Lobbying for Activists

What is lobbying? For some, it’s a word that brings up images of D.C. politicians, oil tycoons, and fervent protesters with a political agenda. For me, it represented the voice of a movement trying to make itself heard. I had always thought of lobbying as the ultimate activist occupation—fists and posters raised in a show of resistance against corrupt corporations, laws, or politicians in government. When I was younger, I believed that lobbying, although brave and purposeful, was only for those who already had at least a little bit of power—enough power to stand up for what they believed in. I did not feel particularly powerful, and I wasn’t sure if I had even enough power to stand up and try to make myself heard as a lobbyist. As I got older, that began to change when I started coming to Boston Mobilization and discovering my power as an activist. I still wasn’t sure if I was powerful enough to make the change that I wanted to see, but I knew that I was going to try.

    Two years ago, I lobbied for the first time at the State House with Sub/Urban Justice. I went to a rally for the Youth Jobs Campaign and we marched as a group to the State House at the top of the hill to meet with our city representatives. While my representative was not present, I still got to deliver my speech to an aide, with a friend by my side. I talked about why youth jobs deserve funding and their positive impact on communities with teens. Some teens need the income to support their families, others use the experience with real-world financial education, and more. Although the entire experience was a dizzying blur of faces, names, and statistics, it was the first time I felt powerful enough to make real change in the movements important to me. By no means did I suddenly gain enough confidence in my lobbying activism to enable me to meet with my legislators every other Sunday, but it was my first real taste of the power that organized people could have when they joined forces in solidarity regarding a cause.

    Earlier today, at Sub/Urban Justice, I sat in on a workshop led by another Sub/Urban Justice teen. The workshop that taught me about what lobbying is, and why it is so important to add our youth voice to the movements we support. After all, I would argue that the purpose of our democracy is not to agree on all issues at all times. Rather, it’s to disagree, and to reach a conclusion not in spite of our differences, but because of them. Although I like to think that I now have a better understanding of the organizing and education process that goes into lobbying, I will not deny that I still have so much more to learn. I had plunged only a few feet under the surface, and I still have a lot of swimming to do. I learned the specifics of storytelling—the way to convey to an important audience just how relevant your cause is and how it relates not only to yourself, but to your whole community, state, or country. I learned the importance of stating your case in a way that makes it urgent to whoever can help make the change necessary to advance your cause.

In listening to the voices of those leading and participating in the workshop, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my previous views on lobbying and activism, and how much they had evolved through new experiences. Remembering my doubts regarding my power as an activist and what I was capable of achieving, I thought that there, sitting in a room with other youth activists who are constantly growing into their power as leaders of their communities, my younger self would have been proud at how far I had come. I believe that there is so much to be done in learning more about how to use my voice in the capacity that I am given, as an activist, lobbyist, student, mentor/mentee, and a teenager. But for now, I am proud of breaching the surface of my activist/lobbying work, and swimming a little bit further down by gaining more knowledge in using the power of my voice each day.

-Mary, 16

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With Your Support, Our Resistance Grows Stronger

Dear Friend,

“It is our duty to fight for freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We must love and support one another.

We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

-Assata Shakur

For 39 years, Boston Mobilization has fought against racism, sexism and classism towards our vision for a just world. In the face of white supremacy, xenophobia and voter suppression, our resistance only grows stronger. We are developing today’s generation of young social justice leaders through our transformational youth programs, our critical community organizing and campaign work, and our powerful trainings.

Some highlights of our work this past year include:

  • OurSub/Urban Justice Program teens advocated with the offices of Senators Elizabeth Warren (US), Sonia Chang-Diaz (MA) and Cynthia Creem (MA) to ensure meaningful youth engagementin the new Massachusetts voter pre-registration law for 16 and 17 year olds.
  • Our teens successfully campaigned to defeat the statewide ballot initiative on lifting the charter school cap.
  • Over 100 teens graduated from the Social Justice Leadership Institute, honing in on their understanding of systems of oppression and strengthening leadership skills on 14 New England private school campuses.
  • Our teen leaders facilitated more than 50 trainings, reaching close to 1300 young people.
  • We launched our innovative TeensVote! Program, through which we will register over 5,000 16 and 17 year olds in the coming two years.

It is so important to spread knowledge in our society and to work to change the injustices we see happening. Here, we do both. This organization matters to me because it has become the place where I learned, and am still learning, to find my voice.
Mary, 15, Medford, MA

Day after day, our teens are building a community motivated by love and guided by justice. Across race, gender, class, immigration status, sexual orientation, and neighborhood differences, our teens remind us that social justice work is about creating change at the root cause.

Our teens are not waiting. Our teens are organizing, educating and building their ideal world today, continuing yesterday’s historic traditions with today’s young leadership. Thank you for supporting this work. Your donation today makes a difference in our future. Please give as generously as you can through this link.

Sincerely,

Nina Mukherji                              Erin Rodriguez                                                                                                Co-Chair                                        Co-Chair

Boston Mobilization Board of Directors                                                                                  www.bostonmobilization.org                                                                                                                                617.492.5599

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Why?

Racial justice training

In my opinion, one of the most underrated phrases in the English language comes down to the question, “Why?” Young children often question everything, from the reason the sky is blue, to the motives behind everything their parents do. As people get older we are taught that some things should not be questioned, that the world simply is the way it is. When respected authority figures, like teachers and doctors, meet inquisitive remarks with a note of finality, we learn to stop asking, “Why?” On October 27, 2015 I took the chance to bring this question back to those with the power to nourish it.

In the fall of 2015, 4 teens sat down with 20 pediatric residents at Boston Medical Center. We, the teens, were there to lead a training on Racism and Racial Justice. My part of the training was called Honest Conversations.  I began this by posing the seemingly simple question: “Why is it so difficult to talk about race?” The flood of answers varied from guilt to society, but all encompassed the idea that it is, in fact, difficult to talk about race.

My second question was slightly different. I asked the residents to imagine a world where talking about race was as easy as discussing the weather. “What race-related questions would you ask your patients? What would you ask your colleagues about racism?”  As they talked I recorded the varied responses. In the final part of this training, the doctors got into groups and answered the questions.  As they talked they began to open up. Each question seemed to peel back a layer of discomfort and the answers got realer and more vulnerable. Throughout the entire conversation it became increasingly clear that when people are allowed to ask questions wonderful things can happen.

-Tamar, 16

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A Message from our Former Director

Diller Teen Fellowship 2016

Friends,

It is with a heart full of joy and sadness that I write you today announcing my departure from Boston Mobilization. It’s been 10 wonderful years, and we are ready for inspired new leadership to achieve our next level of growth. I leave the organization on good terms, and in good hands with an amazing staff team and a strong Board of Directors.

Boston will remain my home, and I will continue working for justice (not sure what’s next yet!). I hope to remain in relationship with you as we work together to build the world we wish to live in.  I am deeply grateful to you for the many ways you have supported us over the years, including giving so generously of your time, your money and your wisdom.

Longer Story: Boston Mobe was founded in 1977. I first heard about the organization in 2006.  I liked their work with teens, helped out on a racial justice training with the Belmont METCO program, and asked if the organization needed any other help.  At the time I was teaching in BPS and starting to build the Sub/Urban Justice program with Ted Cullinane and a few other folks. Mobe needed a book-keeper, so I started working for them 4 hours a month. Suddenly the organization experienced a rapid turnover in leadership, and within a year we had no money in the bank, our programming stalled out, all of our internal systems collapsed, remaining staff left the organization, and the Board dissolved.  By early 2008 I became an accidental Executive Director, sure that Boston Mobilization would close on my watch.

Something magical happened instead. I kept meeting people all over Boston who remembered Mobe fondly, who had found a political home there in the late 70s, the 80s or the 90s, and who wanted us to keep going. Long-time supporters kept mailing in checks, even when we hadn’t sent them an appeal. Friends of the organization talked about the historical work of politicizing the next generation of organizers and social justice thought leaders. I introduced the fledgling Sub/Urban Justice program, and started teaching myself the basics of fundraising. I had to learn about all the other aspects of being an Executive Director.  I’ve never loved the ED role, but over the past 8 years, we’ve grown to a robust organization with healthy systems and 4.5 staff.  We have done amazing things and are poised for exciting growth in the years to come.

Even Longer Story: My salary that first year was $13,245 dollars, and I was on food stamps. Our first summer we partnered with The City School, a partnership that continues to this day, and our 14 teens talked about race and class constantly. We literally had to kick them out at the end of each day. Ted, Donna Desilus and I had planned to cover community organizing, but we couldn’t get those 14 teens to stop talking about racism and classism. Most of them are still working for justice to this day, including Will Poff-Webster on our Board of Directors and Mariko Dodson as our Program Coordinator. I realized my background in organizing wasn’t strong enough, so I signed up for JOIN’s Organizing Fellowship.

That fall our young people launched our first school-year program, bringing together teens from two economic sides of Jamaica Plain to fight gentrification. That winter, Boston announced $75 million dollars in school budget cuts, and suddenly we were in the middle of our first organizing campaign. Our teens, with no adults involved, launched a protest at the Mayor’s State of the City Address. The Superintendent called those teen leaders into meetings. Two months later we were part of a city-wide youth coalition and seated around a table with Mayor Menino demanding a restoration of school funds.  Nick Parker later told me how powerful he felt when he noticed Mayor Menino taking notes during the meeting – only to realize the Mayor was just doodling.  This was an abject lesson in power – if you don’t have enough, they’ll do what they please.  Nonetheless, teen leaders pressed on and helped convince their legislators to pass laws raising taxes to fund education.  Boston now has a 1.25% tax on all restaurant meals to fund Boston’s school budget. We shared that victory with amazing youth organizers from the Chinese Progressive Association, Sociedad Latina, Boston Student Advisory Council and Hyde Square Task Force.

Next summer our teens dreamed up the award-winning anthology of anti-racism stories, Speak Up! Our student-created book sold over 2,000 copies in the past 7 years, and inspired the 2014 Out Of The Blue anthology. People began turning to us for cutting-edge social justice workshops, more and more each year (71 workshops in 2015, and on track to exceed that in 2016).  We built a partnership with YouthForce and the JCRC and launched the YMORE (Youth of Massachusetts Organizing for a Reformed Economy) coalition, winning powerful victories for youth jobs funding, reducing toxic diesel emissions and increasing progressive revenue. In 2014 our youth leaders pushed for an increase in the minimum wage, bringing MA to the highest state minimum wage in the country, with teen leaders like Aimee Chan and Fatuma Mohamed meeting with the Speaker of the House at a critical moment in that campaign.

In the past 10 years we have run hundreds of legislative meetings, won significant policy changes, built strong coalitions, marched in the streets and trained thousands and thousands of people. We’ve rarely stepped out front in these campaigns, and that’s intentional. The name of our program, Sub/Urban Justice, represents our recognition that building a network to cross difference and geography is a pathway to increased power and possibility.

We’ve built powerful community across difference.  Our young people come from every corner of Boston and all it suburbs.  Ipswich? Framingham?  Sharon?  Needham?  Medford?  Malden?  Winchester? Yup. And of course, Boston and its immediate suburbs.  In the past 2 years we opened our first robust chapter out of the Brookline Teen Center, and are currently in talks with Somerville and Cambridge to do the same. This past year we launched the Social Justice Leadership Institute, engaging more than 150 teens from 15 different New England independent schools to spark culture shift at their institutions. In 10 years we’ve worked closely with more than 1,000 young people, and trained more than 10,000. We’ve won and won and won.  Sometimes we’ve lost.  In doing so we have learned.

We could not have done any of that without you. Really. I feel tremendously grateful to have been part of a movement for social change, to be part and partnered with so many incredible organizations, change makers, and most of all the incredible young people who have made every day for me a day of hope. I would start naming names, but I’d leave out so many people that I won’t even start. You teens remind me of Arundhati Roy’s famous words. “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day you can hear her breathing,” and crying and laughing hysterically and fighting passionately for the things they believe in.  And winning. And loving themselves.  And loving one another.

I’m excited for the next steps on my personal journey. I don’t have anything lined up (I’m open to suggestions!) and I’m not leaving Boston or the work for justice. I hope you’ll stay in touch with me, and with Boston Mobilization.

If you’re still reading, thank you again.

Peace, Love and Transformation,

Chris Messinger
Executive Director

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A Day in the Life of a Suburban Millennial Voter

Super Tuesday, Massachusetts, 2016

Super Tuesday, Massachusetts, 2016

I spent Super Tuesday in an aggressively apparent state of delirious excitement. That morning, in true millennial fashion, I dressed up, filled my water bottle, posted several times on social media, explored the new political filters on Snapchat, and texted a few people about polling locations to arrange carpools. When I arrived at my suburban high school, however, I wasn’t surprised to find that my enthusiasm was more of an exception than a rule among the other voters walking the halls. I tried to remain unperturbed, but by the third time I overheard someone say, “I didn’t even register lol,” the indifference began to eat away at me. In my next class, I finally brought up the excitement disparity I had been observing with a fellow classmate. She responded flippantly, saying “Well, you’re only excited because you have a candidate you’re weirdly obsessed with.” I was taken aback, not knowing how to answer.

She wasn’t wrong about the obsession part – that is really quite true – but rather about that being the sole cause of my excitement. My elation came not from my love of Bernie Sanders, but from the very act of voting itself. To put it another way, I would have eagerly volunteered to drive not only Sanders supporters to the polls, but Trump supporters, Hillary supporters, and any and all write-in voters who needed a lift.

Why this excitement? I thought about it as I headed to my polling station. Part of it was definitely privilege – voting is in no way a difficulty for me. I had access to the internet to look up where to vote, a car to drive myself there, a family who reminded me to register. I didn’t have to wait in line for hours or put up with rude looks or snide comments as I handed in my ballot. I even got two extra “I Voted” stickers when I told the official I couldn’t decide whether to put my sticker on my coat or on my water bottle. All of this played a big part not only in my excitement, but in my ability to vote itself, and I am extremely grateful for that.

As I stepped out of the polling station and walked back to my car, I pushed deeper. What was the root of my excitement? Why did the mere act of filling in a bubble have adrenaline shooting through me? Then, as I filtered the Instagram I had taken of my ballot, I remembered why- because, in that one moment my pen was on my ballot, politicians everywhere had to care about what I thought.

Youth (18-24 year olds) make up nearly 20% of the population, but in the most recent midterms elections, we had the lowest rate of voter turnout. We millennials are getting a reputation for being the absolute worst at voting. That pisses me off, because it means that when politicians make decisions on issues that impact my generation the most, like global warming or student loan debt, they are going to value my parents’ opinions over my own, because that is who they think will elect them

  Representation matters, and to make diversity of all kinds a reality in our government and in our government’s actions, that representation first needs to exist in the population that votes for them. Unfortunately, millions of Americans are blocked from their constitutional right to participate in the democratic system by voter suppression and an outdated voting system. But if you are not one of those people, and you are of an identity that is not currently accurately represented among the voters of America, you should be beyond excited to vote, regardless of the candidates. We have the amazing opportunity to prove to the people who govern our country that we are paying attention to what they do, that we care about the choices they make, and that we have the voice and the audacity to change who has their job if they don’t do it well. That is power. Even if your candidate’s quest for the oval office ends as sadly as Jeb Bush’s, you showed up, you were counted, and so you mattered.

    Satisfied both with the number of likes on my Instagram and the results of my quest for personal understanding, I headed to work at Sub/Urban Justice, where I emanated even more of my voting fever. That night, while watching Netflix and refreshing the results of the primaries on my computer, I sent that girl in my class a text. It read, “The real question is not why I was excited to vote. The real question is why in the hell were you not?”

-Sophia, 18

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The Fight for $15 Is Not Yet Won

It was a chilly November afternoon when over 200 students, workers, and local leaders came together in support of raising minimum wage for fast food and retail employees to 15 dollars an hour. The rally began at Faneuil Hall and later progressed throughout the downtown Boston area towards the Massachusetts State House, as participants and onlookers flooded the busy Boston streets. With the 2016 presidential elections fast approaching, the rally featured a plethora of student speakers, college faculty, and local fast food employees advocating against national wealth inequality. Guest speakers from as far away as the Dominican Republic, urged the audience to vote wisely in the upcoming elections, calling for the presidential candidates to stand up for income equality.

Cold hands were not enough to deter us protesters as we marched in unison down the dark Boston streets, illuminated only by the yellow hue of the streetlight and blue police lights. In causing such a large commotion, shutting down busy city streets, rally participants were able to draw an even larger viewing audience. News helicopters, photographers from the Boston Globe, and financial district employees peered out their windows into the busy city streets and stepped out to see what the commotion was.
Coupling as both my first rally and my first march, the event was awe inspiring. I actively witnessed the power of social change that comes about when different groups of people come together. Moreover, I took the opportunity to physically make a difference in my local community regarding minimum wage in raising awareness.

-Samuel, 20

Samuel (left) at the Fight for $15 Rally, November 2015.

Samuel (left) at the Fight for $15 Rally, November 2015.

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Spring = Youth Led Donor Meeting Season!

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Blog post by Sub/Urban Justice youth leader Mary about what the process of leading donor meetings has been like:

“Thank you classism for making the act of asking for money unbearably comfortable. But special thanks to the donors for not taking your paws out and making it as sweet as honey (these bear puns are wonderful, are they not?).

Prior to the donor meetings, I was quite scared. In my culture, asking for money is a sign of weakness and is somewhat disrespectful. Now, I was supposed to do exactly that. Nevertheless, as one of the donors told me in the meeting “We all have to ask for money because we can’t do our work without it.” My love for Sub/Urban Justice and my belief in what we do, made me feel confident (didn’t diminish my uncomfortably) in asking for support. The amount of empowerment and education we do is setting up a generation of changemakers. Sub/Urban Justice is also teaching us, the youth, how to develop an essential skill of asking for money.

After about 5 donor meetings, I can proudly say that I’m am no longer uncomfortable with asking for money to support such an amazing program. I can also say that I’ve met a lot of really cool people from college support to airplane labor unions. Donor meetings have been made possible through Sub/J. I think that so far, we’ve raised about $3,900 and have blessed many teens with a lot more confidence.”

Posted in Boston Mobe in action

#WageAction: Fight for 15

“What do we want?” “15!!!” “When do we want it?” “NOW!!!” Protestors at the Fight for 15 yelled this, among many other chants, on the afternoon of April 14 as they marched from Northeastern University to the AMC Loew’s movie theater in the Boston Common. The main demand focused on increasing the minimum wage in the state of Massachusetts to $15 per hour, but many other demands arose. Multiple workers unions were present to state the case for unionization in low-wage sector jobs. Fast food workers were on strike for the march, shutting down establishments like the the McDonald’s on Tremont Street. Community organizing groups presented the case of a Hispanic man fighting for $30,000 worth of unpaid wages from a previous contractor he worked with. The 5,000+ people present stood for labor conditions across different sectors and with multiple demands beyond the minimum wage ask.

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Along the route of the march, the demonstration stopped in front of key locations: Northeastern, Chinatown, AMC Loew’s. The eight stops were designated to directly protest against workplaces and institutions that oppress low-wage workers, either through unjust compensations, or costly living in gentrified neighborhoods. This demonstrated the well-thought out intention of the march, as well as the large scope of the plight Boston families face.

As participants in the march, our objective remained to lift our voice in solidarity with the people facing these issues. While many of our youth demand the same $15 per hour wage that was presented in this demonstration, the voice for youth jobs was not as strong. One of our youth leaders, Mary, specifically mentioned how much a wage increase would help her save money for college with her summer job. The role of youth employment needed a little more strength in this demonstration. Either way, we lifted our voices through chants and megaphones, listening intently to the stories shared at each stop.

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The march is only the first major action hosted by WageAction.org in Massachusetts, but it stirred momentum to bring to light the multiple issues Boston-area workers face in all sectors, from fast food to adjunct professors in universities. Each of these areas now have weight, and hopefully they can continue to grow until action is taken.

 

Posted in Boston Mobe in action

Inequality for All movie review

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Youth leader Kavya and I both felt that Robert Reich’s “Inequality for All” movie was a big eye opener. It really awoke us to just how bad decades of problematic economic policies have widened the gap between rich and poor in the US. The movie did not just tell us facts, but showed us numerous graphs that displayed the shocking findings about the income stratification in the United States. One in particular was the graph showing how income inequality was in the seventies vs. today. In the late 70s, the richest people in the US made, on average, 400,000 dollars, while the average worker earned an income in the mid-30,000 range. Today, however, the 1 percent makes 13,000 times that of the worker occupying the lowest position. That means that the middle class is being completely wiped out today.

The movie outlines several explanations for this current state of affairs. Each of them could be the topic of several blog posts (even books), but a couple stood out as particularly jaw-dropping and outrageous. For instance, the progressive decline in labor unions paralleled the decline in wages. Another is the drastic decline of the rich’s taxation during the Reagan administration. Previously, the tax rate hovered around 70 percent, but the policies referred to as “Reaganomics” decreased that rate to around 50. Currently, that tax rate sits closer to 35 percent with most corporations paying closer to 15 percent after tax breaks and credits. When Obama stated that he would like the rich to pay the same rate of taxes as everyday Americans, Fox News began accusing this president of being a socialist. This situation made it obvious how fox news is controlled by corporations simply because they interpreted a call to just payment as a direct attack on corporation.

This influence led by corporations undermines the rule of democracy by favoring the voice of the rich through a series of plutocratic Supreme Court decisions over the last forty years. The biggest one in recent memory was the overturning the Citizens United. Said ruling granted corporations unlimited power to fund political candidates for elected office positions. Robert Right lambasted this decision as a complete betrayal of democracy to the big corporations.

People (not corporations) were not happy about this decision. Many went to DC, protesting the Supreme Court decisions. It was really refreshing to see people awakened to the emerging culture of oligarchy that these decisions have created and witness how passionate they were about getting their rights back. The movie described the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements as liberal and conservative populist uprisings in response to this changing climate. One wanted a reduction of corporate power and increased access to social benefits; the other wanted to keep government as small as possible. Regardless of these seemingly contrasting goals, this social division led to corporations continuing to be the real rulers of the American empire instead of the Federal government.

This is a really important movie that exposes how much we do not live in a democracy. It can lead to an awakening that can, in turn, shape a movement for economic reform in this country. I think we have allowed this country to be stolen from us and we must try and get it back.

Posted in Boston Mobe in action

This Little Light of Mine: the Legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer

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Last Thursday, March 26th, Sub/urban Justice youth leader Mary and I went to see a documentary showing at the Harvard Law School. The movie, called this Little Light of Mine, illustrated the life and significance of Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the many unsung female heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Although there were numerous Harvard students, alumni, and faculty in attendance, most of the people in attendance were locals from the greater Boston area, many of whom were involved in the Civil Rights activism in the city. The filmmaker, Robin Hamilton, was present as well and was featured on a panel of Harvard professors after we watched the movie.

The general audience consensus was that This Little Light of Mine was an excellent film. But its greatness is not in the biological elements of her life that she captures: Hamer’s leadership of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, her experience with police brutality, or her being one of 20 children in rural Mississippi. It is in the fact that Fannie Lou Hamer’s spirit really shines throughout the film’s 30-minute long duration. Her passion for justice, her humility, and her zeal are captured so spectacularly in this documentary that when the credits started rolling, we all felt like Fannie Lou Hamer was in the room with us. We got to be very intimate with Hamer, bearing witness to her ability to command the attention of the media and president Lyndon B. Johnson in the segments where she faced off with him. Her confronting LBJ during the 1964 Democratic Convention and her sharply stating “we ain’t come all this way for just 2 seats” was the heart of the movie and incredibly haunting. Her powerful speaking was so undeniable that LBJ was a complete nervous wreck in her presence.

Another of the movie’s strength is that it is honest about the pushback she received. It displays ample courage, not shying away from showing her scars from the brutal beatings she received at the hands of the police. That moment further illustrates how much she was able to make the personal political and vice versa. She really lived the struggle and witnessing that was truly inspiring for me, as someone who is engaging in anti-racism work in my day-to-day.

The post-movie discussion was filled with universal praise for the movie. It really reenergized people to engage with the struggle to preserve our voting rights. We must register to vote, but also have something to vote for.

Posted in Boston Mobe in action