Belle Townsend

2023 All In for All Students Campaign

At SURJ, we believe that every kid deserves access to quality public education and a school where they feel safe and supported. This is why we launched our campaign “All In for All Students,” which brought together parents and community leaders to rally around school board candidates and school board initiatives that support healthy learning environments for ALL students – no matter their race, zip code, or who they want to take to prom.  Across the country, the far right has been attempting to garner local power through organizing school boards around transphobia and racism, and so we need to organize white people through a different paradigm: building a cross class, multiracial majority that offers welcoming, well-resourced classrooms for every child.

This work was national and local. Nationally, we launched remote cohorts of support where anyone from anywhere could tap in to learn about how to push local school boards to support all students through an online training series and coaching. Cohorts were trained in campaign planning and organizing skills, storytelling, and press work.  We brought people in from twelve states through our Letter to the Editor and Spokesperson trainings and supported members in writing, submitting, and publishing Letters to the Editor and Op-Eds. We had these get published across the United States – from Ohio, to New York, to Kentucky, to Wisconsin. 

We focused our on-the-ground efforts of “All In for All Students” in Ohio and Kentucky. In Ohio, we threw down in six school board elections where candidates aligned with MAGA and the group “Moms for Liberty”, a far right parents’ group that advocates for banning books and banning honest conversations about the history of racism, were running. In these six elections, we had FIVE candidates win. 

Of the six candidates we supported, two were already SURJ members: Lindsey Wyckoff in North Canton and Lizett Schreiber in Olentangy! Both candidates won, as did both candidates from Westerville: Jennifer Aultman and Louise Valentine. In Dublin, Amy Messick won, and Diva Sonya came in third to the incumbent in an incredibly tough six candidate race. 

Here’s our impact in OH by the numbers:

Total Callers: 64 individual callers who signed up for 131 shifts!

Total calls we made together: 33,129!

Conversations w/ voters: 1,452!

Supporters identified: 1,367!

Total “yes” votes we secured for our candidates: 762!

In Kentucky we organized around mitigating the harmful effects of SB 150 – a controversial, anti-LGBTQ+ bill regulating students’ pronoun usage, bathroom usage, and access to lifesaving healthcare. School districts were able to interpret how to implement the bill, and our Louisville SURJ chapter threw down to mitigate the harm of JCPS’s interpretation – which is the largest and most influential school district in the state of Kentucky. We were able to get a very strong resolution passed that mitigates some of the harmful aspects of SB 150, which was modeled after the work of one of our national partners, HEAL. Our success testifies to the power of local organizing and how we can fight what they tell us is inevitable – because we, as a community, get to decide what is inevitable for us and ours. 

Our local work in Ohio and Kentucky will continue on the ground in 2024, and several national cohort members will be running school board campaigns in 2024.

2023 All In for All Students Campaign Read More »

Fight Like Hell for Kentucky 2023

In the 2023 Kentucky gubernatorial election, SURJ National organized to support the re-election of Governor Andy Beshear in our Fight Like Hell for Kentucky campaign. SURJ has deep roots in Kentucky, and this electoral work added to the people power we built in 2022 in contributing to a statewide effort to beat Kentucky’s anti-abortion Amendment 2. We recognize that no one politician can fix the struggles of Kentuckians, but we are committed to building power in a variety of ways – including in meeting electoral political moments. In our campaigns with white voters, SURJ works to break the power that the far right wields over working white people by meeting them in their material struggles, while not avoiding “divisive” issues– like trans rights and abortion. Spoiler alert: we won, and we won big. 

Daniel Cameron, Beshear’s MAGA-aligned opponent, was Attorney General at the time of Breonna Taylor’s murder by Louisville police. He even called her killing “justified,” and he was instrumental in the coverup of her murder. Cameron is also a large part of the Republican Attorneys General Association, who sent out robocalls to rally people to come to January 6. And, he lied about it. His campaign messaging included supporting SB 150, the controversial anti-LGBTQ+ bill that regulates pronoun usage, bathroom usage, and lifesaving healthcare for young people in Kentucky. More than anything, Cameron’s campaign centered around completely blocking access to reproductive justice in the state of Kentucky – the year after Kentuckians voted to protect abortion access. This elevated conversations around this election to a national stage, and this election became a projection of how talking about abortion fairs for far right politicians. This election is also proof that the divide-and-conquer strategy of the far right is not a water-tight strategy with working white people.

We talked to tens of thousands of white, working class Kentuckians, and we repeatedly had conversations with folks about how Andy Beshear has addressed people’s suffering. From the pandemic, to the floods of Eastern Kentucky, to the tornadoes of Western Kentucky, to accessibility to good jobs, people felt like Beshear’s platforms reached them in their material reality. Further, Beshear did not shy away from talking about issues like abortion, COVID-19, and trans rights. As both parties vie for white working class voters, it was further confirmed in this election that the answer is not to ignore the “difficult” topics, but instead to meet people in their real suffering, focus on what matters, and expose the far right’s tactics as nothing more than a divide-and-conquer distraction from their abandonment of working people.

We organized over 600 SURJ members on the ground in Kentucky and across the country reached just shy of half a million voters, had 71,000 conversations, and secured over 10,000 commitments to vote. We talked to voters in majority-white, working class counties who were either unlikely to vote or unlikely to vote for a Democrat. Compared to his first run in 2019, we expanded Beshear’s win in four counties, most notably Letcher – a highly rural, old coal mining community where we ran billboards and knocked doors. In 2019, Beshear lost Letcher County, but this year, in large part due to our efforts, he won by 5 points.

By winning this election and doing our part by bringing in white, working class voters, we expanded our movement. On a national stage, we showed that these folks are worthy of relational conversations. We showed that, when invited, white people will enthusiastically join us in fights for racial and economic justice. 

We showed that when we fight like hell for Kentucky, we win. 

Fight Like Hell for Kentucky 2023 Read More »

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