(Photo courtesy of Media Mobilizing Project)
Organizing is often the first step toward changing laws, systems and institutions that so often rob communities of justice.
To kick off Women’s History Month and close out our women in leadership editorial calendar theme, we reached out to a number of women who have made an impact organizing communities around issues like labor, incarceration, immigration, healthcare and more.
These professionals were all recommended by their peers. We asked each of them to share a bit about the work they’re doing, the issues they care about and how people can learn more.
Here are 14 women organizers you should know in Philly.
A longtime labor organizer, Sipp’s work has extended well beyond Philly. Sipp spent 15 years working in various roles at Service Employees International Union (SEIU), including five years as executive VP and political director for SEIU Healthcare PA.
At the beginning of 2018, Sipp launched a consulting company called New Working Majority working with groups across the country.
“I’m primarily working with organizations based in communities that represent the new working majority in this country — women, people of color, youth who are employed in retail, healthcare, logistics, the service sector and the gig economy,” she said. “With some groups, I train organizers to do leadership development, with others I manage short-term projects or provide strategic communications.”
Dzurinko is a consultant and cofounder of Media Mobilizing Project and Put People First! PA as well as the former executive director of Philadelphia Student Union (among many other positions at many other organizations).
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Dzurinko describes herself as “a Black and Indigenous working class woman and a lifelong Pennsylvanian” who “came into organizing for social justice — the practice of building leadership and collective power of everyday people to secure our human rights — through my own life experience.”
“I grew up asking, ‘Why?’ a lot,” she wrote. “I believe and have experienced that the most profound genius resides in those who have had to make a way out of no way. I’m absolutely angry that the richest 1 percent of the world’s population took home 82 percent of the wealth that was created last year. I’m tired of seeing people in my family and community suffer and die for not having the basic things they need.
“That’s why I cofounded Put People First! PA and why I’m helping to the lead the new Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. We’re building across the traditional divides of urban/rural, white/black and red/blue to create what MLK called ‘a new and unsettling force.’ We’re focused on systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation and the war economy. We believe it’s not a sin to be poor — poverty is a sin. It’s not a sin to be homeless — homelessness is a sin.”
Wherever this is injustice happening in Philly, you can bet on finding Sassaman at the center of a force fighting it. Some of Sassaman’s early work includes her grassroots organizing and strategizing as campaign director at the Prometheus Radio Project, which resulted in the passage of the Local Community Radio Act in 2010, a bill that empowered local stations like PhillyCAM.
Sassaman has worked as policy director at Media Mobilizing Project since 2011, where, among many other things, she’s fought for increased broadband access for the city’s impoverished.
“My life’s work has been about helping people have the power to tell their own stories as well as have ultimate power over the technologies that mediate our relationships with each other and mediate our human rights,” Sassaman said.
That motif has followed Sassamn through her recent work with the Philadelphia Coalition for a Just District Attorney. In July, Sassaman was named a 2017 Soros Justice Fellow, where she’s focused on risk assessment algorithms.
“It became really clear to me after my lifetime of doing community organizing that the only way to be effective in putting people in control of very new and controversial technology is by organizing specifically with the movement to end mass incarceration and end cash bail,” Sassaman said. “That’s why, over the past couple years, I and others at Media Mobilizing Project have done a lot of work helping to build the power and coherence of groups like the Philadelphia Coalition for a Just District Attorney.”
Kronley is currently the organizing director of United Home Care Workers of PA, a union of caregivers fighting for higher wages, benefits and dignity for themselves and those they care for. She spent nearly 10 years as head organizer at the Pennsylvania chapter of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).
Some of Kronley’s notable work includes organizing around SEIU Healthcare PA’s successful campaign to expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania, and organizing in low and mid-income neighborhoods that eventually led to to the creation of Philadelphia’s anti-foreclosure program.
Quintanta is a community organizer with the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia (NSM), where she works at the intersection of the criminal justice and immigration systems.
Her work for the past six years has also included organizing with groups such as Put People First! PA and Migrant Power Movement, an undocumented-led activist group that fights to build immigrant power, to stop the deportations of Philly-area community members who are at risk of being separated from their families. Quintana has also served as a statewide coordinator with the Movement of Migrant Leaders in Pennsylvania, where she worked to obtain driver’s licenses for undocumented people.
Jacobs, a new Philadelphian, is the deputy director at the Partnership for Working Families, a national network of labor, community and faith organizations working on campaigns that bring together base-building community organizations and labor unions to tackle issues at the intersection of work, democracy and the environment — “grounded in a strong racial justice analysis,” Jacobs said.
At the national level, Jacobs and Partnership for Working Families have been working with affiliates on two primary issues: taking on corporate attempts to privatize public infrastructure (schools, libraries, hospitals, parks, transit systems) and combating the growth of “state preemption or interference efforts” to squash local initiatives to raise the minimum wage and ensure paid sick leave.
“This is not only a hijacking of the ability of municipalities to raise standards, but it is also part of the legacy of Jim Crow,” said Jacobs. “Overwhelmingly white state legislatures stripping majority Black municipalities of the right to raise standards for what is often overwhelmingly Black minimum wage workforce. We looked at the issue in seven cities and this racial dynamic was consistent in all.”
Isser currently works with home care workers helping them build a union, but said she’s excited to soon transition into working on digital organizing with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. Isser also organizes with 215 People’s Alliance, a multi-racial working class organization fighting for justice for all Philadelphians.
More organizers you should know
These organizers were recommended for inclusion on this list but either they didn’t respond to our request for comment, or we didn’t have time to reach out to them before deadline:
- Melissa Robbins, an electoral organizer and a delegate for the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women
- Andi Perez, political director of property service workers union SEIU L. 32BJ
- Laura Wentz, president of Philly Coalition of Labor Union Women, working stagehand with IATSE Local #8 and candidate for Upper Darby Township Council.
- Rosslyn Wuchinich, president of UNITE HERE Philadelphia
- Salewa Ogunmefun, political director at One PA and founding executive director at ImpACT Inc.
- Arielle Klagsbrun, a community organizer at 215 People’s Alliance, where she helped to stop the proposed expansion of the South Philly oil refinery, and a collective member of climate change action group Rising Tide North America
- Amy Cohen, a community organizer with an extensive organizing resume in New York, Central Pa. and Philly, where she’s most recently worked with domestic employers network Hand in Hand
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