Campaign Leaders Spotlight

Judson Scanlon (they/them)
Political Director/Outreach: Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights

Q: What has been your greatest learning experience so far from working on the Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights campaign? 

A: This has been the most positive and supporting campaign I have worked on in 30 years of this work. The most impactful lesson I learned was the importance of centering campaigns on shared values — especially coalition campaigns. It is so helpful when stress is high and tempers have a tendency to flare to be able to step back and think about the values you all agreed to in the beginning and re-center the work on the important things — like voters. A few short years ago campaigns were a toxic mess, today we seem to be headed in a better direction.

Q: If Amendment 1 is passed, how do you think it will improve the lives of current and future Ohioans?

A: To have reproductive health care protections for all people enshrined in the constitution of this state would be amazing. The impact it could have and may have is immeasurable. To have another confirmation that women belong — in every form — it gives me life and hope for the future.

Q: What advice would you give to other campaign leaders as we head into the 2024 election cycle, particularly those who will also be working on reproductive freedom campaigns? Is there anything you wish you had known on day one of your campaign? 

A: When things get hard, stop and remember the values that brought you to this work, remember the humanity that we are all supporting, and do not be afraid to lift up the voices of the marginalized — they are the most impacted by your support. There is a real beauty in this work, and you don’t have to look far to find it — you just have to listen to people.

Q: Is there anything we haven’t asked you that you’d like to share? 

A: I cannot stress the importance of good thorough research and message development in this work. Don’t forget to ask your barista if they have voted…you may be the only person who does.

Kelley Robinson (she/her)
Executive Director: Human Rights Campaign

Q: What inspired you to work in the democracy/social justice space, and how does your experience and identity as a Black person influence your work? 

A: I first became an activist in college when I started getting involved in campaigns to end LGBTQ+ discrimination on my campus. For the first time, I really had this opportunity to understand that my body and my being is inherently political, and I realized my own political potential to create real, lasting change. 

It’s because of who I am – because of my own experiences of not seeing myself reflected in the movements I work in – that I know exactly how invaluable it is to feel represented. And that’s why, when I became President of the Human Rights Campaign, I promised that if you’ve ever not seen yourself in this movement, know that I am here to make sure that we are here for you. 

Q: What future do you envision for your community, and how do you think the work you’re doing is helping to create that future? 

A: I am committed to creating a movement where all of us can be seen. Because when we all feel seen and represented, we can all come together to fight. I truly believe that we have all the power that we need when we’re together. And with that power, we will get to a world where we are free and liberated without exception, without anyone left behind. That’s the task for the next chapter of the Human Rights Campaign. 

Q: What advice would you give to young Black leaders early on in their career? Is there anything you wish you had known on day one? 

A: Y’all, I cannot stress enough the value of creating and maintaining a balance between our personal and professional lives. I do what I do so that I can take care of others and make the world better for my loved ones, but I can’t provide for anyone if I’m not taking care of myself, you know what I’m saying? 

Q: Is there anything we haven’t asked you that you’d like to share? 

A: Right now, we’re living in a wild time of incredible heights for Black people in politics, in movement leadership positions, and for Black people breaking glass ceilings in the workforce.  

And of course, we still have the almost daily reality checks of Black people facing and losing our lives to police brutality and other forms of discrimination, and for Black people being disproportionately impacted by a constantly strained economy, especially Black LGBTQ+ people.  
I hope everyone reading this will take a few moments to take in and consider how embracing joy can change our lives for the better. We deserve to be happy and content – it’s what our ancestors always wanted for us. The work we do to end systemic disparities is crucial to making a brighter future for Black people everywhere. Let’s make tomorrow better and embrace some joy today. 

Becky Gould (she/her)
Executive Director: Nebraska Appleseed

1. What ignited your passion for working in the economic justice space?

For as long as I can remember, I was interested in social justice and the ongoing work of the struggle for civil rights.  We all share responsibility for creating and perpetuating poverty and I feel privileged to get to work on advancing economic justice along with so many amazing people in the movement as part of my job.

2. What has been your greatest learning experience while working on the campaign to raise the wage in Nebraska?

I have learned a lot, but I think one of the biggest takeaways for me in this campaign is the importance of planning as much as possible, as early as possible so that when you are in the heat of the campaign, you are just adjusting the plans rather than having to create them.  Community power and control of campaigns can quickly be displaced or weakened by groups who come to the table with a plan in the moment of need.  We really strengthen the movement for the long term when we have alignment around the practices that create or strengthen capacity at the community level, and that takes time and intention.

3. What is your hope or vision for your community if this initiative passes and the minimum wage in NE is increased to $15 an hour?

My hope for this campaign is that the lives of Nebraskans who are being paid low wages will improve and our communities will be stronger and more vibrant.  We know that this issue will affect 150,000 working people in our state and that by indexing the wage to inflation, we will be able to help wages keep place with costs over the long term.  Nebraskans work really hard.  We have high rates of women in the workforce, multiple job holders, and households with two or more workers.  We are currently at full employment as a state.  Yet, we have evident and persistent poverty.  Wages are a critical piece of providing economic justice for Nebraskans and closing the gender and racial pay gaps.

Theeda Murphy (she/her)
Co-Director: Tennessee’s No Exceptions Prison Collective

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

I have been involved in prison and sentencing reform work for many years prior to being hired at my current job, however, I, like many others, did not realize the importance of the exception clause in the 13th amendment. It is the foundation for the explosive expansion of mass incarceration and criminalization of Black people. I feel that removing the exception is a necessary first step toward dismantling the prison industrial complex.

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

I’m realizing just how different a campaign is from strict organizing in the community especially when it comes to dealing with people who don’t agree with you. When you are organizing a direct action campaign, you have to think about how you might be able to persuade people who have not shown any interest or solidarity with the issue in the past. You’re not trying to win them over completely, only just enough so that they will vote for your initiative. It’s a different mindset.

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

This campaign will free the approximately 30,000 people who are incarcerated in Tennessee prisons. This immediately changes their legal status. They will no longer be considered chattel and will be considered citizens, just like anyone else. Being considered a full human being, and not property of the state, changes everything.

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?

Don’t try to do it alone. Talk to as many veterans as you can. Make as many connections to other people doing this work as you can. We now have so many resources and so many people doing this, that we don’t have to do it alone. Fortunately for us, we have been able to connect with others during our planning process. We know that we will have issues that are unique to Tennessee and to our campaign but we feel like we have a head start.

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

We appreciate being a part of this training program. It is helping us so much as we plan our campaign. Generally, it gives me hope that so many people are taking strong steps to fight against injustice and oppression in the face of what often seems like insurmountable odds. This helps me stay focused and positive every day.

Erin Smith (they/them)
Executive Director: Kentucky Health Justice Network

About Kentucky Health Justice Network (KHJN):

HJN supports Kentuckians towards achieving autonomy in their lives and justice for Kentucky communities. They advocateeducate, and provide direct services to ensure all Kentucky communities and individuals have power, access, and resources to be healthy and have agency over their lives.

Q: How does your experience or identity as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community influence your work?

As a Black nonbinary person, working in reproductive justice can be difficult. I am in rooms full of conversations where the language is “Woman” only focused. Trans and nonbinary people are often left out intentionally and the amount of “absent mindedness” for demographics outside of cis women, and dare I say cis white women, is unacceptable.

At the same time, it is my responsibility to advocate for those whose voices remain unheard. I often find myself advocating while invisible.

Q: What inspired you to work in the democracy space and how do you envision your work improving or shaping the lives of the queer community?

I was tired of Black and brown queer people being ignored in reproductive justice and many other spaces. I want to use my skills to support our community as well as educate.

The more we see states create laws that threaten our rights it becomes crucial to vote and understand the political process so all voices will be heard.

Q: At a time when the future of LGBTQIA+ rights is unclear and under attack, what do you do for self-care or to stay inspired and hopeful for the future? 

I’m still working on that but I am getting better, said laughing to myself. I’ve been taking more time to be with my family. I’ve started doing Lego builds and am trying to spend more time in nature. I’ve been fortunate to be able to plan mini trips throughout the year and that has been great for my mental health. 

Q: What advice would you give to young or aspiring queer leaders who want to pursue advocacy/democracy work? Is there anything you wish you had known on day one of your career? 

I would say to any young person who wants to pursue this type of work  that it’s important to recognize your privilege and understand intersectionalities as well as microaggressions. Understand what they are, what they look like, and how they show up. Then have the courage to stand up to the person demonstrating them.

Q: Is there anything we haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?

I really want and need the white queer community to understand that “safe spaces” are not safe if they are not created with Black and Brown people in mind. 

Zakiya Prince (she/her)
Executive Director: Repeal, Reunite, Reinvest CA

About Repeal, Reunite, Reinvest CA:

Repeal, Reunite, Reinvest CA is the campaign to REPEAL California’s three strikes law, REUNITE families, and REINVEST in common sense public safety.

1. What inspired you to work in the direct democracy space and how do you think your campaign successes will improve the lives of people in your community?

I have always felt like my purpose was to bring about change in communities of color, especially in the Black community, but I had no idea how I would start or how it would look.

My “inspiration” to finally jump into policy/democracy work came from absolute hopelessness. My husband is currently serving a life sentence under California’s Three Strikes law; a law that disproportionately affects Black folks and one that many Californian expressly regret. Over the years, there had been incremental reforms to the law, but with each change we were excluded. And at the time, no one seemed to have any interest in completely repealing the law. It was devastating. I feared my husband would never make it home, never make it to a birthday party for our daughter, or never be there for a Christmas morning — so I decided to fight back. 

The changes we are working to make through this 2024 ballot initiative will fully repeal the law, reunite families that have been ripped apart, and reinvest in our communities. This movement is transformative and it will constitute authentic public safety.

Kandace Montgomery (she/they)
Co-founder: Black Visions Collective

About Black Visions Collective:

The Black Visions Collective is a Black-led, Queer and Trans centering organization whose mission is to organize powerful, connected Black communities and dismantle systems of violence. Black Visions Collective has played a key role in pushing for transformative change in Minneapolis, with grassroots efforts that inspired and educated residents to reimagine community safety and pursue dignity and equity for all. 

1. If you were to describe your biggest takeaway(s) from the campaign, what would it be?

My biggest takeaway is that when given an opportunity to vision what is possible, folks are ready for a new model of safety. My other biggest takeaway is not underestimating your oppositions ability to misinform the public. The ground game will always be critical. 

2. What advice would you give to activists and abolitionists who are seeking to run campaigns to reimagine public safety in 2022 and beyond?

To deeply invest in the strategies and tactics necessary to educate community members and bring them along. Whether that be political education, community forums, doorknocking– the best use of your time and resources will always be in connecting with community and making sure they are clear about what it is you aim to achieve and that they have a role AND stake, in making that happen. 

3. What is one moment from the campaign that made you optimistic for the future of the fight to create a more just and equitable system of public safety?

There are many moments. The ones that stand out the most were the conversations with community members who were at first glance opposed to our ballot initiative. After deep conversation, asking questions, and resonating with the real fears/worries they had– they understood the vision and came along with us. Often, they began organizing their family and friends too!

4. What is your vision for the future when it comes to reimagining public safety in Minneapolis and across the country?

My vision is that we have fully resourced the needs of our community members. My vision entails one in which we have expanded our definition of public safety beyond the question of “police or not?” and into what are all the ways people need care and support to be well. This would include fully funded housing, healthcare, livable wages for all, and prevention over punishment.

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.