Joining the Team: A Community-Centered Vision for Urban Planning


After nearly a decade of political organizing across the nation and Massachusetts, I left the campaign world in 2016 to attain my Masters in Public Policy from Northeastern University. I swore I was done with electoral politics. Yet on the evening of September 4th, 2018 as I waited for our volunteers to report election night results across the 7th Congressional District, I was moments away from being part of the team that would elect Ayanna Pressley as the first woman of color to the Massachusetts Congressional delegation. And while I wasn’t sure what would come next, I knew I wanted to continue to work with Wilnelia Rivera, the strategist and movement leader behind that historic campaign. Luckily, now I get to do so.

My name is Jon Hillman, and I’m extremely fortunate to join the Rivera Consulting Inc. team as a Senior Associate Consultant focused on urban planning and social science research projects that help advance the firm’s mission to boldly and fiercely reimagine the American social contract.  In my time working with Wilnelia on the Ayanna Pressley campaign, I knew I had found someone who shared my passion for never blindly accepting the status quo. As we discussed my possible role with the firm, we quickly aligned in applying this ethos to all matters of democracy, social science and urban and community planning. Like Wilnelia, I came to this research after years of progressive organizing. And we both see the necessity to instill values of just sustainability, inclusivity, and equity at a time when there is an economic, democratic, and environmental urgency for movement professionals that understand and know how to navigate the intersection of people, planning, and politics

Though only a few weeks into the job, we have hit the ground running as we begin our collaborative client engagement with the Urban Land Institute of Boston/New England (ULI). For more than 15 years, ULI Boston has been partnering with communities to advise on strategies and best practices for land use and economic development. We will be assessing ULI Boston’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), a long-running endeavor that organizes urban design professionals who volunteer their time to partner with communities to address specific questions of community land use and urban planning. With over 40 TAPs in the last twenty years, our goal is to measure the impact of these engagements or whether intended outcomes were achieved. By employing a combination of quantitative and qualitative data to explain success, we will by necessity have to define what impact means. And in keeping with the TAP ethos and our firm’s approach, a collaborative effort is needed to design and implement an assessment tool and research overall.


We have begun a deep dive into understanding the TAP policy toolkit, and look forward to engaging with their municipal partners over the coming months. As part of the discovery phase, we recently attended a TAP in action, as volunteers studied the assets and opportunities for the Centre St. corridor in the Boston neighborhood of West Roxbury. Needless to say, I am thrilled to be a part of this team and to implement and explore data driven solutions centered on community, trust building, and improving cross sector collaboration. Stay tuned for key updates from us about our work with ULI, their stakeholders, including real estate and planning professionals, in addition to various municipalities across Massachusetts.

What Does it Mean to be a Movement Building Professional?

Tufts University, UEP commencement Keynote Speech, Founder of Rivera Consulting Inc., UEP Class of 2014 , Sunday, May 19th, 2019

Tufts University, UEP commencement Keynote Speech, Founder of Rivera Consulting Inc., UEP Class of 2014 , Sunday, May 19th, 2019

Good Afternoon, Graduates, Loved Ones, and members of the Tufts Community: Today is a day of celebration.  Today is a day of reflection.

It a celebration of your commencement and I invite you to be part of my reflection about what it means to be practical visionary and change agent. I consider myself to be on the transition team; those of us that understand that we are simultaneously living in today’s world as we know it and the one that is emerging. We also believe that this transition is one that should be just and sustainable.

Not one that wraps itself in nostalgia of yesteryear. For those of you unfamiliar, a practical visionary, are urban planners and civic leaders, who are motivated to solve complex social problems in aspirations and tactical ways. Change agents, on the other hand, are individuals who are capable of turning strategy into reality. Let's be honest, urban planners and civic leaders are mostly practical visionaries.

Yet the world as we know it and the one that is emerging has created a new legitimacy for the change agent role.In today’s world and the one emerging, the ability to combine both is the difference between business as usual and rewriting the rules that will allow social justice and sustainability to become central pillars for how we manage the public commons - whether that’s at home or abroad.

In the emerging world, impact must be measurable, cross-discipline, and cross-sector.

If it's to be just…

It must be centered on those whose labor - paid and unpaid - fueled the economic engine that created the world as we know it. It is their neighborhoods, their livelihoods, and their identities that are 1 to 2 degrees away from no longer existing. I say their but these neighborhoods are the very places that saw my parents fall in and out of love, where my wife and her family fled the remnants of a bloody Civil War, the forgotten pockets of America that raised us both, and where our families live today. These truth shape me. And your truths should shape you.

That is why instead of choosing one lane or one career, I defied all my mentors, peers, and even my own village. Today I encourage you to follow suit. You see, I made choices seen by some as risky, but in the end were critical because it defied the very expectations that too often leave us with results that nobody wants.

Instead of joining the executive director shuffle that afflicts the non-profit sector, I joined state government. Instead of making it a lifetime pathway, I became an urban planner, hiding in the comfort of my specialty knowledge and my political pragmatism. I was comfortable. Then Election Day, Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 took place. I could not sit on the sidelines. I decided then that I would finally embrace becoming a practical visionary and change agent -  what I like to call a movement building professional.

Then two years later on  Election Day, Tuesday, September 4th, 2018, a diverse coalition of voters defied conventional logic and elected the first Black woman to the US Congress in the history of our state.  

We showed that the impossible can be possible and that this only happens at the intersection of people/ planning/ and politics. We showed that when we lead with love / and the full diversity of who we are as a country and in this case the Greater Boston community, that we can reimagine the politics of what's possible.  And most important make it a reality!

This for me is the hallmark of being a movement professional is the commitment to build leaders, movements, and organizations that execute the work every day. That’s what guides me every day.  As you embark on your professional and personal journeys, I want to share with you a set of lessons that can help you navigate today’s world and the one that’s emerging.

Whether it's the criminal justice reform, transportation, education equity, or climate preparedness - the sustainability of the public commons is about the art of political decision making.


To ignore this, is the difference between success and failure. Do embrace that failure is an option and the only way you learn how to flip the playbook. Whether its a boss, a friend, or a mentor, do not do what others expect of you. Do exactly what your mind-heart-spirit whispers to you when no else is watching or listening. Do the work that does not make the headlines: be relational, be detailed oriented, and inspire those around you too dig deeper.  All of us carry our hopes and fears with us everyday. Yet we ignore how they become barriers and biases that get in the way of our work. Do the work that it takes to build trust, be vulnerable, and have courage. Without these three, the change you seek is not attainable. We get to make a living from making social change, but we also get to go home at the end of the day.  Do invest in the capacity for others to lead and for them to sustain the work themselves.

The biggest lesson of all. People and Politics set the rules of engagement for us in the world of planning. And these rules are being rewritten as I speak.  A reality that you must navigate to move your work, and most importantly, solutions forward. Our mission as movement professionals, is the rugged pursuit of shared common good; therefore the challenge from me, to all of you is the following:

As a hearty New Englander bear with me on this one. Lighthouses in many ways are a relic of our past. But in today’s world and the one emerging, I need all of you to become the lighthouse, a beacon of light that never fades on our shores. Not in the dark days that history is casting upon us today or in the distant light of tomorrow’s emerging world. My hope for all graduates today is that you dedicate yourselves to making the Commonwealth, America, and the world, a place where have a stake in doing good for each other.

Join me in making the commitment to be part of this transition team with me.

PS. For updates from our team at Rivera Consulting, Inc. and our clients please visit our in The News Page and our Deep Democracy page.

Transformative Organizational Development: United for Reproductive & Gender Equity

Transformative Organizational Development: United for Reproductive & Gender Equity

“How often do we create new structures and new policies but stick to the same behavior?  Pretty darn often. Just look at the old filing case”. Read this recent blog by our Firm President, Wilnelia Rivera, as she shares highlights from one of our major clients in 2019, United for Reproductive & Gender Equity.

In 2019, What Does Deep Democracy Look Like?

At Rivera Consulting Inc., our movement building playbook is based on relationship-driven strategies and rely heavily on the use of relational organizing, ethnic media, digital marketing, and social media. These campaigns seek not only to win elections, but also seek to usher in movements that enable future policy change and advocacy.  This year, we are continuing this work by launching a national platform, the Deep Democracy podcast, where we will be elevating the women and people of color who are leaders within movement building politics and belong at the center of our democracy. All of these women are thought leaders and activists in putting the American Rising Electorate (millennials, people of color, and unmarried women) at the centerpiece of electoral change. The premiere also comes as we are ramping up our local movement building work in the 2019 Boston municipal races.

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Our first three episodes feature four women of color who are movement building professionals. Our March podcast features Aimee Allison, the Founder of She the People, an organization that is the leader in elevating the political voice and power of women of color by convening women of color candidates, strategists, and movement leaders. In April, we will connect with Tequila Johnson and Charlane Oliver, Founders of the Equity Alliance,  a Nashville-based grassroots non-profit advocacy group that seeks to equip citizens with tools and strategies to engage in the civic process and empower them to take action on issues affecting their daily lives. In May, we will speak with community organizer and writer, Clarissa Brooks, who is graduating from  Spelman College. She has been on the frontlines of Georgia’s boldest student led protest movements.

While most have moved on from the historic victory that we helped usher in MA-07, where we increased voter turnout by 58.3%, the 2019 Boston municipal election is an opportunity  to re-engage those voters - 49.6% were of which were first time primary voters. A slice of this new electorate, voting can be a game changer in a competitive Preliminary Election Day. Rivera Consulting, Inc is working with two candidates - re-election campaign for District 7 Boston City Councilor Kim Janey (D-Roxbury), and first-time candidate Alejandra St. Guillen who is running to become the next At Large Boston City Councilor.

Councilor Janey is a necessary leader in the city of Boston’s fight to remain equitable for all its residents. First elected in 2017, Kim represents Roxbury - a neighborhood that is the heart of Black culture and the Black community. In her first term, Kim  has taken an intersectional approach in her legislation and advocacy when it comes to equity. We are making sure she is re-elected so that she can continue to lead on making the cannabis industry equitable and fair for minority owners.”

Rivera Consulting will also be working with Alejandra St. Guillen, in her candidacy for At-Large Boston City Councilor. Recently featured in the Boston Globe, her candidacy is already garnering attention.  As a lifetime  Bostonian, a parent, wife, and seasoned public advocate, she understands firsthand the opportunities for prosperity and mobility, as well as the multi-faceted obstacles that often deny these opportunities too many.  

Here at Rivera Consulting Inc, we are at the forefront of movement building professionals by lifting up the national leaders, and running strong grassroots campaigns at the local level. Do not forget to subscribe to the podcast by signing up here and support electing more women of color running for office by contributing to their campaigns today

Reaching our Tipping Point: A Look at the Year Ahead

Candidate for Boston City Council At-Large, Alejandra St. Guillen, Grassroots Fundraiser, Boston, MA (November 2019)

Candidate for Boston City Council At-Large, Alejandra St. Guillen, Grassroots Fundraiser, Boston, MA (November 2019)

The backdrop of 2019 is short when measured in terms of time. Yet the headlines coming from Washington, across the country, and in our backyards yields our immediate attention and awareness. This is not business as usual and we are our reaching our tipping point. The promise of our democracy is being further eroded as the wall of mistrust, xenophobia, and economic inequality rises.  Referred often as the boiling point of the masse, this tipping point is and should be our collective responsibility.

Three key battles between Congress on that scale are coming soon, all of which will solicit Congressional Democratic action.  

  • If the Trump Administration’ Department of Justice decides to withhold findings from the Muller investigation;

  • If the Trump administration moves forward with its national emergency plan to pillage Federal coffers to build its wall;

  • If the US Supreme Court approves the Administration’s plan to include the citizenship question on the 2020 US Census Count;

Whether you are on the front lines of the movement for justice or never have been engaged, these time requires honesty and transparency about who has been left behind and why. The pullout of Amazon from New York City is a relevant and stark outcry about the level of deep socio-economic insecurity that exists for millions of American families. When working class people are rejecting what many consider an economic boom, decision-makers, elected officials, and the wealthy should think about how to boldly reimagine the emerging economy while addressing climate change and income inequality.

A look at the year ahead and the horizon before us is the best time to remind readers that this year we must continue supporting deep democracy. Nationally, the team at Rivera Consulting, Inc., is focused on supporting locally and regionally based reproductive justice organizations like Women with A Vision New Orleans, United for Reproductive Justice & Gender Equity, and the National Latina Institute of Reproductive Health by coaching staff on non-partisan integrated voter engagement and/or exploring integrated electioneering activities that prepare them for 2020 and beyond. We are also supporting executive coaching clients on an ongoing basis and as part of our commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Locally, in Massachusetts, we are also continuing our research and strategic advising engagement with the Partnership for Education and Democracy and Maria’s List. We are also working to re-elect Boston District 7 City Councilor Kim Janey from Roxbury, and Alejandra St. Guillen who is running to become the next At Large Boston City Councilor. Both Kim and Alejandra have dedicated their careers to ensuring sustainable equity for communities of color in Boston.  Our national and municipal level work puts our movement building ethos, deep democracy, at the center of creating meaningful and sustainable change


Stay tuned for more exciting updates to our national and local work. If you missed it, please check out In the News page for exciting news about our work.

URGE Board Kick Off Meeting, Washington D.C. (December 2019)

URGE Board Kick Off Meeting, Washington D.C. (December 2019)

Results of Deep Democracy with Maria's List

Intergenerational politics of compassion, justice, and healing became the hallmark of movement building campaigns led by Stacy Abrams (Georgia), Lucy McBath (GA-6), and Ayanna Pressley (MA-7). They left behind transactional politics and shattered myths by leading with their hearts and backing it up with multiracial campaign teams that executed the science of igniting the base and expanding the electorate.The 2020 Presidential primary cycle is informally kicking off next February, and its important that we take stock of where and how we invested and what was the return on that investment.

  • Democrats should never primary each other, it will lose us the House majority and voters hate it. Primaries made Democrats more competitive, win or lose, we activated more voters by expanding the participation of American Rising Electorate (ARE are known as millennial, unmarried women, and people of color) while igniting the base of traditional democrats..

  • Democrats of color cannot win in the suburbs or South, we need Blue dog Democrats that appeal to everyone. Lauren Underwood (IL-14), not only won in a crowded Democratic primary, she defeated her Republican opponent, and out raised the entire field. Her victory was buoyed by college educated white women. Similarly, in New Mexico and Michigan, women and women of color won the majority of statewide constitutional offices and/or Congressional seats.

  • Broad messaging focused on health care, tax bill, and Trump's divisiveness did not sway white working class voters or Trump conservatives to Democratic candidates. White working class voters doubled down their commitment to Trump in the South and Southwest, but in Maria's List Deep Democracy (Framework & Analysis for Giving) states like Georgia, Texas, and Florida, effective movement building campaigns led by Stacey Abrams, Beto O'Rourke, and Andrew Gillum, respectively, resulted in down ballot pickups across the board for District Attorney, US Congress, Secretary of State, and district level races . All these races were buoyed by a dramatic increase in ARE turnout, especially among millenials (except white men)and Black voters.

  • First time Democratic candidates, especially women and people of color, cannot raise the money or build the campaign teams to win. By promoting new movement building playbooks, which also proved to be cost effective, this challenge was overcome in the short term for those that won. Yet many of these new elected officials and movement building organizations will face fundraising challenges for this coming year.

The most important lesson from this cycle is that supporting deep democracy means igniting the traditional base of Democratic voters and expanding the participation of the ARE and non-voters. It also means that in places where we lost or won, we must continue this investment as early as possible in 2019. It also means to hold onto these tenous wins, we have to win policy and keep the community groups connecting with their base. With funding, that is. Let's invest in movement building organizations led especially by women of color like  Domestic Workers Alliance (Georgia), Texas Organizing Project (Texas), Chinese Progressive Association (Boston, MA) and Center for Civic Policy(Nevada).

For updates visit www.mariaslist.net

Prepared by:  Wilnelia Rivera & Diana Hwang

Change is Not Waiting, We Are Here

by Wilnelia Rivera

Some political pundits credit the recent victory of Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley as an anomaly of the political climate or at worst, an uninformed choice made by a new crop of voters who were swayed purely by good speeches and rallies. Not only does this dismiss Pressley as a viable candidate and a seasoned campaigner but it dismisses voters’ ability to decide on what’s best for their community. The reality is that women of color are not elected solely based on their inspirational stories. MA-07 deserve the real story to emerge and the numbers don’t lie. When compared to the last midterms, voter turnout increased by 58 percent (full analysis here).

The establishment said that Pressley couldn't build a team to effectively challenge a sitting incumbent without the support of Boston Mayor Walsh, former Governor Deval Patrick, or without the backing of  progressive labor unions and organizations such as 1199SEIU, Emily’s List, and Planned Parenthood. She had to raise at least $2 million dollars. She couldn’t win without TV. “It just was not possible,” they said, but our movement building strategy worked and produced historical results. Behind speeches and rallies were volunteers, staff, and Rivera Consulting, Inc., the lead architect of the Pressley campaign.  

Rivera Consulting, Inc. calls these campaigns movement building campaigns because they both expand the electorate and ignite the base. Activists are trained in relational organizing and reach out to the pool of people who don’t normally vote while conventional campaign tactics are used to ignite the traditional base of likely voters. They also learn campaign plans to win and how their contributions are vital to success. By increasing their ownership, their activism is likely to extend beyond election night.  

We need political campaigns that connect with voters and residents on the issues they care about and that are not just persuading them to show up for a candidate or party. This strategy contradicts most political spending which is dedicated to TV ads that no longer promotes turnout from the nearly 60 percent of the Democratic base, the American Rising Electorate (millennials, people of color, and unmarried women. These ads are only aimed at the swing voters. Traditional electoral investment has focused on recapturing mythical white working class voters at the neglect of working class in communities of color and women. To win over the near and long term, messaging needs to be more carefully robust/mindful.

At the same time, movement building campaigns are more dependent relationship driven strategies and the heavy use ethnic media, digital marketing, and social media. These campaigns seek not only to win elections, but also seek to usher in movements that enable future policy change and advocacy. I believed from the very beginning that Ayanna Pressley could win if we identified first time primary non-voters across the district that matched her voter base in Boston. We did. She can win if likely voters represented a smaller share of the overall electorate on Election Day. They did. She won by 18 points, almost doubling overall turnout, and winning over 76% of all precincts across the district.

A deeper dive also reveals that first-time primary voters made up nearly 50 percent of the overall electorate - representing  the majority of all voters - while frequent and super voters only made up 12 percent of the electorate. These new voters were largely millennials, people of color, and women - the base fueling the current political resistance from the ballot box to main street, who alongside traditional liberals sent a loud message: Change is Not Waiting, We Are Here.

In this political climate, if progressives want to win governance power, we must first recognize that conventional political funding that has contributed to this current landscape. We cannot go back to business as usual, we must build upon the progress of this cycle to deliver the governance coalition that is necessary to take back our country. This is not a gimmick or a television advertisement that can be done weeks before an Election Day. It requires hiring and developing the talent to run these campaigns. We must give early financial support to elect bold progressives, while also investing in increasing the turnout of our base. Movement building campaigns don’t stop on Election Day, they extend civic engagement into protests, policy change, and resistance.   

Rivera Consulting, Inc. at the Heart of People, Planning of Politics: A Preliminary Look Back at 2018

Rivera Consulting Inc., seeks to unlock the hearts, skills and minds of our clients using our deep democracy toolkit to produce multi-dimensional social interventions, political, and community empowerment strategies to transform engagement  and cross sector collaboration. Among staff and our clients, this work is rooted in consistent innovation within the firm to best reflect a rapidly changing environment driven by major social progress of women and people of color and fueled by increasing income inequality, displacement, and climate change.

As former government, non-profit, and political campaign staff, we understand the opportunities and challenges that come with addressing inequities and complex social problems.. At Rivera Consulting Inc., our deep democracy toolkit is contributing to a just transition to a more representative democracy and automated economy in more ways than one. In the case of the Committee to Elect Ayanna Pressley Campaign (MA-7), Founder of Rivera Consulting, Inc., Wilnelia Rivera, recently told the New York Times, in a region city that most conventional observers described as parochial:

“Our strategy was to expand the electorate and ignite the base. We trained new activists to engage in a new form of political campaign and to reach out to the pool of people who don’t normally vote.”

By promoting a movement building playbook, Rivera Consulting, Inc. is offering a viable and proven alternative to a more representative democracy and a road map for 21st centuries political campaigns. Repeating the playbook in Boston and across the country has not only achieved the same results for the same select few, but has intensified inequality, especially among the largest eligible voting base the American Rising Electorate (millennials, people of color, and unmarried women).

At Rivera Consulting, Inc., deep democracy opportunities also exist in places across the country where you have the following synergy of factors: 501c3 and 501c4 organizations leading integrated voter engagement efforts, progressive ballot questions, coordinated donor and field coordination, as well as bold, progressive, exciting women and people of color candidates. We work with organizers, candidates, operatives to identify deep democracy seats, than we work with with donors and philanthropy to make the case for early financial support of these races. As Rivera shared in a recent interview for The Heart of the Matter hosted by Malia Lazu of the Urban Labs, “If the woke aren’t taking the less woke or sleepy to something better, we need to take them on a journey with us.” We need each other to do the work of social change and a thriving team to lead interdependent movement. Our staff and clients continue to be at the forefront - whether it’s changing hearts, helping elect more Democratic women and people of color, or transformative policy change to create a more sustainable Earth.

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The case for inequality and need for intergenerational change can also be seen in Puerto Rico, a site where Rivera Consulting Inc., affiliate consultant, Cassandra Lopez Fradera, a diasporic Puerto Rican, visits as a healing justice practitioner and communications strategist to make the case for healing justice as a multi-dimensional tool that focuses on restoring dignity to survivors of colonial and domestic violence as well as, co-creating solutions for long-lasting change in the face of re-imaging a new social contract with each other and the larger diaspora. She asserts, as does Rivera Consulting, Inc. that healing is a fundamental part of deep democracy, because it addresses intergenerational trauma and/or poverty as the starting point for social change. Cassandra’s work supports clients and communities to explore this space as a liberation tool for their voices to emerge and Rivera Consulting, Inc. uses this insofar it helps build trust needed for social change and cross sector collaborations.

Marginalized voices are often in spaces that are isolated from discussions and plans to build political power, which proliferates inequality and profit for a select few. In the days that followed Hurricane Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, the intergenerational effects of colonization and privatization of public services were shown to the world while the American government delayed their response. Unlike Mexico, where an earthquake of an estimated magnitude of 7.1 hit the night before Hurricane Maria, international aid arrived quickly. Puerto Ricans were isolated from international relief due to the Jones Act, a federal law that regulates maritime commerce in the United States. Only Congress can repeal the Jones Act and because Puerto Ricans cannot vote in congressional or presidential campaigns, it is critical to the engage American politicians and the diaspora continue to create change.

The word Hurricane (huricán) is a word that is indigenous to the Taíno language in Borikén (Puerto Rico), which is an archipelago of islands, not a single island, that includes Vieques and Culebra. While disaster capitalism is a manmade response to a natural event and what is necessary to healing is unique to each person, there is a shared struggle that the residents of Flint, Michigan, waters protectors in the Standing Rock movement, survivors of Hurricane Katrina, and people in the Merrimack Valley share. The Puerto Rican diaspora can play a big role in this change, however it must be led by the heart and supported by a strong infrastructure where deep democracy can flourish and center marginalized voices can create solutions given the space and resources. In the context of Puerto Rico, Cassandra explains:

“You can’t have a more just world without healing; simply put, because there is a finite amount of natural resources and we are extracting resources at a faster rate than the planet’s biological capacity for growth. When we are in right relationship to the land and remember that we are too apart of nature, we are reminded of our power to self-heal and regenerate.”

Another future is possible. It’s happening around us and in Latin America, where Rivera Consulting, Inc. has partnered with the MIT Community Innovators Lab (MIT-CoLab), AVACA and Conservatorio and embarked on a sustainable urban revitalization project in Santa Ana, Panama. Our approach, inspired by their work with the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative and our firm’s two Central Brooklyn based participatory action research projects (Brownsville, East New York, Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and East Flatbush), was to take an innovative urban American model and contextualize it. What’s in store for the future?

Stay tuned and make sure to vote on Election Day (Tuesday, November 6th).