Multi-Ethnic Coalition Victorious in Michigan – Interview with Rising Voices Interim Executive Director Jungsoo Ahn
By Eddie Wong. Posted November 17, 2022.
Democratic candidates in the 2022 midterm elections exceeded expectations in many states as voters pushed back on the extreme right. In Michigan, Rising Voices along with other progressive organizations mounted an aggressive ground game and reached thousands of voters to deliver victories for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, and Attorney General Dana Nessel. Most importantly, Prop 3, the reproductive rights measure, passed with 56.7% of the vote. Democrats also flipped the state House of Representatives and the Michigan Senate. Jungsoo Ann gives us insights on the organizing efforts.
Eddie Wong: Congratulations on the tremendous victory by the progressive forces in Michigan on Nov. 8. What led to the victories up and down the ballot?
Rising Voices and Detroit Action held a Warren Consolidated Schools Community Learning Session and School Board Forum, an opportunity for Asian American, Black, Indigenous and Latinx community members to meet School Board candidates and discuss the critical education issues that impact our children and families on Oct. 19, 2022. Jungsoo Ahn, Interim Exec Director of Rising Voices, at left.
Jungsoo Ahn: We won by leading with Prop 3 (the Reproductive Rights Ballot Measure) in this election. A lot of people saw the severity of what would happen to women and families if such measures were taken in that way. We were also able to elect the candidates who we wanted in office down to the school board candidates. And that was surprising to us as well, but it is a testament to how we’ve become disciplined, organized and work in true multiracial and multiethnic coalition in Michigan.
Rising Voices is part of this table of different grassroots organizations which include We the People Michigan, Detroit Action, Mothering Justice, 482 Forward, the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, SEIU Michigan, Michigan United and Michigan Liberation. We’re a coalition of BIPOC representing organizations and we really pulled together and did a lot of work on putting pressure on the right.
A month leading up to the election, we had heard that Genevieve Peters, a MAGA supporter and an election denier, was going to coordinate volunteers for Election Day in Macomb County. We put pressure on the county clerk to make sure that Peters wasn’t the one who was doing this. Then we made sure that all of our election protection workers were trained on how to deescalate situations and create a warm and welcoming voting experience for people. The deep organizing that happened beforehand made us extremely aware collectively about the threats that we did face. We prepared super hard and I really do think that it’s because of the efforts from the alignment table that we were able to successfully protect these elections.
Eddie Wong: In our previous interview you mentioned that you were having small group discussions with Asian women about Prop 3 and how that was really the first time people had a chance to collectively talk about such a personal issue.
Jungsoo Ahn: We held the only reproductive rights event that was multiracial for Asian women, Black women, and Latina women. We had an honest discussion about voices who are not represented in Prop 3 discussions. As BIPOC people who are able to give birth you likely will not be represented in the national rhetoric – our issues, our concerns – because we haven’t been. If not us, then who? If not now, when? The reproductive rights campaign was a turning point for our people.
Despite all the resources and all the money that the right poured into these elections, the work of Rising Voices did get our people to see the power within themselves and unlock that power. What’s really amazing in the afterglow of the election results is that people who stuck with us during this time really see the impact of what they did.
Eddie Wong: Are you planning any follow up activities to keep the people together who worked on the campaigns?
Jungsoo Ahn: We’re going to do an artist salon sometime in December and it’s going to be an event about gratitude, just like “Thank You” for all the work. Rising Voices might have been the hub of the dissemination of these ideas to our communities, but it was the volunteers who did these things. So, we’re really going to bring our community together in gratitude and then hold through 2023 letting that power compound as we do other things for our communities.
Eddie Wong: What on the ground activities were you able to carry out?
Jungsoo Ahn: Phone calls, text banks, door knocking – all the different events to bring our community together. Election protection and election defense was a big one for us. We were in 10 different polling locations in one of the hot spots where people will claim that the election was stolen and where election subversion efforts could take place. Macomb County historically went red in 2016 and 2020, and we flipped it blue in 2022. We were extremely strategic about it. We had door knocked in Macomb County and then we showed up to protect the election.
Eddie Wong: Flipping the state legislature from red to blue was a major victory. Tell us about that win.
Jungsoo Ahn: We weren’t thinking that the house and senate would be flipped so it was a lovely surprise to all of us.
Eddie Wong: Democrats lead only by three seats in the state house and state senate, so it’s still a narrow margin, but it allows the governor and the Democrats to carry forth a more progressive agenda.
Jungsoo Ahn: It’s an interesting moment for us because we haven’t had power, but now it’s all blue. Now we can just ask different questions. And we’re at the very nascent stages of figuring out our strategy. It’s an exciting time. Rising Voices could not have done any of this without anyone else at the alignment table. There is true solidarity among all of us.
Not all heroes wear capes! Today our canvass blitz volunteers reached thousands of voters in Macomb County to urge them to vote YES on Proposal 3 to restore Roe and preserve reproductive freedom for all. Our team members conversed with families in language and encouraged communities usually written off by campaigns to raise their voices and participate. – Rising Voices Facebook post, Oct. 29, 2022.
Eddie Wong: Are there any issues that you’d like to advance from the Asian Pacific perspective?
Jungsoo Ahn: All the organizations at the alignment table do a lot on bringing down corporate power and defending our working class. So, we’ll continue to work in lockstep with the alignment table in those ways. Given the experience on staff we can do a good job on advancing a curriculum that is inclusive of all children, regardless of who they are or where they are. I know how to do it at the classroom level because I’ve been a teacher. I’m excited to get that off the ground, not just for Asian American communities, but for Black, Latinx, and Indigenous children. We have some power, so let’s use this power to really make sure that the world that is built for our children is even better than the one that we got.
Eddie Wong: You talked a lot about the solidarity among all the groups at the table. Now that you’re, you’re emerging from an electoral cycle, what kind of things will help nurture those relationships?
Jungsoo Ahn: One of the things that is really beautiful about Rising Voices as well as different organizations at the alignment table is that we lead with our values. We’re unabashed about defending our values. Our organizations have a lot of integrity. We’re in alignment as a coalition so it is much easier to build strong relationships. What we say publicly is exactly what we’re trying to do internally.
Eddie Wong: Do you have any last comments?
Jungsoo Ahn: I’m still processing what happened. Whatever I’m saying right now is incomplete, because there were many different layers of how we got to this point. We need to put out a story now, but the story is much deeper and much greater, much more nuanced and much more beautiful than what I’m able to say right now.
We’re going to be down in Georgia at the end of this month for the U.S. Senate runoff and help Asian American Advocacy Fund. Multiracial solidarity is important, and I do think that Rising Voices has a pretty good model for how to do that.
Jungsoo Ahn is a co-founder, Executive Director, and Chief Teaching Officer at the Michigan Teacher Education Network (MITEN), an organization that asks educators to collaboratively reimagine and create a more just educational experience for children — especially those who go unseen in our racialized society. Previously, she served as the Director of Partnerships at TeachingWorks at the University of Michigan, where she worked with teacher educators (professors, school leaders, and mentor teachers who prepare teachers) all over the United States to disrupt patterns of inequity through teaching. She also was a school leader at a charter school in Detroit, Michigan, and began her career in education as a lower elementary school teacher. Through all these roles, she has been committed to providing children with a much better and far less harmful school experience through improvement of self and improvement with others.
Interviewer Bio: Eddie Wong is the publisher and editor of East Wind ezine. He is a longtime activist in the political and cultural spheres of the Asian American Movement.