Executive Director Statement
Bishop Dwayne Royster
POWER family, I am so proud of us. 2022 presented many challenges, and we moved together powerfully to meet them.
In January, White Christian Nationalism was already rearing its head in Pennyslvania's midterm elections, while our communities were grappling with "post-COVID" energy shutoffs and eviction threats in the middle of winter. The Pennsylvania public school trial William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al dragged on, while our Commonwealth's school children continued to be deprived of equitable access to quality education. Gun violence and the climate crisis continued to weigh on our minds.
Having not only survived 2021, but grown and thrived as an organization and a movement, we were ready to meet these challenges in 2022.
We welcomed Sara Melton as the Statewide Director of Organizing as the year began, and that has been proven a very positive move, indeed.
In direct response to prevailing apathy among Black voters in Pennsylvania (confirmed by a survey POWER commissioned by HIT Strategies), POWER, in partnership with our 501(c)4 entity POWER Action Fund, focused our 2022 engagement efforts on predominantly Black communities. We hosted a series of virtual town halls entitled, "Y Bother," to educate people on the difference a vote can make, and created four voter engagement videos featuring Black faith leaders from varied traditions. Members hosted phone banks 4-5 times weekly, and conducted weekly deep canvassing of low-propensity voters in the four weeks prior to Election Day. 700 people came out in Philadelphia for POWER's November 5 Black Bikers Vote rally. PA voters turnout numbers approached those of 2020's presidential race, exceeding 2018 turnout by about 4 points. While the historically low- turnout wards we target didn't exceed 2018 turnout, they did hold steady after nearly doubling turnout from 2014 to 2018.
POWER's Climate Justice and Jobs team was able to invest in an experimental. "Faith Votes for Climate" billboard campaign along major commuter routes in Bucks and Montgomery counties. The campaign included geofencing, which helped achieve POWER's highest website hits ever.
The centerpiece, though, of POWER's 2022 voter engagement was the Freedom Express Bus Tour. Over the course of three weeks, 34 lay and clergy leaders visited 22 communities, 7 of which were brand new to POWER, in 17 Pennsylvania counties. We hosted or co-hosted with one of 36 partner organizations 41 actions, events, and trainings. We connected with more than 100 faith communities and talked about the heresy of White Christian Nationalism and how to resist it. We listened to the stories and concerns of community members and leaders, shared our vision for a Pennsylvania where all can thrive, and emphasized the importance, not only of voting, but of organizing friends, families, and communities to vote.
The need for the Freedom Express became clear before it even existed: With a contract in place with a tour bus company, we set our communications team to work designing our message and brand. When the taglines "Healing our Faith in Democracy" and "This Bus Fights Fascism" emerged, they were deemed too political by the vendor, and our team found themselves scrambling, two weeks before the tour launch, for a new bus. Find one they did, and the Freedom Express rolled out of Philadelphia on schedule on October 18. At one stop in York, Pennsylvania--a place where POWER Action Fund & POWER have only begun to organize, and where progressive politics are not the norm, a small but mighty group gathered at Heidelberg United Church of Christ. They heard about the danger of White Christian Nationalism and learned how to counter its narrative with our own inclusive faith voice. The gratitude of the people there for our willingness to be present in this "red" area was palpable, and we're confident we've found some new grassroots leaders there.
What a year for POWER!
Thanks to strong relationships with our 60 member faith communities, 82 individual members, 400 donors (including 51 monthly sustainers), and 27 organizational funders, we raised nearly $3 million to build collective power in communities across Pennsylvania.
We are deeply grateful for their confidence in our organizing staff's ability to inform, train, and support our community leaders as they identify what they need and work together to hold businesses and elected officials accountable to their promises and to the common good.
Over the next few years, we plan to build our statewide movement by expanding our organizing support to many communities beyond the 10 Eastern and Central Pennsylvania counties we currently serve. Financial support from diverse sources will help ensure the sustainability of the work to build a Pennsylvania, a nation, and a world where all of us can thrive.