Welcome to Louisiana Lefty, a podcast about politics and community in Louisiana, where we make the case that the health of the state requires a strong progressive movement fueled by the critical work of organizing on the ground. Our goal is to democratize information, demystify party politics, and empower you to join the mission. Because victory for Louisiana requires you.
I'm your host Lynda Woolard. On this episode, I finally have a conversation with Chris Pourciau, who I've been trying to schedule for almost two years. Chris and I worked together on the Unanimous Juries Campaign in 2018, and have stayed in each other's orbits ever since. I've almost gone a whole season now without doing an episode on Unanimous Juries. So I thought it was time for me to rectify that. Chris, and I get into every aspect of what made that campaign so successful and further illustrate why I believe it's the campaign model Democratic candidates and progressive issues -- not to mention party building efforts -- should be following in Louisiana.
What comes up again and again, is the need to relationship build and coalition build well in advance of election years. We talked about several other groups that we worked with on Unanimous Juries. But we could have mentioned many more, like VAYLA, who worked in Vietnamese- and Spanish-speaking spaces for us, like the Indivisible groups that harnessed some of the resistance midterms energy, and like Step Up Louisiana that we focused on so thoroughly in season three of the podcast.
While we're releasing this episode on a day when the nation is heading to the polls in one of the biggest elections of our lifetimes, we aren't focusing on that because we're trying to create evergreen content as a roadmap to long term growth. The big takeaway, once again, is that the work towards future victory is a year round, multi year effort. There are no shortcuts. There is no magic. But if you're doing it right within that work, you'll find camaraderie, joy, and glimmers of progress.
Chris Pourciau! Welcome to Louisiana Lefty.
I've been trying to get you on the podcast for almost two years, I think. And I have yet to discuss the Unanimous Jury Coalition this season, so I thought this was a timely moment to bring you on.
I selfishly, in the most conceited of ways, feel like I'm your white whale of a guest. I like to think of that, right? Like the last one that you haven't gotten.
I love it.
Who's your dream guest, if you don't mind me asking you the question.
I don't mind you asking the question. And I I actually don't know the answer.
Carville? John Bel?
I would love to get John Bel on. I don't anticipate doing that while he's in office. I'd just as soon him not be in office.
That's a good one. I would like to see you talk to James Carville. I know he's not like the most progressive guy these days.
That's okay. I'd love to talk to him.
I think you'd have a good convo.
I would love that. I'm sure there are other people I've thought of that are not coming to mind right now. If I think of them, I'll let you know. But I always start with how I met my guest. So I want to get to that. I think we met on the Unanimous Jury Campaign. Had we met prior to 2018? I don't remember it.
No, not that I can think of.
I think we met, it might have been by zoom.
When I called you. I remember calling you. You were doing something with your parents. And you couldn't make a decision yet. It looked like it was a good yes. But like you needed to like work some stuff out and and I was like fine, fine. Like I am okay with that.
Before Unanimous Jury Coalition, before everything else, what's your political origin story? What first got you interested in politics?
Oh, my God. Politics. I'm from Baton Rouge and my family had always sort of been politically adjacent. My dad was the first black student body president at LSU and I think that's opened some doors. He was on Dutch Morial's campaign staff when he won the mayoral election. And then he worked in Congress back in the '70s. So yeah, he's always just been a part of these like, sort of coalitions and organizations. You know, we grew up with Jay Dardenne and his family. We were really close back in the day and I still keep up with his kids. I guess that's it. It's always just been there, right?
You know, the first campaign I remember was the Cleo Fields race back in the '90s. My uncle went to law school with Cleo Fields; they were really good friends. And I remember, Cleo had gotten this bus, and he had gotten like, Steve Urkel, Jaleel White, to play basketball with him. It was like Steve Urkel and like Doug Williams, the NFL quarterback, and we were at the Sports Academy. I will never forget this. It was the wildest like it was just like a bunch of people watching Cleo play basketball with Urkel. It was hilarious.
But like, I guess my real start with really getting into politics, I did volunteer when I was younger on the Don Cazayoux congressional race, for any politicos that like sort of the snowballing effect of what we have in Louisiana. You know, when you think about 2007.
Are there any other political career highlights that led you to UJC?
I did some work with Together Louisiana. This was probably 2014 or 2015 that we were trying to stop St. George. And it was actually not technically Together Louisiana. It was like, this other group that was born out of Together Baton Rouge. And, like, this group that was trying to incorporate a section of unincorporated Baton Rouge and create their own city, which would have been pretty bad for bad news, they signed up a bunch of people. And we thought, "This looks a little weird." And so we went door to door to the people who signed up and asked them if, like, they wanted their names off the list. And a lot of people had no idea that they signed up for this.
It was quite the challenge. We ended up stopping it, two years later, when they were able to restart it again, they did it and now I think there's a bunch of like legal fighting right now over it. But like they got it voted in and now it's all tied up in court.
But that was I guess my first real like, "I'm grinding in this."
Well, anyone who has listened to Louisiana Lefty should know by now that I hold up the Unanimous Jury Coalition and the Unanimous Jury Campaign as a model for what could and should be accomplished by our side - the progressive side - in the state. We've talked to so many of the players from Ashley Shelton to JP Morrell to Mercedes Montagnes and Norris Henderson. To sum it up: this was a huge criminal justice reform coalition push to pass a constitutional amendment to end the discriminatory practice of non unanimous juries in Louisiana, which like many other people, I did not know we had that practice. And once I heard about it, I realized that was completely unconstitutional. How could we possibly be doing that here? But we - you and I - worked on that campaign. And I want to get into it. I know you brought me onto the campaign to run the statewide field efforts. I believe your title was deputy director. Is that right?
Yeah. I guess Deputy Director.
You were generally running the day to day of the campaign. How did you end up involved in that?
Yeah. So I was at OPD, that's the public defender's office in New Orleans, and because of my work with Together Baton Rouge, I had really taken an interest in a lot of the legislative advocacy that OPD was participating in. And they had been part of a group called Louisiana for Prison Alternatives. It was headed up by a guy named John Burkhart, whose office was next to my office at OPD. He took the base operations of that, and went to SPLC, Southern Poverty Law Center. And John had been working on a lot of the Justice Reinvestment Task Force and the Justice Reinvestment package in 2015, 2016. And a lot of those bills that came out in 2016, 2017 got passed. In 2018, some of them got rolled back. But one of the things that did go through was obviously this constitutional amendment that he pushed. And so I was looking to leave the state, because my partner was moving to New York for law school, and I was going to go with her. I needed to look for a job in NY, but I got recruited to help run the campaign from a couple of folks. So it started from there with nothing in July 2018. I was the first employee. We worked out at the Justice Center. It was actually pretty fun.
Well, the coalition itself was a critical piece. I guess the Power Coalition was already in coalition with a lot of those folks. But them aside, were the other groups connected at all prior to that?
Yeah, the Unanimous Jury Coalition was actually a lot folks like Power Coalition, Promise of Justice Initiative, VOTE, SPLC, ACLU Louisiana Innocence Project who had presence in the legislature. So a lot of them were part of the Louisiana for Prison Alternatives. So it was sort of just like a specific to the campaign coalition that was created. Everybody had been working together. The initial meetings had already happened. When I got on, it was like SPLC, and PJI, and VOTE. And we were just thinking about who else to bring in. And so there was like, a big meeting with everybody and we didn't even have a name, right? It actually happened at the first meeting, "What do we want to call ourselves?"
I don't know if this was from the get go or if this happened over time, but you were bringing in DAs and folks who would normally be considered conservative on political spectrum. How important for this issue was it that the coalition had both conservative and progressive voices?
That's a interesting topic. So there were DAs that were involved in the legislative outreach of this. We had already had those guys like part of it. So that initial meeting that we had, I don't even remember, I can't tell you how many people were in it. There was a lot of people fitted into a room and a lot of folks on the call. We had some buy in, and then we had some work to do to get like larger buy in from the more the more conservative folks in the group. There were some conservatives from other parts of the state that were already on board. And so we worked with them to sort of get others who had voted to put this on the ballot. So they weren't necessarily against it getting out, we just had to sort of nudge them a little into helping.
We had a robust communication strategy for Unanimous Jury Campaign. It included strict message discipline, as I recall. We were on top of that constantly across all parts of the campaign. And that was largely driven by polls you had done before I even came on. And I will say, I studied those intensely, the first thing I did was just dive into the polls. Talk to me about those polls, like how did you go about getting them? And then how did you integrate that information into the campaign?
Yeah, so the polls are pretty confusing. There was a poll that somebody had given as an in kind donation. That was probably the one that you got. There was another one that came out, probably around the time you were starting. Those polls were really important for us to see how we were going to navigate the state. You know, some places like Lafayette had certain feedback that led us to change how we initially thought we were going to work in that area. Other places like Baton Rouge showed like a ton of potential that we had not really thought about. We thought this was going to be very New Orleans centric. We knew we were going to have to go to Baton Rouge, but didn't know the potential of Baton Rouge. Once that poll came out, it's like, "Oh, we have a lot of potential to get a lot of votes out here." And then like Shreveport had some interesting polling numbers. And so we had a presence out there. And then obviously, the North East portion of the state had some some hurdles that we needed to work through, so we didn't have as big of a presence there. But, you know, I feel like, we probably could have done more out there.
You're mentioning the regional stuff. And we did have a different strategy for each region, different methods of reaching voters in each region. Some of it was just earned media or paid media. What I really liked is that you tailored who your messengers were, even for each region. Who you sent to specific regions was based on what that polling showed, like what really spoke to people: was it faith based? was it... you know, really, who your best messenger was, you were sending there. The message didn't itself change. They were all variations on the same idea. It was just tailoring it for the area. I thought that was really important. I think it was really important also that the surrogates you chose specifically for some of the earned media, the interview pieces, were folks who were directly impacted from the non unanimous jury practices.
That was definitely work getting the right messengers. It was a mix of who's willing to do it and who do we feel like, you know, would be a good messenger for this particular region or this particular group? It was really important for us to get people who had been impacted by this. It was not easy at all to do that. Mainly just because, for me, I was not privy to a ton of people who had been directly impacted by a non unanimous jury. And then there was some folks who said they had been convicted with a non unanimous jury who were out. But you need to have access to like the records to make sure like, if you do a commercial or you do a piece of media with somebody, like you have to make sure like this person was convicted by a non unanimous jury. So finding those folks was not the easiest thing in the world.
The guy that we landed on that we got was Glenn Davis, who is a wonderful guy. But I think was something where I used sort of my experience at OPD, where like I was trying to be very protective of him. Because I think he did get like sort of pulled in a lot of directions. And we wanted to be respectful of him and his time, and like, you know, be very careful to like not like, traumatize him or like, for him to like, share the things that he wants to share. And that was a much touchier subject than I think people would probably initially think of. We spent a lot of time on that, to be honest. It was very key to us, like to our messaging to have somebody like Glenn.
Back to the polling, polling also drove who we targeted in our field efforts, because we could see who would be moved by what. But I think also a major thing that played in the field efforts was just knowing that we had to educate a whole lot of people who we knew were going to turn out to vote. Chronic voters who we knew were going to be in the voting booth, we wanted to make sure they understood what it meant to to vote Yes for this amendment. So that was a big part of the targeting as well. But field played a critical role in our work and the campaign invested heavily in it. And by investing I mean, both financially, but also, it just had huge support from everyone involved. Everyone understood that knocking doors and making phone calls and texting, directly speaking to voters was going to be the absolute key to this thing.
That was something that we decided early on, that doing doors was going to be a crucial piece to this. We spent a lot of time, probably before you even got hired, talking about that.
The buy in was there when I arrived.
The methods of how we were going to do it was sort of a challenge. And it's not something that everybody was bought into at first. It was new to some folks. Some campaigns in the past had implemented a heavy like, doors or what's your phrase? "Direct voter contact?"
So we wanted to do that throughout the state. Polling informed us that that may not have been the most necessary thing to do throughout the state. But in certain places, it was, like, strategically really important that we get some wins on this. And so we spent a lot of time, like, planning and figuring out how we're going to get there. What's it going to look like?
I think Power Coalition did a great job of sort of educating a lot of people who were more old school, like signs and radio and TV ads. They did a great job of just like, getting folks on board and like, they tailored their their trainings for people who had limited access to technology or, you know, people who didn't really have a smartphone, really eliminating those barriers of entry.
Because we didn't use paper lists, we used those handheld devices for canvassing.
We were fortunate enough to raise a lot of money to where we were able to invest in phones and tablets that I think really helped us out a lot. And yeah, we were paperless. I was something I was even uncomfortable with. I would have people call me like, every day like, "Oh, I want to come volunteer." "Okay, yeah, like, we'd love to have you sign up." And it was like, "I just want to do this one day, or just want to do like, when you guys go to mid city, or when you guys go uptown." "That's not necessarily how it works. And my staff will probably like, yell at me if I just let you like come in and I gotta print like, paper stuff for you and that's more trouble than it's worth." It was definitely like, for folks who had worked on campaigns in the past, like some have not done paperless before.
I'm glad you mentioned that training piece, because that's another element that I wasn't even thinking of that was so critical to making sure that we had people doing effective fieldwork. Power Coalition really did invest in in training people.
Power Coalition and VOTE did training. They weren't like, Yes on 2 trainings.
They were just like trainings for their coalition members. I was the only one on staff at the time, and they were doing trainings throughout that summer. So as we started getting staff, and people who were interested, I was sending them to those trainings. When we did our own trainings, we tailored it, basically using those training methods to get folks on board.
The other piece of the puzzle for me, because there are so many pieces of the puzzle -- this is what I think was so great about Unanimous Jury Campaign was, it was such a full campaign, like it covered every kind of thing you could throw at a campaign, it did all the things -- so one of the other pieces of the puzzle was that were these other groups who were not coming to knock doors from our office, but who, like Women with a Vision had their own office. So they took their own groups of people and did their own targets. And the folks that they normally speak to in their parts of the city, they went and spoke to them. Jeremiah Group was holding phone banks and doing their faith-based work through their phone banks. Citizen She was up in Shreveport, running the field efforts up there and doing both phone banking and door knocking.
So there were all these other groups that were involved and took their own piece of the pie. And that's just a handful of folks, there were 20 to 30 of those kinds of groups that were doing things across the state. And so we'd check in with them and make sure everybody was on the same page and make sure we weren't duplicating efforts or whatever, or having things fall through the cracks. But it took all those various groups stepping up and saying I'll take my piece of the puzzle. Even though we raised a lot of money, every campaign has limited resources. So you're always thinking, you know, "Where can we best invest?" And that was all a part of what this was, was trying to figure out where we needed to put the money most and where we could use people that were already on the ground doing work in different places.
Yeah, we did a lot of organizing around that. I think Norris called it. We were in like this financial meeting. We had different committees like a finance committee, a communications committee. We were in a finance committee meeting in July. We were just talking about, like, how we're going to some of these national organizations and how we're going to ask and Norris is like, "Yo, I don't need your money in October, I need your money now." Right? Like, that should be the message and he's like, "I know what they're gonna do. They're going to come to us in October after we get this thing rolling. And they're going to want to give us these like blank checks. And, you know, all the work that we need to do needs to get started now." Right.
So that happened. We hit our funding goals early, but there was an influx of money late. It wasn't small, but it wasn't like, you know, $300,000. It was enough money that we had to like account for it. And we had to figure out like, what are we going to do with this? And so it was an opportunity to, like, look at, you know, there was never enough phone banking, there was never enough outreach. And so there were certain groups like the Jeremiah Group and Women with a Vision, who were already doing some of that type of work that we could, like, you know, work with and let them just like, take the ball and run with it. You know, I think everybody sort of knew how we were. Everybody had the same message and I was less worried about message discipline with a group like Women with a Vision, who had done more door knocking.
Yeah, they knew who they were speaking to, they had relationships with those people.
They had their own crew.
Right. I'm glad you made that point to about the early money, because folks who don't work on campaigns don't understand the difference and how important that early money is, and I like to remind folks from time to time that Emily's list, Emily is not a person, it's an acronym for early money is like yeast. And so that's the point. If you're going to donate to a campaign, I'm just going let folks know that if you're going to donate, donate early.
We had a good timeline of how we were, you know, going to try and hire up and things. There was never a moment where it was like, "Oh, we got to pay Chris." Like, you know, I think we were pretty good that first month and second month. I mean, that was most of what I was working on, because I was trying to support the fundraising efforts. And also just like organizing, how we're going to do things based on like, if we hit our fundraising goals, if we don't hit our fundraising goals, what does this look like?
Well, I do want to ask you about the fundraising in a little bit, but I'll also mention before we leave this field area, that we also had a lot of free investments from groups like the public defender's. you mentioned. From various cities across the state, public defenders would get together and make phone calls to voters. We had folks from the Divine Nine, fraternity and sorority groups, that were donating time to the efforts. That's, again, just a couple of folks I'm naming, there's many more that did likewise.
That effort was so robust, it was incredible the amount of voters we got to, and I'll make the point that part of how I knew it was so successful -- we did earned media, we did social media, digital media, paid media, we had radio, we had second lines, we had happy hours, we had billboards, we were everywhere, and we engaged in every kind of constituency outreach I could imagine.
We had the Saints.
Oh, yeah, you had, like the Demario Davis and Cam Jordan on their Instagrams talking about it. By election day, when we were out in the streets, reminding people to vote, there were random people who could recite our talking points back to me. They knew the campaign so well, they'd heard it so much from so many angles, and so many people, that if I started to go into our spiel about constitutional amendment 2, they could tell me before I told them. It was so well known. It was really incredible.
Yeah, it was really incredible how all hands on deck it got. I remember that the pinnacle for me was the rap video directed by B Mike. I didn't even know it was happening. They asked for some signs, I gave them like a stack, and then like, next thing I know, like, "Oh, it's for rap video." But yeah, that was that was truly special.
And where did that play?
It was just online. YouTube.
You should look it up if you haven't seen it. It was great.
I may have seen it back then and I don't remember it. So I will definitely look it up. I'll put a link to it in the Episode Notes for folks who want to see it.
Our political outreach, I think we started off struggling with that for a little bit, particularly with the Legislative Black Caucus who really pulled the bill through the legislature.
I don't want to play devil's act, but was it a struggle? I think that it was a calculated effort to do things the way that we did.
There are a lot of members of the Black Caucus, who had, obviously, by virtue of being elected officials, had run some form of a campaign. We were with JP Morrell early. He was probably the first one that we worked with, or that we took meetings with.
He carried the bill. We covered that on a previous Lefty episode at great length.
Yeah. I think that it was really important that we did this for us, with our people.
Right, like that we controlled this campaign, we controlled the narrative, we controlled how this was going to go. And not something where, like, we give this to a bunch of lobbyists and the politicians that they work with, right? That's not a shot at them. It's just like, it was more important for us to get folks like Jennifer Harding or Kelly Garrett involved, who had been involved in the legislative outreach, who had done some work with Emerge. It was more important for us to get them involved in this. And even though they didn't have all the experience, we had the support for them. Right? That was like a calculated effort that we made very early on, which I think, probably didn't sit well.
We probably could have reached out to the politicians earlier. But like, my guess, and and I'm not outing anyone, but like, they had their thoughts on who should be running the campaign. After we took the the meeting. When we had the big black caucus meeting with them, there are people who reached out to me on the side and had very strong feelings, like, we dropped the ball on the whole entire campaign. So we've talked, you and I have talked for the last like 45 minutes or so on some of the great things that we did. Those things don't happen if we get a lot of the politicians involved. And I don't know if we could have done all the things that we were able to do if we had more chefs in the kitchen.
Yeah, that makes sense.
But some some folks felt some type of way about it. And it took a lot of work to like sort of rally them like, I think, you know, looking back, we probably could have involved them a little bit earlier than we did. Some folks were more angry and upset than others. But I do think that it was important that we established ourselves and we hired our folks before we reached out to the to politicians, who may have wanted their people in a lot of positions that we hired.
A valid point. And I'll also make the point that the whole timeframe for this thing was still pretty fast. What do you say you came on July 1st?
We had our first meeting in late June. So like the session had just ended. Inside baseball, we had our first meeting like early June, late May, but the session had pretty much just happened.
This is all happening in about five months time though.
Yeah. Oh, for sure.
Then what I'll say is that the Black Caucus became great partners for get out the vote, where they took over their districts as the folks who were going to do whatever visibility events they chose to do, whether that was sign waving, or whether they did radio ads in their district or robo calls or whatever, they all came up with their own plan for how they wanted to turn out their voters. And what that allowed us to do by incorporating them into the get out the vote efforts was cover all these districts across the state where we didn't previously have any reach.
And where we didn't have Legislative Black Caucus members, we had folks in the NAACP step up. And some churches say we'll take on those efforts that the Black Caucus were doing, we had those folks taking care of stuff there. So again, just indicative and illustrative of the immense efforts that were all these folks that kind of pitched in to help pull this thing over the finish line.
None of this was possible without massive amounts of donations. And you were talking about that a little while ago. I was not involved in any of the fundraising. I've done a couple of episodes with Finance Directors for campaigns, because I think that's where we struggle a lot in this state, is getting the money to do stuff. But I am interested in your take on the fundraising piece of this.
Our largest donors were relationships that we already had through each other. Because we had a great coalition, right, and the work that we had, like reached beyond the state of Louisiana, through folks like ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, were sort of our two big ones that like, you know, Takema Robinson of Converge for Change was a massive help. Flozell Daniels of Foundation for Louisiana helped us out a lot. But the main two were Ben Cohen and Norris Henderson. I think they really carried the water on a lot of our fundraising efforts. Andrea Armstrong was also incredible and did a lot of relationship building for us.
And so, like, that was one where people just like leaned on their prior relationships. SPLC was very early adopters, they were very early on getting us money from, I guess, their campaign fund. And, yeah, ACLU gave us a lot of 501(c)(3) dollars, that really helped set up the coalition part, so that we could start raising money more for the ballot committee, which was really where that's when you came on.
I have to say, you're repeating what I've heard other folks in the finance space say, which is it's all about relationships, it's all about the relationships you develop before you go to ask for the money. And it's about maintaining those relationships, through the campaign, beyond the campaign for what you plan to do next. I think that's the key element that our folks here really need to be working on.
I think that Criminal Justice Reform, we're just more mature in the amount of time that we've been doing this work. I think we've had more organizations and organizing done in this particular field that it's reached to, like, foundations that are willing to give large dollar donations to whatever projects that folks like Norris are working on. And so, you know, I think it's coming for Reproductive Justice. I think that kind of money is probably coming for a lot of like the environmental work that's happening around the state. The LGBTQ rights money is probably coming through, as well. It's just like a lot of those organizations just haven't been in the national news cycle the way like IPNO does.
IPNO being the Innocence Project.
Innocence Project, yeah. So it's just a different landscape in each one of those issues, but I think those organizations are probably going to be able to work, those issues are going to be able to raise money, I think, because those are just more hot button issues right now.
And those relationships are probably being built now so that down the road, that money will be more accessible.
Are there any elements to the Unanimous Jury Campaign that I haven't asked you about?
No, I mean, like we did the political, the financial, the communications, the events, like we covered pretty much all. I think the field was, you know, I've done some other campaign work in the last couple years, and I use your phrase, "direct voter contact." You know, Lynda Woolard will tell you, the first thing is direct voter contact, usually with some curse words behind it just for emphasis, like, if you're not knocking doors, what are you doing? You know, but no, I think that was the main stuff.
Okay. Do you see other campaigns having learned the lessons of Yes on 2?
Elements of it. I mean, we were a ballot initiative so some of the things that we were able to get away with, like, there's certain ethical things that we can do as a ballot initiative, or that we were able to set up as a ballot committee that a candidate can't necessarily do. But in the race right now, like, Maddie Landry is using, you know, a lot of the same direct voter contact work. Royce is doing that, as well. Troy Carter did it. The congressional race -- was that 2021? -- I think every candidate used the Votebuilder or the VAN, you know, the app, and not necessarily the paper stuff. And so I think like, that wasn't a Yes on 2 thing, but I think that we we definitely had a hand in like sort of modernizing, bringing people on board to those things.
You know, it's always great to see people that we've worked with on a campaign doing other campaigns and utilizing some of that work. And, you know, and I personally, like, the work that I've done, whether it was for the DA's race, or the sheriff's race last year, like, you know, a lot of people only brought me in, because they were like, "Oh, we saw what you did last year, we'd love to get your opinion on how we do these things. My favorite line was, I was in a meeting with someone with a group, and somebody, I think it was when we were starting to organize the public defenders, somebody said, "I thought the Yes on 2 campaign had a really good campaign. I'd love to follow that." And I'm just laughing, like, "Yeah, I can give you some pointers on them. I know a few contacts."
And look at I'll say we didn't have the same amount of money or use all the elements of Yes on 2, and in particular, I'm thinking we didn't really do any constituency outreach, but the PAC for Justice work we did in support of Susan Hutson, I mimicked as much of Unanimous Juries as I could.
I don't know how many people are publicly part of PAC for Justice, but I know, like, three people within that group that I worked with directly on Yes on 2.
It's like a mini offshoot.
I mean, the spirit of it is in there.
That's right. What has it been like for you -- since Unanimous Juries, you're still working in this criminal justice reform space, this movement space -- so what's that been like for you working in an area that's directly impacted by that, but you're also still working for improvement and progress in that area?
I take meetings every year, and every year I say, "Oh, I'm going to dial it back, I'm not gonna get involved." And every year I end up in the last minute just feeling some form of guilt for not doing more. And so I take on more than intended. But yeah, like 2019, I worked with this guy, Max Rose. I don't know if Max has been on your podcast yet.
He hasn't. And that's a good one, by the way. I should absolutely have Max on.
Max had done some organizing in North Carolina around sheriff's elections. I guess that was the first time you and I like hung out after, you know, after I left, but like Max and I went to Baton Rouge to try and organize a little effort for the Baton Rouge sheriff's race, which did not go our way. But it was a good introduction for Max and a lot of like Louisiana folks that I thought was really, really helpful, and I think played a part in Max helping out the efforts of the New Orleans sheriff's race last year. But I did that one. And then, you know, we did, you know, the Flip the Bench movement in 2020.
And that was sort of the PAC for Justice, as well.
PAC for Justice was the main PAC, I think, behind a lot of that.
And to be clear, I was not involved at the time.
PAC for Justice did a lot of great work. Being an independent expenditure, there was a space for more organizing without stepping on anyone's toes, which is what we did with the NOLA Defenders group. And there were other groups that were involved in that. You know, we got two judges, we got the DA, elected.
You've worked in the DA's office now. Right?
I'm no longer there.
But you have worked there.
I was with the Civil Rights Division at the DA's office.
What was that, like being able to implement some of these things?
In the office, we were working with a lot of groups. We had to correspond a lot with the public defender's office. We had to correspond a lot with VOTE and with the First 72 Plus and the Parole Project. And so having a lot of those relationships that I've had for years with folks definitely made the communication a lot easier. It was more direct service than policymaking, which is a little different than the roles that I held with electoral politics, but the relationships that I've been able to build and maintain definitely made things so much easier for us and really, definitely helped us move the project and get things going. But Emily Maw and that team is so incredible. And they've been able to help get folks released on really wild charges. That was great work and I think fondly of my time there.
You and some other folks have started to pack New Orleans Rising PAC.
What are your plans with that? And is that something folks can plug into if they're interested?
That's a challenge. I mean, it's still out there. I think it was a great start. But I think there's only there's a finite amount of energy I think people have for like campaign work year to year if it isn't somebody's main job. And so when that's not your main job, these campaigns can just be brutal, even if you're just giving, like, a handful of hours to it. And so we took a little time this year. We're probably due for another meeting. But the idea was to create a space for young progressives who believe in more than just like, whatever your issue is, like, for me, like Criminal Justice Reform might be for somebody else who might be doing more environmental work, you know, a way to for folks to plug in and sort of get involved with these campaigns that are happening. Unfortunately, all we've had is like sheriff and DA, but like for me, I joined the PAC and helped start it so that we could expand it beyond just sheriff and DA and these like other roles. But like we can put sort of our values into like a city council member, right? Having a wider reach beyond just like these small rolls, I think that was sort of where New Orleans Rising came from.
And is that something folks could sign up to join if they wanted?
I think there's more planning that needs to be done. I think 2022 has been sort of a break year for us. But I truly intend on keeping it going. We started New Orleans Rising to do this long term.
I think you've got some social media I can connect people to.
NOLA Rising PAC has a social media handle that I can drop.
Yeah, I'll put it in the Episode Notes. So if anyone wants to follow you on social media and kind of keep up with how they might engage long term, you can do that. Is there any other work that you're doing that folks might be interested in plugging into?
I think there's going to be some stuff coming up in 2023, some races that are going to be really interesting.
Well, that's the big state and regional and city races in Louisiana.
Yeah. So 2023 is going to be a really big year, obviously. And I'm definitely excited and don't have anything to report yet.
That's okay. We don't have to break news on that. We'll wait for y'all to make your decisions next year. Well, Chris, thank you for talking to me about all this stuff. I want to pivot to the last three questions I ask a version of every episode. What in your opinion, is the biggest obstacle for progressives in Louisiana?
Yeah, I mean, I think the biggest obstacle for progressives now is just keeping the energy. I don't think there's any, like progressive movement for organizing this year, which is probably one of the things I feel bad about with like NOLA Rising is just like, you know, people just get burnt out. So I think our biggest obstacle is just recognizing that this isn't like a year to year thing We've got to do this every single year And how do you like, capture that every single year? Even if there isn't like a race, like DA or, you know, something that affects you?
How do you make it sustainable for long term growth? Got you.
What's the biggest opportunity?
It's that there are people who want a place to plug in. There are so many people who have felt like this sort of malaise when it comes to politics, especially in areas outside of New Orleans. And so I think capturing that, that thirst for more, I think could be something, if there's somebody who wants to take that on. There's the opportunity to capture more voters and capture the type of people who really want to go sign like 50 people up to vote, right? People who are willing to do more outreach, more get out the vote efforts, but they're just like, there isn't 12 different organizations in those areas. And it's great to see like, Step Up Louisiana go to a place like Jefferson Parish. I think that's huge. Because it is getting to voters in a different way than just like Yes on 2. It's sort of like an all year round thing of keeping people informed. Together Louisiana does some of that, but like the northern part of the state, the northeastern part of the state, I think there's huge opportunity for somebody to, like, take on that area, and just be the central hub for like, not just progressive, but for like, you know, more left leaning elections. Like I just think somebody's got to do it.
That's right. It's consistently a place that I have I struggled to find someone to go to. But I'm thrilled that you've taken on the idea of New Orleans Rising. I love the folks that you've started it with. And I think there is a lot of hope there. And hopefully, there will be other people who can connect to that. And if not be a part in New Orleans Rising maybe create similar structures in their own area, so that you all can coordinate together but still be doing your own things and your own regions.
Yeah, definitely. I'm excited about 2023. There's going to be a lot of work to do. I backed off on folks, like, you know, I'm not trying to convert anyone this year, but next year, it's gonna be like, maybe hitting them a lot harder.
Look out! Alright, Chris, who's your favorite superhero?
Gosh, I actually thought about this and it stressed me out. Batman has always been my guy, but like, I don't think he's a superhero.
That counts as a superhero.
What does he do? He's just rich. You know? He's rich and athletic. You know? He's a great detective, you know, but it's not like a superpower. I'll go with Superman. Just be very basic.
Right on. Alright. You may be the first Superman that I've gotten.
It's honestly stressed me out.
I always tell people, there are no rules to favorite superhero.
Oh my gosh, I can't. Yeah.
I'm not saying you should. And I'm just saying people have given all kinds of answers.
Sure, sure. Somebody's got to do Superman, you know?
I've told people this in interviews, but I've never said on the podcast: I'm wearing a Loki shirt, I like you know, a good villain as well as a good superhero. But what I love about Loki is the Loki arc...
You like somebody's full story.
The story where he becomes a superhero, right?
There you go.
I love that. That's right on target. Anyway, Chris, I loved getting to see you and talk to you. Thank you so much. I'm so excited. We finally got to do this.
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