We are excited to kick off our weekly organizer spotlight series with Heather DuBois Bourenane, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network (WPEN):
1) What have you learned from organizing “fails?”
One thing I’ve learned from WiLD trainings and the amazing organizers I’ve met through WiLD is how to appreciate and evaluate the “small wins” and identify organizing victories even in the face of “political” defeats. Constantly reflecting on how we can “learn forward” to be better leaders helps keep the focus on the community we build through our organizing and the importance of relationships at every step of the way, and helps us maintain a sense of hope even in dark and dire moments.
In these challenging and hyperpartisan times, we are realistic that our ambitious campaigns may not always yield our desired results, but we don’t let that stop us from setting the goals we know our kids deserve rather than the tiny victories that may be “politically possible” but won’t move the dial on getting to educational equity. “Modeling failure” in a way that puts the critical issue center stage while helping local teams build their capacity is one of those “wins” that can feel like a loss if you don’t name your organizing goals. We might not get all we wanted out of a policy push or a budget battle, but we can use those moments to grow our teams and deepen relationships with decision-makers and each other.
2) What sustains you? Where do you get the energy to keep going with the work?
To quote our WiLD trainers: The people. The people. The people. I draw my energy from the amazing advocates, activists, educators, parents, and local leaders I’ve met through our shared passion for doing what’s best for kids. Building community around our shared values of justice, fairness, and equal opportunities for all means that no matter how daunting the work or how depressing the opposition, being connected to people who care so deeply keeps me grounded and keeps me going. That said—ain’t none of us “tireless.” The idea that we’re all supposed to be “tireless advocates” is nonsense. It’s okay to be tired. This work is exhausting. Give yourself permission to get tagged out when you need it, and let others tag you out when you need a break. Developing a “coaching culture” to take care of each other is part of the work—and no small part of the reward of it.
3) What’s motivating you with this upcoming election?
I’m motivated in equal parts by the vision of a democracy where every voice really matters and every vote truly counts, and deep anger and frustration over all the reasons people are feeling unheard and underserved. I’m motivated by knowledge of what is at stake if we are forced to endure four more years of an education secretary who undermines our public schools at every opportunity, and exploits even a global pandemic crisis to further a privatization agenda. I’m motivated by the possibility of electing state level leaders who will put kids’ needs above partisan politics and listen to people who “get it” when it comes to educational equity. I’m motivated by the growing understanding of racial inequities in our systems and institutions and the many, many people ready to do something about it. I’m motivated by the promise of a public education system that provides a truly excellent education to every child and a Wisconsin where everyone has equal opportunity to thrive.
All of these things are possible if we vote our values and then hold our elected officials accountable for doing the same once elected. I invite anyone reading this to join us in this effort by getting involved in our 2020 #VotePublic campaign.