrapped up our seventh Digital Organizer School in Houston, TX, where we met organizers from across the country working in all fronts of the movement. Whether it be candidate campaigns, culture change work for black liberation, rapid response organizing to protect our immigrant communities, or political organizing for people of color, they were gathered to learn more about how digital organizing could help them win.

Here’s quick recap of what went down when all these organizers got in the same room together at #repowerDOS:

For five days, organizers were immersed in a process of strategic decision-making and digital organizing, grounded in a framework of inclusive politics informed by values of racial, gender and economic justice.

People were placed into teams and tasked with putting together a campaign plan, based on campaign scenarios we’d created for them. Within a day of knowing each other, organizers developed campaigns to end cash bail, raise the minimum wage and to get potential local candidate “Donna Getwright” elected. Throughout the week, organizers learned how to execute on key digital tactics like writing effective emails, raising money online, shifting dominant narratives, coding, and data and analytics.

The challenge for organizers was to apply what they were learning, in real time, to their campaign plan. Everyone in the room was encouraged to share their expertise and to collaborate and try new tactics.

At the end of the week, each team presented their campaign plan to the room. They were evaluated by their coaches and peers on their strategic capacity. Here’s a glimpse into the type of feedback organizers received:

  • Praise and questions about the public education plan for the #EndCashBail campaign — Organizers knew many folks, even when impacted, may not understand the issue, so how were they going to talk to their people?
  • Recommendations on how to take the SMS strategy of the Raise the Wage campaign to a new level — Organizers understood that a key way to grow support for the campaign was to support workers in connecting with each other, through their phones.
  • Questions and praise about the tactics Donna Getwright’s campaign proposed to measure the quality of conversations they were having with voters — Organizers wanted to move beyond transactional tactics to building stronger relationships with voters.

Now, let’s meet some of the incredible organizers who were a part of #repowerDOS:

Nhawndie Smith (they/their)

Co-Director, Ignite NC

Ignite NC is creating a cultural shift of what it means, looks like, sounds like, and feels like to organize in the South today. For them, organizing in the South today means a radical politic. It looks like growing into your authentic self unapologetically. It sounds like the demands for collective liberation. And it feels like being the leaders those before us knew we would be.

Hi! Tell us about what you do, and what brought you to Houston this week?

I’m Nhawndie Smith, and I’m the Co-Director of Ignite NC. I became the co-director in January of this year — previously I was an organizer and started at the organization as a fellow. My role focuses on fundraising, management of staff, and ensuring that our fellowship program has impact. That means I am measuring how and where folks are developed, how they’re utilizing the skills they are taught, how they are mentoring the new people coming into the fellowship program, and their impact throughout North Carolina.

How will you use the digital skills you are learning this week in your work?

A good chunk of our base are students — they are engaging with each other online, so we need to be in that space and learn how to strengthen that muscle. What is a way beyond peer-to-peer texting with targeted messaging that engages people in the political process? North Carolina has the second largest university system — how do we talk to young people? How do we show them that their work matters and that it matters that young people stay in North Carolina? Right now, in the midst of the census work, redistricting, people being encouraged to run for office — what is the narrative of North Carolina, to people inside and outside the state?

Ignite NC’s base is largely queer and trans folks — so how are we focusing our digital organizing on the things that impact our people the most?

Ada Tong (she/her)

Constituent Services Coordinator, Office of IL State Rep. Theresa Mah

A resident of McKinley Park, Chicago, Illinois State Representative Theresa Mah has fought tirelessly for working families, focusing on education, job growth, and immigrant rights. In November 2016, Theresa made history by becoming the first Asian American elected to the Illinois General Assembly.

Hi! Tell us about yourself and what you do.

Hi, my name is Ada Tong, and I work for a state legislator in Illinois, State Rep. Theresa Mah. My day-to-day consists of interacting with the community and performing basic constituent services. This includes writing, organizing information, and building relationships. I met Rep. Mah through the Chinese-American community in Chicago, where I live, and started working for her after she took office.

What’s a learning moment you’ve had in this training?

I really enjoyed the session “Design For The Movement” — the idea that organizations do strategic planning, but too often don’t involve designers or digital organizers shows me how this work is an afterthought. We learned that content should precede design, so how can we be on the forefront of making this happen for the movement? The opposition has this part down. We’re trying to catch up. The arts and humanities need to be involved in the strategy component, it’s part of the reason why electoral politics is so dry when it doesn’t need to be.

Oscar Hernandez (him/his)

Lead Census Organizer, Houston in Action

Houston in Action brings people together to collaborate on projects, one of those projects is organizing to ensure all communities are counted the other is GenHTX. GenHTX amplifies the voices of the next generation of Houston’s leaders. They believe that when young people are given opportunities to shape the systems and structures that support our communities, we can all build a better future.

Hi! Tell us about yourself and what you do.

My name is Oscar Hernandez, and I am the Lead Census Organizer at Houston in Action. I started this role a few months ago; previously, I was an organizer for United We Dream Houston, and a founding member for this chapter.

At Houston in Action, my work is focused on making sure that unaccounted for communities are represented in the organizing work we do. Currently, we work with coalitions of nonprofits, business, and city organizations to make sure that everyone gets counted in the census, and to identify and address the structural barriers that prevent people from being counted.

What was a learning moment for you during the training?

I’ve wanted to do more coding work for a while — I learned the basics here during a session and I’ve made sure to continue practicing during our breaks. I want to understand and learn more. In my previous role at United We Dream, I did a lot of visual storytelling. I taught myself how to do it, and I wasn’t always able to make the graphics or the videos I wanted because I didn’t know how. I’m learning how to grow those skills at DOS, and I can now better articulate the value of digital work and why it matters, and how it helps our organizing programs. I also know that you can’t change narrative overnight. I’m learning how this plays out in the digital space — all of this is new context for me, and it’s exciting. When it comes to writing for an organization, I’m also learning that I don’t have to lose the person-to-person connection, while developing an organizational voice.

Nancy Musinguzi (they/their)

Multimedia Artist, Arts and Culture Lead at Black Visions Collective

Black Visions Collective (BLVC) is a Black, Trans, and Queer led organization in affiliation with the Black Lives Matter Global Network and the official chapter in Minnesota. Their work is grounded in long-term systems change campaigns, community engagement, political education, leadership development, and cultural organizing rooted in transformative justice through a Black queer feminist lens.

Hi! Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I am a black, first-generation, African immigrant, queer, multimedia and community-based artist. My art includes photography and dance. I am also a documentarian. After the tragic death of Trayvon Martin I was politicized in new ways, and this was a turning point for me. My art practice shifted to be more of a social practice grounded in social justice.

In BLVC, I lead the arts and culture work which focuses on black youth in the community who are interested in working at the intersection of art and organizing. Right now, I’m prioritizing building our membership by organizing intentional community spaces for black youth that offer a radical political education and also, center their needs, stories, and safety.

How will you use the digital skills you are learning this week in your work?

I plan to use these skills in my art practice and in my organizing. I plan to apply what I learn to the black youth arts and organizing cohort program I’m launching this summer with BLVC. The cohort will be made up of six youth artists. Through the program I hope to bridge the relationship between arts and organizing, where art is centered as a strategic tool to transform the lives of black folks in Minnesota.

With this cohort, I want to help give artists a more prominent role in organizing — I want to give youth an opportunity for an arts education that recognizes their identity, culture, and history.

That’s a wrap! We’re excited to see the ways the alumni of #repowerDOS will use their new skills to change the world.

Until next time!

The amazing training team — Juanita, Jane, Lee, Amber and Fresco — organizing digitally for the camera;)

Want to know more about what we’re up to? Tweet at us at @repowerorg, and follow along as we come to a city near you! You can also find out more on repower.org.

We believe in a future of inclusive politics where decisions about our communities are made by our communities at all levels.