PART 1: LOCAL INDIVIDUALS TAKING ACTION
Our story began thirty years ago with our founder, Lew Finfer, organizing in his local community. MCAN was founded in February 1985 originally to provide training for organizing and leadership skills – we saw that no existing organizations were providing this kind of development for community groups, so MCAN was created to fill this need. We focused on training and formation of new organizations in the fall of ‘85 and began to equip local leaders and organizations with the tools to make their communities a better place to live and work.
One of MCAN’s core beliefs is that organizing should come from those who are closest to the issues, and founded on relationships. From its beginning, MCAN knew that local organizations would be able to develop the closest ties with its own communities, and so since our inception, we’ve been helping to amplify and solidify local efforts, on issues that we hear are important from the leaders in the communities.
Our base is made up of diverse low and moderate income grassroots leaders representative of the cities in which we organize including Puerto Rican, Cape Verdean, Portuguese, Haitian, African American and Latino leaders from many Central and South American countries. Our white leaders are predominantly from working class backgrounds.
PART 2: EXPANDING OUR TRAINING, HELPING BUILD OTHER LOCAL ORGS & THEIR LOCAL IMPACT
In its earliest years, MCAN also founded the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance and provided staffing until 1991. MAHA’s organizing and service work led to 17,000 people, mostly people of color, being able to buy affordable homes in Boston over the years.
In 1990, MCAN began focusing on building, supporting, and working closely with other faith based community organizations around the state. These included Brockton Interfaith Community (BIC), Pioneer Valley Project (PVP), United Interfaith Action of New Bedford and Fall River (UIA), Worcester Interfaith (WI), and Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). Essex County Community Organization (ECCO) also affiliated with us when they changed their work from issue based work to faith based work. We also supported the founding of the Youth Jobs Coalition (YJC).
The organizations achieved some major local wins independently. Over our history MCAN and affiliates have played key roles in dozens of local wins for education, housing and public safety, and statewide wins including the creation of the Shannon Anti-Gang Violence Grant Program and its continued funding, CORI reform, and significant funding for youth jobs.
But we also saw that it wasn’t enough. Local cities and towns were limited in how they could raise revenue, and we found ourselves continually fighting for small budget increases for our communities. But we knew that the roots of the issues were in reality related to state-level structural budget deficits, or the broader broken economic system we were operating in.
PART THREE: THE POWER OF COMING TOGETHER IN STATEWIDE COORDINATED CAMPAIGNS; AND JOINING A NATIONAL NETWORK
In the past few years MCAN has made a major strategic shift from prioritizing local organizing in our affiliates to deep alignment and partnership to build statewide power. This includes organizing together on a major statewide policy agenda, and running coordinated communications, training, data management and fundraising strategies. In 2007, we also joined the PICO National Network to continue expanding our resources and the boundaries of our power.
In 2014 MCAN was instrumental in winning the highest state-level minimum wage of $11 an hour, and the strongest sick time policy in the country of up to 5 days of sick time for all workers. We played a lead role in building and leading the Raise UP Massachusetts Coalition of community, labor, and faith groups to run this effort. MCAN grassroots leaders led the way, collecting over ¼ of the 360,000 signatures of voters to qualify both measures for the ballot. In fall 2014, MCAN ran the largest non-partisan volunteer 501c3 voter program towards winning sick time on the ballot. These new laws will help over 1 million mostly low paid workers.
These campaigns have brought MCAN to a new level of power. Through these campaigns we shifted from approaching legislators with our hands out, to becoming a negotiating power player. We demonstrated to the legislative leadership and business community our capacity not to be limited to the regular legislative process that they have the most power over. Through this campaign thousands of people in congregations and community organizations gained concrete skills in civic engagement and signature gathering.