Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Solutionary Women: Brande Jackson

Last month I wrote a short post for Blogher, Roadies for a Cause, about a nonprofit called Lokahi Outreach, that partners with organizations like the ONE campaign and Oxfam to help them do grassroots campaigning on the road.

The organization's founder, Brande Jackson, took the time to answer my Solutionary Women e-interview questions. Enjoy!

Describe the work you do with Lokahi Outreach and what inspired you to start it.

In terms of nuts and bolts, Lokahi is an organization that does outreach and campaigning. We run our own voter registration programs, and partner with a lot of organizations and campaigns, helping them do outreach. Our biggest partnership is with the ONE Campaign – we took ONE to nearly 200 concert dates and events last year, and are on target to do even more this year. We also work with groups like Oxfam and their Make Trade Fair Campaign, Doctors without Borders, the ACLU, Global Exchange and this summer will be collaborating with Witness, Greenpeace, the NRDC and others.

Lokahi is focused on being a leader in grassroots outreach and campaigning – promoting social justice and civic involvement by reaching out to people in unique ways, giving them access to politics and social causes and campaigns. And in turn, I like to think we are forging new territory when it comes to building support for progressive campaigns. We try to move from the tried and true and look at new ways to access people that normally might think that a cause or campaign is too far removed for them. We’re at concerts, at events, talking to people in ways they can related to about what is going on in their world. And hopefully, at the end of the day, we’re helping them realize their ability to positively impact the world around them – that it doesn’t take much, that you don’t have to call yourself an activist or whatever, but that you do have a stake in this world, your voice is powerful and can be easily used. We also run after school programs, where we have curriculum that is based on teaching youth –mostly elementary and middle school aged kids – about community service and civics and cultural awareness. We also just started our first internship program – we are taking college aged students on the road with us this summer, giving them a first hand opportunity to go on the road and get a crash course in grassroots campaigning the way that Lokahi does it. We’re hoping that they find it to be a rewarding way to learn about field organizing and about the amazing campaigns we partner with.

In terms of starting Lokahi, in part I was inspired to start it out of a need I perceived on a couple of different levels: the organization was initially formed in the spring of 2002, I wasn’t quite yet 23, but had been running a canvas/fundraising office and was burned, just saw a lot of people and time and energy being wasted. And I felt like there was a disconnect in how outreach was being done – we spent a lot of time trying to talk to the same people in the same way and they weren’t listening. So essentially, I saw a real need for people to get access to what was going on in the world around them. In 2001 I had done some stuff with Greenpeace on U2’s tour of that year, and I think that was the first time I really came to see the possibility that lay in concert and event outreach when it was done innovatively. I took a few groups out on Warped Tour in the summer of 2002 as an experiment, and things have just sort of grown since.

My work with Lokahi is pretty varied and intense – I act as the ED and founder, but I am very hands on, I’m onsite at about 75% of the shows and events we do. So I do everything from working directly with our partner organizations, coordinating with tour production, leading and managing my staff to performing outreach and designing materials and writing after school curriculum. And I am always looking and thinking about where we need to go next. I have a few other small businesses as well, so I don’t sleep much! We’re a small org, so even though it sounds insane, it actually works out nicely, and I think my being involved with every process, at least for the stage we are at right now, gives me a good sense of how to structure things as we grow.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

Getting to DO something! I mean, I think my biggest frustration when I was younger was feeling like there was so MUCH going on in the world, so many things you can be a part of, so many things that needed to be fixed, so many things that SOMEONE needed to do SOMETHING about – I love being able to act on my ideals for a living. I’m one of the lucky ones that gets to do something about the things they care about. I love interacting every single night with people, talking to them about the issues I’m passionate about – what better job could you have? I can talk to people, explain to them about what is going on around them, hopefully give them the tools they need to make a difference. Every night you talk to people that will thank you for being there doing what you do – that for me at least kinda drives it all home.

I love getting to work with a crew of people who I consider to be friends as well sometimes – Lokahi is a small but amazing team of individuals that bring a variety of backgrounds and talents to the table, and we all share the same passion and outlook toward this work. Getting to hang out and work with a team of people I love to be around is also a big perk!

I also love teaching in our after school program – I started teaching in the after school setting when I was about 20 or 21, working for another organization. It’s been the most rewarding thing I have ever done, and it really I think – at least in my own head – helps me with keeping Lokahi itself grounded in this idea of education and empowering and being about reaching out to people.

I also love the travel part of my work when we are on tour; I’m a natural travel rat, I kinda need to be in constant motion, so that’s fun. I’m really drawn to intense, involved work – I actually am at my happiest when I’ve got a million different things and responsibilities pulling at me at once, and this work definitely provides me with that!

What is the biggest challenge of your work?

Well, as I am answering these questions, I’m getting bounced around by some nasty turbulence somewhere over Tennessee! I love the travel part of this work, but it’s a double-edged sword as the logistics make it difficult at times. Plus, we are a lean machine – a very effective but bare bones staff is what allows us to keep doing out outreach in such an effective way for the groups we partner with, so it means that a lot of juggling is done on the part of myself and my key staff.

On the broader scale though, I think it’s a matter of being conscious of your role as a leader – I am responsible for my staff, interns, volunteers, the fans we talk to every night. I’m responsible for the building and maintenance of relationship with artists, artist management and tour production crews. I help lead and direct the partner organizations we work with through this process of campaigning on concerts and at other events. I lead my students when I teach. Occasionally, I have the momentary panic stricken realization that there is no one leading me – I’m sorta where the buck stops, and as this organization grows and our reach spreads farther and farther, that becomes more and more apparent. It’s a challenge I like, but it’s definitely a challenge in that I think you have to be aware of your role and in what capacity you need to learn and grow. And that process of learning and growing needs to be constant.

What keeps you motivated and energized to do your work?

I think it’s the fact that we really get to see the impact we make. I mean, we work on campaigns that are helping to fight poverty, save the environment and promote voting. The arc of change on those types of campaigns is pretty long and goes on for a while – you can’t always see the immediate impact that your work as an organizer or campaigner on the ground makes. But you can see it in those around you – having people show up time and time again to volunteer, meeting people that are volunteer leaders for a campaign they knew nothing about until they first met you, watching your staff develop and grow, making that connection with a fan at a concert on any given night – it’s these small moments, for me at least, that add up to the larger cumulative effect of what we do.

And it’s the work and campaigns themselves – working on ONE for the last year and a half now has really made an impact on me, just watching this grow and take off and realizing that we are a part of this massive movement that is creating real, sustainable positive change. It’s amazing!

Being at the concerts is another thing that I think keeps me going – it’s draining and exhausting but it's very full circle for me. I was first introduced to politics as a kid in part by bands like the Clash, U2, Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine; a big part of my social consciousness was molded by music, so to be able to give back, to take part in the Warped Tour and be a part of the punk community or work with a band like U2 that had a huge impact on me when I was younger is a pretty cool gig to have!

Our after school programs are also a big part of my motivation – once you start to work with kids and you realize the vital role that you can play in their lives, you have a certain sense of commitment and obligation to both them, and in a weird way, the world at large that doesn’t seem to go away. Plus, they will challenge you more than anyone or anything but also offer you the most rewards! I love working with our after school programs in part because its also some of the most creative work I get to do with this.

How do you know you are making a difference? Can you give an example, or tell a story of a time when you felt like your work had a positive impact?

One of the coolest things I had happen last year was when I’d have volunteers join us for shows in the fall – particularly on that leg of U2’s tour – and they would tell me that they first learned about the campaign by talking with me and my staff at one of our concerts earlier in the year. It was pretty rewarding to realize that in fact we are inspiring people, that they are taking the info we give them and running with it, becoming leaders of the campaign in their own communities. And you know, with ONE, there was a lot of success last year we were indirectly related to – the G8 Summit and the UN Summit both saw sizable victories in the fight against poverty and were the direct result of ONE supporters putting pressure on their leaders. It’s rewarding to know we had a part in that.

And of course teaching – I’ve been lucky to stay involved with one particular school, Madison Elementary in Pasadena, for about the last six years. They are very cool about using our curriculum, letting me teach when I can, and I’ve been able to see kids I’ve taught as 2nd and 3rd graders move on to high school. You see what you are doing in that regard too – again, it’s very subtle, but you’ll have a student come up and talk to you about something you studied with them a year or two before, or they’ll rush me and treat me like a rock star when I come back after being gone for a while!

What tips, resources or advice would you give to someone who wanted to become a grassroots campaign organizer?

It’s incredibly rewarding, but also thankless a lot of the time, so you have to be a pretty optimistic person that is self motivating and can see the larger picture in the midst of day-to-day chaos! You have to be able to put in 110% knowing that you can lose every battle, but still win the war, that you might in fact lose the specific campaign or element of the campaign you are working on, but what matters more in your work is the process itself: getting people involved, putting up a fight, making an impact. That is what this work is to me at least: maybe every initiative we try to build support for doesn’t get passed, but at the end of the day, doing what we do shows that things aren’t okay, that things need to be fixed and changed and CAN be, and we are doing our best to get that message out to as many people as we can.

I do this out of a mix of love, passion, idealism, and slight insanity – I think you have to just find what it is that works for you. Polish your communication skills – that is what this is all about, at every level. We focus everything we do on communication: from the way we design and set up our tables and booths, the materials we hand out, to how we train our staff and volunteers. It’s all about communicating these important causes and issues in a way that will connect and inspire a wide spectrum of people.

Teach. Teaching – especially working with young, elementary aged kids – forces you to learn to be a strong communicator, to connect with people in new ways. It’ll test your patience to the max, something else that is critical to this work. And above all I have found that being a teacher makes you realize your capacity for leadership. Doesn’t matter if you are the Field Director of a major campaign or a volunteer on your first night of the campaign: you are leading and inspiring someone else that you will interact with, and you need to be aware of the importance of that. Once you’ve taught, had little kids actually look up to you, it makes you very conscious of your role in the larger world.

Forge new ground – the only way campaigns and causes are won is through a combination of passion, dedication and innovation, at least from how I see it! Ask questions, think of new ways to do the tried and true, and continuously challenge yourself.

In terms of starting out, volunteer as much as you can for campaigns you are interested in, it’s a great way to get new skills for free and to meet people. Look into the campaigns you are passionate about – some people can work on anything, but I find that I can only put all of myself behind something that really matters to me. Check out non-profit websites for entry level positions – get in with an organization or campaign, and even if you aren’t working in an organizer capacity you can still learn a lot and move your way into organizing. There are all sorts of fellowships and training programs in the summer as well – start with and keep looking from there.

How can people get involved with Lokahi Outreach?

We are always interested in meeting people that would like to join us as a volunteer for ONE, or the many other campaigns we work on – our volunteer teams are a very important part of our outreach program! The best way to get in contact with us would be to check out our blog at (our ‘formal’ website,, is under perpetual construction it seems!) - we have links that can connect you with our volunteer opportunities and summer internship programs. You can also get our contact info to inquire about our after school curriculum as well as follow our tour adventures!

If you know a Solutionary Woman who works at a nonprofit or NGO who you think I should profile, please email me at britt at brittbravo dot com with their name, organization and contact info.

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