Summary of Rep19 / VoteRunLead Webinar on How to Build Coalitions

Featuring Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer and Heidi Sieck, CEO and Co-Founder #VOTEPROCHOICE.  Moderated by Rep19 Co-Founder Marya Stark.

This webinar was presented with partner organization VoteRunLead, which trains women to run for office at the state and local level.  The organization has trained 30,000 women to date, and plans to train 30,000 more women for the 2020 election.

Heidi Sieck

#VOTEPROCHOICE is a coalition organization that builds partnerships, not lists.  Coalitions enable organizations to achieve large scale goals.

Case Study: Heidi had worked for the city of San Francisco and devoted time to working in women’s organizations.  In 2004, Kamala Harris ran for San Francisco District Attorney, and won against significant odds. In the prior 4 years the SF Chronicle, labor unions and the Democratic Party hadn’t endorsed any women.  With Kamala’s help, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the SF Women’s Political Committee determined to create a power base for women. They brought together women elected officials, key leaders of the local women’s organizations, and feminist men to find out what the women of SF wanted.  They had never worked together before and didn’t know each other. But they had shared values: elevating women to positions of leadership, working collectively on economic independence and focusing resources on education. They decided to sustain the coalition. The coalition held policy summits every year, quarterly collaborative meetings and they all worked together for 6-7 years.  As a result, San Francisco is currently dominated by women leaders, when women had been previously shut out of power.

How to scale this nationally:  Women tend to organize in small circles.  Creating loose alignments of shared strategy is how to make it work.  A coalition that doesn’t require merging, but allows the groups to work together towards a common mission.   Gather in a coalition that doesn’t force us to merge ourselves but allows us to walk together in common mission.  

There are lots of women’s conventions and gatherings of women.  The key is not to merge organizations, but rather to coalesce around a shared value and purpose.  It’s important to start at the local level.

These are the 3 top requirements for a successful coalition:  

1. Relationships  

2. Time together

3. Elected officials who are all in and will step up to sponsor.

How do you work at the local level across differences and feeling of distrust?

Dedicating time to building relationships is critical to making a coalition work, especially one-on-one shared conversations.  Leaders must dedicate time to reach out and have conversations about shared values. There is nothing more powerful in coalitions than reaching out and having a conversation. A successful coalition takes a lot of time.

Lessons learned:

  • Identify who is the best person to take on the specific tasks and conversations?  Who is the best person to talk to the different communities? Who is the best messenger to build across the different organizations?

  • Someone, or some organization, who has the capacity, should be identified as being responsible for the administrative tasks.  It is ideal if that person is paid.

Mayor Yvonne Spicer

Mayor Spicer was instrumental in building a STEM Coalition in Massachusetts.  She engaged officials at the state and local level and built a set of STEM standards and requirements.  It was a wholesale effort that included representatives from higher education, K-12 education, business and industry all participated to create a systematic approach to move the needle forward.  The participation of all the different voices was powerful in building the coalition. It resulted in the first ever STEM standard in the US that included technology and engineering and became an integral part of the education for students in MA.   This work served as a model for other states to create a statewide model for STEM education and standards. This also impacted national standards for STEM education. This process took several years and it is still ongoing, with refinements, as a result of the experience.

What is at the core of this work?  People. How to work with people and understand and respect their lens. This is done through conversations and dialogue among participants and engagement. It is important to hear each other’s ideas and ask questions as to why they are important.

Question:  Why was the success of STEM education particular to women leaders?

There aren’t many women engaged in STEM and that was a pivotal element that Mayor Spicer brought to the table.  In areas, like STEM, where women have self-selected themselves out, it makes a difference to encourage women to pursue careers in STEM.  Many universities have a dearth of women students who are studying these fields, and there are many career opportunities that exist with nobody to fill them. Girls are more likely to pursue such studies when they see themselves reflected in the industry.  When women are involved in building coalitions in these non-traditional fields, it results in more movement and more women involved.

What is the difference between building coalitions before office and now as a mayor?

There are lots of similarities. The core is to look at ways that people take an initiative, what is the end game and why do they value it.  As mayor, it’s important to establish priorities along with the community. Have the conversations and determine where we agree, and where we disagree.  When you are the mayor of a brand new city, it’s important to reflect on how to move the needle with the best outcomes for the city. What does the community value?  If it’s diversity, then it’s important to attract a diverse group of people to represent the community. Find the common ground where people can work together to move forward.  It’s a lot of give and take, and it’s often very slow, and everyone won’t always agree.

Marya agreed, “Coalitions grow at the speed of trust”.   

What are some barriers to coalitions?

Heidi: “Biggest barrier to coalitions is time.”  Shared purpose is what will make a coalition work.  Building relationships with one another is what will change everything.”

Mayor Spicer: “It is important to build trust.  Trust isn’t automatically given, it is earned.”

Earning trust takes time, it takes listening and understanding.  Find common ground and you can build trust over time. Coalitions are tough.  Find the core group of people that can see the mission and look at it through different lenses, but who are willing to work together because they believe the same thing. As Mayor, I believe my city should grow to be it’s very best.  The core thinking is “how do I improve my city every day?” Whatever the core belief, how does it benefit the mission?

Question: What about the fractures we are experiencing in the progressive community?

Heidi:  There will always be people who don’t believe in coalitions.  But always remember that there are more people who will stand with you and believe in your mission than do not. Keep gathering the people who have shared purpose and keep uncovering those relationships and shared values.  Keep building your people.

Heidi:  In building VoteProChoice, we work in coalition with other organizations.   Framingham, MA is an example of why we need to vote Pro Choice in every election.  There was an issue in Framingham, where the water commission prevented the zoning of a health care clinic because it was going to perform abortions.  It’s important to have people in elected office who actually reflect your community.

Mayor Spicer:  Framingham is comprised of diverse groupings of people, ideas and values, but I know this community knows how to come together around important issues and will do the right thing.

Resources around building coalitions:

Heidi: There are platforms that facilitate the sharing of email lists.  Action Group Network has one of the best platforms to share email lists across organizations.  There is nothing more important than list management. Get a great customer relationship management platform.  VoteProChoice uses Mail Chimp and Nimble. Understand the power of your list. Knowing who your people are and tracking them is critically important.  

Mayor Spicer: Make the connections with people and look at ways they can help.  Where do these resources connect to others? Managing your list of contacts is very important.  Who is your sphere of influence? Don’t always look at the same people, look for those people that diverge and understand why they hold these different opinions.

In closing:

Heidi:VoteProChoice endorses candidates up and down the ballot and has resources to support them.

Mayor Spicer: It is imperative for women to support one another in ways that allow every woman to bring her best self to the initiative.  Be an ally and a connector. Connect women who don’t look, think or act the way you do.