Organizing Director Laura Li reflects on her 5 years with 18 Million Rising

I’ve never been one to have a five year plan.

Instead, I choose to do what feels right in the moment. So, in the spirit of my Saturn return, I am making some big moves and transitioning from my role as Organizing Director to pursue a Master’s program in Political Communication at the University of Gothenburg this fall. In Sweden, the basic human rights we fight so hard for not only exist, it is an expectation that the government cares for the people. But, they too are fighting a rising fascism that threatens to destroy their democracy. My work to change the systems in the U.S that oppress us will continue and this program will equip me with the tools to organize and communicate with our people more deeply.

For the past five years I’ve organized for 18 Million Rising to bridge a gap between the folks scattered across the Internet looking for a political home and our Asian American movement for liberation. There are many things that I’m proud of accomplishing during my time at 18MR, but here are just a few:

As a digital organizer, I’ve spent a lot of my time thinking about how to connect with people on the Internet and build our collective power. It’s not easy work. Digital organizers must adapt to an always changing digital landscape. We learn to communicate and build trust on corporate platforms in lieu of in person one-on-ones. And yet, my belief in the importance of digital organizing and the role 18 Million Rising plays in our movement has held fast.

Thinking back on the time I’ve spent growing at 18MR, I’ve worked with a lot of earnestness. To show up everyday takes a lot of conviction when the world we live in is cruel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried while writing emails to members about stopping a community member’s deportation, saving refugee small businesses from being torn down, or granting adoptees citizenship. I’ve felt a lot of burning rage while working on these campaigns.

Lama Rod Owens says in his book Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger, “There’s something about our identity as activists that is so closely related to the anger that we experience. What would it look like if we formed our activist communities around joy, not the suffering or the anger, as a basis for our change work?”

Feeling angry is a normal response when you’re faced with impossibly cruel and unjust situations. That rage has fueled me and I also recognize it’s not sustainable. I want to organize more from a place of deep care. I have a sincere and intense conviction that our world can be much better, that we deserve such a world, and that we will be the ones to make that world happen.

At 18MR we work with grassroots partners to bring local issues to national attention. Over the last five years I have had the opportunity to build with so many incredible organizers and community leaders. These relationships have shown me what is possible when we pull our power together.

The fights can be exhausting, but working with partners like Nancy Nguyen and Lan Dinh from VietLead to fight gentrification in South Philly; Nate Tan, Ny Nourn, Peejay Ai and Hien Nguyen from Asian Prisoner Support Committee and Tsuya Lee and June Kuoch from Tsuru for Solidarity to stop deportations of our refugee and immigrant neighbors; Rachel Kuo and Tiffany Tso from Asian American Feminist Collective and Professor Jason O. Chang to grow our collective political awareness is what has continued to replenish my commitment to building a more just and compassionate world. They are just a handful of folks who I have gotten to know and work alongside. I have so much gratitude for these leaders, their tireless dedication to our collective wellbeing, and their generosity in friendship.

Having started as a Campaigner and now Organizing Director, I have witnessed our organization and myself growing in new ways over time. We are a humble group of people, but it’s time to give some shine!

Thanks to the leadership of our team, in particular Irma Shauf-Bajar, we are modeling new ways an organization can maintain a healthy working environment. This looks like a four day work week, a monthly wellness stipend, a professional development stipend, encouragement to take PTO and mental health days, and above all investing in building authentic relationships with one another through doing political education work together and hanging out!

Our social media and visual design is fun, vibrant and sharp and our political analysis is on point because of Bianca Nozaki Nasser, Turner Willman, Charlene Khoo and Kari Okubo. I am grateful to have worked with Bianca and Turner closely for the last four years and Charlene for the last two to evolve 18MR into the explicitly abolitionist organization it is today. I’m excited for Kari to take our social media to new places like our TikTok!! and grow our organization into its next era. And, frankly my friendships with them have helped me become the surer, more competent me today. 18MR’s growth is also due to the grace of our community partners and friends like SEAC Villageand Tamara K. Nopper taking the time to teach us and call us in so that we can learn and change.

This year 18MR is celebrating its 10 year anniversary and beginning its next chapter. I am beyond proud to see 18MR reach this birthday and to have contributed to half its life. Until we live in a world where our organization is no longer necessary, to everyone on this team, lead and live with earnestness because what we dream up can become real.

Laura has been an incredible leader, collborator, comrade, and friend during her time with us at 18MR. We are all cheering her on as she starts her next adventure in graduate school. Thank you, Laura for five incredible years!

Active Campaigns

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