The UUA Organizing Strategy Team (OST) is building on key voter education and mobilization activities while also branching out to build long-term organizing capacity. The new 2022 UU the Vote Legacy Fellowship is an investment in nurturing that capacity by supporting development of talented leaders.
Partnering with the College of Social Justice the new 2022 UU the Vote Legacy Fellowship provides six UU-affiliated young adults and BIPOC individuals with short-term funding, consultation expertise, and a network to advance their own action plan proposal.
This is the second post profiling the 2022 fellows and the projects they’re undertaking.
A lifelong resident of the Jacksonville, Florida area, Claudia Marshall taught social studies for more than two decades in the public school system. For most of her career, every utterance of the name of her workplace was a stark reminder of racism, injustice and the culture norms that marginalized Black women like herself. Opened in 1959, Nathan Bedford Forrest High School was named for a slave trader, Confederate Army general, and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — a name opposed by students, but forced upon them by white leaders who objected to integration of public schools.
Claudia joined in organizing to change the school name in 2007 but the School Advisory Council overwhelmingly opposed any change. It would take six more years before the largely Black student body, staff, and community allies succeeded in changing the Council and school name to Westside High School.
After retiring from teaching in 2019, Claudia got more involved in Buckman Bridge UU Church and, the next year, joined in events with then-UU the Vote Director Nicole Pressley in Jacksonville as she traveled to launch the campaign. Claudia was inspired by a workshop with Nicole and subsequent online UU the Vote (UUtV) organizing classes. They enrich you, ground you…they let you know we’re all in it together,” says Claudia of the events.
“I am one of those 3 million people who wrote letters” (in 2020), says Claudia. “Then, before you know it, you’re a Unitarian Universalist and just trying to get justice and make things better.”
The UU the Vote fellowship will help Claudia continue that quest, first by leading Buckman Bridge to become a UUtV Good Trouble Congregation by reaching a series of benchmarks for community outreach to inspire people to register to vote and engage in the democratic process. Claudia also will organize a series of public discussion forums, using guest speakers and films to attract people and deepen community understanding of key justice issues.
Claudia’s end goal? “I want our church to be seen as a sanctuary and change the city.”
For LM Davis, the 2016 election made a big impact on career opportunities as well as her political consciousness. LM was approaching completion of her master’s degree in Environmental Management at Duke University when the 2016 election radically altered the post-graduation job prospects for her field. “A lot of my peers thought they might work for the EPA or other federal agencies, but with Trump taking office, they no longer had that option.”
After graduating, LM relocated to Dayton, Ohio, just 30 minutes from her childhood home of Mason. Soon after, she took a job in a deep canvassing campaign. Despite having little knowledge of what that meant, “once I found it, I knew it was where I was supposed to be,” says LM. She describes deep canvassing as an approach to having one-on-one conversations based in empathetic listening, compassionate curiosity, and trust-building.
While groups executing deep canvassing may aspire to influence opinions or votes, the conversation is the priority. This involves listening to understand what issues most concern the conversation partner and their personal experiences underlying those concerns. The process emphasizes long-term cultural shifts over the electoral mindset of attempting immediate persuasion.
LM went on to learn much more through training with the The New Conversation Initiative, and soon became a canvass manager with the organization.
LM’s UU the Vote fellowship project will lead two rounds of training and canvassing events in Ohio, involving partners from the Miami Valley UU Fellowship — the same congregation she grew up in. LM described the project as “using the framework of deep canvassing to teach everyday people how to better connect with their own neighbors whose experiences and beliefs may be different from their own.” The project goal is to emerge with 20 – 50 people skilled and comfortable in initiating deeply honest and personal communications about values and voting.
Profiles by Jeff Milchen, UUA Justice Communications Associate. See the first fellows profile.