Seattle Subway is an organization that was born out of frustration. We were frustrated with the glacial pace of transit progress and past compromises on quality. Five years ago we got together, with virtually zero political experience, and started fighting for grade-separated transit. We took our frustration and turned it into action.

I’m writing here to celebrate our win on ST3 and thank all of our supporters and volunteers, but more importantly–to highlight the power of organizing and make it clear that you can do what we did.

For many of us, the ST3 win feels tainted by national events. That feeling is a form of power. I urge every one of you to take any frustration you feel now and turn it into constructive action. Refuse to accept the future that will happen if you leave it to other people.

There are many awesome existing organizations that need your help, but if you can’t find a group that matches your goals–get out there and do it yourself. Some tips:

  1. Form an organization and identify clear founding principles and goals. What do you want to happen? Why does it matter? If you want to change anything in the world, this is a crucial first step. Do not overlook or rush this step–every other step will be much harder if you do.
  2. Consider yourselves educators first–get out there and educate. State and restate your case. Be prepared to explain yourself to people who fall in the whole spectrum of support to opposition.
  • In Person. Talking to people in real life is the most effective way to get them on your side. Go to places people mill about and talk to them. Example: Farmers Markets generally provide booth space for nonprofits. Good visuals and stand up banners are magical for drawing people in.
  • On Social Media. We respond to every Facebook comment and post 1-2 things per day. It allows you to have constant contact with the public and hone your messages. Respond to argumentative statements with facts as often as you possibly can. Patience is your greatest asset.
  • On Blogs. Longer form expressions of your goals and mission are essential to recruiting volunteers and setting the direction of your organization. It’s much harder, but I can’t recommend doing this as a team with your core supporters/board enough. It will give you all ownership of your work and your mission.
  1. Don’t let opposition waste your time. Engage and understand your opposition, but don’t let your battles with them consume your time or waste your emotional energy. The internet is custom built to subvert your efforts to do this. Be particularly careful of apparent supporters who continually find fault in what you are doing. There comes a time to stop responding, learn it, know it.
  2. Grow your organization. Finding your hardcore supporters and getting them onboard and active in helping you is the most important job you have. This is a constant struggle and you will make mistakes. Cut yourself some slack and keep working to be better at it. There is always room for improvement in how you engage and work with people who want to help.
  3. Compromise is an essential part of progress. You are not going to win every battle. Every fight does not have equal importance. Don’t fall into the “you are with us on everything or you are our enemy” trap. It’s all too common and will not serve you in the long-term.
  4. Stand your ground when it matters. Seattle Subway fought for grade separation in ST3 all the way to the final bell.  As one of our founding principles it was something we were not going to compromise on. Let me stress tip #1 again: Founding principles. Do it!
  5. Remember: Great things take time.Start now. When we started Seattle Subway five years ago, the standard on-the-street reaction was “yeah, that would be awesome, but it will never happen.” We are set to substantially beat that projection. We take heart in the fact that hundreds of thousands of people will ride ST3 lines every day a century after Donald Trump is gone.

This is not time to slouch. Seattle needs you. Your country needs you. Get busy and build something awesome out of this shit sandwich. We look forward to seeing your work. We look forward to your victory parties.

We’re still here too–if you want to get involved with Seattle Subway as we move to our next phase and learn more about what that means–come on out to our ST3 victory/what’s next party on Saturday (7.30pm/Fadó), RSVP.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Also especially right now all orgs need do internal work to make sure your org knows how to reach out to and have a welcoming space for women and people from historically marginalized communities.

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