New York-based activist group Rally + Rise stands out in a city crowded with like-minded organizations for its bare bones approach to community organizing. Instead of pummeling would-be volunteers with lengthy call sheets and time-consuming meetings, the group asks New Yorkers to sacrifice less than a minute of each day to lobby their state legislators.
A distinctive visual style also sets Rally + Rise apart. Their unique, Pop Art-inspired motif is worlds away from the neo-soviet iconography favored by other groups, and was chosen specifically to engage those new to the political process with its warmth and simplicity.
Formed on the heels of last November’s general election, Rally + Rise has since focused its efforts on the Reproductive Health Act, which was passed by the New York State Assembly earlier this year and is now being debated by the senate.
The Upstander talked to the group’s founder, Rebecca Willa Davis, a 31-year-old journalist from Brooklyn, about her brand of activism and plans for the movement going forward.
Describe Rally + Rise in a single sentence
Rally + Rise is a group of New Yorkers who are focused on organizing and lobbying locally so that we can make sure we are protected no matter what happens on a national level.
What was your background prior to the General Election?
Activism has always been something that was part of my life one way or another. I had been active [in college] and then post-college life just got in the way. I was motivated to get active again during the [presidential] primaries and when the General Election kicked off I spent most of my free time travelling to swing states and phone banking.
What inspired you to form Rally + Rise?
A lot of people I know woke up the day after the election feeling pretty devastated. The feeling was it was very personal. It wasn’t the same as in 2004. Back then I was in Ohio for the lead up to the election and I remember being in a van on a horribly long drive through election night and though I was appalled at the thought of another four years of George W Bush, it didn’t feel as devastating, and as a complete a rebuke of who I am, like this election did.
So the day after the election I ended up having an impromptu gathering at my apartment because, frankly, I didn’t want to be by myself that night, and what was really surprising to me was while for some reason the people who came had gone through life never feeling the need to become active, now they did. A lot of my friends are very creative, smart, and aware of what’s going on in the news, so what we’re trying to do with Rally + Rise is to tap into this group of people who have never been active before, and use a different set of visual cues: through a very simple, very specific visual lexicon.
What are your political aims?
Our general philosophy is being proactive on the state level and helping to demystify the political process, especially the local political process and making people feel empowered that they can reclaim terms like activist, lobbyist or organizer. My hope is that we are able to bring people into that political process who never aligned with it before.
Right now, we are focused on the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) going through the New York State legislature. In New York abortion is criminalized, there are no exceptions for women’s health or if the fetus isn’t viable, and there are some other rules that are reflective of the time that has passed since the last abortion law was signed – 47 years ago. Since then the law hasn’t been updated.
There is already legislation that would update New York state law, and for the past three years the state assembly has passed it, but the past three years the state senate has blocked it or stalled it so it can’t move forward.
What we found is when we tell people the facts around abortion access in New York, they are instantly shocked. This makes it an easy segue to offer a little education on state level politics. Most people don’t know who their state senator is. This allows us to talk a little bit about that.
Beyond reproductive rights there are other things we are definitely looking at supporting. I feel very strongly about the Raise the Age. New York is one of only two states in the country that prosecutes all youths as adults when they turn 16, and it’s appalling. New York is the state where conversion therapy for young people is still legal. New Jersey has blocked that but we haven’t, which is embarrassing.
In New York you can get married as young as 14! We always think its southern states that are so backward, but they have the age at which someone can get married a couple of years higher than it is in New York. There are LGBTQ issues, environmental issues, educational issues: there are a lot of things in New York that we can make a difference on.
There’s tremendous potential for organizing in New York state and making New York the progressive leader we all think it should be.
What do you see as the best strategy for achieving these aims?
Take our Spring Forward Campaign [as an example]. We launched this on March 21 and it runs to April 28. The idea is because its been 47 years since New York updated its abortion law, activists should take 47 seconds a day to change that.
We’ve tried to make a coordinated calling effort as easy to follow as possible and as un-intimidating as possible. Every day we have a different legislator we are targeting. Our focus here is strength in numbers. Rather than making ten calls each day, each person can take just 47 seconds to do one – it makes this really accessible and easy to do.
It’s the sort of thing you can do when you’re out to grab lunch or after work, and my hope is that once someone has done this once or twice they realize it’s not as scary as they think. Everyone takes a couple of minutes a day to brush their teeth, it’s a habit, and so we are hoping to make activism something that is so easy it becomes a habit.
We also have something I call our ‘Power Hours’. On Friday mornings we have been setting up meetings with state senators at their offices. The idea is we want as many people as possible to meet a senator and talk to them and see what that’s like, because I think for most people if you were to say: “go and meet with your legislator” that sounds like something that isn’t for you, but for professionals. In my experience, it’s actually a really empowering process to sit down with someone and talk with them and let them know what you’re thinking and have them respond.
There has been a mushrooming of activist groups in New York since the election. Is it problematic having a multiplicity of groups with overlapping aims and objectives competing for activists attention?
I don’t think problematic is the right word. I think ultimately the more people that are getting involved, the better.
[However] as a wise women once said, we’re stronger together! I think these groups target different things and people. [But] while it makes sense that we all exist, I think that we can unite on certain things.
We ended up creating a coalition of grassroots organizations who are all doing work around getting the RHA passed. Our goal with this is to make sure that we’re all on the same page, and that we’re able to share resources. Rally + Rise put together this Spring Forward campaign and now all of the coalition is working around this call calendar. It’s this idea that there is no use in doubling up.