On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2022, we held our 17th annual Lobby Day to bring together advocates for change from across the state to connect and meet with their lawmakers. We opened the virtual event with a panel of passionate, experienced advocates and then shared our policy priorities for the 2022 Legislative Session. We spent weeks before the event scheduling lawmaker meetings for attendees to share their stories and speak on the issues most important to them.

After the morning program, attendees went into Zoom breakout rooms to meet with others in their legislative district while most Poverty Action staff remained in the main Zoom room. Shortly after, a couple attendees returned to the main room to notify us of their experience and concern with how they had been treated by the volunteer legislative district lead in their group. While attempting to speak on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement to end the violence that 4 out of every 5 Indigenous women experience on the lands known as the U.S. and Canada, they were shut down by the legislative district lead and told to “stick to Poverty Action’s agenda.” They expressed the harm they had just experienced as women of color being told by a white person in a position of perceived authority that their voice had no place in the group, and asked for action and accountability from Poverty Action staff.

Poverty Action’s executive director entered the Zoom breakout room to remind attendees the purpose of Lobby Day as a space to center the voices of people impacted by poverty and racism, asked the volunteer district lead to leave, and after the event, had a more in-depth conversation with the volunteer about their actions.

While the district lead’s actions did not represent Poverty Action’s values, it is our responsibility to create a space where people with lived experience feel heard and where attendees feel empowered to speak up against white supremacy.

For white people to use their position to exclude the voices of Black and Indigenous folks and other people of color is not okay.

For someone to deny another person’s experience is not okay.

It is the responsibility of white people to speak out against white supremacy.

Our Lobby Day is a place for community members to speak their truth, not stick to an agenda.

We will:

  • Re-design and strengthen training for district leads or end appointing district leads altogether.
  • Explicitly state in our morning program that our Lobby Day is a time for attendees to speak to lawmakers about what is most important to them and make clear that the purpose is to center the voices of people with lived experience of poverty and racism.
  • Talk about ways to resist when people with privilege take command of group space (including other attendees, lawmakers, and legislative staff) in our morning program.
  • Add resources and trainings as part of Poverty Action staff development to intervene and speak out against white supremacy in our advocacy spaces.

Thank you to the advocates who notified us of the harm they experienced during our event and asked for accountability.