Minh Nguyen speaks at The Power Coalition: How Integrated Voter Engagement is Empowering Citizens in Louisiana
Minh Nguyen speaks at The Power Coalition: How Integrated Voter Engagement is Empowering Citizens in Louisiana

Wel­come back to our live cov­er­age of Net­roots Nation 2018, tak­ing place in the sto­ried city of New Orleans, Louisiana!

The first pan­el I attend­ed today was a dis­cus­sion cen­tered on suc­cess­ful coali­tion-build­ing and vot­er engage­ment here in the Pel­i­can State, with lessons and exam­ples of how activists can be suc­cess­ful in oth­er communities.

The pan­el was mod­er­at­ed by Ash­ley Shel­ton, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of The Pow­er Coali­tion, the group that was cre­at­ed by the pan­elists to work togeth­er on issues. Each pan­elist leads their own orga­ni­za­tion work­ing on spe­cif­ic issues, but they real­ized that they had more pow­er and could make more progress on their issues if they worked togeth­er and sup­port­ed each oth­er on their issues.

Andreane­cia Mor­ris is from the Greater New Orleans Hous­ing Alliance and Hous­ing NOLA. Their work start­ed after Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na in 2005, mak­ing sure peo­ple could come home to New Orleans. Their activism has con­tin­ued as they try to address the grow­ing afford­abil­i­ty cri­sis in the city — a prob­lem Pacif­ic NW cities also have.

Even though vacan­cy rates are high with the pop­u­la­tion still being 200,000 below pre-Kat­ri­na pop­u­la­tion lev­els, rents are still ris­ing as lux­u­ry apart­ments are being built and prop­er­ty own­ers charge as much rent as they can.

Mor­ris notes it is a lack of will to address hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty, more than any­thing else, that is caus­ing this issue to con­tin­ue and grow.

Minh Nguyen is the founder and exec­u­tive direc­tor of VAYLA New Orleans, an orga­ni­za­tion that was start­ed after Kat­ri­na as a new land­fill to deal with all the hur­ri­cane-cre­at­ed waste was pro­posed to be locat­ed in his neighborhood.

Young peo­ple took the lead to fight this spe­cif­ic threat and the larg­er issue of envi­ron­men­tal racism that this land­fill was a prime exam­ple of.

Peo­ple told them that the rea­son the land­fill was slat­ed for their com­mu­ni­ty was that “you don’t have any pow­er, you don’t vote.” So some of the first big actions they took was to start reg­is­ter­ing vot­ers in their community.

Nor­ris Hen­der­son is the founder and direc­tor of Voice of the Expe­ri­enced (VOTE) New Orleans, the off­shoot of an orga­ni­za­tion that he start­ed when he was in prison to change cir­cum­stances and improve con­di­tions for peo­ple that are incarcerated.

About a year after his release, he start­ed VOTE to address issues that are faced by peo­ple that have pre­vi­ous­ly been incar­cer­at­ed, such as restor­ing their vot­ing rights. Issues for the for­mer­ly incar­cer­at­ed are espe­cial­ly per­ti­nent in Louisiana, since up until a few months ago, the state had the nation’s worst rate of incarceration.

As we could see, each orga­ni­za­tion that the pan­elists rep­re­sent were each work­ing on dif­fer­ent issues. Yet as Hen­der­son not­ed: “We were always bump­ing into each oth­er” at meet­ings and while lob­by­ing at the state Legislature.

“We real­ized we weren’t get­ting much done indi­vid­u­al­ly. We did­n’t have the pow­er struc­ture, alone, that we need­ed to move the needle.”

So the three of them sat down to try to fig­ure out how they could work togeth­er to move all of their issues forward.

“We are stronger togeth­er than as indi­vid­u­als,” said Henderson.

“You lose when you are by your­self,” Nguyen said.

“We all work on dif­fer­ent issues, but we have the same enemy.”

He talked about how the dif­fer­ent groups in the Pow­er Coali­tion can lever­age each oth­er’s strengths and resources in order to be successful.

All the pan­elists talked about the suc­cess­es they have had recent­ly in get­ting city coun­cil mem­bers the coali­tion sup­port­ed vot­ed into office.

In deal­ing with cur­rent issues in the city, Nguyen said: “The coun­cil now knows that we vot­ed you in, and we can vote you out.”

They have also start­ed to see suc­cess at the state lev­el on their issues. Mor­ris not­ed how, due to the strength of the coali­tion, they were able to con­vince a Repub­li­can state leg­is­la­tor to vote against an anti-inclu­sion­ary zon­ing measure.

Nguyen apt­ly summed up the theme of the pan­el when he told atten­dees: “You have to work togeth­er to see any kind of success.”

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