September 2023 Newsletter!

This month, we’re celebrating SURJ’s 14th birthday! In 2009, a few dozen white folks involved in social change work hopped on a conference phone line (remember those days?) to respond to Black movement leaders’ call for white people to organize our own to fight the racist backlash to the Affordable Care Act. (Check out more about our history here on SURJ.org).

The fight for racial and economic justice looks different than it did 14 years ago. We have learned how to be responsive to the moment, whether it’s the rise of Trump or police murders, while staying committed to our mission to organize white people into movements for justice.

Today, our fight is clear. Racial justice work for white people means stopping corporate-backed, far right actors from advancing their agenda of white Christian nationalist authoritarianism in this country. They are trying to polarize white people with “anti-woke” racism, transphobia, and misinformation. 

Celebrate SURJ’s birthday with us this month by working to give white people a better option: dignity, solidarity, and belonging. 

Last month, SURJ ED Erin Heaney was featured on the 100th episode of Democracy in Color with Steve Phillips, a podcast that explores strategies for how progressives can win and keep power to build multiracial democracy. In this episode, Erin shares her organizing journey as a white woman in racial justice movements and speaks about the White Stripe Project, SURJ’s collaboration with the Sandler Phillips Center and the Working Families’ Party focused on growing white support for progressive causes.

Listen here.

Imagine if hundreds and thousands of white people publicly voiced their support of teaching about the US’s real history in their local schools. We have the power to shape stories in our communities about issues we care about– and shaping those stories leads to support for real change. One way we can do this is working with local press through letters to the editor and op-eds. 

Join SURJ Wednesday, Sep. 13 from 7-8:30 ET for a training on the planning, writing, and submission process to your local newspaper.

As Mitch McConnell’s health publicly deteriorates, our work to keep Democratic Andy Beshear in the governor’s office in Kentucky is more important than ever. So far, SURJ members have made 34,000 calls to other white people in the state, taking the time to speak to white Kentuckians about issues that matter to them, listening, engaging, and respecting their story. 

One leader said last week about the powerful experience speaking to voters, “I was amazed at the connections made with other people.The busy, working parent who took a few minutes, the person who was getting medical treatment out of state and didn’t just hang up, the unhoused person who took the time to talk.”

Join our upcoming phonebanks on September 9, 11, and 14 to engage with white Kentuckians and invite them to our shared vision for a more just Kentucky and country. 

Happy 300th episode to SURJ Faith’s podcast, The Word is Resistance, where SURJ Faith members explore how Christian scripture can resource today’s justice movements. In this season, we’re doing a deep dive into the book of Romans– a text with a reputation for violent verses– to explore what else the book might have to offer.

Listen here.

Tennessee has been in the national spotlight this year after the horrific school shooting in Nashville, student-organized protests, and backlash against state legislators who supported the students. While conservatives in the state house are pushing a political narrative that pits progressive cities in the state against a conservative, rural-based state legislature, we’re seeing rural, small town folks demand more from their local governments.

Our organizing project, the Bedford County Listening Project (BCLP) in small town Shelbyville, Tennessee has been building a base and winning local renters’ rights since 2017. On August 26, we installed an immersive art exhibit in the town square, featuring 150 empty folding chairs, each with a quote from a BCLP member expressing some part of their experience being a poor renter in the town. Members presented a new 24 page report on the state of the rural housing crisis in Tennessee, drawing connections to the urban housing crises and calling on the mayor, city manager, and city council (who were present at the meeting) to support our initiatives for change. 

And putting pressure on these elected officials is working! One city council member apologized for the hostility with which council responded to the BCLP in past years and expressed a change of heart as he has learned more about renters’ struggles; others promised to vote for the resolution requesting new federal renter protections that the BCLP is bringing to the September 5th and 14th city council meetings.

“Hot Labor Summer” continues as workers across industries are building power and winning change for working people. At 11:59 PM on Thursday, September 14th nearly 150,000 auto workers’ contracts will expire — setting up what could be one of the largest strikes of the year.

Right now, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union is in intense negotiations with General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, demanding pay increases, improved benefits and pensions, an end to the tiered wage system, and job security for all workers during the transition to electric vehicle production as part of their new contract agreement.

But, if the companies refuse to reach a fair deal by the expiration date of the existing contract, UAW members have authorized the union to call a strike against the companies.

This Sunday, September 10th at 7 ET, join us for a virtual rally with SURJ’s partners at the Working Families Party, the UAW, MoveOn, and allies as we show our solidarity with union members gearing up to take on the three biggest U.S. automakers.

Want to know what it means to be a SURJ National member? Join our next new member orientation to learn about the history of SURJ and to get plugged in to our work.

Then, come spend an hour making calls at SURJ’s monthly abolition action hourto engage with campaigns to divest funds from police and prisons, support indigenous fights for land and water rights, and throw down with other abolition campaigns across the country. 

SURJ in the news:

  • “White kids need to learn about white anti-racist activists” from the Daily Kos, featuring SURJ’s connections to Anne Braden, an antiracist white Civil Rights leader from Kentucky who mentored SURJ co-founders
  • Beth Howard, our Director of Appalachian People’s Union, wrote a Letter to the Editor making connections between community care in Kentucky and how Governor Andy Beshear has shown up for Kentuckians in times of crisis
  • Beth also quoted in this article that asserts that abortion, an issue we won on last year, will be a defining fault line in KY’s governor’s race 
  • Our project in small town Eastern Kentucky, the Kentucky People’s Union, turned out to their local City Council for the first time and made quite an impression with the headline, “KPU in Full Force at City Commission Meeting

And more:

  • This powerful story, “Tennessee Organizers Are Taking the State Back From the Right. Here’s How.” 
  • SURJ staff member, Grover, will be on this panel next week that will explore how parents are a key part of movements for reproductive justice 
  • This interview about Christian Supremacy, and its roots in antisemitism and racism 
  • This internet famous, leftist bartender who went to a Trump rally in Erie, PA to talk to supporters about why Trump addresses working people’s problems
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