It would be easy to despair in times like these. Powerful corporations profit from our climate crisis. Millions suffer from war or must flee their homes, and democracy is under attack.
This is a time when we need each other more than ever. Yet many people feel alone. Communities are divided, and the greedy and powerful exploit these divisions.
And yet with all these reasons to despair, I hope.
Why do I hope? Because of people - the people I meet as I travel around the country to fulfill the promise of the Organizing Revival People’s Action launched at our convention this June. Because they hope, I do, too.
I hope because of Senator Robert Peters. As a teenager on Chicago’s South Side, Robert was frustrated when friends and neighbors got stuck behind bars because they couldn’t afford to pay to go free. So he got involved with The People’s Lobby, where he joined their campaign to end cash bail. This September, they won: Illinois became the first state in the nation to end the practice of jailing people simply because they are poor.
“This transformative change shows the incredible set of possibilities for criminal legal reform at a moment when some are declaring defeat in the face of racist backlash,” said Will Tanzman, TPL’s executive director, writing about the victory for The Nation. “Organizers are also clear that ending money bail is not the end of this fight but rather a step toward abolition and liberation and will be working on the next set of structural fights for a world where communities are safe because people have the resources they need to thrive.”
I also hope because of Gina Morin, a leader from the Maine People’s Alliance, who I met a few weeks ago at an Organizing Revival event. When Gina was disabled and forced to leave her job, she found it hard to survive in her hometown of Auburn and became homeless. She struggled with substance abuse and fell into deep despair.
A caseworker put Gina in touch with MPA in 2017. She quickly got involved with the organization, where she found a new community and a new sense of purpose. She began to speak out about Maine’s housing and overdose crises, climate change, and joined their fight for a living wage. It was a fellow MPA member who, when she found out Gina was living in a motel, helped her find the small house where she now lives.
Gina now co-chairs MPA’s citizen lobbying team, and a well-known and respected figure at Maine’s state capitol, where she advocates for policy changes. She has helped win renter’s rights, green energy jobs and investments in child care. “Being involved gave me my voice back,” Gina says of her work with MPA. “I’m also speaking for those who feel like they haven’t yet found their voice, who feel forgotten and they’re not important, but they are - and their stories are important.”
I think about Little Rock, where I went to join the Arkansas Public Policy Panel to celebrate their 60th anniversary. I watched Panel members role-play to practice talking to strangers - the foundation of People’s Action’s deep canvassing methodology - in the same way as their forebears in the Civil Rights movement, like Diane Nash and John Lewis, did as they prepared to meet racist mobs nonviolently to end segregation.
And I hope because of Bonnie Dobson, who started deep canvassing with Down Home North Carolina in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. “I was really tired of feeling I could not make a change, and writing people off, without giving them a chance to understand,” says Bonnie.
Bonnie now helps train hundreds of volunteers in this powerful technique to change hearts and minds. “The most significant change has been me,” she says. “I don’t write anybody off any more, because I can’t afford to. I have to do this for my girls, and for my grandkids!”
Why do we hope? The reason is simple, yet powerful: because of people like Gina, Robert, and Bonnie, because of you and me. Because of every one of us.
The stakes have never been higher. Defeated at the polls in 2020, Donald Trump now uses Nazi language and threatens to jail or deport anyone who defies him. While Trump often lies, we should take him at his word: his advisors are actively announcing their plans for retribution and to roll back civil liberties.
And weaving the fabric of social justice is long and difficult work. The victory in Illinois to end cash bail faced many setbacks along the way. Obstacles were overcome by never giving up, and each time returning with a stronger coalition, with more community and faith-led organizations and allies in elected office. It takes time and patience, but we can prevail.
“You take those small wins, and you build on them,” says Bonnie. “We’re on the right side of this, and we can’t give up!”
This is what our Organizing Revival is all about: through organizing, we can tap into the power of the human spirit to create spaces that can heal us, hold us, and make us whole. It is in these spaces of community where we discover that every one of us has the potential to dream and build. And when we dream and build together, we have the power to meet and overcome the challenges we must face.
Because we hope, I hope. And I hope you do, too.