We are thrilled to welcome Jason Lee as our new Political Director for United Working Families. Jason is no stranger to UWF, having worked as a regional field director for UWF on Chicago's west side in the 2015 city elections. Since that time, he has engaged tens of thousands of AFSCME members in key elections in New Jersey, Nevada, and Ohio. Read more about Jason's story and his return to Chicago in his own words:
I grew up in and around politics in my hometown of Houston, TX. However, for most of my youth and early adulthood, I was pessimistic about the possibilities for meaningful change through electoral politics. I thought that our electoral system had been so co-opted by powerful monied interests that it was no longer a viable area of contestation. I decided that with little will to change the broken system and few institutions strong enough to challenge it, the only workable path forward was to accrue the resources that would give me the power to bend it to my will; to fight fire with fire.
After several years on this path, working within global corporate finance, I came to several stunning realizations. The first was that injustice was global and systemic. As a black American I had been keenly attuned to racial injustice, particularly in the United States, but my travels around the globe made clear that as long as we lived in a class-based political economy, that every marginalized identity group would find themselves carrying the yoke of oppression. I realized the answer wasn’t to re-shift the unjust hierarchy, but rather to work towards a just world for all. Secondly, I learned the meaning of Dr. King’s axiom that the “ends are pre-existent in the means.” If my goal was truly to create a just world, I decided that I could not use unjust means--like accruing wealth to undermine democratic norms--to achieve those ends.
It was this latter realization that led me out of my job and to search for a democratic and just means of change. The first criteria I had was “organization.” I wanted to find a place where real people were organizing for real power. That search led me to Chicago, where the Chicago Teachers Union had just waged and won one of the greatest labor battles of the twenty-first century. I didn’t know much other than I wanted to learn how they did it. On a whim, I flew to the Labor Notes Conference in Chicago, hoping to meet the leaders that I had read about in articles. Fortune was on my side, because after wandering around for hours, I did meet CTU leaders Jesse Sharkey, Norine Gutekanst, Jackson Potter, and Brandon Johnson. From there I was blessed to be invited to the CTU Summer Organizing Institute, where I met the member-activists that continue to inspire me to this day. During that summer, many Chicagoans became inspired by the possibility of a Karen Lewis mayoral run. I was no different. I decided to withdraw from business school to stay in Chicago and help bring the movement to its political fulfillment. While Karen ultimately did not run, the movement (and I) soldiered on behind Chuy Garcia and dynamic west side Aldermanic candidate and educator, Tara Stamps.
Working on the west side, I fell in love with the spirit of the people and my heart broke for the unjust conditions that too many lived under, especially in a city of so much wealth. After the election, I committed myself to continue organizing for change on the west side. I was fortunate to be able to do that work through the vehicle of United Working Families and meet the good folks at SEIU HCII who were equally committed. Emboldened, I also helped create the Greater Austin Independent Political Oranization, a group of dedicated Austin residents willing to take on the power structure to strengthen their neighborhoods. I left Chicago to join AFSCME International, where I had the chance to wage political struggle with public sector workers all over the United States. Now I as I return, I bring those lessons with me, along with my deep appreciation for the people and fight in Chicago and Illinois. Together we will fulfill the political promise of this movement and wield real power to changes the lives of those that inspire our work.