Partner
Initiatives

We support the most exciting, innovative grassroots organizing in the heartland.

Indiana
NAFTA Story Project

Bringing US-born and immigrant Hoosiers together to tell personal stories of jobs, trade, and immigration.

iowa
working families party

Standing up to giant agribusiness interests treat Iowa like an extraction colony and a sacrifice zone.

Michigan
Power to the People

White and indigenous communities taking on the hedge fund-owned energy firm robbing them blind.

ohio
Humans of Addiction

Building a social movement to end the worst overdose crisis in history.

wisconsin
The Race and Class Narrative Project

Reclaiming Wisconsin's progressive values by confronting the racist narratives dividing us.

why partner initiatives?

Overcoming the rich and powerful forces standing in the way of the America we deserve will take a massive movement of working class people of all colors, coming together and fighting for their lives and communities. Recruiting white Americans into such a movement will take cultivating organizing initiatives in America’s small towns and rural countrysides.

Heartland communities are filled with people working too hard for not enough pay, facing medical issues with bad coverage, struggling with housing and food insecurity, and being poisoned by soil and water — white people who have much to team up with black and brown people about.  Many thousands would join in collective action, but, because there is vanishingly little progressive organizing infrastructure where they live, they endure their hardships in isolation and despair.

Heartland Rising aims to change that.

Our partner initiatives are located in the quintet of Midwestern states that both Obama and Trump won: Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. In all five, a decade of right wing state government has wrought terrible destruction on families and communities, all five are important for a progressive Senate, and in all five, building long-term state-wide progressive power hinges on small towns and rural communities.

The conventional approach, showing up for one month every four years with nothing but attack ads paid for by high-dollar closed-door fundraisers, is a losing strategy. If we want the lasting power to consistently win elections, we must start today by supporting experimental organizing programs focused on the long term.

Such innovative initiatives offer opportunities to achieve real results without massive infusions of cash. Since coastal money goes much farther in the heartland, moderate grants yield vital capacity enhancements. Together, our initial slate of partner initiatives can help transform the heartland, and America as a whole.

NAFTA Story Project
A project by Hoosier Action
In the 1990's, NAFTA inflicted searing pain on native-born Hoosiers and immigrants alike. Now we are coming together to tell our stories and take on the billionaire class dividing us up.

Where
We
stand

NAFTA inflicted searing pain on millions of people, families, communities, and municipalities in the heartland -- nowhere more than Indiana. Nearly 25 years after it went into effect, Millions of Hoosiers have a personal story of how NAFTA led to pervasive poverty, addiction, depression, and suicide, because the same story unfolded all over. NAFTA incited a surge of plant closures, which dried up small town tax and consumer bases, leading to further job loss. The cascade continued with everything from a swell of car repossessions and home foreclosures to the breakup of families strained beyond their endurance. 

Likewise, millions of Mexican-born immigrants have a personal story of how NAFTA turned them into economic refugees, searching an all-too-often hostile land for wages to send back as remittances to their families. That story is equally prevalent: NAFTA sent government-subsidized American crops flooding south of the border at sub-market rates, which destroyed a million agricultural jobs in Mexico, sending workers north on a hunt for the dignity and freedom not afforded by economic conditions at home. In immigrant as well as US-born Indiana communities, NAFTA stories are inescapable, palpable.

If we can create a forum for people to tell these stories, where they might reach the ears and the hearts of other people with their own NAFTA stories, we can create the opposite conditions: immigrant and US-born working class communities can see one another not as adversaries, but as teammates. From this common ground, they will be better equipped to take on a common adversary: the commodity speculators and industrial and pharmaceutical barons who got rich off of NAFTA, off of their forced displacement, off of their joblessness and addiction, off of their pain.

Started in Spring of 2017, Hoosier Action is a member-owned and -led organization devoted to building the power of Indiana’s everyday families to fight for a small town agenda based on our collective self-interests. In rural Southern Indiana, where the fastest growing population is Latinx, we are uniquely positioned to invite white Hoosiers into new formations and a new vision for our state and country.

what
we’re
building

We will organize “Shared Stories” dialogues, bringing white heartlanders and immigrant Latinx workers together in union halls, churches, community centers, schools and other venues throughout Southern Indiana’s small towns, to tell one another their stories of NAFTA and its catastrophic effects on Mexican and Hoosier communities. Through deliberate facilitation, these dialogues will foster an anti-racist, anti-corporate analysis of that catastrophe. 

To consolidate the momentum from the dialogues, we will move people from dialogue into action on a set local, county, and state-wide demands ranging from ensuring access to translation services at a wide range of institutions to fighting for expanded healthcare access and clean water and soil. Moreover, we will establish a training for trainers that develops a group of spokespeople and trainers from the community who will bring the learning around immigration and NAFTA into additional dialogues.

if
we
win

By developing an engaged and knowledgeable constituency in Trump’s core turf that can speak and advance an agenda for trade and immigration justice, we can incite an electoral reorientation that changes both voting behaviors and what politicians feel pressured to embrace. These dialogues can also enhance anti-racist, anti-corporate power through taking on other issues, for example by bringing together white and black targets of the “War on Drugs” to tell stories around addiction, policing, and imprisonment.
Working Families Iowa
Giant agribusiness interests treat Iowa like an extraction colony and a sacrifice zone. Family farmers, immigrant communities, and low-wage workers are joining together to take a stand.

Where
We
stand

Iowa stands at a crossroads. If progressives continue the Democratic Party’s current approach of divesting from the state’s political infrastructure, it could well look like Kansas soon; if we invest in strategic initiatives now, we have the potential to make it look like Minnesota. The three states’ populations aren’t very different, only the level of development of the progressive organizing ecosystem is. That Iowa is home to the most explicitly white supremacist Member of Congress, Steve King, one so far beyond the pale that the national GOP has censured him, is a testament both to this danger and this opportunity.

Which way Iowa goes will have national reverberations. Iowa is the first state in the Presidential nominating process, a swing state, and a Midwestern, mostly white state that voted for Obama twice before dramatically swinging to Trump. And there is greater potential for a reversal than almost anywhere: in no state more than Iowa have Donald Trump’s hawkish trade policies hurt the population more -- a population still reeling from decades of corporate agricultural consolidation that has made being a family farmer who grows food to feed people extremely difficult.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI), a community organization with 5,000 dues-paying members, 40 years of history, and a footprint in all 99 counties, is teaming up with the national Working Families Party (WFP) to germinate an Iowa chapter of the WFP. Anchoring this endeavor is Shawn Sebastian of Aimes, previously the director of the Fed Up Campaign at the Center for Popular Democracy, which organizes working class people of color to demand full employment monetary policy at the Federal Reserve.

what
we’re
building

We aim to build nothing short of a new political party capable of reshaping the state’s political contours, turning Iowa into a nationally influential hotbed of multi-racial populism.

As a first step, we will elevate a progressive platform in the Iowa Caucuses that shifts the entire presidential field and Democratic party left -- already, we are conducting research and delivering policy briefs to Presidential campaigns in order to push the national conversation. In contrast to the rest of the state’s political organizations, we will do this with an eye toward building a durable progressive base and infrastructure in Iowa that fights for progressive change year-round and long-term at the local, state, and federal level.

One essential pillar of our long-term political strategy is developing candidates and campaign staff independent of the Democratic Party and the state’s moneyed interests. We recently hosted a “Women Run Campaings” training that drew 30 women (10 women of color, 10 who identified as queer, their ages ranging from 17 to mid-60s) from every corner of the state. Several of them are either running for office or running a campaign. Building on this training, we are planning candidate training forums, Precinct Level Area Network Captain trainings, and intensive courses on running field, communications, and budgets.

Another pillar is building a base in person, through deep canvassing and events, as well as digitally, using relational online organizing as distinct from social media promotion. We will build not just a list for the coming election but also a set of relationships that last beyond the caucuses. To develop this base into a progressive political bloc, we will undertake a program of political and popular education, both on issues (corporate agricultural concentration, the rural part of a Green New Deal, Medicare for all, and more) and ideological foundations (economic exploitation, structural racism and patriarchy, our broken political system).

if
we
win

If we win, the ground that the Democratic Party has surrendered in Iowa will not by captured by white nationalists like Steve King, but a multi-racial populist coalition at the forefront of progressive change in the US. The capacity, relationships, and infrastructure we build will generate strategy post-caucus and through the November elections for general election outreach, flipping the state capitol, and engaging in ongoing fights through election cycles.

This will be an explicit effort to counter the boom of interest from election cycles -- and particularly the caucus cycle -- and the bust of the post election period when money and engagement completely disappears.

It’s not just Iowa, though: building out a model for organizing micropolitan cities and rural communities, immigrants included, into a large consolidated base of support will propel sibling efforts in other states with similar demographics, remaking the American political landscape.
Power to the People
a project by we the people
White and indigenous communities in the Upper Peninsula, long pitted against each other, are teaming up to take on the hedge fund-owned energy firm robbing them blind.

Where
We
stand

If Kelly and Gary Talarico of Germfask, MI had lived across the street, they might not have faced severe financial distress. When Kelly received a medical diagnosis that required them to keep medical equipment plugged in at home, their electric bill skyrocketed. Across the street, residents could get their energy from an electric cooperative, but the Talaricos were stuck paying up to four times as much to get theirs from Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO), a British hedge fund-owned firm with its history of charging exorbitant rates -- sometimes highest in the continental United States.

Residents of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are not wealthy to begin with, but the bitter winters force them to use energy that, at UPPCO’s rates, many simply cannot afford. Customers have been organizing for over two years to get UPPCO to offer fairer rates: they’ve tried working with UPPCO directly, pressuring the Michigan Public Service Commission to take action, and asking elected officials to help, all to no avail.

Now, they are ready to take their energy needs into their own hands, and one organization is uniquely positioned to help bring power to the people. We The People - MI launched in 2017 with the goal of bringing together communities who have faced struggles in isolation -- rural white communities, native communities, new immigrants, black and brown communities in Michigan cities.

what
we’re
building

We will launch a fight to take on the British hedge fund stealing from rural Michiganders and turn UPPCO into a cooperatively-owned electric service provider, inviting people motivated by the need to lower their energy bills into a fight against a corporate opponent, built on demands for economic, energy, and climate justice.

Transforming UPPCO will require us – and give us an opportunity – to heal from the divide-and-conquer politics in the region that has pitted indigenous and white working class communities against each other. The campaign’s core leadership team, which includes two members of the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians, is committed to embracing and applying indigenous ecological systems and practices and ensuring new renewable energy infrastructure be built and maintained by union workers who live in our communities.

More broadly, We The People is supporting an environmental and energy justice vision lead by Indigenous leaders in the region. We must not only move away from antiquated and unsustainable systems and practices, but acknowledge that we all exist in relationship with each other and the planet — that we are a part of larger ecosystems — while we shape the future.

if
we
win

The impact of this campaign will be felt directly throughout the region, but it will have national reverberations as well, serving as a model for several types of struggle.

For one thing, we will create a model for turning private equity utility companies into cooperatively-owned service providers that actually serve their communities. For another, we’ll set a new standard for how we take action on energy at the local level. Lastly, we will model what an indigenized approach to establishing an energy utility can look like.

Then, we will explore new horizons: an organized multi-racial base for economic and energy justice in the Upper Peninsula will alter the political landscape of Michigan, and, by extension, the United States.
Humans of Addiction
a project by Momentum
The worst overdose crisis in history claims tens of thousands of American lives every year. We're building a social movement that says drug-users are not "throw away people," but humans with dignity.

Where
We
stand

In thousands of communities across the United States, one issue more than any other is bringing people into public life: the drug epidemic. Every day, overdoses kill more than 115 Americans; last year alone, Americans lost more loved ones to overdoses than the US military did soldiers during the entire Vietnam War. The demographic impacted directly by the drug epidemic is diverse as America itself: death rates are rising across racial demographics, socioeconomic classes, and across regions.

In response to this reality, drug users and those who love them have taken action in a thousand ways, from support groups and clinics, to harm-reduction coalitions and church-based treatment societies. What is missing is a social movement to channel this energy into collective action to shift the political and cultural “weather” of the country. The nature and scale of the current crisis create an incredible opportunity to build bridges across race and region and to bring a mass of unorganized people into a bloc behind an agenda that includes universal healthcare, full employment, and decarceration.

However, this effort faces a massive ideological obstacle: the stigma of drug abuse that construes users as sub-human. In 2018, Jake Bradshaw of Portsmouth responded to this by starting a Facebook page called Humans of Addiction. The mission of HOA is to “encourage compassion and empathy for those affected by addiction through telling their stories” -- to shift the narrative around addiction in America away from viewing users as “throw-away people” and toward seeing them as human beings with dignity, worthy of love, compassion and respect. The page quickly went viral and now has over 60,000 followers.

what
we’re
building

Our pilot program is focused on supporting HOA in making the jump from online to offline through the launch of a nationwide community of storytellers and change agents. The “Momemtum” model of organizing, which has given birth to narrative-shifting groups such as IfNotNow and Sunrise Movement, offers a path to powerful organizing that scales up quickly. First, a group plans its “DNA” (story, strategy, and structure) and then transitions to a public launch utilizing a “‘cycle of momentum.” This cycle starts with a dramatic direct action that draws national media attention. Immediately thereafter, an absorption phase commences with mass calls which disseminate the “DNA” to people everywhere who want to be involved. Then local actions follow, leading up to an onboarding (mass training) process.

Our goal will be getting 10 Million people to sign the “Humans of Addiction pledge.” People can take and recite the Humans of Addiction pledge, like the Serenity Prayer or the Pledge of Allegiance, to demonstrate their commitment to an idea, in this case that those using drugs must be treated as human beings. As an organizing tool, the pledge can be used to 1) gather contact information, 2) get public officials to speak publicly on the issue, and 3) measure narrative shift. 

We will launch the Humans of Addiction Pledge and nationwide storytelling community at an event in Portsmouth, Ohio. This event will have 3 components: 1) personal storytelling 2) taking the Humans of Addiction Pledge, 3) training participants in Harm Reduction. We will make a public call for people all around the country to host “echo” events. We will livestream the event, potentially in partnership with The Moth or other storytelling podcasts, and line up lots of national press to amplify the call to action, potentially with the support of celebrities or musicians. We will create viral video within 12 hours.  

Then, we will scale up. We will make a massive social media push to amplify the event, and drive people toward a series of national mass calls where they sign-up to be trained as a storyteller, and host a local event. We will launch landing page where people can sign-up and see a map of events around the country. We will set up storytelling trainings, and identify hosts for local events, pairing hosts with coaches to support them. This will lead to hundreds of events nationwide. If these are successful, we will orient new members and begin plans to launch and support a nationwide storytelling community.

if
we
win

The overdose crisis will continue as long as the millions of people whose lives it has touched explain the deaths of their loved ones as the result of “bad choices,” rather than a system where a tiny rich minority profit from addiction and illness. But if they bring their stories into the public sphere, this country will be able to see the crisis for the political catastrophe it is. If even a small percentage of them can become aligned around the need for universal healthcare, full employment, and drug decarceration, not only can we save millions of lives, we can transform the electorate and our society.
The Race and Class Narrative Project
Farmers, immigrants, and labor unions are coming together to reclaim Wisconsin's progressive values, confront the racist narratives dividing us, and get free from the wealthy interests dominating our lives.

Where
We
stand

The US Supreme Court’s rejection of Wisconsin’s marquee Gill v Whitford partisan gerrymandering case, along with its 5-4 ruling dismissal of cases challenging partisan gerrymandering in Maryland and North Carolina, leaves us with one option for dismantling the house that Scott Walker built: political organizing. Only breaking Republican dominance in unlikely districts can un-rig the state and keep its Senate seats and Electoral College votes out of the hands of white nationalist politicians. That means we need a sea change in small towns and rural areas.

Perhaps the greatest impediment to this badly-needed transformation is the prevalence of racist narratives that drive a wedge between working class white communities and their black and brown counterparts. The landmark Race and Class Narrative (RCN) study illuminates a path toward moving that wedge so it instead separates working class white communities from the wealthy interests dominating their lives. A successful pilot RCN implementation program in Minnesota was built on deep research into the state’s shared values, and a communications strategy that exposed racist dogwhistles, gives us a template for how a Wisconsin-specific version of the program might look. 

Wisconsin has a long history of left populism to draw on, not just in its populous Milwaukee-Madison southern corridor, but also in more far-flung GOP-run regions. Reviving that will take direct grassroots outreach, relational canvassing, aligned local campaigns, town halls on pressing issues -- and a major narrative shift around race and class.

what
we’re
building

Citizen Action WI is anchoring an effort by a diverse coalition of statewide actors to implement the findings of the Race and Class Narrative research together. Citizen Action’s innovative co-op model, which has brought a growing organized presence to areas of the state where progressive political infrastructure has been extremely scarce, positions them ideally to test new messaging ideas in tough political terrain. While their work will venture into the electoral sphere, they will be building narrative unity with strictly issue-based organizations as well, including the Wisconsin Farmers Union, and Voces de la Frontera. Additionally, the effort will include labor unions, local volunteer-led groups across the state, and ultimately dozens of partner organizations.

A central component of Heartland Rising’s partnership with this effort will be establishing a membership scholarship fund to help Citizen Action’s rural co-ops expand, especially among members for whom affording dues is a major challenge, in the lead-up to the 2020 coalition effort.

if
we
win

If we win, the landscape for Wisconsin Politics will look drastically different on Nov 9th.  Wisconsinites across across party lines will have elected leaders who embody the values and are committed to addressing the needs of all Wisconsinites, across the diverse socio, racial, and economic spectrum that is our State.

We will have unified the voting population as well as newly elected leadership around a narrative that promotes WI values, and is not based on fear, hate, or what makes us different from each other, but instead, what we all have in common. We will move forward in 2021 and beyond practicing co-governance with leaders who want to serve all Wisconsinites, and not just those that already have wealth and power. And we will have a successful model of narrative shift to modify and launch in similar states.
We need you

Winning this fight will take people and money, so whether or not you’re from the heartland, you can get involved.