The Working Families Party, a progressive political political party that is active in 19 states, just announced that its longtime national director, Dan Cantor, has been succeeded in the role by Maurice Mitchell. The first black person to hold the post, Mitchell has two decades of experience in political and community organizing. Most recently, he co-founded Blackbird, a movement-building organization that offers communications services and has worked closely with Black Lives Matter Global Network. Mitchell brings deep knowledge about organizing in the most important racial-justice movement of our time to an organization that seeks to expand in the coming years.
The following interview was edited for length and clarity.
The Nation: You have an incredibly long organizing résumé—from political organizing in Long Island to union organizing, to starting your own firm. How did you get into this work to begin with?
Maurice Mitchell: My grandmother was a domestic worker and an immigrant from Trinidad. I often say that my politics were forged through her and my parents at the dinner table. That’s pretty much how I understand my work—from the lens of their struggles coming to this country, me going back and forth from Long Island to the Caribbean, growing up in a very ethnically and very class-diverse community in Long Island. I saw the challenges. I understand the realities—of the immigrant struggle, the struggle of undocumented people, the struggle of black folks, and the struggle of working-class people—firsthand.
TN: Those on the left are often accused of alienating the so-called “white working class.” Is that a real danger? What have your experiences working with these communities been?
MM: I have seen what’s possible and the realities around communicating with what’s called the “white working class,” which is [really] just the working class. I think there’s actually a great opportunity in this particular political moment as party identification is on the decline and people are very hungry for a political home, especially working-class people, for creating spaces where working-class people, of every race, in every region of the country, who have been affected by the very transactional corporate and institutional two-party system can be activated. I bring a lot of those experiences to bear in this fight.
TN: When Bernie Sanders was running for president, he was criticized for not being able to capture the hearts and minds of a lot of black voters. For a while, it seemed that he was unable to distinguish explicitly enough that racism was a central factor in economic injustice. When he finally came around to it, for many people, it was too late. Do you think that progressive organizations and movements, specifically the one that you just got hired to direct, are trying to course correct? Do you see your appointment as part of a new and necessary engagement with black voters and, obviously, voters of color and immigrant voters, since you include yourself as part of that community as well?