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Hearts and minds don’t stay won: Our work is a calling — not just a career.

When I left the New York Civil Liberties Union after almost a decade of leading the organization’s communications, my mentor Donna Lieberman told the story of why she hired me. What made me stand out from the pack was that I understood that communication is advocacy. It’s not a nice to do or even a must do but the actual essential justice work itself. It’s just as important as the legal and legislative work.

I think about that comment all the time now. It helps me make sense of both my unique approach to communications and organizing work and also the world around me and the moment I am living in. We can win in the courts; we can win in the ballot box; we can even win in the streets. But no civil rights win ever remains won unless we also win hearts and minds. 

As I step into the role of president of Spitfire, I see clearly the work we have to do as a movement. The extremist majority on the Supreme Court, for the second year in a row, has gutted long-established and basic civil rights that will, for generations to come, hurt people already pinned to the margins. Across the country, state legislators are trying to rig redistricting and strip voting power from communities of color, ban books that allow kids to learn true history and to see themselves in the stories they read, and strip basic fundamental rights from trans kids and their families. In New York City — my home and the foundation for my career as an advocate — the day after the Supreme Court ended affirmative action, the mayor, who was a former police officer, slashed services supporting homelessness, housing assistance, reentry, food assistance, mental health and education programs. He instead gave the NYPD the largest budget in its history — a stunning $12 billion. At the same time as this one-two punch of devastating news broke, the air quality across the entire Eastern Seaboard was so dangerous that our movement partners had no choice but to cancel protests from the steps of New York City hall to the steps of the Supreme Court.

Things feel dark. We are holding both grief and fear. The work is personal. It is not just our livelihood but for many of us our very lives, our communities and our children’s futures that are on the line. The work has never been more urgent; the understanding that we must either pick a side or be assigned one by history has never been greater.

That’s why I also have hope. We are, quite literally, in this together. This month marks Spitfire’s 21st anniversary as a firm. What Spitfire Founder Kristen Grimm envisioned for Spitfire was nothing short of revolutionary — building communications muscle across the entire progressive field to strengthen the movement so we will win. Spitfire was founded to help the progressive movement spark change. And for more than two decades, we have. 

And just like every other organization that has been doing this work for as long as Spitfire has, we are growing and evolving to meet the moment. The current state of the world and threats to our collective freedom require it. Being focused on social good is no longer good enough when reactionary forces seek to hoard the good for in-groups and single out out-groups to strip them of opportunities, liberties and freedoms. That’s why we prioritize justice in our work and partner with the movement leaders and transformative organizations that we do. We know that for every Brett Kavanaugh, there is a Desmond Meade. For every Elon Musk, a Dr. Timnit Gebru. And for every Hobby Lobby, a Ben & Jerry’s. We are proud to serve the individuals and institutions that see opportunities in the darkness and seed resilience and hope with their disruption. 

We also never forget that some of the best allies are the ones who never envisioned being in a room together. The things we’re fighting for — justice and accountability, dignified work, fulfilling lives, access to opportunity, freedom from oppression — are the principles that the vast majority of people in this country support. As the stakes are raised, new people and organizations are coming to the table, and we all are building it bigger and broader because we know that we succeed together or fail separately.

That is not to say we win every time. But every pushback, we double down and keep moving forward. We learn it from our movement partners and their leaders, and we do it for them so they can find breath and keep going.

Politicians, Supreme Court justices and legislation are only as strong as public will. Lasting change, the kind that takes us some place we’ve never been, will only come by winning hearts and minds. It’s worth remembering that we are at this moment in history where we have so much to lose because those who came before us fought and secured hard-won victories on civil rights and justice; on environmental protections; and on safeguards for workers, women and queer people. But hearts and minds don’t stay won without effort. Our opponents haven’t given up. And we will never give up either. This work isn’t just a job for our staff or our client partners. We do this work because it’s essential to our collective liberation. 

This entry was posted on Friday, July 14, 2023 at 09:51 am and is filed under Spitfire culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.