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LaTosha Brown - Civic Engagement and Community Involvement

LaTosha Brown

Civic Engagement & Community Involvement

The first event in our Virtual Discussion Series was hosted with LaTosha Brown, a political activist and the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund. We spoke to LaTosha at a pivotal point, right as COVID-19 began to spread further across the United States and the severity of the situation became clear. The day we spoke with LaTosha was the day of the heavily criticized Wisconsin primary election which went ahead even as many leading epidemiologists warned against holding the election. Our discussion, held amongst the backdrop of so much political upheaval, focuses on civic engagement, community involvement, political integrity, and much more. We are at an epochal moment in American history and LaTosha helped to show us the way forward

Transcript of our Virtual Event hosted April 7, 2020. Video found here.


LB - LaTosha Brown | BP - Bridget Provost | DR - Daniel Russell


BP: Hi, everyone, and welcome to Leaders in Lowell's new virtual discussion series. Today, we're lucky enough to be speaking with co-founder of the Black Voters Matter. Fund and political activist LaTosha Brown. Thank you so much for being with us today LaTosha.

LB: I'm really happy to be here. Thank you for hosting these discussions. We need community more than ever now.

BP: Would you mind giving us a little intro on who you are and what you do?

LB: OK. Sure will. So I like to tell people that I am an organizer. And what does that mean? I organize people, resources and ideas. Part of my life ever since my early 20s, I knew that it was really important to have people engaged around issues in their community and one that you needed to actually help folks understand what those issues are, to really be able to give some kind of call of action and really telling them what they could do.

And then three, try to find ways of creating these mechanisms for them to get involved and get engaged. And so on some level, my entire adult life. That's what I've tried to share information, try to get people enfolded an idea, and then also try to create some vehicles wether it is campaign or organizations for folks to be involved in. And so my work with black voters matter in 2016. I, along with Cliff, Albright, co-founded the organization because what we wanted to do is to work in communities and oftentimes or overlooked and most vulnerable in the South, in the deep south, black community in the deep south and actually work and work together to really organize grassroot groups and be able to provide some resources and support for them as they were working to build power.

BP: That's fantastic. So do you find that a lot of young people become involved in your organization?

LB: Actually, yes. You know, it's really interesting. I think it's. I came to this work as a young person. I came to this work in my early 20s. I did not know what I was doing. I'm not even clear if I really know what I'm doing now. But something is working. I know a little bit more than I did then.

So I think part of it. Even for young people, young people that are listening to this, like there is no exact science in how to be organizer. Being an organizer means that you organize you organize people towards an action. You go in a particular direction to be engaged on around a particular kind of issue. And I think part of what's really important, I can always tell good organizers is they believe in what they're organizing around. Right.

So it's not just the activity. It's actually helping people understand to feel your passion, to really understand why you're interested in something and want to learn more. I mean, oftentimes that's what happened to me. You know, if I see someone that's really, really into a book, I want to know, what are you reading? Or if I hear if I'm on the subway or I'm somewhere and somebody playing music on their their earphones and they just like jamming and they're just grooving. I'm always wondering, what is it that makes you move like that? Why do you like that song? What song is it? And I think that's part of human nature. Part of human nature is that we are very social creatures, even in the midst of the social distancing. You know, how we're created as social creatures. And I think organizing actually is the tool to use the best of that. What is it that helps me to be able to connect to other people?

What is it that I'm so passionate about and that I believe and that I want other people to know and be a part of whether that's a movement or a campaign? And so on some level, my entire life, the kind of work that I've done is really being able to the passion that I feel I'm very passionate about. I want human beings. I want all human beings to have a quality of life. I want people to enjoy life. And so whether that's health care or whether that's criminal justice reform, whether it's education, I find those things that really attached to my passion and really work very hard to do those three things.

One, to educate people around that issue, whatever I'm passionate about, two to enfold them. What that means is there's a little bit different than "I've got to convince You". You know, sometimes I'm trying to convince you like a pushy sales person who wants a pushy sales person. Right. But if that salesperson can actually show you the features, let's say you're going about car features of the car and really sell you on the car and then leave the decision up to you.

Then you feel more powerful. You feel you feel like you've got more choice. And so part of being a good organizer is not trying to convince people, but to really have a vision, be so familiar with the information around it, so passionate about it, that people are enfolded in the process, that they want to learn more, that they want to be a part of it. And I think the third thing is always having somewhere for people to go.

Like, what's the action? What is the opportunity? What can I do? Okay. Now, I found out about this issue. I really want to support it. I want to help. Now, what do I do? And so I think that both are like the three biggest pieces that I can say after 20, 20-something years of organizing that I've actually learned from what it takes to be a good organizer.

DR: So on the day of the South Carolina primary, I was watching MSNBC all day and I saw you a lot on MSNBC and on Joy Reid's show and I thought you definitely did a great job convincing people to be part of the process rather than trying to get someone to vote for a specific candidate. And so how do you think that that was happening right now with the pandemic is going to be affecting the November election, and part of the primaries that are happening even like today's primary in Wisconsin?

LB: You know, I think there's layers to this. And I think part of what I'm hoping with the people who listen to this podcast that we recognize that this is a moment that we need democracy more than ever.

This isn't a moment that we say let's suspend democracy. No, this is a moment that we need democracy more than ever, because we're talking about a complete collapse in many ways of the economic system. We want to make sure that there's equity and parity and fairness in this process of who gets help. Right. That comes out of this. After we come out of this crisis. We also want to make sure we're seeing it right now. How is it that we love to brag that America is the wealthiest country in the world and is the most ill prepared?

You know, here we are three weeks out and you still have hospitals saying that they don't have enough tests. That is incredible. If we think about it, it is ridiculous. It is incredible. But it is also symptomatic of a kind, it's symptomatic of a couple of things. One of the leadership that we have now to also around how we allowed we've advocated our power and just allow the market to regulate itself. Well, we see how that's working.

Right. And then I think three for people, half the population of America are not engaged in the elections that we've got to take on. The constitution says other people, we the people for the people. It doesn't say we the parties or we the candidate or we the stock market. It says we the people. And so I am hoping that a couple of things that we look at right now. One, I hope that first and foremost, aided by this listen this I wish you wellness. I pray that your family is protected and will in this moment.

That's what's critical and key right now. Also, being a good organizer is meeting people where they are. And so where people are at this moment is that we are feeling some sense of anxiety and some fear about our job, our livelihood, our health, our families and all of that we're dealing with. Right. And so part we've got to acknowledge that when we're doing this work and also help people to understand that the outcome of this particular crisis, that politics is going to shape the outcome of it.

It's shaped around who gets resources. It will shape how fast the government responds. It will shape whether the government responds or not. And so in light of that, we also got to have these conversations that there is an election coming up in November.

And it is critical, more critical than ever for you to participate. And so what does that mean? That means in many places right now where we're at home, we're particularly students. I really want to do this call to action for students.

You know, we at our computers, we've got our cell phones. We've got Wi-Fi. Most of us have a lot of us have have access to Wi-Fi. We cannot stop with our activism. We've got to take our activism, like from the streets. We've got to bring the streets on the screen. And what does that mean? That means that we should be flooding the congressional offices from our senators to our representatives right now, specifically around demanding that the commute that communities are the first priority, not the stock market, but the people of America are the first priority, the second thing that we can do is we can actually create political networks, we can create networks and talk to each other.

You know, this isn't the moment that since we're all isolated like we're social creatures. It is really important you all for us to have these discussions. We don't always have to think the same or have the same ideas, but we do need to talk to each other. And so I am hoping that if they're youth organizations or leaders that are listen to this, host some conversations, hosts your own fireside chat hosts your own Zoom meetings, whatever that is. But so that you can have some conversations around these critical issues that were deal with, like health care, the economy, safety, even education.

I'm sitting here and I'm thinking about here we are in in a country that we have some of the most resourced institutions in the world. Why don't we have a tele-education system? Right. Why don't we have a telemedicine system? But as young people, I think that this is a moment I want to push this. I think this is a moment to tap into your radical re-imagining of America. That when come out of this. We won't be the same. The question will be, will we be better?

And so. Or worse? And so I am hoping that we take this opportunity to take care of ourselves now in the moment, but to also start thinking and having conversations so that we are literally forcing, our elected officials to respond very differently so we won't ever be in this circumstance again.

BP: Right. So you've talked about the young people being involved and things like that. So how do you think specifically when we come out with the best ways are for young people to take charge and make change even in like a whole new society, that money will come out of all this?

LB: I think young people should be having conversations now because I think. Let me let me say this. I don't think that there's anything special with being twenty five. No more than I think especially being 70. I think it's really based on who you are as a person and how you're cultivating your belief system. So what I mean by that is there's nothing. I mean, there is something special about our different ages. I understand that. Right. But but there's nothing that makes you novel because you're old or you're young.