Memphis For All

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Memphis For All is a Memphis Tennessee electoral front for Freedom Road Socialist Organization/Liberation Road.

Memphis For All is the official local chapter of Our Revolution, a national organization that seeks to reclaim democracy for the working people of our country through supporting a new generation of progressive leaders, empowering millions to fight for progressive change.[1]

Beginnings

After the 2016 Clinton defeat the founders of Memphis For All concluded that status quo Democratic Party politics had moved away from a core progressive agenda because it was so disconnected from progressive constituencies and bases, particularly Black and other working-class communities of color and multiracial unions. It was clear to them that a Left-progressive movement could not place its bets on the Democratic Party alone because they never talk to the folks who play a leading role in the progressive electorate. They wanted to build something for, by and with the people who they believe will be at the forefront of any progressive change in this country.

Memphis For All started meeting in December 2016—initially as Our Revolution 901 (the Memphis area code) and soon started deep canvassing in working class Black neighborhoods. As a new independent political organization, Memphis for All made a commitment to cultivate and support progressive candidates, especially working-class women of color. It committed to act in solidarity with community organizations and social movements to take action not just in the ballot box, but in the streets. Memphis For All also believed that just connecting with voters wasn’t going to be enough if it didn’t also demonstrate what it wanted, who it supported, and what Memphis For All members, together, could do to shape the political terrain.[2]

Accomplishments

Mary Jo Connelly:What are some of the things that M4A accomplished in its first year?

Bennett Foster: We were instrumental in our early stages around the Shelby County general elections in supporting Tami Sawyer, who’s a Black woman progressive and all-around badass who won for County Commissioner. We also supported Lee Harris, a progressive, in his bid for County Mayor, and he won. A few of the other candidates Memphis For All endorsed in the mid-term elections won: Katrina Robinson for State Senate in District 33 and London Lamar for State Representative in District 91. We also supported Gabby Salinas, a candidate who was running for State Senate District 31 and she came really close. It was the first time that the ALEC Republican in that district had ever been challenged, and Gabi lost by only 1% of the vote–1300 votes.

Those victories are really helping us launch into working around the City elections, because now people see us as important! In the 2018 elections, Memphis For All was able to mobilize a lot of our own members and to hire 33 part-time canvassers. We also worked with a volunteer group of women from Boston and New York who flew down just to canvas with us—that was really special and fun. Freedom Road also organized a brigade that brought 25 people to canvas with Memphis For All for 4 days in July.

We targeted strategic areas and three types of voters. In electoral work, there’s a lot of emphasis on voter registration; but we saw that there were a lot of already-registered voters who would vote for progressive policies and candidates if they started voting in local elections. We knew that it was possible to mobilize these folks, and if we had enough resources and enough canvassing that we could steal some districts from the Republicans.

Three Types of Voters Memphis for All Targets:

  • The New Progressive Vanguard
  • All people of color voters 18-45;
  • Newly registered voters since June 2016, except Republican primary voters;
  • White voters 18-45 who have voted in at least 1 Democratic primary; i.e. young white liberal and progressive voters.
  • Legacy Progressive Base
  • Active progressive voters who have voted in 2 of 4 Democratic primaries—i. e the core base of the Democratic Party and who are traditional gotv targets.
  • Organized Progressive Networks
  • Voters who are part of labor unions, faith-based justice organizations and other organized constituencies. Memphis For All collaborates with these network partners to amplify voter contact and mobilization.

Mary Jo Connelly: How many of the folks who you met out there continued to engage with Memphis for All as members, leaders or any other way?

Bennett Foster: Currently our membership is around 730 folks who we asked to sign pledge cards as we knocked doors and attended events. We’re finding out where members live and are engaging with them around hosting precinct meetings, which started in February. We talk about ways that we can build up that precinct’s influence in the district. We talk about voter suppression and see what sort of energy there is for working block by block within that precinct to increase voter turnout and have an impact.

April Freeman: Before starting precinct meetings, we spend a lot of time assessing pledge cards—where people live, whether they vote, what they signed up to do. So when we get ready to target a certain precinct, we have already an organized list of people we call, inviting them out to these meetings. That will give us a better sense of what areas we may want to target when it comes to endorsing a candidate. Or if certain issues are going on, we may have some people on board already to organize some groups for their neighborhoods to address the issues, attend public meetings.

Bennett Foster: In looking at the numbers in every district and every precinct and the results from the mid-term elections, we’re also trying to get a strategic plan for where we can put our efforts. Where we’re needed the most. Where we have the most members.

Mary Jo Connelly: When is your next round of elections?

Bennett Foster: The Memphis Municipal elections–for City Mayor and City Council—will be in October. The 2018 elections were for Shelby County, which also includes all the communities surrounding Memphis. It’s a two-tiered government that they created to keep Memphis in check. All the white folks who moved out East and created little towns wanted to maintain control over the urban core, so they created Shelby County Government.

Now Shelby County Government is controlled by Democrats, with a new progressive Democratic Mayor, Lee Harris, who is a member of UCW (United Campus Workers). They have already raised the minimum wage for temporary county workers to $15 an hour, and there’s a lot more possibility on that front.

We just made our first endorsement for the 2019 City elections—Tami Sawyer, who we helped elect as District 7 Shelby County Commissioner last year!

There’s going to be new voting machines and new potential for voter suppression in this election that’s coming up. Last year the Election Commission was sued for opening voting locations for early voting in predominantly white precincts in East Memphis, and not opening voting locations in predominantly Black parts of town, in Memphis. It was taken to court by the NAACP and others. They won; but you have to keep watching for stuff like that. And the upcoming municipal elections are non-partisan, so the electorate doesn’t have that institutional support to keep an eye on things.

Mary Jo Connelly: When you talk about institutional support, are you talking about the Democratic Party or are you talking about other kinds of local organizations?

Bennett Foster: The Democratic Party in Shelby County re-formed after the 2016 election. It had been dis-banded due to negligence from the leadership and mismanagement of funds and things like that. Since the party re-formed, it’s been kind of exciting because they are putting forth progressive Black women and the leadership is younger than it has been in the past. They have access to money and technology that regular organizations like us, or other grassroots organizations, don’t have. So they can keep an eye on things, and can take things to court, when we and other folks don’t have the money to do so. That’s what I mean by ‘institutional support.’

The statewide Party also has that kind of funding and that power, but getting support from the State Democratic Party for our candidates–for progressive women of color–is not so easy. That’s definitely why we saw Gabi Salinas lose in the mid-terms. We have had to push those folks to invest where it counts, when it counts.

Mary Jo Connelly: What is your vision for where Memphis For All could be in a year? In 5 years?

April Freeman: Personally, I want Memphis For All to have a great impact on the voting turnout. I don’t think that voting has ever been as big a deal as it is now, especially with younger people. And I think that it’s going to take some progressive-type people to really get in the seat and push people to get out and vote, to see what type of change we can make. I’m only 31 and when I did start to vote it was in 2008, we saw the type of change it made. I see this organization as being a power giant in that field: getting people out there, getting them understanding what their vote means. We’re already getting known for taking Memphis and Shelby County beyond—raising their voting turnout so much that it’s nationally covered.

The Memphis electorate is a sleeping giant. It can flip Tennessee and lead a movement for deep change. But our communities are shut out and left behind in the political process – including by big dollar donors. Deep grassroots organizing and community leadership development can shift the balance.

This is the work of Memphis For All.

Bennett Foster: In Memphis, we have the highest number of non-profits per capita in the U.S. With all of that, you would think there would be a lot more civic engagement and community power, but we don’t see that. We really get out and engage with neighborhood leaders and folks. We are not just trying to get them to join Memphis For All, but also giving them something they can use to organize and have a voice: like all the phone numbers in their neighborhood if they want to call folks and make sure to go to vote early. Or information about a hearing on a certain policy in city government, so neighborhood folks can turn out and participate.

And we need to continue to build our influence and our power with voters. The reason we have such an electoral orientation is because we don’t have a choice–we’re pushed into a corner. We can’t abandon the ballot box because our Tennessee state legislature, which is completely controlled by white supremacists and billionaires, is passing legislation that affects us in Memphis. And we have no control over it. State Government is a front we can’t really ignore, that we have to work on.[3]

Send Memphis For All to WiLD

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Send Memphis For All to WiLD

Memphis For All has demonstrated the potential for our city to join together and take action in

But now more than ever, we need to strengthen our movement, and organize the thousands of people who have pledged to build a Memphis For All.

Help us raise the $2000 by Wednesday, October 2nd, so that we can send our Steering Committee member Whitney Maxey to the WiLD training, to sharpen our skills and gain new tools for the movement.

Leaders

Bennett Foster came on to Memphis For All circa September, leading up to the 2018 mid-terms, and April Freeman came on shortly after. They are co-coordinators.[4]

Voting legislation

Memphis For All March 18 2019:

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Memphis For All endorsed candidates, State Representative London Lamar and State Senator Raumesh Akbari, have introduced an exciting bill this legislative session that would expand access to voting.

Legislative committees will meet tomorrow to vote on SB0825/HB0554, which requires county election commissions to use public institutions of higher education with 8,000 or more enrolled students for or more enrolled students for polling places during early voting in federal, state, and local elections.

In Memphis alone, this policy would expand access to voting for tens of thousands of residents by ensuring that students, campus workers and the surrounding community can early vote on campus at Southwest Community College and University of Memphis.

We’re asking that you call or email the following committee members today and urge them to support this critical legislation to improve our democracy.

Memphis Solidarity Brigade

The Memphis district of Freedom Road brought together cadre from around the nation to support a local organizing effort, Memphis For All, to apply our line and strategy to local elections. The Path to Power Memphis for all Solidarity Brigade took place in mid-July 2018 to culminate with an early voting canvassing effort.

The program of the Brigade featured:

  • Mass Line training
  • Three forms of power (political, governing, and state) workshop
  • Black organizer breakouts on intersections of labor and Black folks and building Black political and governing power
  • Praxis, praxis, praxis![5]
Thomas Wayne Walker May 29 2018:

yo!!! i'm excited to invite y'all to sign up for a program focused on learning, on-the-ground, about building political power as leftists, revolutionaries and radicals in working class communities of color that are left out & shut out of politics. the path to power memphis solidarity brigade will combine training & actual field work in support of justice organizations engaging in electoral work to build power, like memphis for all, labor unions, and more. you can sign up at this link https://goo.gl/forms/wemUNfG4SxbusyHo1

it's listed as wednesday 7/18-sunday 7/22, but the real programming is focused on thursday 7/19-saturday 7/21. housing and food are supported, and other support is available. i'm hoping especially to get folks from tennessee to do it, so we can start really thinking about building a #tennesseeforall. hit me up if you're interested, apply now to get in on this.

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Thomas Wayne Walker, Jyoti Gupta, Lindsey Glenn Krinks, Whitney Washington, Briana Perry, Anna Carella, Ramon J. Ryan, David Alex Hayes, Elizabeth Stanfield, Dana Smith, Anne Barnett Josh Adams, Ashley Caldwell, Erica Renee, Deja Foster Justin A. Davis Justin Jones, Sj Payne, Salma Mirza, Jasmine Wallace, Nancy Dung Nguyen, Chris Brooks, Haley Greenwell, Odessa Kelly. Aaron Gamal, Cazembe Jackson, Eliott Geary. Frank W. Johnson, John Emery, Allie Cohn, Calvin Cheung-Miaw.

Thomas Wayne Walker here's the ***draft*** agenda:

The Path to Power Solidarity Brigade: Memphis is a way to learn about and build political power in the South through training and on-the-ground practice in the poorest big city and largest African-American majority city in the country. Critical local and state elections will happen on August 2, and early voting will be in full swing during the Solidarity Brigade. The Brigade will include on-the-ground strategic engagement: we’ll be helping build independent political organization in Memphis for All, helping organize union members around political action and power as a way of exploring how social movements can connect to political power, and tactically engaging electoral work in the demographically changing Memphis suburbs by direct support for progressives running for office. We’ll be building turnout for a Saturday early voting block party. We’ll train on core strategic and analytical questions about a revolutionary take on political power & organization. We’’ll get a flavor for Memphis, with its deep history of civil rights and labor struggle and rich cultural legacy. And all of it with a bunch of badass organizers from across movements who are learning from and teaching one another.

Here’s what you expect:

Wednesday, 7/18

Afternoon only:

  • Memphis then & now - visit to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel and Clayborn Temple, where the 1968 Sanitation Strike was organized
  • The New Confederacy & the political moment - learning about the current political context, how white supremacy shapes political & economic power in the South, and the enemy we face
  • Orientation to Memphis - where we’re organizing & why

Thursday 7/19

Morning:

  • Organizing for political power - training on organizing methods that deeply engage people on the need for political power and mobilize them in political organization, and the mass line

Afternoon:

  • Canvassing training & orientation - what we’re talking about and why, goal setting
  • In the field: Community track: strategic canvassing, political leadership assessment and mobilization in core working class communities of color in Memphis to mobilize them in elections to build Memphis for All neighborhood clubs

Labor track: canvass members of a statewide public sector social justice union on-the-job about local elections & the fight for political power in Memphis and the South. Candidate track: voter mobilization in the multiracial, multiclass suburbs of Memphis doing direct volunteering for progressive candidates of color supported by Memphis for All and labor organizations - a way to learn about taking progressive messaging to frontline electoral conflicts

Friday 7/20

Morning:

  • Political power & movement building - case studies of struggles for political power, a strategy to win by building a united front, and developing analysis of critical forces
  • Political power & socialism - where we’re headed & what sets our struggle apart, what’s socialism anyway

Afternoon & evening:

  • In the field:Community, labor and candidate tracks, part 2

Saturday 7/21

Morning:

  • In the field

Afternoon:

  • Early Voting Block Party with Memphis for All, local musicians and artists

Evening:

  • BBQ kickback & taking in Memphis music scene

Sunday 7/22

Morning:

  • Debrief and sum-up[6]

Memphis For All comrades

Memphis For All April 21, 2018.

John Gilmore (back row third from left), Le'Trice Akashi (back row fourth from left), Thomas Wayne Walker (back row third from right), Jayanni Webster(back row second from right), Gabby Salinas (bottom right)
  1. MemphisForAll and United Campus Workers joining together to support Dr. Roz Nichols for County Commission District 9 today!

Memphis For All supports Lee Harris

Memphis For All, the local chapter of Our Revolution, has announced its official endorsement of Tennessee Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris for Shelby County’s next Mayor.

Said Lee Harris: “I am grateful for this endorsement, particularly at this juncture. It’s the latest sign that we have a chance to do something monumental in 2018. When we all come together, we can bend government to the will of the people.”

From knocking on doors to sending text messages and making calls, Our Revolution and local affiliates have been instrumental in the recent elections of Southern progressive mayoral candidates. Our Revolution endorsed Randall Woodfin, recently elected mayor of Birmingham, Alabama.

Said Thomas Wayne Walker, Memphis For All Steering Committee Member, “Lee Harris has a long history of leading on a variety of issues that our members care deeply about. When he was on the City Council, he pushed for a non-discrimination ordinance that included protections for LGBTQ citizens. As a state senator, he has been a consistent leader for fairer criminal justice reform. And Lee is someone we can count on to speak out against the privatization of our college campuses. We’re ready to get to work to make sure we bring this leadership to the office of Shelby County Mayor.”[7]

Memphis For All endorsements

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Memphis For All 2018 endorsements:

Memphis For All victories

Memphis For All May 2 at 2018:

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Huge wins in primaries last night for a slate of progressives, including #MemphisForAll endorsed candidates Lee Harris for Shelby County Mayor (in a LANDSLIDE), Tami Sawyer for County Commission, District 7 and Racquel Collins for Shelby County Commission District 1! And much appreciation and love for Dr. Roz Nichols who had the audacity to run against the status quo of an entrenched political dynasty in District 9 - and came in second. We look forward to seeing more of her! Now let's keep building.

Memphis For All endorses Creasey

Memphis For All shared a photo. November 3 2018:

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Allan Creasy supports equitable public education that serves all Memphians--just one reason that his campaign in endorsed by Memphis for All!

November 1 at 2:30 PM ·

"As a public school teacher, I support Allan Creasy because he is invested in the roots of our community, and he is passionate about fostering growth and equity for the benefit of all Memphians." Becky Taylor, Shelby County Schools teacher. Thank you for your support, Becky! Let's #ServeThe901 y'all!

Memmphis For All endorses Tami Sawyer

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Memphis For All March 22 2019:

Memphis For All votes a resounding YES to endorse Tami Sawyer for Mayor!

Tami's call to action is "We Can't Wait" and it resonates with all of us. Memphis can't wait another four years for racial and economic justice. We can't wait through more dashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams.

In this historic moment when a progressive Black woman is disrupting the status quo, we truly need all hands on deck. Expect a call from us, and let's make our move together! #WeCantWait

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