I began a new journey in May of 2016, tracing two long arcs in my life:
- Climbing all 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall (1219m), what is called “peak-bagging” by local climbers. I’m describing, in words and images, the ascent of each of these peaks – mostly done solo, but sometimes with a friend or two;
- Working in international development during the MDG era: what was it like in the sector as it boomed, and evolved, from the response to the Ethiopian crisis in the mid-1980’s through to the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.
So far, I’ve described climbing 28 of those 48 mountains in New Hampshire, and I’ve moved across time, from the beginning as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador (1984), through to serving as Executive Director for UUSC (through 2008).
Last time I described one aspect of my work as Executive Director at the UU Service Committee (UUSC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts: managing relations with the staff union. In that post, I described how I tackled that particular part of my role, navigating between principle and pragmatism.
As I said there, my biggest lesson learned from those years of working with the UUSC Bargaining Unit was that there is no inherent, inevitable contradiction between (on the one hand) being clear and firm about roles, being fair but strict about adherence to procedures and performance, and (on the other hand) living up to the ideals of a nonprofit organization dedicated to social justice – viewing things through the prism of right relationships. And, for me, I discovered that the way to successfully navigate the terrain between principle and pragmatism is to learn how to manage conflict while developing a deep sense of humility and self-awareness, mindfulness and equanimity, and engaged non-attachment.
One of our major priorities at UUSC was to build engaged activism focused on critical issues of human rights and social justice. In fact, making this happen was probably our most central focus, given our theory of change:
- It is possible to build a better world, a world that is free from oppression and injustice, where all can realize their full human rights. This vision can be achieved only through the work of organized, transparent, and democratic civic actors who challenge and confront oppression.1
For me, the second sentence in that statement encapsulates UUSC’s “theory of change.” I still like it very much.
Much of this task would be carried out through our partners around the world, as we accompanied their work on economic and environmental justice, on civil liberties, and in crises. But another major part of our work building civic activism was spelled out in another section of our Strategic Plan:
UUSC builds a more engaged and activist community focused on issues of human rights and social justice. By becoming an accountable campaigning and movement-building organization, UUSC will achieve policy change results consistent with the goals of our program partners and constituencies.
To achieve this goal, together with our supporters and partners, UUSC will develop an effective advocacy agenda around the organization’s priority issue areas. We will mobilize supporters and collaborate with allies that share our interest in these issues; operate an advocacy office based in Washington, D.C.; provide the training necessary to allow local activists to exert maximum policy influence.
We will continue to expand our volunteer network and increase the involvement of that network in advocacy activities. To strengthen the voice of the UU community on important public policy issues in the United States, we will support six additional statewide UU advocacy networks by 2010, while maintaining support for the existing networks. In a related effort, we will establish a UUSC-related 501(c)(4) structure.
In addition, we will build relationships with leaders within the UU, activist, and inter-faith communities and increase opportunities for action. Finally, as the policies and practices of global corporations have increasingly influenced the fulfillment of human rights aims, UUSC will continue its shareholder advocacy efforts, aimed at corporations whose policies and practices violate human rights norms.2
The statement that I have emphasized, in bold, is the subject of this blog post.
Why did we decide to form a parallel 501(c)(4)? And, what is a 501(c)(4) anyway?!
Most “nonprofit” organizations like UUSC are set up consistent with section 501(c)(3) of the US tax code: donations to these agencies are tax-deductible for the donor, which is a big advantage for fundraising. In return, the organizations accept that they won’t work in the “political” space to any significant degree, meaning that they can’t really focus on legislative or electoral advocacy. They must focus on “charitable” activities.
Organizations established under section 501(c)(4) of the US tax code, on the other hand, can focus almost entirely on advocacy, as long as activities are consistent with their purpose. They can (for example) even endorse candidates for office. The disadvantage is, however, that donations to 501(c)(4) organizations are not tax-deductible to their donors.
This made sense to me. Certainly government shouldn’t get in the way of people, or organizations, expressing their opinions, influencing public policy, being active politically. And while I could see the reason why donors to organizations carrying out “charitable” (501(c)(3))activities should benefit from a tax subsidy, there seemed to be no reason why political expression (via 501(c)(4) organizations) should be subsidized. Don’t restrict it, but the government shouldn’t, in effect, take sides by freeing political donors from a tax obligation. Makes sense.
Given UUSC’s objectives and methods, including legislative and electoral advocacy in our toolbox, by forming a 501(c)(4) made enormous sense. In fact, when we looked around at other social-justice organizations in the US, the ones that were making the biggest impact had extended the tools they bring to their work by forming inter-linked 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations, enabling them to legally work on charitable and “political” aspects of their programs.
So the attraction of having “linked” 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) agencies was obvious: together, they can work on all aspects of their missions, as long as they maintain appropriate separation of their finances.
In summary, quoting from the “Concept Paper” produced shortly before we started our work:
To extend its ability to achieve its mission, in 2007 UUSC helped establish Just Democracy. The purpose of this 501(c)(4) issue advocacy organization is to strengthen the voice of Unitarian Universalists and other progressive faith-based activists in the political process at the local, state, and federal levels. Because Just Democracy has been established as a 501(c)(4) organization, it will be able to engage a broader range of advocacy activities than would be appropriate for UUSC.
Seeking to empower voters and to promote human rights and a progressive political agenda, it is anticipated that Just Democracy will:
- Carry out legislative advocacy campaigns on priority human rights issues that will impact public policy;
- Create and strengthen effective statewide networks of Unitarian Universalists focused on human-rights advocacy and voter engagement;
- Facilitate interfaith coordination of advocacy and voter engagement work;
- Train congregation-based activists in non-partisan voter engagement work and issue-based legislative advocacy techniques;
- Facilitate appropriate coordination between statewide faith-based voter engagement work and other voter mobilization efforts;
- Recruit faith- and values-based activists into Just Democracy to do hard-hitting issue advocacy and voter engagement in both legislative and electoral seasons.
The interplay of a national 501(c)(3) human rights organization (UUSC) with strong ties to a liberal religious denomination, independent state-based 501(c)(3) organizations (statewide networks), and a national 501(c)(4) (Just Democracy), will allow for a broad and complementary range of activities, like those listed above. Over time, it is foreseen that the impact of these three sets of organizations will be magnified by their productive interaction.
After doing the necessary legal and operational planning, registering UUSC Just Democracy as a 501(c)(4) corporation, preparing by-laws, and forming a board of directors linked with UUSC’s board, the new organization was ready to get going.
At that point, I had been with UUSC for three years, and was happy in my role running the organization under Charlie Clements’s leadership. I was working with Charlie and Maxine Hart (our HR Director), and a great set of Department Directors (Atema Eclai, Myrna Greenfield, Ki Kim, Maxine Neil, and Michael Zouzoua), and relations with the UUSC bargaining unit were quiet. Programs were rolling out well. Relations with the UUA were steadily building in a positive way.
But the opportunity to establish a new agency, especially one focused on building community activism, was too good to pass up, and so one day in early 2008 I made the pitch to Charlie: second me to UUSC Just Democracy through the upcoming federal election, and I would set it up and run it through a pilot phase.
I knew that this request represented a major disruption, a headache that Charlie didn’t need: things were going well at UUSC, and to have the agency’s Executive Director leave for an extensive secondment would be a big challenge. But, to Charlie’s everlasting credit, he saw the potential, and my enthusiasm, and he embraced the idea. I’m grateful that Charlie was so supportive.
So after finding an interim Executive Director, in early May of 2008 I left UUSC and became the Executive Director of UUSC Just Democracy. While I would have my own board, and would work directly with Charlie, my focal point at UUSC would be Myrna Greenfield, UUSC’s director of advocacy and mobilization.
Myrna had recently joined UUSC, and was a fantastic communicator and organizer – I looked forward to working with her. But she was a bit unhappy at my departure, which was understandable since I had hired her and now I was leaving. So things were a bit unsettled. At my farewell party, leaving UUSC, Myrna made a statement that I still remember vividly, a perfect combination of wishing me well and, since she was becoming my focal point, letting me know that now she could have her revenge for my departure!
But before describing the next exciting year …
I climbed Cannon Mountain on 5 July 2017, a sunny, beautiful day for a hike in the White Mountains.
The plan was to climb Mt Willey on the Fourth of July and spend the night at Dry River Campground, after what I was guessing would be a relatively easy hike. Then I would take on one of the longer hikes in the 48 – up Owl’s Head.
But… last time I mentioned that I had forgotten a key piece of equipment when I left home the day before – my backpack! – and had improvised for the climb up Mt Willey, carrying a stuff sack slung over my shoulder. It wasn’t very comfortable, but it worked, and I got to the summit.
Climbing Owl’s Head without a backpack was another challenge entirely: compared to Willey, Owl’s Head is a long and complicated hike, so I needed to carry food and water, etc. So I improvised, and decided to abandon the idea of hiking Owl’s Head, and climb Cannon Mountain instead. Cannon was not far from my camping spot, and it would be shorter; since I was camping nearby I could get an early start. That way I would avoid carrying very much water, and could tackle the hike with only some snacks instead of carrying a full lunch.
The night before, at the campsite, I had worked out a way to carry the stuff sack in a more stable fashion, so it would flop around a bit less. I did get an early start, driving around from Crawford Notch to Franconia Notch, on a beautiful morning.
I had looked at the map and planned two options: an up-and-back to the top of Cannon or; if things went well, a long loop hike, making the best of the unfortunate situation. I would walk up Kinsman Ridge Trail from the Cannon Mountain Ski Area parking lot, and then I had two choices: I could turn around, or I could continue for 0.4m, and then drop down Lonesome Lake Trail to Lonesome Lake. If I took that option, I’d then take the same trail down to the Pemi Trail at Lafayette Campground, and along the Pemigewasset River (and the highway, which was the disadvantage with this option) back to the car:
Cannon Mountain (4100ft, 1250m) is a ski slope, with a tram up to the top; of course, but I was going to hike up!
I arrived at the tram parking lot at about 7:45am, and started up the Kinsman Ridge Trail. It was a beautiful day, with clear blue skies.
About an hour later, walking steeply up Cannon Mountain, I got a good view of the ski-lift:
By this time I was sweating profusely in the unremitting uphill slog up the well-travelled trail. Many of the boulders on the path were wet, and the path itself was north-facing. It would be a very tricky walk in the spring, as the boulders would be icy in unexpected places, perhaps quite late in the season.
There were surprisingly few people, considering that this was the day after a big public holiday. During this early part of the hike, however, I did run into a family group with a hostile beagle. Loyal readers will have noted that this has become a minor theme of my 4000-footer series: I still wonder why people bring untrained dogs into the woods. The conditions are such – strange place, strangers walking past – that many dogs will be likely to be protective of their “pack.” But everybody says that their dog is “sweet”, and most of them are; but often the “sweet” dogs are on edge in the strange environment, and behave aggressively. Bring your dogs to the White Mountains, sure… but train them!
By 9am the pine trees around me were getting shorter, evidence that I was approaching the tree line:
And soon I was able to see the observation platform at the summit of Cannon Mountain:
Behind me, looking across Franconia Notch, was a spectacular view of the Franconia Ridge, which I had climbed just two weeks before. Sadly, the sun was behind the ridge, making it difficult to capture the beauty of the scene in a photo:
I got to the top of the observation platform at 9:45am, so it had been two hours from the parking lot. The terminus of the ski lift was clear, looking north from the summit:
There were a few people here that had taken the tram up to the top. I was the only hiker there, though I could hear a group, perhaps the ones with the untrained dog (?), nearing the summit.
At this point, I had a choice: I could retrace my steps back to the parking lot, which would make for a rather short day; or I could continue south to Lonesome Lake, and then drop down into the notch from there. That second option looked attractive; the only disadvantage seemed to be that I would have a couple of miles to walk close to the highway in Franconia Notch, back to where I had left the car.
I decided to continue on to Lonesome Lake, which turned out to be the right choice!
From the observation tower at the top of Cannon Mountain, the path drops down steeply into a saddle, scrambling down large boulders, and then reaches the junction with the Hi-Cannon Trail:
Just after 10am, along that saddle I came across a large boulder that seemed to have crushed a tree, recently. The tree that had been destroyed appeared to still have some leaves on it, so that very large boulder must have come down the hill in the recent past. Hard to get a sense of the impact in this photo, but it would have been a scary event, had I been nearby!
Several groups were coming up, mostly groups of young people. I suppose they were coming from the AMC Lonesome Lake Hut. I reached the Lonesome Lake trail about a half-hour later, at 10:30am, and took it to the right:
It was a pleasant and beautiful walk down to the lake, steadily dropping through a beautiful White-Mountains day, rock-hopping much of the time:
At 10:45am, as I continued downward to Lonesome Lake, I passed an older man coming up. He came up from Rhode Island for the hike, just to go up to the Hi-Cannon Trail (he said), and would go home that night! That’s 3 1/2 hours each way, more or less… he must have gotten an early start!
As I neared Lonesome Lake, I passed a few groups of young people working on trail maintenance. They had AMC uniforms on.
I arrived at Lonesome Lake at about 11am. For some reason, I immediately got a deep sense of calm and well-being sitting by Lonesome Lake. What a beautiful place, on a gorgeous day:
A duck came over as I quietly sat there:
After a nice rest and some gorp, at around noon I decided to walk down to Franconia Notch on the Lonesome Lake Trail, but it was closed for trail maintenance:
So I took the alternate route, the Hi-Cannon Trail, down, passing a nice small stream and what looked like a minature refugee from Angkor Wat along the way!
I rejoined the Lonesome Lake Trail, and continued on a very well-maintained path downward.
I arrived at the end of the Lonesome Lake Trail at 12:13pm. The Trail ends at Lafayette Place Campground, which is a larger version of the Dry River Campground I had stayed at the night before with hot showers! It had been around 4 1/2 hours walking, so far.
At the end of the campground, the Pemi Trail runs along the stream (and the Highway) up to the Cannon Mountain parking lot where I had left my car. I had been a bit wary of this trail, as it runs right alongside the highway, but in fact it turned out to be a pleasant walk, though longer than expected. Yes, I could hear the freeway, but the walk was nice and the 2.3 miles went quickly as I headed north towards the end of the hike.
The Pemi Trail passes just below Franconia Notch, the site of the “Old Man Of The Mountain”, at about 12:30pm:
For my readers who are not familiar with New Hampshire, the “Old Man In The Mountain” was a rock formation in Franconia Notch, forming the distinct profile of an old man. It was in many ways the most-destinctive and well-known symbol of the state. The “Old Man” collapsed in May of 2003:
I arrived back at my car at 1:15pm, having had a great climb. Since Cannon Mountain is a relatively easy climb, and I was walking it just after a major holiday, my expectations had been low. Plus, I was hiking without my backpack! But the walk was very pleasant, the views were outstanding, and Lonesome Lake gave me a strong sense of well-being.
And I made the best of a bad situation, having left my backpack at home!
We were starting UUSC Just Democracy from scratch. So we needed a board of directors, a website, members, and a plan. And we needed funding! Luckily, Charlie had raised enough for us to get started, and so I was able to start my work with about $50k in the bank. Enough to move ahead.
But what were we going to focus on? In late 2007, we had prepared a “Concept Paper” describing the first months of UUSC Just Democracy. The summary of that paper reads as follows:
“Through this project, Just Democracy, a 501c4 organization affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (“UUSC”), seeks to build a progressive faith-based infrastructure for grassroots activism. The long-term success of a progressive political agenda in the United States will require the building of such an infrastructure, sustained beyond election cycles, rooted authentically in communities across the country, and standing on a firm values-based foundation.
Over the next 15 months Just Democracy will seek to create such a grassroots, progressive infrastructure in New Hampshire, as a first step in what will become a national effort. This proposal outlines Just Democracy’s project objectives for an initial phase of work in New Hampshire, along with the resources necessary to achieve these aims.”
Later in the paper, our focus on New Hampshire was explained:
Just Democracy seeks to launch its program of building a faith-based and sustainable progressive infrastructure in New Hampshire. New Hampshire has been chosen for three reasons.
Firstly, over the next 15 months, New Hampshire will be at the center of the political process in the United States. It retains its first-in-the-nation presidential primary and, despite a relatively small number of electoral votes, New Hampshire will remain a battleground state, since it was the only state to move from “red” in 2000, to “blue” in 2004. Furthermore, key federal races are highly competitive, with polls showing Senator John Sununu to be vulnerable, and two freshmen members of congress needing to work hard to win re-election. This electoral excitement will greatly enhance our efforts to recruit faith-based activists into both non-partisan voter engagement work and a politically active 501c4. In addition, there are stark differences between candidates on fundamental issues of human rights and justice. The outcome of these races will impact the prospects for future policy work.
Secondly, one of the first statewide voter-engagement and advocacy networks to be established was the UU Action Network in New Hampshire (”UUANNH”), which has been functioning strongly since 2004. Established as a 501c3 entity, and working initially in voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, UUANNH has engaged 24 UU congregations in voter pledge drives, issue education, phone banking, and campus organizing. UUANNH’s focus at present includes issues such as access to health care and cutting the federal defense budget and redirecting the money to human needs and energy independence.
Finally, UUSC’s national headquarters is located within an hour of southern New Hampshire, and its Executive Director is a resident of the state. These existing resources will greatly streamline the cost of managing an effective pilot project.
Over the next 15 months in New Hampshire, Just Democracy proposes to:
- Hire a full-time organizer to build membership in Just Democracy, reaching out actively to the members of Unitarian Universalist (UU) and other progressive congregations such as the United Church of Christ (UCC).
- Link our efforts to allied secular groups such as AFSC, NH Peace Action, the Granite State Organizing Project, etc.
- Participate actively in America Votes’ Table meetings.
- In coordination with the Table, identify and carry out a number of election season activities to support the progressive agenda. These activities will include:
- Polling and messaging
- Membership communication concerning candidates’ position on our issues
- Voter education and identification, and Get-Out-The-Vote efforts, through volunteer canvassing and phone-banking
- Design and carrying out of issue and express advocacy mailings to the broader public concerning the positions of candidates and elected officials.
- Build the power of UUANNH’s work on access to health care in the key New Hampshire cities of Manchester, Nashua, and Portsmouth by linking their efforts, as appropriate and legal, to local, state, and federal political processes.
- Build the power of UUSC’s work on peace and human rights (ending the war in Iraq and the genocide in Darfur) on New Hampshire college campuses, starting in the key city of Keene, and, as appropriate and legal, linking these efforts to local, state, and federal political processes.
There was a lot to do. On the organizational side, I needed to establish the basic infrastructure of board governance and reporting, registration, logistical capabilities, membership development, and fundraising. So I quickly learned about nonprofit mailing permits, set up a rudimentary website, and created a simple registration process for membership and began to support these “members” with information and requests. And I worked with Charlie to make sure that our existing donors were happy and to reach out to more people who could support us.
We were able to form a fantastic board of directors, quite quickly, mostly because of the organic connection with UUSC. As I mentioned above, 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations need to be linked to have the greatest impact, but had to be scrupulously separate in terms of overall governance and (in particular) financial management. Joining the initial UUSC Just Democracy board were:
- Kathy Hall, who served as UUSC Just Democracy’s board chairperson. Kathy was also serving on UUSC’s board of directors, so she was one formal link between the two organizations. Kathy was an outstanding board chair, dynamic and supportive yet holding me accountable;
- Tom Andrews, former Congressman from Maine, who was heading the “Win Without War” coalition in Washington. Tom would later become UUSC’s president and CEO, following Charlie and Charlie’s successor, Bill Schulz;
- Chuck Collins, co-founder of “United for a Fair Economy.” Chuck was, and is, a gifted activist, with a knack for combining a social-justice message with humor and panache. I learned a lot from Chuck, though he mostly attended board meetings by phone;
- Kathy Partridge, who was then the Executive Director of “Interfaith Funders,” a network of secular and faith-based grantmakers working for social justice through support of congregation-based community organizing. Kathy was always very supportive and, since she was running a similar organization, I learned a lot from her, too;
- Jack Spence, who also served on UUSC’s board, and who later became UUSC’s board chair. Jack had recently wrapped up a career as university chancellor in Florida;
- Fasaha Traylor, another link to the UUSC board, came onto the UUSC Just Democracy board a bit later, adding a lot of spirit and activist bona-fides!
Perhaps my most important task was to establish relationships with key players in New Hampshire, where we were pilot testing our organization. There were two priority groups here: I needed quickly to connect with the progressive faith community in the state, including the UU Action Network, the NH 501(c)(3) group that UUSC had been supporting; and I had to gain entry to and acceptance by the progressive 501(c)(4) community, which was coordinated by “America Votes” out of our state capital, Concord.
In both areas, I was very lucky and, quickly, very successful.
I was running UUSC Just Democracy from home, in Durham, and I quickly confirmed that there was a vibrant UU movement in the area. I can’t say enough about Kendra Ford and Roberta Finkelstein, Ministers at the UU congregations in Exeter and Portsmouth, respectively. They both welcomed our work, seeing that it was consistent with the focuses of their congregations. And they welcomed me into their congregations, inviting me to speak at their services and (in Exeter) to work intimately with their social-justice committees.
For example, this is a photo of me speaking at the Manchester UU church in the summer of 2008.
Roberta was a featured participant and speaker at UUSC Just Democracy’s Candidate Forum on Climate Change – more on that event below.
My connection with the UU congregation in Exeter proved to be fundamental to the success of UUSC Just Democracy. Thanks to Kendra’s welcome, I found lots of energy there, and over time I ended up basing most of the electoral work we did from the Exeter congregation. More on the election below…
Finally, in terms of connecting with the UU movement in New Hampshire, I want to appreciate the outstanding work of Tess George, who at that time was leading the UU Action Network in the state. Even though the UU Action Network was a 501(c)(3), and there were many reasons why coordinating some aspects of their work with UUSC Just Democracy made sense, our arrival seemed to perturb the work that Tess had been doing. I regretted this. Tess and I had to work hard to clarify roles and complementarities, and though things never seemed to become 100% clear, we worked well together.
The most important connection we made, outside of the progressive faith community in New Hampshire, was with America Votes. America Votes performed (and still performs) a vital role, coordinating the “Table” of progressive 501(c)(4) organizations in many states, including New Hampshire.
UUSC Just Democracy had attended several “Table” meetings even before I transitioned from UUSC, and I made a point of attending every meeting I could, often with Shelley Moskowitz, UUSC’s able and experienced “Senior Leader for Public Policy and Advocacy.” Shelley knew her way around Washington from having worked there for a long time, and so she was a real source of advice and wisdom for me. And I liked her a lot.
I was lucky that Shelley could attend America Votes “table” meetings with me, because her passion and experience rubbed off on me and on the organization! We had instant credibility.
Josiette White was the head of America Votes in New Hampshire, a real dynamo with a very strong team including Melissa Bernardin and Zandra Rice Hawkins (in the linked organization, Granite State Progress). These were spectacular professionals, working tirelessly to help make New Hampshire a better place.
One of the most important benefits that UUSC Just Democracy got from being a part of the America Votes “Table,” was that we became the lead organization for Exeter. This meant that we had access to the consolidated voter database, and were responsible for voter mobilization for the November 2008 federal election.
That database was pretty amazing. When it came time to contact voters about our priorities (ending the war in Iraq, and stopping climate change), and to educate them about the positions of federal candidates on these issues, the database gave us details about who to contact, and even set up the most efficient walking trajectories we should take.
In practice, this meant that I could indicate an area around Exeter, specify characteristics of voters in that area, and then the algorithm would produce a Google Map with a walk and a list of people to contact.
My job was then to mobilize the growing UUSC Just Democracy membership, and the congregations in and around Exeter, train volunteers, and then send them out with materials and talking points.
It was 2008, and we wanted to help elect Jeanne Shaheen, our governor who was running for US Senate. And we were working to elect Barack Obama. Both of these candidates were progressive, and they held positions on our issues that we agreed with.
But before election day approached, we held several events related to our issues. For example, once the general election campaign began, we participated in a protest at an appearance by the Republican nominee for the presidency, John McCain, focused on our push to end the war in Iraq. Here are some images of that protest:
But the most important event we held that fall was our Climate Forum at the University of New Hampshire.
The Climate Forum was framed as an opportunity for federal candidates to speak about climate change. After a lot of outreach, Oxfam America, CARE International, and the University of New Hampshire signed on as co-hosts. And I was able to attract a strong panel of experts to introduce the candidate forum:
- Scott Spradling, Emmy Award-Winning former reporter and anchor at the most influential NH television station, moderated the forum. This was a coup for me, both because Scott was very good at this kind of thing and he was easy to work with. But also because Scott was seen as fairly conservative in his political leanings, which helped – UUSC Just Democracy and its Executive Director, and all of the organizations that were co-sponsoring were probably perceived as somewhat left-leaning. And holding the event at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, probably just reinforced that impression. So having Scott moderate the forum balanced things in a good way;
- Dr Cameron Wake, Research Associate Professor at UNH, whose research focus was climate change from a scientific perspective;
- Nancy Hirshberg, VP of Natural Resources for Stonyfield Farm, one of New Hampshire’s biggest companies;
- Rev. Roberta Finkelstein of the UU South Church in Portsmouth. It was great having Roberta there – she spoke movingly and from the faith perspective, which was very important for our organization;
- Dr Stacy VanDeveer, Associate Professor of Political Science at UNH. Stacy spoke about climate change from the policy perspective.
Most importantly, representatives from the McCain, Obama and Shaheen campaigns attended, and spoke, and listened. Here is the advertisement we put in the student paper the day of the event:
Perhaps just as important, we had a full room of interested participants! I also put flyers up around Durham, and publicized the event through our growing membership.
The event was filmed, and the video of the forum is available on YouTube, in eleven parts (due to the length of the event). Here’s the first part:
And here are links to the other ten parts:
Our Climate Forum was a big success, attracting lots of people as well as representatives from most of the federal campaigns in New Hampshire.
All along, I was working hard to build a membership for UUSC Just Democracy. This was for several reasons: it seemed to me that the more people that joined us, the more powerful our message would be. Also, members were asked to contribute a small amount: small, but every bit helped! Finally, as I grew our database, I was able to contact more people when we needed to education or mobilize.
To do this, I needed to master the fine arts of setting up tables to appeal for support, and to do the same thing via bulk mail:
The election came in early November, and we got into action in the Exeter area, door-knocking and getting-out-the-vote on the day itself. We ran our operation out of a building in the center of Exeter, where I trained (and accompanied) our volunteers as they moved around the area, talking to voters.
Here are some images of those events:
Before closing, I want to share the results of the external evaluation we commissioned in early 2009. We had included funding for an assessment as part of our initial planning, because we viewed the initial period of UUSC Just Democracy as a pilot. I’ll attach the resulting external evaluation here (Healey Report on UUSC JD), and copy one section of the report’s Executive Summary here:
“… let me begin by stating that overall reviews for Just Democracy’s work in 2008 were overwhelmingly favorable. There was consensus among the interviewees that Just Democracy represented an innovative approach to faith-based progressive action in 2008, added real value to the work progressive groups were doing in New Hampshire, and established itself as a potential player in that state going forward.
Furthermore, interviewees gave rave reviews to Executive Director Mark McPeak for the work he did over the course of the last year, in spite of numerous obstacles. His thoughtful and committed leadership was clearly the key to Just Democracy’s successes in 2008, and his relationships in New Hampshire are central to the organization’s ability to build on its 2008 pilot in that state.
In terms of objective measures, while the number of activists trained, members recruited, and grassroots electoral activities undertaken were all modest, they represent a significant foundation for further work. In an electoral context where the unprecedented Obama campaign made progressive 501(c)(4) volunteer recruitment difficult for even the most established organizations, the initial accomplishments of Just Democracy are worthy of real congratulation.
In the future, it is clear that there is an opportunity for Just Democracy to fill a unique, faithbased niche in New Hampshire’s progressive infrastructure, and it seems that that niche has three prongs – that of a consistent ally in legislative advocacy efforts; that of a candidate recruitment and training hub; and that of a communications operation focused on shaping media narratives through a progressive, values-oriented lens. These three prongs all represent separate challenges, but they also complement one another such that a strategic organization-building approach could utilize each of them to grow the organization’s power for the long-term.
However, despite this opportunity, there are two facts suggest that Just Democracy must undergo some organizational change regardless of whether the organization remains focused on growth in New Hampshire in the short term or attempts to expand into other states. Those two facts are 1) the lack of secure funding going forward, and 2) the ability of a 501(c)(3) organization to take on some – perhaps much – of the work that interviewees suggest Just Democracy should do in 2009 and beyond. This reality, especially when paired with the challenges faced by the state-based UU Action Networks, makes a closer working relationship with the UUSC almost a necessity.
Over the course of this report, I will seek to highlight anecdotes from interviews and other documents that point to some of Just Democracy’s strengths and weaknesses, within the context of an analytic political framework that I hope that the Board will find helpful in making decisions. My hope is not to be overly prescriptive, but instead to suggest key challenges and opportunities so that this document can serve as a useful aid to a team of people who are working together to birth an effective, sustainable and powerful progressive voice of faith onto the American political scene.”
For me, the experience was very formative. I learned a lot about political activism in the US context, and I felt like our organization contributed a little bit to advance our issues in New Hampshire. Personally, I felt that I was doing my part in my own country, to advance social justice with my own work, not just overseas (as in my career up to UUSC), or through others (as Executive Director at UUSC). This time, I was getting my hands dirty and mud on my boots … and it felt great!
Soon after the election, which (from our perspective) was very successful, we pivoted towards legislative advocacy. I testified twice on climate-change issues at our state capital, and organized letters to the editor on both of our focus issues.
Our membership grew to over 160 by the end of March, 2009. And we prepared a discussion paper for the expansion of UUSC Just Democracy past its initial pilot phase, which included a draft “theory of change” for our new organization:
“Human rights in the United States will only be advanced to the extent that the progressive political agenda in this country gains strength. Conservative, hierarchical, and patriarchal forces of intolerance have gained momentum over the last two decades, in part because they have learned how to utilize all tools at their disposal. They have skillfully used the media, formed a range of different but inter-linked organizations with distinct legal forms, established well-funded think-tanks, and rooted themselves in the fundamentalist faith community, all in a carefully thought-out and artfully-interlinked strategy to gain political power.
We have seen the result: increasing infringements in civil liberties, reductions in governmental efforts to build justice and equity, and an inability to expand our national framework of human rights to the changing circumstances in which we live.
Lessons learned throughout history have taught us that “human rights and social justice have never advanced without struggle. Sustained, positive change has always been built through the work of organized activists with the courage to challenge and confront oppression.”
Another lesson of history is that the faith community provides a sustained and values-based platform from which change can emerge. The American Civil-Rights struggle is a prime example of this phenomenon. The achievements of the right-wing evangelical movement in more recent times are another, though from our standpoint quite negative, example.
UUSC-JD believes that it is crucial for the future of our country, and of the world, that the power of progressive faith communities be built and directed towards positive progressive change. Our organization is well-placed to integrate itself into the political dynamic, on a state-by-state basis, playing a linking and empowering role across three spheres: we see our organization operating in the intersection of a state’s liberal faith communities, the array of 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(3) organizations operating there, and the work of UUSC.”
Our idea was to expand, carefully, from NH into Maine in the next couple of years, and add one more state in 2011.
But, sadly, funding for progressive advocacy tends to be very cyclical, and in 2008 it looked like the political landscape in the US had shifted permanently (not so!) So our donors, who had been loyal and steadfast thus far, lost a bit of interest. The job was done, why do we need to keep working?
We know how that’s turned out.
The consequence for UUSC Just Democracy was that I started to pick up some consulting work from my old life, in particular I worked with my old friends at ChildFund to organize what became Bright Futures 101 in the Philippines, which I’ve blogged about earlier.
That consultancy led to me being put in touch with ChildFund Australia, which was looking to stand up a new, international program department in Sydney. That’s a story, a new chapter, stay tuned!
As I departed, I was able to turn over the leadership of UUSC Just Democracy to a gifted and experienced organizer, who had worked with us as a consultant during much of 2008, Dick Mark. So I was able to move towards Australia knowing that UUSC Just Democracy was in good hands, though with an uncertain funding future…
Here are links to other blogs in this series. Eventually there will be 48 articles, each one about climbing one of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and also reflecting on a career in international development:
- Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
- Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
- Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
- Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
- Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
- Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
- East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
- Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
- Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
- North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
- Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
- North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
- South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
- Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
- Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
- Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
- Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
- South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
- Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
- Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
- Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
- South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
- Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
- Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
- Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
- Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
- Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
- Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
- Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
- Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
- Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
- Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration.
- UUSC Strategic Plan 2006-2010, page 9.
- UUSC Strategic Plan 2006-2010, page 14, emphasis added.