By Meghan Feeks
Women are running for office in record numbers this year, but campaigns aren’t the only things they’re running. Fueled by outrage with the Trump Administration and passion for progressive issues, women are also leading grassroots efforts around the country (and world!) to mobilize voters, organize communities and advocate for causes they care about.
One woman leading this charge is Katie Hogan, a long-time Obama staffer who says this surge in activism is certainly reason to feel hopeful. But if there’s one thing she learned from her former boss, it’s that outrage and passion can only go so far without the tools needed to effect real change.
Now serving as executive director of the non-partisan grassroots group Organizing for Action (OFA), Hogan is overseeing a nationwide effort to equip volunteers with the tools they need to advance progressive issues from the bottom up. At its core are free training and fellowship programs that aim to turn concerned citizens into activists, activists into community organizers, and organizers into leaders.
Hogan recently spoke in London about the power of grassroots organizing, OFA’s priorities for 2018 and beyond, and how likeminded Americans living abroad can help. Following are five takeaways from her talk:
1. “Change requires more than righteous anger. It requires a program, and it requires organizing.” So wrote President Obama in a recent email to OFA supporters, and according to Hogan, this philosophy is the organization’s driving force. Founded at the beginning of Obama’s second term, OFA sought to harness the energy of his re-election campaign for future legislative fights — so its volunteers entered the Trump era fully prepared to take action.
“Right away, we got to work ramping up an aggressive digital campaign, hiring local organizers and activating our longstanding chapter network,” she said. “We trained more than 45,000 volunteers and made 65,000 calls to Congress in 2017 alone. All in all, more than 1.8 million people took action with OFA last year.”
2. When constituents speak up, lawmakers change their minds. OFA trains volunteers on community organizing basics, both on its own and in partnership with likeminded grassroots groups, such as Swing Left and Indivisible. By all accounts, their efforts are working.
“At the start of 2017, Obamacare was at the top of the chopping block. But we trained 50,000 volunteers on how to have conversations about healthcare and tell their Congress members not to take it away,” Hogan explained.
“Months down the line, we now have Senator McCain saying he won’t vote for Obamacare repeal — after years of promising to repeal it. The only thing that’s made this possible is grassroots organizers: constituents spoke up, and lawmakers changed their minds. And this happened because we had a grassroots network that was trained year after year to activate — on that key issue, and at that key moment.”
3. Anyone can be an organizer. The key is opportunity. Hogan said the OFA strives to make its free trainings as inclusive and accessible as possible, minimizing barriers to entry and allowing for diverse organizers to participate.
“What we’ve seen in places like Tennessee is that when there are people on the ground driving progressive values, the politics will follow. The key is to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to get involved,” she stressed, adding that the accessibility of OFA’s trainings is reflected in the diversity of its volunteers.
“Of the 422 graduates of our spring 2018 fellowship program, 50% are people of color, 72% are women and 60% are brand new to activism. We also have 125 chapters in 39 states — including very red states — so newly engaged people can easily plug into that knowledge base and hit the ground running.”
4. “The power of an ask is worth a million in advertising.” Issues-based organizing is OFA’s bread-and-butter, but leading up to the midterms, it’s also focusing on electoral work. A new training curriculum is supporting its efforts to engage and register voters, but according to Hogan, the most advanced tool for getting out the vote is simply human contact — and ideally with people you know.
“Phone-banking, voter registration drives and social media are all great tactics that we use. But research shows people are much more likely to turn out if they’re asked personally,” she said.
“This is one of the biggest ways US expats can help: when Americans ask people they know to show up, the power of that ask is worth a million in advertising.”
5. Progressive change requires representative democracy. According to Hogan, Republican gerrymandering over the years has systematically left many progressives without a voice in government — and in cases of voter suppression, more still have been left without a vote.
In partnership with former attorney general Eric Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee, OFA is organizing special trainings in states where redistricting and voting rights will be key issues in 2018 and will continue ramping up efforts leading up to 2020.
“This is mostly an education campaign right now, as the pathway to fixing gerrymandering is different in Wisconsin than it is in Iowa. But I strongly urge all Americans to educate themselves about redistricting efforts in their state,” she said.
“Our focus on redistricting and voting rights is at the direct request of President Obama — activism, organizing and voting can’t work if the system is rigged against you.”
OFA trainings, toolkits and resources are open to all Americans — including expats! To learn more, take action, start a chapter or become a community organizer, visit www.ofa.us.
To learn more about redistricting efforts in your state, visit www.democraticredistricting.com.
Want to take action through Democrats Abroad? Find out the many ways you can here. Passionate about women’s issues? So are we! To get involved in the DAUK Women’s Caucus, please send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last but not least, special thanks to Mark Bergman, Laura Mosedale, Jim Clark and Tangy Morgan for organizing this event. To stay informed about future events and weekly teleconferences with progressive candidates and public figures, please email Mark Bergman at email@example.com.