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Learn how TakeAction Minnesota is using its platform to create social and civic change.

At the March Giving + Together event on civil rights and social justice for Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation fundholders, we were joined by three nonprofit and community leaders, including Elianne Farhat, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota.

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Elianne to discuss the advocacy work she and her organization have been doing to create a more just and vibrant Minnesota.

Do you mind sharing a little bit about yourself and your organization?

I have worked in civic engagement for the past 15 years. It all started when I worked for the New American voter registration and mobilization campaign in Chicago. I looked around my community and realized that we weren’t voting at high rates, and I knew that if we didn’t start showing up at the ballot box, elected officials wouldn’t take our issues as seriously as those who do. I wanted to do my part to make that happen.

TakeAction is a grassroots, multiracial community organization that believes in a state that works for all of us, where nobody is left out.

We imagine a world where everyone lives free, joyful lives, regardless of what they look like, where they live, where they came from, who they love or how they worship. With our volunteer leaders, we organize for policy changes that support realizing that vision and promote a people-centered democracy, justice and fairness.

You are a panelist at our Giving + Together event on civil rights and social justice. Why do you think these topics are important in today’s world?

Across the country and here in Minnesota, we are seeing gathering forces intent on stripping away our fundamental rights and threatening our democracy. Thanks to decades of organizing to strengthen our democracy, we are at an exciting point in our state where elected officials are moving quickly to advance justice and strengthen civil rights. As we make amazing gains at the Minnesota legislature, we’ve got to celebrate the progress and recommit ourselves to keep on organizing to both defend and expand civil rights and social justice.

Take Action youth group outside a bus

What are some of the issues you’ve come across as an organization that makes things politically possible for all?

Our members and allies have been organizing to end Minnesota’s disenfranchisement of people on probation and parole since 2015. In a blog post from that year, a directly impacted leader at the time spoke about the feeling of being “locked up and locked out of our democracy.”

Excitingly, at the beginning of this month, Governor Tim Walz signed the Restore the Vote bill into law – re-enfranchising more than 55,000 people unfairly stripped of their most basic voice, their vote in our democracy. And, in a more defensive posture, we led the campaign to defeat the voter restriction constitutional amendment in 2012. Issues like voting rights that are about bringing more people into public life and decision-making spaces make more possible for all of us.

It’s important to remember that voting is just one way for people to participate in our democracy. At TakeAction we organize people to recognize our own inherent agency and do the leadership development that supports people to become active in public life. Once there, we organize for change together.

What do you believe are some of the biggest risks to our democracy?

When I think about democracy, I like to start at the root of it: Demos – people. Kratia – power. At its most basic level democracy is about people power. It’s a belief that we make our best decisions together and that every voice matters.

One extremely troubling feature of our public life in recent years has been growing political violence primarily driven by white nationalist and fascist forces. From the January 6 insurrection to threats of armed “poll watchers” at ballot casting & counting locations, the possibility and actuality of danger in our civic life is increasingly present. These things are designed to scare us into not participating and to lose hope that any change is possible. If our democracy is going to make it, we can’t give in and, in fact, must rise above fear and hopelessness.

One lesson I have learned organizing to protect our democracy in recent years is: we beat the hate and violence back by refusing to be small and scared – and instead choosing to be connected and courageous.

One lesson I have learned organizing to protect our democracy in recent years is: we beat the hate and violence back by refusing to be small and scared – and instead choosing to be connected and courageous.

Executive Director Elianne Farhat

Can you share a little about your fiscal sponsorship program? And what impact do you plan to make?

We launched our Fiscally Sponsored Organization Program (FSOP) in 2018, grounded in the understanding that a strong social and racial justice movement ecosystem requires diverse organizations building grassroots people power.

In Minnesota, we identified a gap in organizations led by and serving Black, Indigenous and people of color communities as well as women and young people. A major driver of this gap is the high bar of entry into establishing a legal entity that can receive grants, manage cash flow and finances, hire and provide benefits for staff, legal, etc. We believed launching this program and doing it well would not only support establishing essential infrastructure in our state, but also be a catalyst for more organizations to form, supporting a vibrant movement ecosystem.

Right now we fiscally sponsor four active projects (with one in rural Wisconsin), and one project has successfully launched into a powerful force organizing Latine voters and workers. We also act as an intermediary, stewarding resources for short-term projects that don’t seek to establish long-term organizational forms.

To learn more about TakeAction MN and their upcoming events and programs, visit their website.

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