I’ve been on staff here at Center for Health Progress for over four years now. In that time, we’ve achieved many important milestones in our evolution as an organization: hiring and promoting more people of color on our staff and board, making lots of internal changes to promote equity, and putting down roots in the communities we have organizing staff--including opening up two additional offices across the state. This has changed the culture of the organization, how we operate, and who we build community with. The old organization was nearly all white and spent its time building relationships among the people at the top of their health care institutions and with other organizations who operated in similar ways, in order to change health policy.
People still ask us, are you a policy organization or a community organizing one? I’m up front in acknowledging there are many ways to make social change, and that for me, organizing and policy change are always interconnected. I joined Center for Health Progress to lead some of these big changes because of my depth of experience and knowledge in community organizing, leadership development, and civic engagement, and my belief in how well those work to address the root causes of unjust health outcomes. Organizing is hard, messy, and takes more time, but I believe the most effective policies are informed by the truth and experiences of people who are directly affected by them, or the lack of them. Combined with quantitative data, we can work more intentionally to center people and design bills that work for the people they are intended to reach. So it’s not one or the other. We need both. When we reject this false binary and lead from a position of community power, building strong alliances with people and organizations who share the same values, we’re much more likely to be successful, without having to compromise the people trusting us to fight in solidarity with them.
The deep work we’ve done over these past few years recently led us to another major milestone. At the end of September, our core leaders—active grassroots members from across the state—came together to learn about this year’s slate of ballot initiatives and determine Center for Health Progress’s official position on them. This is so meaningful in so many ways. Every year since our founding, these decisions have been made by our board of directors. Most of these individuals, even now, share very different backgrounds and identities than that of our grassroots members. Shifting decision-making power to the members we've been building community with for years is a big accomplishment.
It’s so rewarding to see the community, which is working to end racism in health care and other systems and institutions, want and take more leadership and ownership of our policy positions. While they are under attack from the federal government, are being disproportionately affected by COVID, and don’t all get the chance to vote, they still showed up for each other and for the movement. I couldn’t be more grateful to the local leaders and our staff who are working tirelessly every day to fight for racial equity and health justice. Pandemic or not, these folks know what it means to fight for our lives and our communities, and they know what we need and deserve to be healthy and free people. Together with them, we’re leading social change—through policy advocacy AND community organizing, without compromising our people or our values.