We are thrilled to announce that Kate Barthelme will be joining United Working Families as our first Director of New Organizing! Kate was a founding member of a successful all-volunteer independent political organization in Albany Park following the 2015 elections, and comes to us with almost twenty years of political and organizing experience. Read more about her story in her own words here:
For me, politics has always been personal. After a struggle to find affordable, confidential, and caring healthcare, I started my organizing work at Planned Parenthood, at a time when right-wing attacks on women's healthcare were on the rise. In the ten years I was at Planned Parenthood, we fought again and again to stop bad judicial nominations, budget cuts and restrictions, abstinence-only policies, and the harassment of women trying to access healthcare. With each campaign, we met new leaders and volunteers, won back legislative seats across Illinois, and eventually the presidency. On election night in 2008, we stood in Grant Park and celebrated.
But in the months and years that followed, we realized we had to fight just as hard for basic demands around funding for birth control and access to healthcare for working women and women of color. It taught me that our work is never done and it’s not enough to win on Election Day. In fact, Election Day is when our hard work as organizers starts.
In 2015, I worked with my neighbors in Albany Park to run a local teacher for a city council seat that’s long been held by the Mell political dynasty. We came within a heartbreaking 17 votes of forcing the first runoff the ward has seen in decades. Election Day was over and we started organizing. Together, we’ve built 33rd Ward Working Families and in the last two years, we’ve pushed our Alderman to take her first votes against the Mayor, helped to build an immigration defense coalition, elected five community members to Local School Council seats, and put questions on charter schools and rent control on the ballot.
While these victories have been important, I am most inspired by the opportunities we've created to meet my neighbors in new ways. We’ve had hard and important conversations about what’s wrong in our ward and in Chicago and worked together to find and fight for the solutions we want. It’s been an important reminder for me of how politics is both personal and local.
My day job for the last six years has been as a trainer at the Midwest Academy, a national institute for community organizing, where I’ve worked with a broad range of progressive organizations and coalitions fighting for an even broader range of issues. I’ve helped develop campaign strategies for issues from family medical leave to environmental regulation to employment discrimination. At the end of the day, the opposition is the same: the undue influence of corporate greed in our political process.
In order to win on all the issues we care about in this moment, I think we need to start locally and build large-scale political power that can take on the 1%. Right now, the power of money in politics stands in the way of the things that we need most: access to equitable health care; safe, affordable neighborhoods; quality public education; and a fully-funded public sector. To see these things realized, we need a new governor, a new mayor, and real progressive majority on our city council AND the people power to hold these newly elected folks accountable to our agenda and solutions.
I am so excited to work with more neighbors and local groups around the Chicago area that can unite working families around the vision and solutions that we choose together. I see a network of vibrant, powerful, local groups working on issues that matter and coming together to shift the balance of power in favor of working families.