Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Two years and two weeks ago today, I was standing on the steps of the US Capitol with hundreds of people –– many of whom had marched all the way from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia –– all about to be arrested for refusing to leave until Congress did something to save our democracy. Congress didn’t act, of course, but when we were all finally detained Capitol Police reported that it was an unprecedented public demonstration: there had never in the history of our nation been so many people arrested there in a single day. For the democracy movement, it was a watershed moment. For me, it was a giant milestone in a journey that began in a living room in LA with just 6 other founders in 2012.
I’m so proud of how far we’ve come in the years since that small circle set out to fulfill a huge vision of organizing mass nonviolent action to win a real democracy through which we could seriously address the profound crises of our time. A great journey still lies ahead to reach the promised land we envisioned, but the historic strides we’ve made give me faith that we will. And I have decided it is time to pass the torch to new leaders who I believe will take us there.
Last week our National Coordinating Committee (NCC) confirmed Renaldo Pearson and Tania Maduro as our new Co-Mission Directors and Shani Smith as Senior Advisor to them. I could not be more grateful and humbled to pass the torch to such a strong cohort of leaders, each of whose leadership in our cause I’ve had the honor of working to encourage and develop, with hope for a day like this. Today I’m asking you to welcome this new leadership with a strong show of support by giving $3 or more to empower them to move us forward.
Let me tell you a little about each of these special leaders.
Renaldo Pearson is a gifted speaker, writer, and bridge-builder who has served on our NCC since May of 2016. A graduate of Morehouse College (Dr. King's alma mater) and Social-Engineer-in-Residence at Harvard (where he was formerly the youngest college administrator), Renaldo’s organizing roots extend deep into the civil rights movement tradition and grew further in the struggle against mass incarceration. He will be featured in award-winning filmmaker Josh Tickell’s upcoming Netflix documentary, The Revolution Generation. The powerful reaction to his recent speech on what he calls “The 7 Deadly Sins of American Democracy” at the Unrig the System Summit reminded me of my feeling the moment we met –– on the first day of the march from the Liberty Bell to DC –– that Renaldo was a rare leader I simply had to work with to build our movement. Now, as he takes on this new role, I can’t wait to see the fusion power and “good trouble” he will create.
Tania Maduro drove all the way from Connecticut to join the Capitol mass sit-ins on that epic day –– and never looked back. New to the movement, she dove in, soaked up everything she could, and grew as a leader by leaps and bounds in mere months. She’s served on our NCC for almost two years and was an indispensable member of our staff for most of 2016 and 2017. In that time she proved her gifts as a learner and logistical manager and showed an uncommon willingness to sacrifice, steadfast courage under fire, and inspiring passion for both our cause and the care of our team that I know will help us thrive now. I've rarely ever worked with someone so willing and ready to take on new challenges, and I’m thrilled to see Tania step up to this new one.
Shani Smith is a force of nature. Her powerful voice and commanding yet compassionate presence are unmistakable. A gifted trainer, coach, and organizer, Shani joined the movement through organizing her community in Chicago around affordable housing, living wages, voter mobilization, and ending police brutality against and mass incarceration of Black people. She has trained activists across the country to build inclusive transformational movements. She became a part of our movement family in the 2014 California March for Democracy from LA to Sacramento (when we were still 99Rise) and she served on our NCC in the pivotal period from the spring of 2016 through the fall of last year. When Shani leads our “One Big? Family!” chant, you know she means it, and I’m so happy that her huge heart and deep experience will be at Renaldo and Tania’s service as they forge our path ahead.
If you’re as inspired as I am about this dynamic trio of powerful leaders of color who are stepping up to lead our movement forward, please show it in the most concrete of ways by making a donation of $3 or more today.
We all have a role to play in this struggle, and every hand on the plow should help serve, support, or develop the leadership of others who join and add their strength, growing it in the process. Though I’m leaving our staff I will continue serving as a member of the NCC and then as an volunteer advisor for our new staff leadership, and I hope to see many of you in the streets or be sitting in beside you in the days to come.
The struggle to end voter suppression and the corruption of big money in politics is more urgent than ever. We know that we won’t prevail in this crucial fight to win a democracy for all without a mass nonviolent army grounded in a multi-racial, intersectional fusion movement. Building that army is the mission of Democracy Spring, and I hope that you will not only donate right now but challenge yourself to step up in other ways, perhaps new ways, to join Renaldo, Tania, and Shani in rising to this moment and marching forward to victory.
With gratitude and hope,
Kai Newkirk, Democracy Spring Founding Mission Director