Six years ago, I brought together some of the best organizers and leaders I knew to found Rights & Democracy (RAD). Working across Vermont and New Hampshire, RAD was a new kind of people’s movement organization focused on changing what is politically possible by using all the tools in the changing-making tool box. 

I have had the honor of dedicating my life to bringing people together in collective action for the past 22 years. I have seen how empowering people and communities to organize to improve their lives also builds a strong foundation for the durable organizations necessary to keep these struggles going in order to build the future we need.

I have helped to build RAD’s strong foundation. Now it is time for me to turn over the keys of Rights & Democracy to a new director who will get to work with some of the best people I have ever known and who can take this movement organization to the next level.  

By the time I was 25 years old, I had learned enough about the world to know that there was injustice everywhere and something needed to change. It was 1999. I was living in Barre, Vermont, and had recently started volunteering for the local homeless shelter. The stories I heard at the shelter made me sick. How could we be proud to live in the wealthiest country in the world where millions of people did not have access to health care, and where veterans, whole families, ANYONE was unhoused? 

I realized that the country I was told I lived in didn’t really exist. I studied the history of working people and realized it was only people’s movements taking action to demand change that brought progress to our communities. 

I started as a volunteer at the Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC), an organization with an office just down the street from my apartment and the homeless shelter in Barre. Over the next 15 years, I helped thousands of health care workers and service workers organize unions, and the VWC become a membership organization of working class people fighting for healthcare as a human right. When the political establishment pulled the plug on Vermont’s universal health care law, I realized that to win bold policies we needed bold strategies to impact who the policy makers were and hold them accountable. We needed policy makers who both truly represented our communities and our movements. That is when I realized we needed Rights & Democracy. 

I could not be more proud of what we have built at Rights & Democracy. Six years ago, I could not have guessed the unprecedented historical moments we would be up against — nor how much we would build. Fighting for our rights and our democracy has never been as important in our lifetimes. From being part of victories like paid sick days and raising the minimum wage in Vermont to helping win Medicaid Expansion in New Hampshire — we have only just started winning change for our communities

With an incredible staff team of more than 20 people, dynamic boards for both Rights & Democracy and our sibling organization, the Rights & Democracy Institute, so many committed leaders, and hundreds of member activists and volunteers — we have never been stronger.

  • We are helping lead powerful coalitions with dozens of organizations committed to building a movement for a just and equitable future with VT Renews and NH Renews as part of the Renew New England Alliance and the Green New Deal National Network. 
  • We have made huge strides toward becoming a strong multiracial organization with incredible new staff and board members stepping up from most impacted communities to lead us into the future.  
  • In 2020, we were a core partner with People’s Action in building a powerful Deep Canvass program to engage thousands of conflicted Granite State voters in one of the most critical Presidential elections in our country’s history. We are now expanding that program in both NH and VT, and bringing it down-ballot to municipal and state elections.
  • Also in 2020, in the midst of the COVID pandemic we launched new political programs and hired two amazing Movement Politics Directors, Kiah Morris and Asma Elhuni, to help lead the organization’s political direction.They have already built our first-ever BIPOC Affinity Group of members and supporters. 
  • We also developed new ways to connect and build our movement by bringing the conversations our communities need to heal and build power with RDI’s series The Traverse and RAD’s Movement Politics Show, programming that reaches a growing base of thousands of supporters each month.
  • In 2021, Rights & Democracy Institute launched new leadership education programs, including Catalyst Leadership (click here to RSVP to our launch on June 9th) to cultivate a new generation of people who have the tools to lead in the public arena and organize to unite our communities. 

And much of this has happened only in the past year. Rights & Democracy is  just getting started. The best is truly yet to come

I won’t be going far, and at this point RAD is in my bones. Nevertheless, I am honored to pass on the keys for this people-powered vehicle that is setting a new course in movement politics and change. 

Most organizations like RAD never get as strong as we have gotten, and those that do usually take much longer to get there. When things are strong is exactly when every director hopes to step aside for new leadership. I will be proud to pass the baton to a new director who can take Rights & Democracy to a whole new level. 

I have such deep respect and appreciation for everyone who has helped us build this movement and for all the board members who are supporting my decision. I hope to find ways to do complementary work together to overcome the ways elites in this country try to pit us against each other and to continue to build a true multiracial democracy that can live up to its promise. 

Onward, 

James