2019 Annual Report Spotlight: Building the Capacity of Our Communities

As the new year gets underway, we believe it is important to celebrate the successes of the previous one. With this idea in mind, we will be sharing stories from our FY 2019 Annual Report: Build the Movement. In the first of these highlights, we take a look at the efforts of several Voqal grantees to build real organizing capacity in their communities.

In such a challenging political and social environment, it is tempting to focus solely on immediate impact. However, at Voqal we take a longer view. We believe that advancing true social change takes time. Over the past year, Voqal has been fortunate to support a number of organizations that share this view and are building the long-term movements needed to create a more socially equitable world.

Advancing Racial Equity in Rural Minnesota
According to Voqal grantee, Voices for Racial Justice, the past year continued what has been a tumultuous few years for many Americans. The political landscape has devolved into a space that makes so many people, especially the most marginalized, feel unwelcome, unsafe and uneasy about their future in our country and communities.

In light of this reality, Voices for Racial Justice enacted an organizing model focused on ensuring the communities directly impacted by structural and institutional racism have a voice and hold leadership roles in the work to build racial justice.

Over the past year, Voices for Racial Justice enacted this model in places like Worthington, Minnesota where it engaged a team of residents in a year-long Racial Equity Organizing cohort to tackle everything from increasing educational equity to protecting the rights of immigrant communities.

As cohort member, Ivan Parga, shared, “With this cohort, we’re connecting community to community. I feel like I can do almost anything because I have some of the strongest, best organizers making real impacts in our communities.”

Cohort member, Leticia Rodriguez added, “This group has taught me not to ever give up on your dream or what you want to in life.”

By centering leadership in the people living in these communities, Voices for Racial Justice is empowering local communities of color to lead movements that will create lasting positive social change.

Building a Movement to Strengthen Community in Chicago
Voqal grantee, ONE Northside, works to retain the economic and ethnic diversity of its community and to stabilize the most vulnerable in the community. It believes in building strong and permanent alliances, and working with people where they are, whether that be in a tent living under a viaduct or in their high school cafeteria. Over the past year, it brought people into the organization and the movement through local campaigns on issues that immediately affect them, using organizing and popular education curriculum to engage them more deeply in larger campaigns. And this work paid off in a big way.

It not only culminated in the election of officials at the city and state level supportive of ONE Northside’s community, but also it led to one of the biggest victories for its members in years, the addition of the Fair Tax to the 2020 ballot. If it passes, this tax will provide increased revenue for the government services so many of One Northside’s members rely on.

“This is a major victory for ONE Northside, our partners in Fair Economy Illinois and organizations across the state that have been fighting this fight for years. We’ve spent the last decade elevating the demand for the rich and big corporations to pay their fair share of taxes in Illinois,” said ONE Northside economic justice organizer, Anna Gaebler.

“Our work changed the conversation in Springfield and among the public.”

Creating Political Power for the API Community in Oregon
The Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) is a statewide, grassroots organization, uniting Asians and Pacific Islanders to achieve social justice. It uses its collective strengths to advance equity through empowering, organizing and advocating with Oregon’s Asian Pacific Islander communities.

As it is across the nation, the stakes for communities of color in Oregon are high. Asian Pacific Islander (API) is Oregon’s fastest-growing demographic and many of these communities are seeing increasing disparities across various socioeconomic indicators. As a result, it became clear to APANO that API communities needed to exert their political will to begin to address some of these disparities.

And what better way to build this political power, than at the local level. In the lead up to the Portland metro area’s May 2019 elections, APANO endorsed several candidates running for office including three members of the API community who had never held elected office: Sumitra Chhetri (Centennial School Board Position 3), See Eun Kim (Hillsboro School Board Position 4) and Tya Ping (Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District Position 4). Thanks to a concerted effort to engage members of the AAPI community in grassroots voter outreach, all three candidates won their races!

“Every door knocked on brought us closer and closer to our goals of building Asian and Pacific Islander, and collective people of color, power in Oregon,” said Robin Ye, APANO political director.

While truly addressing the economic disparities faced by many in the API community will take time, the work by APANO and its partners in Oregon is building the movement needed to accomplish this goal.

There are many social justice challenges facing the United States in this uncertain time. Fortunately, grantees like those above give us hope that the more socially equitable world envisioned by many, including Voqal, is within our reach. To learn more about the work Voqal and its partners accomplished last year, read the full annual report.