Organizing Upgrade is a political project in support of the movements for multi-racial democracy. We believe the moment calls for building on many levels: a broad front against white nationalist authoritarianism, driven by a progressive front rooted in communities of color and working-class communities, and within that, a core of anti-capitalist/socialist activists. Our definition of democracy includes the full spectrum of social, economic, and political rights and equality. These are inextricably intertwined, with the struggle against racism and gender/sexuality expression at the core. We are based in movements in the United States while recognizing the importance of solidarity with similar movements around the world. We hope to further the work of movement building by providing a forum for strategic thinking and analysis, reflecting on organizing experiences, and lifting up the voices and work of people with the deepest stake in transformative change.
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.
Despite our defeat of Donald Trump’s bid for a second term, white nationalist authoritarians built on their 40+ years of political primacy under his administration. And the broader racist backlash gained power.
There are a number of other dangerous possibilities in this moment: the elimination of environmental regulations and the inadequate addressing of climate devastation continue to have irreversible impacts on the planet; the public sector is still being dismantled and privatized; women and LGBTQ people are facing threats to a series of basic rights; endless wars continue and the threat of new wars is growing ever stronger; and the federal judiciary, including the US Supreme Court, has been tilted hard right. 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 broad-front effort that defeated Trump, and our movements’ critical role in that, give us a lot to build on. The uprisings in the spring and summer of 2020 showed the depth of resistance to and breadth of support for racial justice. The success of movement-backed left candidates for local and Congressional seats invigorate the possibilities for inside-outside strategies. The resilience and militance of communities organizing in the COVID pandemic point to new possibilities for working people and people of color, especially as the pandemic has foregrounded systemic racism.
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. 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 need space to step back and reflect on these threats and possibilities. We need to understand the long-term trends that are shaping our political context, including: the decline of US power in the world; demographic shifts; the deepening climate crisis and the disasters it brings; and the growth of inequality rooted in the ways capitalism has been restructured over the last four decades. This necessitates moving beyond critical “think-pieces” and starting 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, and vice versa?
- How do we fight racism, defend immigrants, and work for gender justice while setting a strong class pole?
- What are effective tactics for conducting the fight against corporate Democrats on Democratic Party terrain? What are the possibilities for other electoral instruments?
- How can our work continue to build the broad front against white nationalist authoritarianism, and an anti-racist, anti-capitalist core within that?
Organizing Upgrade will address these issues by gathering strategic reflections and case studies from left organizers around the country. Our editorial team 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 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.
Submissions: We welcome submissions that reflect on these strategic positions, and we also welcome thoughtful challenges to these positions. There is no easy or simple path forward, and we believe that productive debate is essential for maturing social movements and the left. Please send us your ideas, feedback, submissions and thoughts. You can reach us at [email protected] You can also reach us on Facebook and Tweet us @Org_Up.
Organizing Upgrade has long been an all-volunteer project, but we are now undertaking an ambitious growth effort which, among other things, will lead to hiring paid staff in 2021 and 2022. Please consider giving OrgUp your financial support. You can make a one-time donation or sign up as a monthly sustainer here. (insert link). All contributions are tax-deductible as OrgUp is a project with 501(c)3 nonprofit status. All views expressed in articles and videos published by Organizing Upgrade are those of the writer or speaker and as a 501c3 project Organizing Upgrade does not support or oppose any candidate for public office.
Rishi Awatramani (he/him) brings a wealth of on-the-ground organizing experience to Organizing Upgrade. He was the Organizing and Communications Director at Virginia New Majority from 2009 until 2014. He previously worked as Leadership Development Director at Just Cause Oakland and a union organizer for homecare providers and low-income women of color in New York and San Jose. Rishi has also worked with social movements in India and Southern Africa. He is currently in graduate school at Johns Hopkins.[/vc_column_text]
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.
Tobita Chow is the founding Director of Justice Is Global, a special project of People’s Action to build a just and sustainable global economy and defeat right-wing nationalism. He is an organizer, a political educator, and a leading progressive strategist and critic regarding the US–China relationship and the rise of Sinophobia in the U.S. Prior to founding Justice Is Global in 2019, he had a decade of experience as a leader in community organizing in Chicago.
Xiomara (she/they) has spent the last 20 years working for justice as both staff in the non-profit sector and as volunteer. Xiomara has a deep history working on immigrant rights, voter engagement, reproductive justice, and capacity building. Their work has always been centered on raising up migrant leaders to demand economic, social and political justice. More recently, Xiomara has been working with migrants and migrant rights efforts in Tijuana. Xiomara is also a parent of two wonderful children.
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 work.
Luke Elliott-Negri (he/him) conducts labor research at the School of Labor and Urban Studies of the City University of New York and is a doctoral candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center. He writes about electoral politics and labor organizing, and his co-authored book project about social movement success and failure is under review at Oxford University Press. Luke is in elected leadership in his union local, and is a member of DSA & the DSA Socialist Majority Caucus.
Stephanie Luce is a professor at the School of Labor and Urban Studies/CUNY. She is the author of Labor Movements: Global Perspectives and Fighting for a Living Wage. Her writing can be found at stephanieluce.net.
Whitney Maxey (she/hers) has done community organizing for the past 10+ years primarily in electoral and housing issues in Florida. For the past 4 years she has primarily been focused on state-based grassroots political organization and power building projects. All of her organizing experience has been working predominantly within working-class Black and Latinx communities. As a member of the Organizing Upgrade editorial collective, Whitney brings on-the-ground organizing experience, some political analysis and strategy knowledge and skills, and some organizational development experience to the team.
Marcy Rein is a writer, editor, and organizer who has engaged with a wide range of social movements and organizational forms. She co-authored Free City! The Fight for San Francisco’s City College and Education for All (with Mickey Ellinger and Vicki Legion, PM Press, 2021); with Clifton Ross, she co-edited Until the Rulers Obey: Voices From Latin American Social Movements (PM Press, 2014).
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. Find more of his writing at jacobswensonlengyel.com.
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.
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 works as Deputy Organizing Director with the New Georgia Project.
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.
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.