By Marla Karina Larrave, Political Education Director
Last July, when we wrapped up a successful 2nd year of our School of Political Leadership, the world as we knew it had changed. Alongside a global pandemic, 2020 made it very clear that the threats of white supremacy and climate chaos would bring to light a massive power struggle, one in which those of us involved in food systems work have been fighting for decades.
When faced with such calamity, we are forced — as people, communities, and countries — to go beyond the realms of what we thought (or were told) was possible. Crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and various climate shocks demand that we change our behaviors, realign our priorities, and affirm our value systems. As a result, moments of crisis are moments of transition. And all of us, no matter what we look like or where we come from, play a critical role in stewarding this transition.
At HEAL, we believe that the best advocates for driving these transitions and developing solutions to transform our food and farm systems are the leaders who share the values, hopes and experiences of the people most burdened by those systems. HEAL’s vision for our School of Political Leadership (SoPL) is rooted in our acknowledgement of this history and context. Our alliance launched SoPL with the goal of having these decisions be shaped by all the communities that are burdened by our current system, and this includes BIPOC and working-class communities from rural towns, tribal nations, urban landscapes, and everyone in between.
In 2021, as the pandemic, climate chaos, and white supremacy continue to threaten the health and safety of all of us — especially in communities of color–HEAL has redoubled its commitment to supporting a new generation of leaders developing inclusive, sustainable solutions for our food and farm systems through our School of Political leadership. We had to make a few big shifts this year, including shifting to an entirely virtual format, but after months of planning and recruitment, we successfully welcomed 14 BIPOC leaders from across the country to our 3rd cohort and held our first virtual session in February to kick off the program!
We spent the first SoPL session orienting the new cohort to HEAL’s purpose, our vision, mission and history, and talked about SoPL’s aim to shift accountable leadership, governance & political feasibility. We also spent time getting to know each other and the HEAL staff, to set the stage for the concepts and skills that we will dissect and build over the next several months together.
Although SoPL is entirely virtual this year, we’re going to dig deep into contextualizing the tools, knowledge, and skills our SoPL participants will need to lead campaigns and drive political change now and into the future. This year, sessions include Power Analysis & Campaign Strategy Development, Field & Base Building Strategy, and Campaign Communications. Each team is required to develop their own campaign idea while at SoPL, and we’ll close out with campaign presentations from each team.
We’ll be inviting our SoPL leaders to reflect on each session here in this space, so stay tuned to follow us on our journey! And please take some time to meet the amazing SoPL cohort! This year’s SoPL members hail from Minnesota, Virginia, Idaho, and California. They are leading campaigns at the intersection of climate and agriculture; racially just food systems including land access and food procurement policy; and uplifting traditional food practices. The teams and cohort include:
Communities Uniting for Farmer Health & Justice (Minnesota)
- Zoe Hollomon, Organizing Co-Director in Minnesota for Pesticide Action Network North America
- Beverly St. John, Adjunct Faculty, White Earth Tribal Community College & Advisory Committee Member of Toxic Taters Coalition.
- Vera Allen, Farmer Activist & Co-founder of the Midwest Farmers of Color Collective
Idaho Food Sovereignty Project (Idaho)
- Samantha Guerrero, Bilingual Community Organizer for Agriculture and Food, Idaho Organization of Resource Councils (IORC)
- Sidney Fellows, Member, IORC
- Marielena Vega, Visión 2C Resource Council (V2C) Chair, IORC
- Benjamin Trieu, Board Member, IORC
Cultivate Charlottesville: Land, Liberate, Reparate (Virginia)
- Richard Morris, Urban Agriculture Collective Farm and Foodroots Program Director, Cultivate Charlottesville
- Tamara Wright, Community Advocate Lead, Cultivate Charlottesville
- Leon Nunez, Garden Associate, Cultivate Charlottesville
- Jeanette Abi-Nader, Executive Director, Cultivate Charlottesville
Good Food Oakland (California)