ABOUT STEVE KEST
Senior Advisor to the Center for Popular Democracy, Kest is coordinating the network’s “fight-back” campaign against the policies and program of the Trump administration. Previously, he ran the Fight for a Fair Economy (FFE) program at Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and worked at ACORN for 35 years, serving in many roles including National Executive Director.
Community organizing opens the door to social, economic, environmental and cultural progress. It’s the best hope for making sure corporate powers can’t lock up our political and economic systems for their own selfish desires.
We’ve all known this for a long time—but the shock of Donald Trump in the White House is heightening interest in organizing campaigns to stop and reverse the right-wing tide.
BMC alum Steve Kest—a veteran organizer at ACORN, SEIU and now the Center for Popular Democracy— offers an inside view of where community organizing is headed at this point in US history.
“The field is pretty consumed with anti-Trump resistance right now,” he observes. “A lot of us are paying attention to the opportunity—if you can call it that—to reach out to new people.”
“We’re already seeing new recruitment,”Kest says. “The fight to oppose the Republican health care bills has been pretty impressive—involving community organizations across the country using a variety of tactics—about engaging people who are immediately impacted.”
The urgency brought on by outrages such as the gutting of Medicaid and Obamacare and the Muslim travel ban is propelling organizing campaigns in the direction of electoral politics. “We’re going to see a massive increase in political engagement in 2018 and 2020,” he predicts. “There’s always been a strain of that in organizing, but now it’s where things are going.”
New digital tools also strengthen organizing. “The focus is massive door-to-door canvasses—following up with peer-to-peer texting and facebook groups.”
Kest sees the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement and continuing involvement of Bernie Sanders’ supporters in local and state issues as more signs of increased mobilization around progressive goals. He highlights two local organizations in the Midwest that embody the message that “economic justice vs. racial justice is a false debate”:
Hoosier Action—a new organization working with largely white communities in rural southern Indiana on economic justice issues, but with a racial justice perspective. “They are active in the fight to defend Obamacare and Medicaid, and making common cause with Black and Latino-led organizations to put pressure on their elected representatives,” Kest says.
Neighborhoods Organizing for Change—an African-American-led organization in lower-income neighborhoods of Minneapolis that successfully pushed for a $15 minimum wage and “raises other economic and justice issues with broad appeal to white, Latino, and east African and Hmong immigrant communities”.
Other central issues stirring people’s imaginations are, according to Kest: affordable housing, stopping budget cuts to schools, and linking Trump’s policies to longstanding efforts to enrich and empower the 1 percent over the 99 percent.