This week’s organizer spotlight features Shawnu Ksicinski and Cheyenne Otto-Defoe of Progress North:

1) What have you learned from organizing “fails?”

Shawnu: In this work, we fail as much as we succeed, and I sometimes learn more from my fails than I do from the wins. I can think of a number of times I experienced this, but the lesson overall is to move at the pace of relationships. Our work always seems to move at warp speed and, during a local issue campaign, I remember not taking the time to learn people’s personal stories and connection to the issue. There were missed opportunities in building long-term relationships with them. We learned how to do one-on-one’s and now center building relationships with people, because it really does matter.

Cheyenne: I am in my first year of organizing and there have been plenty of “fails,” lots of bumps in the road with learning opportunities. I think my biggest “fail” of all has been thinking “one way is the right way” to organize, and if I am not organizing a certain way, then I am not organizing at all. The reality of it is there is no right way. How we approach our work shifts and changes all too often. The ability to connect with anyone and everyone from ALL walks of life is what really makes this work so amazing and transformational. I learned from this that as long as I am organizing in a way that brings folks along with me, I am doing just fine.

2) What sustains you? Where do you get the energy to keep going with the work?

Shawnu: My family gives me the energy I need to keep going in this work. I look at my kids and think about how what I do each day can help change what their futures will be and what my future grand-kiddos futures will be and it keeps me going even on the toughest days.

Cheyenne: Self-care! This work is fast-paced and, in all honesty, very exhausting. I pride myself in the ability to know that I can only work to my best ability and potential if I am taking care of my body, mind, and spirit. I start each day by smudging, which allows me to go into the day with a clear mind knowing that my ancestors are right here with me every step of the way. My energy to keep going in this work comes from my ancestors; they sacrificed so I could be exactly where I am today. They fought to ensure our culture and who we are as Indigenous peoples could live on. Now it’s my turn. Every time I look at my nieces, nephews, and younger cousins, I know I have to do everything I can to make sure they don’t have to grow up navigating and facing the same barriers as I have.

3) What’s motivating you with this upcoming election?

Shawnu: I have an amazing team of staff and volunteers around me at Progress North, and we have built some incredible relationships with people across the state of Wisconsin. Also my family, because the reality is that our family won’t survive another four years of the current administration. There is a lot at stake for us.

Cheyenne: There is far too much at stake in this election to sit on the sidelines. There are lives and livelihoods at risk. That said, my family, friends, and communities motivate me each and every day. The value of human life is irreplaceable and I refuse to sit back and watch as lives continue to be taken at the hands of our state.