Collective Courage is Contagious: A Message from ED Sarah Johnson

June 15 will be my eight year anniversary at Local Progress. In the cadence of our work, that is two four-year terms. Today I’m writing to let you know that I will not figuratively be running for a third term. After our national convening in September, I will be leaving my role as Executive Director and transitioning out of Local Progress.

It has been an incredible honor to lead the development of this unstoppable network. Over the last eight years, we have built LP from a great idea into a powerful movement – all while navigating an unprecedented and unrelenting series of opportunities, challenges, and changes in our political environment.

In my earliest days at LP, the courageous workers leading the Fight for $15 emboldened us to push beyond the edges of what we thought possible and the activists and organizers of the Movement for Black Lives called us into the streets. These two movements helped shape our work from the beginning, centering racial and economic justice. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 made it clear that we, too, are a part of the resistance. In the days, weeks, months and years following, elected officials catalyzed protests, legislated non-cooperation with the federal government, and risked arrest from state houses to the U.S. Capitol.

Today, the urgency of that moment continues as Republican state legislators across the country launch increasingly harmful attacks on our democracy, our bodily autonomy, and our basic freedoms. Through the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic and a racial reckoning still unanswered, we have pushed ourselves and each other to dare to reimagine what governing towards a more just, equitable, healthy, safe and thriving future looks like. 

In each of these moments – and in so many in between – LP members have shown up for each other and for our communities. Through nerdy policy learning sessions and in hallway conversations, on group text threads and in late night calls for help, at convenings that have turned into protests and at the ones that have turned into dance parties (ok, so admittedly I didn’t go to too many of the dance parties). At each moment, we have asked ourselves and each other, “What is the best we can do for our communities?” and “How can we do it better together?”

And we have risen to that challenge. Over the past eight years, we have transformed the culture of governing in so many places, bringing people to the center of that work and advancing a bold agenda that has had an extraordinary impact on peoples’ lives. We have raised wages and increased protections for millions of workers, and used all of the tools at our disposal from the bully pulpit to municipal contracting to support workers organizing unions. We have halted countless evictions and deportations while also making unprecedented budgetary commitments to building new affordable housing and welcoming new residents to our communities. We have built and scaled community-based safety programs from pilot programs to citywide services. We have implemented restorative justice in schools and made sure our children are getting an equitable and honest public education, knowing that our schools are the bedrock of our democracy.

Each year as we’ve made leaps in progress, we have also taken on bigger and bigger fights. Whether it is LPFL banding together to sue Ron DeSantis, LPTX members collectively decriminalizing abortions in response to the state’s trigger ban, or LP members from across the country challenging Amazon’s exploitative race-to-the-bottom HQ2 site selection process, you have shown me and each other that collective courage is contagious.

We are living in a time that is rife with contradictions. On one hand, we hold more governing power than at any other time since LP’s founding and we are using it every day to make progress I could not have imagined when I started this job in 2015. On the other, we are contending with unprecedented countervailing forces ranging from reactionary backlash to rising fascism and authoritarianism. It’s easy to feel daunted. But every day I am drawn back to hope by the work you are leading across the country. The work to build a truly inclusive, multi-racial democracy starts with and stands on the work we do every day at the local level. We cannot bend the country towards equity and justice by contesting for narrow electoral victories in a structural deficit. We must do it by building new muscles and new leaders who know we can govern in a completely different way. For the struggle that entails and for what I know it takes of each of us personally, I am grateful.

On a personal level – this is the best job I’ve ever had. I’ve learned and grown, celebrated victories and been deeply challenged by losses, laughed and cried. As a human, I have been held and supported by this beautiful and loving community through so much – our founding director Ady Barkan’s tragic diagnosis with ALS, stepping with some trepidation into a leadership position, building an organization from the ground up, becoming a mother. For all of that and so much more – thank you.

It is strange and a little sad to leave a job doing work you know in your heart is impactful with a team and organization you love dearly. But I know it is the right thing for me and also for Local Progress to live into its commitment around leadership development, and make room for the vision and contributions of its next Executive Director. I’m grateful to our Board who is leading the charge on a very intentional transition and look forward to sharing some exciting news in the coming weeks!

While I’m not sure what’s next – wherever I go, I won’t be far and will always be cheering for Local Progress every step of the way.

In solidarity,

Sarah Johnson

Executive Director