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A STATE COALITION - THE ROAD TAKEN IN MICHIGAN


By Terri McCormick

SWIM CORE member

Grassroots Collaboration Project Directory Working Group 



In November 2017, as dawn broke over a deeply divided nation, grassroots activists wiped away their post-election tears and rolled up their sleeves.  Some of us participated in the January Women’s March on Washington D.C.  and other cities, savoring the camaraderie of millions of fellow activists.  Some of us were there in spirit.  Some were still on the journey to advocacy.  What grew out of that march was astonishing, empowering, and uplifting.


Many activists joined together in small, localized groups of resisters affiliated with larger organizations like Indivisible and Swing Left. Others created brand new activist groups focused on a particular skill set.  What we all shared was the belief in each other and in democracy.


In my very purple home state of Michigan, we took collaboration a step further.  Working, like many others across the country, to turn the tide of authoritarianism, we created a sea change in the 2018 election, with Democrats sweeping state-wide offices, electing Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.  These top state execs were our “trifecta”.  The GOP, in their typical misogynistic way, called them a “coven.”  But we were just getting started.


Casual conversations between grassroots leaders soon seeded a project to connect all activist groups, large and small, across the state.  In June  2019, we held the first conference for State-Wide Indivisible Michigan, or SWIMSWIM became an umbrella organization working with Indivisible to keep everyone networked.  Some local leaders were wary that they would lose autonomy to SWIM, that we would dictate what groups should do.  While this was the farthest thing from our minds, this distrust proved to be the biggest challenge we faced in the first years.

We soon established a steering committee, fondly adopting the GOP slur of our state execs: the Coven Of Resisters Empowered, or CORE.  Our mission was to support local groups around the state in whatever ways needed, and to be a resource and information clearinghouse for members.  



To fulfill that mission, we needed better connections with our far-flung groups, so in 2021 we began an annual outreach to our local leaders.  Personal phone calls, leader-to-leader, were vital.  How were they doing, how was their group doing, what was their focus the upcoming cycle, and what help did they need?  These calls made a significant difference in how SWIM was perceived among those who felt threatened.  In several cases, our conversations went on for an hour or more.  It was evident that our stressed-out leaders needed a vehicle to vent!


In the first outreach, I had a long conversation with one of our leaders up north.  She was despondent.  Nothing she did mattered, she felt.  Her health was suffering and she was ready to throw in the towel.  This first conversation, with a couple of follow-ups, convinced her that she was making a difference.  She is now an integral part of our CORE team and a powerhouse activist in northern Michigan.  Our talks brought her back into the fold and empowered her to do even more.  To this day, she loves to talk about that first call, emphasizing the importance of relationship-building within grassroots circles.

  


In June 2023, we hosted another statewide conference.  This time we invited the groups we have partnered with over the years – DemCast, Red Wine & Blue, Moms Demand Action, National Popular Vote, and others.  We asked 14 groups to host information tables where attendees could chat during lunch and breaks. We were amazed by the results: those partners actively and joyously participated in SWIM’s activities and discussions.  Many of SWIM’s group leaders felt their interactions with these partner groups were the most valuable part of the conference.  


Since then, our partnerships have been growing.  SWIM coordinates with many advocacy groups across Michigan, from large organizations like League of Conservation Voters to local Democratic Clubs and smaller issue-oriented groups like Oil And Water Don’t Mix.  They help us grow, and we help them grow, creating intersecting networks of multi-faceted grassroots activists who are motivated and knowledgeable about issues that will bring out voters for democracy.


Our coalition of Michigan groups shares the same purpose on a state level as the Grassroots Collaboration Project does on a national level.  The relationships we build, the best practices we share, and the resources we provide for boots-on-the-ground volunteers are all about helping each other create the best world we possibly can for ourselves and our 8 billion neighbors, for now and for the future.


Onward!


Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public. - Cornel West


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