2023 Year in Review

A year of leveling up

Collage of photos from PowerSwitch network actions in 2023

“Let this radicalize you, rather than lead you to despair.”

— Mariame Kaba

As 2023 comes to an end, we’re reflecting back on a year of grief and joy, struggles and victories. While many of us have felt the weight and toll of this year, there have been many moments of solidarity, of collective action, of fighting and demanding better together. These are the moments from which we draw hope and forge the people power we need to shape a future worthy of our communities.

The stakes are high. Corporations are extracting from our communities at every turn: hiking the costs of rent and food, paying low wages, meddling in our government, fueling climate destruction, and enabling authoritarianism. These threats are what drove us to develop our long term agenda for multiracial feminist democracy.

We know where we’re going, and we know what we need to get there. We must choose fights that both address immediate needs and grow the infrastructure that sustains people, communities, and movements for long term fights. We need to draw on our strengths, experiment and adapt to the current moment, and expand our movements to win the future we all need.

PowerSwitch Action has grown with this vision in mind: we’ve welcomed a new affiliate, hired new team members, scaled up our resources to support campaigns, and woven powerful coalitions across the country. This increased strength has let our network level up our work this year:

  • We’ve been testing out new strategies and taking on new fights with an eye to how they can open the door to even bigger wins — from connecting together Uber and Lyft drivers organizing across the country, to introducing laws in Missouri that reveal how corporation-driven state bans block community freedoms.

  • We’ve been crafting stories that change the terrain on which we campaign, like turning a video game into a play to connect the legacies of redlining and racism to fights for housing justice in Detroit today.

  • We’ve been developing the leadership of Black, Brown, and gender-oppressed community champions, and establishing movement homes — such as tenant and neighborhood unions — that sustain organizing.

As we look forward to 2024 and beyond, the threats and challenges ahead are daunting. But we’re in this fight for the long haul, because that’s how we win. When we work from a long term vision, each campaign we wage, each leader we train, and each narrative we shift brings us one step closer to a multiracial, democratic, feminist future. We’re ending this year filled with energy and hope for what we can accomplish together.

In solidarity,

Lauren Jacobs, Executive Director of PowerSwitch Action

Kyra R Greene, PhD, Board Chair of PowerSwitch Action

When we launched our long term agenda for multiracial feminist democracy, we knew that we needed to grow to advance our vision. We needed more people organized and engaged in forging a just economy and society. We needed a bigger network of stronger organizations. And we needed more resources to make all that possible and sustain it for the long haul.

This year, we’ve taken strides along this path:

  • We’ve welcomed our newest affiliate, the dynamic Missouri Workers Center that’s organizing with Amazon warehouse workers, taking on corporate-backed bans on community freedom, and making sure that public resources serve the public good.

  • We’ve grown our team, adding over two dozen full-time folks at our affiliates and national staff.

  • We’ve scaled up our resources, increasing our network’s total annual budget by over $6 million.

This additional strength has enabled us to kick open new doors, reshape the terrain on which we fight, and develop leaders and institutions that are paving the way towards a future where we can all thrive. Read on to see how!

377 staff

across our network.

$46 million

annual network budget.

Over 1/3

of the US population lives in regions where our affiliates organize.

Stylized photo of a person speaking through a megaphone against a red background

Fights That Open New Doors

An Uber driver speaks during an app campaign action

Achieving transformational change requires blending urgency with a long term vision. Corporations have spent decades and billions tilting our economy and government to serve their interests. To move governing power to our communities, we must pick our campaigns with an eye to how each fight today opens doors to bigger wins tomorrow.

This year, we’ve been launching new fights and strategies to build power and open doors for wins with long-lasting impact:

  • We’ve been taking on new fights, like linking together groups of app-based drivers organizing around the country to confront Uber’s health and safety crisis.

  • We’ve been testing new strategies, such as introducing legislation that reveals the harms caused by corporate-backed bans on communities’ freedom to care for each other.

  • We’ve been drawing on the power built through years of organizing, coalition weaving, and co-governance work to enact victories unthinkable a few years back, from groundbreaking housing and public safety measures in Chicago to building out local infrastructure for protecting workers in Oakland.

These campaigns are reining in unchecked corporate power, making way for democracy that centers public needs, and shaping our economy to serve the many instead of the few.

We won

$1.2 billion

for community priorities and needs.

Our campaigns won healthier and more just communities for

40+ million

people across the US.

Featured Stories

Bringing drivers together to confront app corporations

We envision a future where everyday people determine what corporations can and can’t do – not the other way around. We organize workers to shift power from greedy corporations to the people they exploit because our future depends not just on the policies we win, but on the power we build along the way.

This year, PowerSwitch Action has been taking this fight to corporations on the leading edge of worker exploitation: app-based corporations. Built on exploitative business models, these corporations shift the risks and costs of business onto their workers, all while pulling strings at the statehouse to block workers’ efforts to win protections and ensure nobody stops them. It’s crucial that we rein in these corporations’ unchecked power so we can reshape our economy and shift power back to the folks who generate the wealth that flows through that economy: workers.

We’ve been connecting driver groups organizing around the country to level up the fight against exploitative rideshare corporations Uber and Lyft. These corporations’ business models push workers into unsafe situations, and this has created a safety crisis for drivers all across the country. As these companies continue to take larger and larger percentages of driver fares and push more drivers into danger, we’ve been working to support a powerful surge in driver organizing across the country. We’ve been working alongside driver groups and allies from across the country to expose the ways in which these corporations are putting drivers in danger, and to help rideshare drivers come together across the nation to fight for policies that ensure living wages, safety, and to end unjust terminations.

The business model used by app-based rideshare corporations also isolates drivers, making it difficult for them to organize. This spring, we co-released a report with GWR and ACRE to expose just how dangerous these corporations’ business model is for workers, revealing that more than 80 rideshare drivers (that we know of) have been murdered on the job in the last five years.

This year, we co-led a powerful coalition to support drivers in organizing other drivers by meeting them where they’re at, from airports and parking lots to digital spaces and community groups. We  connected with drivers to form a shared set of demands and coordinate a national day of action with over 1,000 drivers taking action in cities across the country to demand these companies prioritize worker safety.

This day of action took place two days before Uber was set to celebrate record-breaking revenue at their annual shareholder meeting, drawing attention to the driver safety crisis and setting drivers up to take their demands directly to Uber. At this shareholder meeting, PowerSwitch Action submitted a first-ever driver resolution – drafted in consultation with drivers around the country and presented by Jocilyn Floyd, an Uber driver and leader with Chicago Gig Alliance – that called on Uber to pay drivers fairly and to end unfair termination practices that pressure them into unsafe situations. 

While Uber tried to downplay the health and safety crisis to block the resolutions, drivers have been carrying the momentum of this moment into their local campaigns. For example, drivers are coming together to push for a first-of-its-kind ordinance in Chicago for 2024 that would provide fairer pay, safety standards, and deactivation protections for drivers.  This fall, GWR in California joined CGA to canvas drivers at Chicago airport parking lots, reaching 260 drivers in just two days to build cross-city solidarity for the initiative.

This year, all of this organizing, connecting, and co-strategizing has started to pay off. Uber was forced to respond to the groundswell of driver voices demanding better and acknowledge that their deactivation policies need to change. In November, Uber announced  some small improvements to their deactivation policies and safety features, but these tweaks still don’t offer any real transparency in the deactivation process to ensure Uber is actually heeding driver concerns. Even as drivers continue to point out how things like lack of transparency and low pay contribute to this escalating safety crisis, Uber and Lyft have been trying to block local and state policies that would require them to be more fair and transparent in their pay or deactivation policies. Drivers in Chicago, Colorado, and Minnesota are carrying their fights to win changes into 2024. 

The fight for rideshare drivers’ safety is gaining momentum as we help weave together a powerful coalition of driver groups and allies. But the only way we can bring corporations like Uber and Lyft to heel and shift power to the workers is to continue to organize for a long-term power shift, connecting drivers across the country to build power these corporations can no longer ignore.

Building People Power Through Public Budget Processes

We envision a future in which every community has equitable access to the shared resources we all need to thrive. That starts with centering lived experience and neighborhood needs in determining how our public dollars are used. Too often, local budget decisions are made behind closed doors to benefit the wealthy and well-connected — and hurt working-class residents and people of color. Corporations refuse to pay their fair share while the politicians in their pockets redirect resources away from community needs and toward corporate interests. So we’re fighting to bring excluded communities into the budget-making process to demand more democratic systems and ensure public resources flow to the neighborhoods and needs that are too often ignored.

Our network has a long history of building infrastructures for community-led budgeting and winning policies that direct public funds toward community priorities. Across the country, local governments spend over $1.8 trillion annually, which should be going to the things our communities need, like ensuring we have roofs overhead, food on the table, and safe, healthy neighborhoods in which we can all thrive. We see the budget process as a key arena in which to build community power and enable authentic democracy in which we all have a say in how public dollars are spent. This year alone, our affiliates won more than $1.2 billion in public funds for community priorities — from renter protections to public safety initiatives, affordable housing, childcare and legal support for workers, and equitable development agreements that ensure wealthy corporations pay their fair share.

PowerSwitch Action has been connecting affiliates all over the country to share strategies, learn from each other, and craft inclusive, participatory models on which to build. For example, in late 2022 we brought together a cohort of affiliates together to explore popular education for leadership and base building with Movement Matters. This cohort worked together to build tools that demystify the budget process for community members and bring them into the budget making process.

Affiliates have taken this approach into their budget work. We connected CPI with affiliates Detroit Action Education Fund & Pittsburgh United to devise a budget strategy game that would help coalition and community members understand how to secure wins for funding priorities and identify structural reforms that help create a multiracial feminist democracy. This year we also collaborated with affiliate EBASE on an experiment in utilizing popular education elements to assess community engagement in the Oakland's budget process. Crafting an assessment process that was woven throughout Oakland’s public participation opportunities, EBASE connected folks to the experience of the budget process while gauging how well the environment and process fostered their engagement.

In Chicago, we’re seeing what’s possible when budget campaigns are part of a long-term powerbuilding and co-governance strategy. After years of building deep trust with labor and community members, facilitating education, analysis & alignment on key issues, affiliate Grassroots Collaborative has woven together a powerful coalition of over 30 Chicago organizations to build the People’s Unity Platform. PUP brings community members and organizations together to build true community safety through things like housing, environmental justice, and education – rather than policing. This year, PUP representatives won over $350M for those priorities, like public health infrastructure, youth employment, and violence prevention They also helped push Brandon Johnson’s administration to allocate funding to reopen Chicago’s Department of the Environment and two mental health clinics that were shut down by former Mayor Rahm Emanual back in 2012.

In bringing everyday folks into public budget processes, we’re harnessing the power of organized people to guide public investments toward community priorities, using public dollars to expand people power and opening doors to wins that were not possible before. 

Stylized image of actors on stage in the play Dot's Home Live against a purple background

Stories that Change the Terrain

Actors on stage in the play Dot's Home Live

To shift power in our economy and society, we need to transform how we see each other. For decades, corporations and their allies have peddled stories that government is broken, individuals should only look out for themselves, and private industry knows best. To transform our economy we need new stories: stories that expose the corporate agenda, show what's possible when we come together, and expand our view of what's possible.

This year, we've been telling these stories that reshape the terrain on which we campaign:

  • We’ve been harnessing the power of art to reach people where they’re at, such as turning a video game about housing insecurity into a live play that connects the legacies of redlining and racism to fights for housing justice in Detroit today.

  • We’ve been supporting people in telling their stories of corporate harm, like Amazon workers putting on a workers’ opera as part of their organizing to challenge unsafe working conditions.

  • We’ve been using creative tactics to change narratives, from crafting public education toolkits illustrating the potential for energy democracy, to staging a spoof award show turning the spotlight on the real estate interests driving harmful state bans in Colorado.

These projects are chipping away at the problematic narratives that reinforce corporate control, building hope for authentic democracy and a people’s economy, and drawing folks into organizing spaces.

Our digital storytelling reached

1.5+ million

people online.

We improved the jobs of over

2 million

working people.

Featured Stories

Speakers on stage at the community forum hosted after the performance of Dot's Home Live

Transforming a video game into an organizing tool

Our movement needs campaigns that build power and win substantive changes for our communities. It also needs narrative and cultural organizing to express our vision and move people’s hearts and souls to build that power. This year, PowerSwitch Action brought together our affiliate Detroit Action Education Fund, the artist and organizer collective Rise Home Stories Project, and theater group A Host of People to harness the power of art to bring new people into the fight for housing justice.

Since its release in late 2021, half a million people have downloaded Dot’s Home, the narrative-driven single player video game we co-produced with the Rise-Home Stories Project. Making choices as the titular character, Dot, players experience the intergenerational impacts of housing inequality and how individual choices can affect an entire community. For many of Dot’s Home’s players — primarily youth and young adults not connected to housing movements—  this is the first experience with media that centers housing justice and tells a nuanced, intimate story of a Black family and their very relatable relationship with home and opportunity.

This year, we worked with Detroit Action Education Fund to transform Dots’ Home into an organizing tool that  tells a story about why Black and brown communities are owed justice after centuries of predatory exclusion and discrimination. While a video game is a great way to reach some audiences, for other people it’s not the most resonant medium. Thus, an experiment was born. PowerSwitch Action’s Housing and Land Justice Director Christina Rosales (who co-created the game), collaborated with Detroit Action Education Fund and local theater collective A Host of People to transform the game into an interactive stage play, where audience members chimed in to shape how the story unfolded.

In June of 2023, this tender story about family, home, and generations of triumph in the midst of struggle was brought to life for members of  Detroit Action Education Fund and the surrounding community.  Right after the premiere, Detroit Action Education Fund leaders held a panel discussion with audience members, including Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero, about how the themes of discrimination and struggle show up in members’ real lives and how Detroit Action Education Fund is organizing and mobilizing people to challenge the status quo of housing injustice in the city.

“It feels beautiful. I think is very educational as far as showing how the different racial systematic ways affect people of color, and I think it's very informational education.”

— Anonymous member of Detroit Action Education Fund

Over 300 people attended the three packed-house showings, including dozens of people from outside Detroit Action Education Fund’s membership. Since then, Detroit Action Education Fund has drawn on the themes and emotion from Dot’s Home to energize their campaigns for a tenant bill of rights and financial support for Detroit homeowners experiencing wrongful foreclosure.

“It feels like I’m doing something to keep a community going.  I'm doing something to help the elderly families that can't afford it, that are struggling, or that young family that's just starting out that is trying to make ends meet and thought Detroit would be a nice place to start.”

Iesha Morgan, member of Detroit Action Education Fund

Dot’s Home is a hopeful piece that walks the audience through history and asks them to consider what could be if we confronted systemic racism and the people who condone and uphold it for profit. This experiment — helmed from game to stage entirely by women of color — showed us how powerful the arts  can be to reach new audiences in different ways, helping them to imagine the possibilities of a multiracial feminist democracy, and recruiting them into civic organizations that are advancing this vision. 

Amazon workers, Athena coalition, and allies rally at Amazon's Seattle HQ holding signs demand climate action and accountability.

Changing the story about Amazon

Amazon is much more than an online sales platform — it impacts nearly all aspects of our economy and democracy, from groceries to web services, job quality to the environment, public revenues to surveillance. Its influence is felt in communities across the country: in warehouses where workers are pushed to work at inhuman rates and break their bodies; in surrounding neighborhoods where those same workers and residents breathe in polluted air; and in halls of power where Amazon uses its immense resources to rig the rules and build even more wealth on our backs. On a larger scale, Amazon has amassed enormous political power, wielding it to control entire markets, reshape our economy, and interfere in our democracy. 

Together with our affiliates and allies, we’ve been confronting Amazon. This is essential not just for protecting workers and communities in the here and now, but to fight against threats to our democracy and win our vision of the future. We knew we had to build a powerful multifaceted coalition with a shared analysis of how Amazon is harming folks across all their different identities as workers, renters, immigrants, community members, and more. We also needed to tell the truth about Amazon: that its warehouses come at tremendous cost to local economies and communities, that its online shop exploits small businesses, and that it is a terrible employer. Our network has been doing this through arts, organizing, and powerful storytelling, so that we can draw attention to how Amazon puts warehouse workers in danger and how that harms broader communities.

After the 2019 victory against Amazon’s proposed HQ2 facility in New York City, we joined groups like the Institute for Local Self Reliance, ACRE, and United for Respect to found the Athena Coalition and fight the many ways that Amazon abuses its power. Through the coalition and our affiliates’ campaigns, we’ve been supporting workers organizing inside of Amazon and weaving together worker and community fights.

Earlier this year we rallied with fellow members of the Athena Coalition – Warehouse Worker Resource Center, People’s Collective for Environmental Justice, alongside the Inland Empire Amazon Workers United, as well as a hundred other Amazon workers, environmental advocates, allies, and community groups from across the country at Amazon's Seattle HQ to protest the corporation's toxic pollution in our neighborhoods. We came together to make clear the connections between Amazon, labor exploitation, and climate catastrophe, and they demanded that the corporation be held accountable.

In Missouri, Amazon workers organizing in the STL8 warehouse in St. Peters shared their experiences, challenges, and successes through song. Together with Missouri Workers Center and Bread and Roses Missouri, they wrote and performed a workers’ opera that tells the story of what it’s like working in an Amazon warehouse and dealing with unsafe working conditions, low pay, surveillance, production quotas, and more. After weeks of story-gathering, writing, and rehearsing, the workers produced an hour-long show with songs that wove together labor history, current events, and the workers’ own lived experiences with organizing for better working conditions in STL8. 

For many of the folks involved, it was an unfamiliar, yet affirming experience. It enabled them to get creative, share their stories, and build power and solidarity with other workers, local groups, and community members who came out to see the show. A few days after the opera, more than 400 STL8 workers signed a petition demanding safer working conditions at the warehouse. Two months later, members of the STL8 Organizing Committee filed an OSHA complaint citing unsafe working conditions, job-related injuries, and Amazon’s failure to provide adequate first aid and treatment to injured employees. 

From California to Missouri, Amazon workers have been raising the alarm about safety concerns in warehouses, from the dangers of working in extreme heat to receiving inadequate care from on-site first aid clinics. They’ve shared their stories online, held press conferences, and called on state and federal regulators to intervene and protect workers. In 2023 alone, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued citations for workplace safety or health violations at several Amazon facilities, fined the corporation more than $150,000, and opened investigations into more than 20 warehouses across the country. 

This past summer, as chair of the HELP Committee, Bernie Sanders opened a Senate investigation into Amazon’s workplace health and safety practices. Prior to the investigation, workers, labor advocates, and allies testified to the poor safety record in Amazon warehouses before Senate staff. Sara Fee, a worker leader at Amazon’s KSBD air hub organizing with the Warehouse Worker Resource Center, shared how workers have taken collective action to win respite from working in extreme heat, and how Amazon prioritizes moving packages quickly over the basic safety of workers. This kind of storytelling, along with critical research and organizing being done by Athena and partner organizations, is building a drum beat against Amazon’s harmful practices and drawing further scrutiny from regulators and policymakers.

Workers are using storytelling to ratchet up the pressure on Amazon, and support the organizing necessary to rein in the corporation and win better jobs, safe working conditions, healthy communities, and an economy that works for everyday people.

Showing what's possible with Energy Democracy

For years, corporations have extracted our planet’s natural resources, poisoned local communities, and saddled everyday people with the cost. In their relentless search for greater profits, private utilities have created a system that robs people of health, wealth, and power, while disproportionately harming low-income folks and communities of color. 

There have been important steps to address the impacts of the climate crisis, like industrial decarbonization and electrification, but our vision for the future is much bigger than that. We have an opportunity to shift away from exploitative and extractive practices, hold accountable the corporations harming people and the planet, and build a just renewable energy system governed by local communities. We call this Energy Democracy.

An energy system for people and planet, not corporate profits

Earlier this year we released our Energy Democracy Pop Ed Toolkit, a set of multimedia resources designed to help organizers and everyday folks align around a common goal:  winning renewable, affordable, and reliable power through community governance. In a series of short videos, our Climate Justice Manager unpacked the main principles of energy democracy, explained the harmful connection between utilities, environmental racism, and health problems, and shared our vision for a future where electricity is democratically-governed, affordable, and sustainable. More than half a million people have watched these videos across our social platforms. 

On the ground, our affiliates have been putting energy democracy principles into action — waging fights that not only win climate demands (like how electricity is generated and transmitted), but secure good jobs for workers and give community members a say in the decisions that affect their neighborhoods. 

A new law to address climate, labor, and economic needs in New York

In New York, ALIGN, as part of the NY Renews Coalition, joined advocates and groups from across the state to advance the Build Public Renewables Act (BPRA). After years of fighting corporate interests and fossil fuel lobbyists trying to protect their profits, they were able to pass the BPRA earlier this year. The new law puts energy democracy principles into practice, shifting renewable energy projects away from private corporations and into the hands of a public utility, the New York Power Authority. 

It also addresses community needs across a range of issues: prioritizing clean energy access for low-income folks, supporting workers displaced from fossil fuel jobs and providing them with workforce training, requiring collective bargaining agreements for new projects, and reducing monthly utility bills for cost-burdened customers. Organizers and community leaders fought for a community oversight board in their original demands, but private interests prevailed, effectively removing community governance from the final version of the law. Even with big victories for our communities, we know that democracy is often the hardest to win, but it's the reason why we continue organizing. When we have power to make decisions that impact our lives, we can shape the future we deserve.

An innovative project to build community-owned microgrids in Massachusetts

To build a just energy system, community control is key — we should be able to decide how electricity is generated, how much it costs, and who benefits along the way. In two Boston neighborhoods, community members are taking electricity into their own hands. In the face of rising utility bills, industrial pollution, and climate disasters that leave residents without power for days, Chinatown and Chelsea are building community-owned microgrids, independent energy systems that exist separately from a larger power grid. Our affiliate Community Labor United and coalition partners are leading the project, connecting community leaders to developers and helping them navigate ownership and governance over the utility. Earlier this year, the coalition won $750,000 in federal funding to support the project and to establish a public sector entity.

A bold plan to fight greedy utilities and win big for communities in Pennsylvania

In Philadelphia, POWER Interfaith launched their People’s Energy Plan, which holds polluting corporations accountable for the harm they cause communities and demands clean, renewable, affordable energy for all. They’re taking the fight directly to utility companies by exposing their greed, fighting back against exploitative practices, and demanding a plan to transition to a renewable energy system. Earlier this year, when Philadelphia Gas Works requested a $85.2 million annual rate increase from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, POWER intervened and advocated for equitable rate and policy changes. In a series of wins for ratepayers across the city, the Commission reduced the size of the rate increase by 70%, scaled-back residential fixed charges that hit low-income households the hardest, ordered improvements to customer service and bill assistance for low-income customers, and eliminated PGW’s proposed lobbying expenditures that would have been paid for by ratepayers. 

Creating an energy system that prioritizes people and the planet over corporate profits is an essential part of the multiracial feminist future we envision for our communities. When everyday people organize and have a say in the decisions that impact their lives, then we can ensure that everyone has access to electricity, workers have good jobs, our communities breathe clean air, and our planet is stewarded and protected.

Stylized image of participants in PowerSwitch's Power Up training against a teal background

Leaders & Spaces that Pave the Way

Organizers at PowerSwitch's Power Up training

Our future depends not just on the policies we win but on the power we build along the way. In an economy that serves the few, those few must keep the many divided. To take on white supremacy, authoritarianism, and corporate extraction, we need leaders and spaces that bring people together and shift power.

This year, our network has drawn on what we’ve learned through years of organizing and leadership development work to grow civic institutions that pave the way for authentic democracy.

We developed over

350 leaders

in our communities.

We equipped over

14,000 people

to advocate for better working conditions.

Spaces that Sustain Organizing

Our network is growing institutions where people can come together with others to have a collective voice in all aspects of their lives. This year, we’ve been building up the infrastructure to bring folks in and support them in developing and using their voice to build power for their communities:

  • We’ve been engaging more people through worker and tenant outreach and education programs that arm them with the knowledge and support to fight mistreatment by bosses and landlords.

  • We’ve been building institutions that bring folks together, like tenant and neighborhood unions in Anaheim and Concord, community schools in San Diego, and a dedicated movement space in Atlanta.

Leaders who Forge the Path Ahead

We’re building a leaderful movement, equipping people who have been excluded from decision-making to lead in the streets, in the halls of power, and in our organizations. This year, we’ve been preparing grassroots leaders to forge the path toward our shared vision of the future:

  • Through organizing academies, we’ve supported working-class folks, women, and people of color as they’ve stepped up to demand better for their families, neighbors, and coworkers.

  • We’ve expanded our programs that train community champions to lead with values in elected and appointed office.

  • We’ve deepened the skills and resilience of our network’s staff through our sixth Transformational Leadership Retreat and a new bilingual project that blended leadership development with hands-on campaign support.

Featured Stories

Developing transformational leaders at all levels

Our movement requires bold leaders at all levels who can face big challenges with love, care, and compassion. Equipping people — especially people of color, young people, queer folks, and women — with the skills and support to step into their leadership has been a core pillar of our approach for over two decades. Our network supports leaders through a continuous practice of relationship building throughout the year, while also holding spaces to step back, reflect, sharpen technique, and deepen relationships.

This year, our network drew on this experience to launch new leadership programs and expand proven models. Together, our programs nurture people at multiple points on their leadership journey: from renters and workers stepping up for the first time, to community champions preparing to hold elected or appointed office, to staff at our affiliates and national team.

Training folks taking their first steps into leadership

Our network is supporting a new generation of working-class folks, women, and people of color as they step up to demand better for their families, neighbors, and coworkers. In 2023, PowerSwitch affiliates created and revamped 11 new leadership development programs, like OCCORD and Missouri Workers Center’s new academies that teach community members and workplace leaders some of the core skills of organizing. Such programs are already having immediate impacts, such as when participants in LAANE’s Adelante Spanish-language leadership training advocated for and won $1.5 million in the Long Beach city budget to provide legal support for vulnerable renters.

Preparing community champions to step into co-governance roles

When people from marginalized communities take on positions of power, they face myriad obstacles to making change in systems designed to thwart them. To enable community champions to govern effectively, our network has developed programs that equip leaders in elected office, government commissions, and institutions like major nonprofits with the knowledge and networks to lead with their values.

In 2023, our affiliates built up these programs, such as CAUSE and Puget Sound Sage, which both expanded their trainings for public officials and civic leaders. Graduates of these programs are applying this values-based approach to governing for their communities. 83% of Sage’s fellows are currently drawing on their training in their roles on boards and commissions across the Puget Sound region. And two participants from Stand Up Nashville’s Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute are applying what they’ve learned as they join Nashville’s city council.

Equipping network staff to lead the way with head, hands, and heart

We know that our network is stronger when we have a deep bench of leaders on our team. We start with internship programs that provide college students and young activists with a running start, like CPI’s Students for Economic Justice internship that graduated its 18th class this year. We continue with programs that build the hard and soft skills of our staff, such as through Power Up, a six-month bilingual project where we dove in deep with our affiliates to hone our campaigns challenging corporate power. And we hold space for the current and future leadership of our network to reflect and connect, like our weeklong Transformational Leadership Retreat (now in its sixth year). Through initiatives like this we fortify network leaders with the practices, resilience, and relationships so necessary to sustain this work in challenging times.  

Across the network, 10 different emerging leaders stepped into senior leadership positions in 2023, building up our vision and capacity from the national team to our affiliate organizations. By intentionally supporting network and community leaders as they forge paths toward a multiracial feminist democracy, we bolster the civic institutions and people power needed to engage in authentic democracy for the long term.  

“To be with a group where you can really show up with your authentic self and that is met with warmth and compassion, it gives you confidence to bring that outside of that space into spaces of dominant culture. It fills your bucket in a way that says, ‘I can do this.’”

— Siobhana McEwen, a 2023 fellow of Sage’s and co-founder of their newest fellowship chapter

“Through the connections we built and the collective knowledge we shared with each other, I’ve become more rooted and clear in a vision of leadership where impact and change can be contributed without dependence on corrosive uses of titles, authority, or resource inequalities.”

— Carlos Fernandez, Executive Director of Grassroots Collaborative, on his experience at the 2022 Transformational Leadership Retreat

Powering Up to take on corporate greed

Corporations have seized more and more control over our lives in their efforts to line the pockets of CEOs and shareholders. They exploit our communities at every point, from the workplace to our homes and neighborhoods. They’ve taken over our economies and hijacked state policies and undermined our democracy to protect their interests. 

From the beginning, our network has sought to shift governing power from corporations to communities, but for the first decade or so we mostly confronted corporate power indirectly, like through public policy fights and community benefits agreements. We realized as a network that the tactics of public policy fights and community benefit agreements were just not enough. We’re not here just to reduce harm, but to achieve a long-lasting transformation with everyday people at the center of our democratic systems. Public policy is an important way to shift power in our communities, but we can’t rely solely on government to rein in corporate greed in an environment where corporations can reshape government. And community benefits agreements open doors for communities to hold corporations accountable themselves, but this approach is just one of the ways in which we can confront corporations’ growing power. We also need a broader set of tools to call out the true villains and directly confront corporations to stop their extractive, racist, and exploitative practices.

This year, our national team has been working closely alongside affiliate members to experiment together, craft strategies, and develop resources to directly take on corporations and shift power in the long term. We tested a new approach to this with Power Up, a bilingual six-month deep dive into corporate campaigning with 17 network staff across six affiliate organizations, the majority of whom are women and people of color. Over the course of these six months, we fostered a shared understanding of corporate campaigning, developed tools and resources to build these campaigns, and fostered relationships to grapple with the challenges of directly taking on corporations together, building up the resilience and leadership skills to take corporations head on.

Trainings can help build skills and forge relationships, but these kinds of skills aren’t just built through programs like this – they’re also built through continuous practice. Along with formal spaces to build skills and strategize together, we also need ongoing, hands-on support to co-strategize and build capacity throughout the year. Throughout the program, participants worked closely with PowerSwitch national staff, we continue to support affiliates on their corporate campaigns with resources and thought partnership as they apply the tools and approaches developed through Power Up. 

Take UNE’s recent work in tackling corporate-driven state bans on rent control, for example. UNE has been organizing tenants and building power for years, but when renters in Colorado tried to repeal the state ban on local rent control policies, lobbyists for big corporate landlords jumped into action and the bill fell short. 

Through Power Up, UNE staff honed their analysis of the problem and were challenged to name a corporate target. This inspired them to conduct research exposing how these corporate landlords are fueling Colorado’s housing crisis while simultaneously blocking local communities from fighting back. Our national communications and housing campaign teams worked with UNE and coalition partners to build out this research, adjust their campaign approach, and take the fight to the corporations working to maintain this harmful ban so they could continue to jack up rents and push people out of their homes.

Our national team also supported this effort with narrative action coaching, out of which came a plan to pivot to leverage UNE’s research and craft a creative narrative strategy unmasking the corporate landlords behind Colorado’s housing crisis. UNE first put the new approach into action by hosting The Slummys, an anti-award show held outside of the corporate landlords’ celebration. PowerSwitch Action’s creative lead flew out to help organizers and members craft high impact visuals and capture the event in photos and videos that have since been viewed over 150,000 times. 

Taking on big, powerful corporations that have tons of resources at their disposal can be difficult, but it is essential to achieve our vision of a multiracial feminist democracy. We can’t rely solely on government intervention to rein in corporate excess in an environment where corporations can reshape government priorities. Through programs like PowerUp and deep partnerships in key on-the-ground fights, we're ensuring organizers are set up to take on corporations and put control over decisions about our lives where they belong — in the hands of our communities.

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