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Cross-Issue Organizing Wins Votes: An Interview with Win/Win Network Director George Cheung

Progressive organizations in Washington State showed us this election cycle that cross-issue organizing wins votes. They mobilized Washington voters to say YES to domestic partnerships (Referendum 71) and NO to regressive taxation (Initiative 1033, a conservative so-called “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” or “TABOR”). And they succeeded!

GeorgeLeft"Working with communities of color was a high priority for us. ...[and] remains a high-priority even after the election."

A behind-the-scenes organization that was instrumental in achieving victories at the polls is the Win/Win Network. Win/Win is a network of organizations active in health, labor, energy, conservation, and economic and social justice. Together, as Win/Win, they coordinate their efforts to engage communities in building their political power.

We interviewed George Cheung, director of the Win/Win Network (and a Western States Center board member) to get his perspective on these victories.

1. Which Win/Win achievements make you most proud?


One of the best things we did was to learn from previous mistakes.  Race has been used as a wedge issue in gay marriage debates; we wanted to avoid that, so working with communities of color was a high priority for us. We adopted a longer-term and sustained approach that allowed us to get endorsements from NAACP, Urban League, Latino Political Action Committee of Washington, and Asian Pacific Islander Coalition of King County. This remains a high-priority for us even after the election.

Also, there was a depth in the organizing and a willingness of groups to push the envelope for progressive policies. We managed to create a sense that LGBTQ and TABOR affect everyone – seniors, gay people, etc. We all need protection. For instance, Statewide Poverty Action Network is primarily an economic justice organization. Their willingness to take a solid position on domestic partnership and combine Referendum 71 with Initiative 1033 shows that they are committed to social justice. They were not going to sit on the sidelines when it came to LGBTQ equality.


2. What are the stories from your campaign work that stick in your mind?


We hired temporary workers to make calls to voters. Some of them didn’t know what Initiative 1033 was about. They saw this as a short-term job. But then when they understood the issue, they saw how important it was to them. It became more than a job; it spoke to their sense of what kind of state they want to live in.

In Central Washington we focused on reaching new Latino voters with a combined message for Ref. 71 and Initiative 1033. I feel great about it because we got more resources by combining the efforts.

3. What's next for Win-Win?

In the upcoming January 2010 legislative session we will build on the momentum from 71 and 1033 to push for progressive policy changes on two fronts:

First is to change the ballot measure process. The process has to be more transparent and accountable. The current process is flawed. For example, to reduce fraud we should require signature gatherers to be paid by the hour instead of by the number of signatures they gather.

Second, we will push for more reforms to the current tax structure. Washington has one of the most regressive tax structures in the country. We need to create a tax system that’s both more equitable and that adequately funds our state needs.

4. What are the lessons from this campaign that you'd pass on to other states fighting TABOR or anti-LGBTQ measures?


Ballot measure work is only one part of an ongoing and sustained civic engagement effort to make significant changes in public policies. For example, work in communities of color should not happen only around election time but has to be a long-term strategy to achieve major policy victories.  We need to get out of the campaign mentality and adopt a movement building mentality. And this is exactly the strategy that Western States Center uses in the VOTE Project.

(Thanks for the plug, George!)

Editors note: Congratulations to all the progressive organizations in the region that educated and mobilized voters.

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