Campaign Leaders Spotlight

Corenia Smith (she/her)
Campaign Manager, Yes 4 Minneapolis

About Yes 4 Minneapolis:

Yes 4 Minneapolis is a community-led movement to create a Department of Safety in Minneapolis. This unifying campaign is bringing Minneapolis residents together to amend the city charter that was written in 1961 by the Police Federation, which has forced the city to build on a broken system of violent, armed police-only response. The Yes 4 Minneapolis movement demands that city leaders move toward a comprehensive, higher standard of public safety, where qualified professionals, like mental health responders and social workers, as well as police, can work to make all our communities safer. 

1. What inspired you to get involved with the campaign?

As a nurse and community organizer, I’ve spent my career educating and advocating for people’s agency and autonomy over their bodies and lives. As such, I believe it should not be a privilege for individuals and their families to live in a safe environment but inherent. The murder of George Floyd shook me to my core. I lived just five minutes from what is now George Floyd Square, and I regularly think about how it could’ve happened to another resident in the community or me. It’s a true inflection point in my life.

In the days and weeks after George Floyd’s murder, it was clear that we needed to move beyond band-aid fixes and create lasting change for generations to come as a city and a country. There is a better way to implement public safety in our country, one that is not pervasively harmful and dismissive of the community’s needs and where various trained and skilled professionals can help them. My instincts as a nurse and organizer kicked in.  I knew that I had to get involved and help bring a solution to the problem. So in February, at the launch of Yes4Minneapolis, my team and I braved the sub-zero Minnesotan temperatures to gather 22,000 signatures and get this crucial question on the ballot this November. Question 2 provides Minneapolis voters with a chance to move away from an armed, police-only safety model and towards a department of public safety that has expanded options and is holistic in its approach.

2. What has been your greatest learning experience so far from working on the campaign?

This is my first electoral campaign, and my greatest learning experience thus far is that there is power in community. Of course, every campaign has opposition; still, it’s been mind-boggling to witness the political establishment and those with money and power grow so fearful of a community-led movement that they filed frivolous lawsuits to try and get the initiative thrown off the ballot. Change terrifies the status quo, and their actions unleashed massive public condemnation because people want to have a say in their future. Thankfully, justice and democracy prevailed, and the community learned that we are stronger together than we are apart. 

Just two years ago, I was the voter we are looking to turn out today. I was aware of the problems in my community, but I didn’t fully believe my voice would be heard through voting. I also didn’t think that civic engagement was a duty I should exercise. Now,  through the power of organizing, I’ve realized it’s possible to transform lives and create room for community members to expand their political imaginations to dream and achieve a more just and caring future.

3. How do you think your campaign’s success will improve the lives of people in your community?

Our campaign’s victory would ensure that people in Minneapolis can have a Department of Public Safety that uses a holistic, public health approach to safety. That means when people call for help, there will be a right-sized response from qualified professionals like mental health responders, substance abuse specialists, violence interrupters, and police as necessary. Fundamentally, this gives people more choices by creating more options for the city to address our growing public health and safety needs.  Additionally, police will be a part of the Department of Public Safety and will operate in a way that is more accountable, transparent, and more disciplined than before.

4. What advice would you give to other campaign leaders or aspiring campaign leaders as we head into the 2022 election cycle? Is there anything you wish you had known on day one of your campaign?

I would tell other aspiring campaign leaders to stay grounded in your purpose. It is no surprise that creating lasting change is difficult but nothing worth doing is easy. Be intentional with your self-care, whether that is reading, going for walks, watching your favorite show, etc., because the days can be long and send you on an emotional rollercoaster. 

5. Is there anything we haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?

Public safety and policing are complex issues, and it’s difficult to envision anything other than the system with which we currently operate. Therefore, it’s imperative to follow the visionary leaders, elders, and youth in your community and roll up your sleeves to build the life-affirming institutions that keep us all safe.

Learn more about the Yes 4 Minneapolis campaign.

Luke Mayville (he/him)
Co-founder, Reclaim Idaho

About Reclaim Idaho:

Reclaim Idaho’s mission is to build an Idaho where government works for all Idahoans and not just those with the most money and political influence. This means building an Idaho where all have access to affordable healthcare, protected public lands, and strong public schools. Reclaim Idaho’s strategy is to win the change we seek through bottom-up, grassroots organizing in every Idaho community. Reclaim Idaho wages campaigns that focus not on political candidates or political parties but on issues that bring Idahoans together—issues like Medicaid Expansion and increased funding for K-12 education. One campaign at a time, Reclaim Idaho seeks to grow a statewide movement of local leaders and volunteers with the power to demand change. Reclaim Idaho’s primary organizing tactic is the ballot initiative.

1. What inspired you to get involved with campaign work?

Ever since I was a teenager growing up in North Idaho, I’ve been concerned with issues of social and economic justice. For years I channeled my concern in an intellectual way–through studying, writing and eventually teaching political philosophy. A big turning point for me was when I began volunteering with the Social Action Committee of my local church, doing advocacy and organizing on issues like climate change and solitary confinement in state prisons. This experience taught me how to organize, and the next turning point came in 2017 when I returned to Idaho and joined a few old friends to get out the vote for a local school levy in my hometown. We succeeded in winning that local election and securing about $17 million for the local school district. This inspired me with the idea that even in deep-red communities, there’s a way to bring people together around issues of bread-and-butter economic justice.

2. What has been your greatest learning experience so far from working on campaigns?

When it comes to grassroots organizing, everything is about relationships and trust. If you want to move people to action, it takes a lot more than good messaging and good strategy. You have to listen to people’s stories, get to know them, and let them get to know you. People need to believe that you share a common commitment with them and that your commitment is authentic. 

3. How do you think your campaign’s successes will improve the lives of people in your community?

We’ve improved people’s lives directly through our major campaign wins. The Medicaid Expansion campaign we spearheaded secured healthcare coverage for over 100,000 Idahoans. Our recent victory in the Idaho Supreme Court secured the initiative rights of every Idaho citizen by enshrining in law the principle that the ballot initiative is a fundamental right. Apart from these accomplishments, our larger goal is to use the initiative process as an organizing tool and to build a statewide community of active, empowered citizens.

4. What advice would you give to other campaign leaders or aspiring campaign leaders as we head into the 2022 election cycle? Is there anything you wish you had known on day one of your campaigns?

Even as you focus on the traditional work of fundraising, communications, and seeking endorsements, don’t lose sight of the grassroots. Make sure there’s room in your campaign for large numbers of people to play an active role. In the world of ballot initiatives and political campaigns more generally, the talent of ordinary people is a resource that too often goes untapped.

Learn more about Reclaim Idaho.

Ruth Steinmetz (she/her)
Senior Campaigns & Elections Specialist (Ballot Initiatives), National Education Association

About the National Education Association:

The National Education Association (NEA) is more than 3 million people—educators, students, activists, workers, parents, neighbors, friends—who believe in opportunity for all students and in the power of public education to transform lives and create a more just and inclusive society.

1. What inspired you to get involved with campaign work?

My parents were very active in their community politically and in their union. It was hard not to notice the impact they made educators, union leaders and grassroots activists. My dad was on the bargaining team for contract negotiations for the local union’s contract. I remember when the union and school board were at an impasse during negotiations and the contract expired. He helped organize a strike for better wages and a voice to advocate for his students. My mom helped organize a grassroots petition campaign (way before the internet) to urge the mayor and city council to build a stadium and bring a minor league baseball to my hometown, where is still stands today. 

2. What has been your greatest learning experience so far from working on campaigns?

Numbers that end in “0” and “5” are not real. And that which is not tracked does not exist. I came out of organizing/field.  Having one on one conversations with voters still doesn’t replace online advocacy. Every contact, every conversation needs to be tracked and put into a database. Follow up with your positive and undecided voters. Especially with ballot measures, voters are hungry for information and the best way is to connect face to face. 

3. How do you think your campaign’s successes will improve the lives of people in your community?

In 2020, I was part of a coalition to pass a high earners’ income tax surcharge dedicated to education ballot initiative (Prop. 208). Voters realized that funding was desperately needed for education and passed the measure. Passing Prop. 208 would mean more than $800 million infusion into Arizona education. It would be a game changer for Arizona educators, students and families. Unfortunately, the state legislature and State Supreme Court undermined the will of the voters and passed undermining legislation and a ruling that could hinder Prop. 208 implementation. The education funding need in Arizona is still there and the fight is not over. 

4. What advice would you give to other campaign leaders as we head into the 2022 election cycle? Is there anything you wish you had known on day one of your campaigns?

It is not enough to win a ballot measure with voters. You also need to protect the win. Unless you have political power, the state legislature and court system can take away or diminish that win. 

Learn more about the National Education Association.