In key priority states, SURJ is building a multi-level strategy to:

  • Bring poor and working class white people who have so much to gain from racial and economic justice into our organizational home
  • Mobilize our members to win economic justice campaigns like expanded healthcare and housing flights, and fights to divest from police and prisons and invest in community infrastructure
  • End Republican “trifectas” in these states where they have control over the governorship and both legislative bodies
  • Keep the US Congress under Democratic control- especially looking towards the midterm elections of 2022- so we have more favorable national conditions for our work
  • Break the power of the right and build powerful multiracial movements.

SURJ has prioritized building state power in Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky. In these states we have chapters and organizing projects building power and bringing more white communities into multiracial coalitions to advance racial and economic justice. 

Georgia

Building off of our work in the 2020 Senate runoff elections–during which time we made nearly two million phonecalls and knocked on more than 25,000 doors in rural communities, contributing to a historic victory– our Georgia team continues to deepen our organizing in key rural counties.

After moving 20% of the people we canvassed who described themselves as “not politically engaged” to take action, we know that our method of relational organizing is one of the most effective ways to move white people to racial and economic justice in areas that have been dominated by the Right.

In 2022, our goals are twofold: win critical electoral victories by organizing poor and working class white folks to support progressive candidates of color, and continue to build a base for the long-run. To the first end, we aim to flip key strategic Georgia State House districts and work to elect Stacy Abrams for Governor and re-elect Raphael Warnock to the U.S. Senate. At the same time, we’re building support for saving hospitals in rural areas, and in Atlanta, we’re organizing in majority-white city council districts for the permanent closure of the Atlanta City Detention Center, as part of the Communities Over Cages coalition led by Women on the Rise.

Kentucky

With the state’s electorate among the whitest in the country, skyrocketing incarceration rates, and deep rural poverty, there is no way to win material changes and break the power of the Right in Kentucky without serious organizing in predominantly white communities. That’s why we’re investing in organizers on the ground, from rural Eastern Kentucky to the urban core. 

In rural Kentucky, SURJ organizers are holding thousands of conversations with white Kentuckians in strategic rural counties to move the balance of power in the state legislature – a body that continues to restrict voting rights, reproductive healthcare, and COVID relief for working Kentuckians across the state. We’re also working statewide to elect Charles Booker to the US Senate by linking his platform to the real struggles Kentuckians are experiencing, whether they live in Louisville or Appalachia. 

In Louisville, the movement to End Cash Bail continues to grow. And we’re doing our part to organize our own. As incarcerated folks in Louisville suffer from overcrowding and COVID outbreaks in the local jail, SURJ Louisville has been knocking doors in majority-white neighborhoods to build support for ending cash bail and keeping more folks at home with their families. Through our Court Watch program, we are holding judges and other members of the criminal legal system accountable for the bails they set.

Ohio

Since 2015, SURJ Ohio has been organizing in poor and working class white communities and through abolition campaigns in partnership with Black and Brown leaders. The Right now holds power in both state houses and the governorship. Without organizing in majority white communities, it will be nearly impossible to advance a progressive agenda in the state. 

After a major victory in 2021 – a first-of-its-kind ballot initiative for police accountability in Cleveland – SURJ Ohio continues to move a statewide strategy led by poor white communities around issues of criminalization, incarceration, and the need for support for drug users — issues that are entry-points to justice work for these communities. Meanwhile in rural Southeast Ohio, organizers recently launched a new project to bring more poor and working class white people into campaigns for racial and economic justice.

Tennessee

Supported by four organizers, the Bedford County Listening Project is a group of renters and low-income homeowners organizing for tenants rights in a rural area. We’re testing strategies for building power in conservative territory to be a blueprint for successful rural organizing across the country. 

Our BCLP organizers in rural Tennessee successfully elected one of their members to a local City Council in a county that went for Trump by a 50 point margin. This win builds off of their years of building in the community around renter’s rights, especially in the pandemic. BCLP is also helping to start a statewide housing coalition, and will be launching a new project in the 4th Congressional district to expand tenants’ unions.

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