Episode 49 with Political Strategist Katrina Gamble

Collective Action and Mobilizing The Power of Community

 

Katrina Gamble, political strategist and founder of Sojourn Strategies, peels back the curtain on the efforts that drive social movements beyond the ballot box. We confront the hard truths about the rightful cynicism within Black and Brown communities that exit polling doesn’t capture, and the collective power communities can harness to get their needs met. If you’re feeling exhausted by the headlines or hopeless because of the realities of the world, this episode will not only inspire you but explain what YOU can do today to impact positive change.

 

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Stay in touch with Katrina:

Sojourn Strategies: https://sojournstrategies.com/

IG: https://www.instagram.com/femmepolitico/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katrina-gamble/

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

Katrina, thank you so much for being here. It’s just really been amazing getting to research you and all of the great work that you do. So thanks for joining The NEXT Best Thing Podcast.

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

Thank you. I’m so excited to be here.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

Yes, I’m so happy to have you. And I wanted to start from the place of kind of, given the context of everything that’s going on in our country, in our world, it very much seems like a dumpster fire right now. What gives you hope?

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

Yes. It’s so interesting that you asked that question, because amongst my friends and family, I am often known as the “hope pusher.” I am an eternal optimist. And so, especially in a moment like, like, as you said, there’s so much going on, there’s so much struggle, not only in our own country, but around the world. And so I’ll often get friends from Texas. Katrina, tell me something that gives me hope. Usually, you know, I can name something exciting, some bill that passed. Or you know, last year when Pennsylvania elected their first black woman speaker. So there’s always moments of hope. But I think the thing for me that always grounds me in hope is people. I really believe as long as there are people willing to be in the struggle, that there is reason for hope. And so building community relationships with folks who are willing, even in hard moments like we’re in now, to stay in action. That is really what grounds me in hope is like my community, my family, my friends, other folks who are out there really doing the work.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

And I love that. I’m so glad that you’re an eternal optimist, and I guess you have to be doing the work that you’re doing. When you’re talking about the community gives you hope, explain that a little bit. Is it that the community is working so hard to get something done and that it is, in fact, on the horizon and you can almost touch it? What is it about community? Because I don’t know. I just feel like so many people are so tired. I’m kind of tired.

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

And I think that’s actually one of the reasons why community is so important, is that when you’re tired, you lean on me. When I’m tired, I lean on you. And so that’s, like, one reason why I think that community is so important when we’re thinking about hope, that it is a collective, that we’re not in this alone. And so that there are other folks that are in it with us. And so I think that is definitely one of the things when I say hope and action is having other folks that you trust that, have your shared values that you can work with to push on things. And then, yes, concretely, through my work, I get to work with, talk with, interact with folks all across the country who are actively doing the work of trying to push things forward. Last year, I worked with incredible leaders across the country, in Minnesota and New Mexico, who are formerly incarcerated, people who didn’t have the right to vote, and they organized folks in their communities to push for that. And through their work, tens of thousands of people now have their rights restored. So I do think I am in a place of privilege because I get to see and talk to folks every day who are working hard to try to change things, even if it’s not necessarily the North Star that we’re pushing for. You can see the incremental wins of how things are getting better and also how people are organizing their communities, building that connection that I was talking about, having folks that they can lean on when things are hard.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

And that’s really important because I do think that people need to see the wins a lot more. And having a background in news, sometimes it’s just who’s the loudest? And that’s who takes up all the air in the room, who’s the loudest. And it’s oftentimes not always highlighting what the wins are and how strategy works and how people who have organized now have gotten to this goal. I don’t feel like that story is often told well, especially like this is how the strategy started and look at where it is right now. And I think that if more people really understood that and were privy to that a little bit more, then people would understand that all of this is not in vain. And I know that more recently, in recent months, you’ve really been contributing to articles and discussions about the cynicism that is growing, especially in the Black community. Kind of explain that to me in terms of the Black electorate, more specifically Black and Brown electorate, that are kind of, like, not really excited about this upcoming election and what that cynicism stems from and what’s the impact of it?

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

Right. One of the things that I have really actively been trying to work against is really disrupting the way that the political industry typically thinks about Black voters. Black people, oftentimes we’re just treated as a monolith. And it’s like, this is what we do to turn out black people. And we did some research recently where we’re really trying to understand what are the differences within our community, what are the values, how are people thinking about the political process? And to your point one of the groups that we found is what we call the “rightfully cynical.” And I intentionally put the word rightfully in front of the cynic because there is this, oftentimes this notion that if black people are disengaged or disillusioned or people say they’re apathetic, it puts the onus on them. It’s like, oh, it’s your fault. You don’t care about what’s happening or what’s going to happen in our elections. And really, that cynicism, I think, is based in folks being frustrated, exhaustion, not seeing things change in their communities. They’re like, I show up, I vote, I do the things that people say and maybe a policy changes. But if they’re not seeing an immediate change in their own lives or their own communities, and that is what I think is leading to that deep level of cynicism. And I think the potential impact is that people will eventually kind of check out of the small d democratic process. If they don’t see that as a way of actually making their lives better, making their family’s lives better, making their communities lives better, they will look to say, what are my other options? What else can I do to try to have some type of impact? And so I think it’s something that we should be concerned about. I think the solution to the problem is not to blame or shame the folks who are cynical, but to actually understand why they’re cynical. Think about how we can be responsive to that. Also show them their own power. So, yes, there’s frustration, acknowledge that, but also demonstrate examples, real examples of when folks like them have shown up, it has had an impact. Right. We have the recent example in Ohio where black folks turned out and actually legalized marijuana in Ohio, expanded abortion access. So when you can point to the specific ways in which they have power and also acknowledge that their cynicism or their frustration is valid, that I think is how we start moving folks out of that cynicism or at least moving to them, to being able to engage and take some type of action.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

When you were talking about how the Black community, I know the Latino community feels like this, too, like they’re treated as a monolith, but there are so many differences. Talk about the kinds of the differences that are sometimes not always captured when we’re hearing exit polling research and things of that nature within marginalized communities.

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

Right. Well, first of all, oftentimes, most polls, most national polls, they will do what they will call an oversample. They add a few hundred Black people or this group or that group, or maybe they don’t even do that. And that will allow them to do some type of analysis to tell you how that community is answering a particular question or what they’re thinking about. But the problem with that is that it basically is still only allowing you to understand that community in one way. So if you’re trying to understand differences within a community, you know me, a black woman who grew up in Phoenix, my perspective, how I think about the world may be totally different than a young Black millennial who is in Athens, Georgia, a rural area. I always say, how can we move people or be responsive to people if we don’t even know their perspective? And oftentimes the way the research is done is that it doesn’t allow us to understand those differences and those perspectives. So, of course, folks are frustrated if you’re talking to a young Black man in Athens, Georgia, like he’s me, he’s probably like, well, this is not relevant to me. This is not going to move me to show up or you really don’t understand my issues. And so I think that is really important. We have to do the research. We have to invest the resources in really understanding the communities that we say are the power, the drivers, the engine of progressive politics and our elections and our electorate. And in order to do that, you have to really dive deep in understanding those differences.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

And so what would that look like? I’m thinking of it in the context of the Democratic Party, because from what I understand of the Republican Party, I don’t know if they would care as much. Right. I’m just framing it around that. But what would it look like to speak in a more nuanced way to these communities? What would need to happen? What would the organizing need to be to really get these messages out and then make the changes?

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

Great. So I think it is one, the first part of what I was talking about is understanding where they’re coming from. What is it that they care about? What are the issues that are going to move them? Why are they frustrated with politics or politicians and understanding what the message needs to be? So, for example, we were talking about some of the segment of the Black electorate that are really cynical. For them, the message is saying, okay, I understand why you’re frustrated. And for a lot of them, the economy, inflation, being able to take care of their families is the issue. So you need to have people who they trust. Right? Maybe a blanket tv ad that’s saying, oh, we got to turn out to vote because we need to defeat Trump, that may not be the message that’s going to resonate with them, because for them, they’re thinking about how they’re going to pay their bills, how they’re going to take care of their family. And so having people who can call them, talk to them, speak to them directly that they trust, that’s speaking to the issues that they care about. So for someone like me, there’s like a whole other, in our research, we found a group that’s called aspirational activists. They’re mostly women. They have the highest level of education. They are pretty much already going to vote. Right. They know who they’re going to vote for. So for them, you don’t need to say there’s an election turn out to vote. You might say to them, hey, you probably have a nephew that’s a cynic. Here’s what you can go say to that nephew that’s a cynic. That might move them to vote. Right. So it’s also understanding where people are. Not all Black people need a message to get them to turn out. They already want to turn out. Maybe what we should be tapping into is having those folks talk to the people in their life that trust them and explaining to them about why their vote has power, why they should show up, how it can impact things that they care about directly.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

Got it. Because that’s what I was wondering is what would it look like to better meet people where they are? So it’s how you communicate and it’s who the communicator is.

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

Absolutely. Who the communicator is, is really important, especially folks who are already skeptical about the political system and politicians. It needs to be someone that they trust, that they respect. It needs to be done in a way that they’re going to be receptive to and that they’re really able to hear and listen.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

We learned this during COVID That’s why it’s sometimes a little frustrating, because that was the biggest issue in Covid with the rollout of the vaccines government. I mean, I’m in New York, and government’s like, I’m just going to tell you from where City Council convenes and the Mayor has his press conferences. We’re just going to tell you from that pulpit. And people are like, yeah, whatever.

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

Exactly.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

And then they’re like, we’re just going to put the vaccines in Black and Brown communities, to increase access. The neighborhood wasn’t going to get it. It’s like, no, they don’t want to actually listen to you. You got to get the ministers, the community leaders, you got to coalesce them and get them on board to talk to that community to then go like, just saying, here’s access and look at what we did. I think that was a rude awakening for political leaders at that time to realize, no, not everybody is hanging on your every word and people don’t believe you.

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

And the reality is that that is based in a lot of history for our communities. Right? People have not great experiences with the medical industry, actually harmful experiences, things like the Tuskegee experiment. And so the skepticism is rooted in real experiences that people have had or have heard about generationally that has been passed on. And so you can’t skip over that and just assume the way in which you’re communicating to one group of people is going to be effective to how you communicate with another group of people. And I think that that’s true, like, you’re giving the example with covid but it’s also true with politics and in so many other things. We can’t take a message where you surveyed 900 White people and 100 Black people and take that lesson and then say, okay, this is what I’m going to say to this person and it’s going to get them to turn out to vote. And then if they don’t turn out to vote, we’re going to say they’re apathetic and that they don’t care.

Really understanding the cultural, historical, the ways in which people think about politics is important. If you’re really trying to authentically engage them.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

Even if the cynicism is, what did you call it? Rightful cynicism is justified. What is the cost of that cynicism, though, given where we are right now and what’s at stake right now? Even if it’s justified, even if there’s historical context to it, what’s the impact?

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

I think it’s massive because Black people are the core of the Democratic base. If they don’t show up, the outcomes of the elections will look different. We’re just thinking about the immediate November. What will happen if large swaths of Black people, it’s not even if they vote for another party. I think the real question is, will people show up if they don’t show up because they’re frustrated, they’re cynical, that can have a direct impact on the outcome of the elections. And I think for me, as someone who does this work day in and day out. It really concerns me even beyond this election, because I think that when people feel hopeless, it leads to inaction. And when that happens, things become stagnant. It’s kind of going back to what I was saying at the beginning, that as long as you have people in the struggle, there’s, like, hope, there’s ability for us to push for change. And if large segments of our community are checking out because they feel hopeless, they feel stuck, they feel unheard, that means even beyond the elections, like many of the things that we’re pushing for and fighting for around criminal justice reform or abortion access or building wealth in our communities, I always say in order to be a change maker, you have to have hope. Because if you don’t have hope, then there’s no motivation to stay in action. And so I think there’s real consequences in our most immediate elections. But also, I think even beyond that, in terms of how we want to try to keep progressing things forward, to figure out how do we bring folks back into this belief that their voice, their perspective matters, that there is a place of community, other people that they can connect with and work together on things that are important to them.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

So let’s go to that scenario where a wide swath of Black voters don’t participate. What are we left with? What could this country look like if the Black community does not participate? Like how it has historically, in terms of voting.

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

Yes, some key elections the margin of victory was literally hundreds of votes. Right. So we think about the past presidency. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration when folks say that our democracy is on the line, that if we get leaders into office who basically are dismissing the rules, the Constitution, that there is a real threat to our democracy. And so I think that if we aren’t able to motivate folks, talk to them, to show up, and we get another Trump presidency, we saw what happened in those four years, the impact of that that had on our communities. We saw how that shaped the courts, that is having lasting effects on abortion rights, on affirmative action, on a number of issues that have direct impacts on our community. So I do think that there is definitely a lot on the line and that it’s really important for us to figure out a way to tap into those who are feeling cynical and make sure they understand that they have power in this moment and the reasons why they need to show up.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

I want to talk about mobilizing communities. We had a guest on recently, Michellene Davis, and she was talking about the Montgomery bus boycott, and how the word was spread through fliers. And that the Million Man March happened without Instagram. Right. So how do you think social media is being used? Do you think it’s being used effectively to educate and mobilize when the algorithms will boost Ressa Tessa more than news?

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m not a social media expert, I will say that. But I do think of it as us figuring out how do we use culture to drive, know, to move and motivate folks. And, whether you watch Ressa Tessa or not folks were locked in, right?

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

9 hours! 9 hours.

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

Right. I know, but folks were locked in. So what is it that we can do to get folks locked in? Right. And actually we see this on the right that folks are using music and culture to really, honestly, to spread misinformation within our communities. And so I think really getting innovative and thinking about, yes, like social media as a platform. Right. How do you use micro influencers, to my point, of people, people trust, right. Sometimes they’re a micro influencer it doesn’t have to be someone who has a million followers, but in their community, in their neighborhood, in the particular thing that they’re interested in, they have influence over those folks. Can you tap into those people to move a certain message? But also how do we start to build into places of culture through television, through music that pushes a message around, not just turn out the vote, but really ways in which folks can kind of connect, build community, think about the impacts that they want to have on their lives, on the lives of people that they care about, and then follow that with some tactical strategies of get out the vote. But you kind of have to prime the field a bit. And I really think social media and cultural work is really the place where I think there needs to be much more deeper investments, partnering with artists to do that type of work that taps into the Black community.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

What do you think are the effective strategies that Republicans use to push their agenda that Democrats need to adopt?

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

That’s always a struggle for me. I mean, I think that. I don’t know if it’s like adopt per se exactly, but there is such, when they have a message, they pound that message into the ground. Everyone is saying the same thing. Everyone is saying the same thing. And in some ways it’s effective. And they can do that because their coalition is not as diverse as the Democratic coalition. And so I don’t know if our strategy is that, but I think the consistency is one thing. I think looking for the long haul, folks talk about the overturn of Roe and how that really was like something they lost, kept going, lost for decades. And that often on the Democratic side, we are not looking for the long term of how we’re trying to build power. So I think of consistent ways to tell stories, I think really thinking beyond election cycles about how we build power in the communities that we really say that we want to represent and amplify the voices of. And the other thing is, to this point about social media, there’s different platforms where there’s just, research is showing misinformation is just spreading in a lot of these places. And the solution is not to say this is misinformation. I mean, you kind of have to educate people on how to identify when that is happening. But we also have to figure out how we are getting and building in those organic spaces where people are getting information, where it’s not necessarily on the news. It’s like they’re in some WhatsApp group about the latest sneakers or whatever it is that is drawing people into their subgroup of things that they care about, and they’re getting fed information into those places. And so how do we build spaces where we tell our story and the perspective that we want folks to hear? I think that is definitely a massive challenge in front of not only Democrats, but those of us who believe in democracy and making sure that people are actually informed and not being manipulated in a lot of ways in different spaces that are not even public. Like, you can’t see it unless you’re in there within these different kind of subgroups, across a lot of different platforms.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

I know that you are the hope pusher, right? But what is your why? What do you see as a possibility that gets you up in the morning to pound that pavement and to continue doing this work?

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

My why is really my family. I grew up in a working class family, two teenage parents in Phoenix. And every shift that I’ve made in my career or how I’ve shown up, I’m always constantly thinking about is the work that I’m doing, would it benefit someone in my family? Would it benefit someone in the community in which I grew up in, in Phoenix? How is the work that I’m doing going to change it? It may not be someone that I know, but it’s someone that probably looks like someone that I know. And so that really is the thing that grounds me and moves me. And to this point, when we were talking earlier about incremental wins, and I think that’s often, too, that pushes me to keep moving. I definitely think we have to have a long term vision. But I also understand when you’re growing up and there’s like a daily struggle. And so, sure, you push for the North Star, but if we can pass a tax deal in Congress that helps 16 million children, no, it doesn’t help 19 million children or, like, our goal, our ultimate goal, but it helps a lot of folks. And it’s worth fighting for to give folks some immediate alleviation on things that maybe that they’re struggling with.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

No, I love that. I love that. And I love that you have that hope. As a journalist, I would always go to all of these press conferences just for a lot of my reporting, especially in my last three years, was all about, well, actually, most of my career was always centering marginalized populations where I was like an education reporter and I was going to school board meetings and saying, where are the Black and Brown families here? You’ve got white families around kitchen tables showing up with matching t shirts. They have really come together. And I’m like, where are the rest of the families, where’s everybody else? To the criminal justice reform and changes at Rikers Island and having those conversations and really always wondering, what is the strategy? How can people really move mountains and get these changes? How can people really create change? And I was lucky to see change happen in different ways because of years of advocacy. But I don’t think the average person is really attending the rally. I don’t know if the average person is aligning themselves with a cause. I don’t think the average person really understands how movements happen and how movements work or what the work is that’s required in movements. And so I understand saying, I voted for Barack Obama, but my life didn’t change. But not really understanding all the in between kind of, that’s just one step. But there’s all these other things that have to happen for this monumental kind of shift to happen. So I’m grateful for the work you do and hoping that this conversation inspires people to say, okay, it’s not enough to just go vote. There’s just, like, more work that has to be done. 

 

ACT UP Segment

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

I often ask how to get from where you are to where you want to be. But for this one, this was last night, I decided this. I was like, I want to do this a little bit different. Okay.

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

Okay.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

So it’s just a little bit of a popcorn here. Just asking you just, like, rapid fire questions. Just three. So, outside of the presidential race, what are some local issues we should be paying close attention to across the country. What’s on your radar?

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

So there are some ballot initiatives that are going to be popping up across the country, potentially in places like Florida, Colorado, maybe Montana, around abortion access. The one thing that I say to folks, too, who may be feeling frustrated about what’s happening at the top of the ticket, that there are always local issues that are important. So school board races, prosecutors, DA’s, district attorneys, which impact criminal justice reform, there’ll be a number of those that will be happening across the country.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

Fantastic. All right. Other than voting, how can people, especially people who say, well, I don’t really have the time, how can they be engaged in a meaningful way?

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

I think just one is just paying attention to what’s going on. And that doesn’t mean you have to watch hours of news, but just tracking the issues that are going on in their own communities, staying informed, talking to their friends and family about what’s going on. That’s the other thing that I say to folks is that beyond voting, if you can have a conversation with at least five to ten people that you know about issues and the importance of showing up, that is a monumental impact that you can potentially have.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

That’s something that everybody can do. I love that. That’s something everybody can very easily do. And the last question is, what should we remember to provide context and give us hope in this election season?

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

What should we remember to give us hope in this election season? The thing I said, that there’s power in community. I think that oftentimes when we think about elections and politics in the United States, we think of it as very individualistic, that it’s like one person, one vote, which is true, and that it’s like what’s in my own self interest, what is going to motivate me? But I really think the power is in community is that when you’re showing up, who are you showing up for? Is it yourself, your family, other folks in your neighborhood? And so really thinking about our collective power when we show up together and the potential impact that that will have.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

Have you ever thought about running yourself?

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

No. I am a big advocate and supporter of other folks running for political office, but, no, I don’t think that’s my journey. Okay.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

I just was wondering. I just was wondering.

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

No, I know. People ask me that all the time. I’m like. I feel like I know too much about what all it takes.Yeah. If someone else is running, I’m happy to support them, help them.

 

Aundrea Cline-Thomas, Host

That’s fantastic. Katrina, thanks so much for being on. I really appreciate this conversation.

 

Katrina Gamble, Sojourn Strategies, CEO 

Thank you for having me. It’s been great. It’s been so much fun.

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