Movement Builders, Donors, and Philanthropists: Taking Over the Wheel and Flipping the Playbook!

The emergence and existence of white nationalism in our country signals a backwards turn to the right more abruptly than most of us want to admit to ourselves. But here we are. Aquí estamos. From my lived and professional experience, I know there is hope. Millennials, people of color, and unmarried women - the American Rising Electorate (ARE) - are the majority of the likely Democratic base at 59.2 percent. This movement at the ballot box  can usher a new era of civic participation and governance to rewrite the American social contract. Without this movement, we will not effectively address the current political climate or the tilted electoral map.

March 2018, Rivera Consulting Inc., at Groundswell Fund, talk and handout by Wilnelia Rivera lists federal (democratic primaries + red to blue) and governor’s races with women and people of color running in midterm elections. 

March 2018, Rivera Consulting Inc., at Groundswell Fund, talk and handout by Wilnelia Rivera lists federal (democratic primaries + red to blue) and governor’s races with women and people of color running in midterm elections. 

Deep democracy is the inherent belief that those at the margins should be at center and that the inclusion of all voices allows for a more complete view of the system. This inclusion takes the radical redistribution of power and privilege. It takes resisting cultural hegemony, taking over the ballot box, and winning governance power. This takes developing the political application of deep democracy.

Too often work in this space is often separate from discussions and plans to build political power. At Rivera Consulting, Inc., deep democracy opportunities 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, exciting women and people of color running at all levels.

To me, it is clear that the breakdown in our democracy, its undemocratically distorted electoral maps and the emergence of Trump, require that we re-prioritize the political giving and spending that has contributed to this current landscape. Donor and philanthropists invest early and directly in organizations, operatives and strategists that work directly with the ARE we can increase its turnout. This also requires supporting and electing bold progressive candidates while transforming public debate, the electoral landscape, policy and the economy.

In order for deep democracy to be real, it also requires the professional development of the bench of director, strategists, experts, operatives, and justice warriors that will do this work. This is why, we must deepen relationship and partnerships with donors and philanthropists to explore, how we can co-build this infrastructure.

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For Maria’s List, we conducted national candidate outreach and campaign analysis, identifying ten states where new investments can be made in the 2018 midterm elections: Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, New York and Texas. For Groundswell Education and Action Fund, we aligned their current 501c3 and 501c grantmaking funds for integrated voter engagement with deep democracy opportunities across the country.

The next four years will be pivotal to us as a country. The mainstream media has us believing that if Democrats do not obtain a supermajority in Congress that we may not see our way out of this. The supermajority should not come at the further cost of our values or at the loss for the vulnerable and the ARE.

The rules of engagement in D.C. area different. We need a crop of fresh Democrats to be elected to work alongside seasoned members of Congress. That is why we are the senior campaign advisor to elect Ayanna Pressley for Congress (MA-07). Because as her campaign tagline states, change cannot wait.

Ultimately, if we are going to take the keys aways from the people that currently are driving us into deeper and darker ditches, we need to resist and rebirth a new political paradigm and landscape. To prepare to take over the wheel also requires and demands choosing equity by sharing power. That is the potential and possibility of deep democracy.

'Unbought and Unbossed': Creating New Opportunities and Getting Results

Six years ago, I walked away from professional politics. I was feeling burned out and tokenized. It was time to take a leap of faith and create the opportunities that the parochial underbelly of Massachusetts often designates for the establishment. I took my talents and vision as both a political strategist and urban planner to focus on policy intervention, planning, and social change education. 2017 was a culmination point in this journey and a successful year for our clients.

In Santa Ana, Panama, the agent curriculum developed developed for Conservatorio  and AVACA (called “Convocatorias para el aprendizaje del cambio social) was funded by the United States Embassy, unleashing a new sustainability initiative, Santa Ana Lidera. This initiative is anchored by my clients in addition to Voces Vitales, Futbol con Corazon, FXB and Fundacion Esparanza de San Felipe. 

In Brooklyn, we successfully completed a second asset mapping and participatory action research led by 50 high school and undergraduate students from Central Brooklyn for Interfaith Medical Center and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, with a final report coming soon. What began as an experiment for Community Care Brooklyn in community-based research, has now become a permanent community engagement and cross sector collaboration strategy.

In Boston, we led the first all fare boarding pilot on the SL4/SL5 in coordination with the MBTA. (see Boston Globe: “All-door boarding made Silver Line buses move a little quicker.") In a matter of six weeks, Barr Foundation and our team of consultants hired outreach workers and designed a qualitative survey – supported by an integrated social media and communication campaign. Simultaneously, we launched a new pilot partnership program that will witness additional Gold Standard bus rapid transit pilots in Greater Boston while making the public policy case from the MBTA.

In Manhattan, we successfully designed a union dues campaign for the largest health care workers union in the country, 1199 Service Employees International Union.

In addition to watching my clients succeed, I also witnessed, along with other Americans of all stripes, mass youth-based and women of color led movements, a complicit Congress and an authoritarian President attack the fundamental values and institutions of our democracy. This unsettled me and brought me back to professional politics. The emergence of Trump did not begin in 2016, it is connected to decades of lost Democratic seats at the local, legislative, judicial and state level. This I know is true.

  • Democratic control of state legislative and governor’s offices is the lowest since the 1900s;

  • In 2008, Democrats controlled 59 percent of state legislatures, while now they control only 31 percent;

  • Looking at the same time period, Democrats held 29 governor’s offices, and now we only have 16;

  • Be wary of those that want to hold the Electoral College solely responsible. Democrats lost over 1,000 seats over the course of the Obama Administration, most of which did not involve the Electoral College;

  • Finally, by successfully redrawing districts, Republicans have tilted the electoral map to their benefit;

The good news, is that the work is underway to transform our country and Rivera Consulting, Inc. is at the forefront, emerging as leaders that will support this generation of change agents – whether it’s changing hearts, helping elect more Democratic women and people of color, or transformative policy change to create a more sustainable earth.

People, Planning, and Politics: From Subscriber to Feature

Over the last few months, my clients have reached key milestones in the advancement of their work. This means that  I have logged many miles on foot, bus, train, taxis, and planes taking me from Petaluma, CA, Santa Ana and San Felipe, Panama, and now back again in Brooklyn.  My conference call line takes me to Detroit, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans while Boston, in fact, is the home base.

When I launched Rivera Consulting, Inc, two years ago, I believed steadfastly that my approach to people, planning, and politics is exactly what is needed and necessary to produce the results we need to achieve. Over the next two weeks, I will be highlighting interesting, important, and innovating stories from my clients that range from integrated voter engagement capacity building, learning hubs, tactical urbanism, and cross-sector driven innovations on issued related to bus rapid transit and sustainable development.

Spring rolled out with an invitation to be featured in the Boston Spirit Magazine's May/June issue in an annual piece called "Let Us Introduce You, ” which highlights LGTBQ people and allies making a splash in their respective industry and career. To think, that my work took me from a long time subscriber to a feature in New England’s largest and most prominent LGBTQ magazine - May/June issue. The article talks about my background and highlights my sources of inspiration.  In the interview, I shared the following when asked:  How do you view your role as a leader? 

“For a whole new generation of leaders...our view of leadership is different than traditional models. We don’t need to be the big boss to lead. I don’t need to be the CEO or president.You don’t even need to see my face! People are breaking things apart and finding different forms of leadership: decentralized models where people step up and step back depending on when you need to lead. That’s different than previous generations and cult-of-personality leaders. There’s a higher consciousness.”

I share this, yes, as a shameless plug for my work, but more importantly, as a reminder that leadership and collaboration in this century, must look, feel, and talk vastly different. As I publish the upcoming body of work, this is the thread that ties and frames my clients and my approach.

Why urban planning, engagement, and politics matter?

Gov. Cuomo’s $1.4 Billion Plan Targets Brooklyn in Fight Against Poor Health and Poverty

Too often as technocrats, organizers, and elected officials, we easily miss the strategic points of collaboration. My work with Next Shift's Collaborative focuses on identifying and leverage these points to enable transformative change. Last summer, Community Care Brooklyn (CCB), hired us to assemble a team of 28 young adults to engage in a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project to understand the community’s priorities for health creation, guided by a core question: “How do we mobilize the Brownsville and East New York communities to address the social, physical and environmental inequalities that affect health?Through a survey of 525 residents, the team explored the physical, mental, social, environmental and financial dimensions of health and developed a number of recommendations to lay the foundation for collective action.

The final report, titled, Healthy Brooklyn, Community Centered Study: Proposed Health and Wellness Interventions in Brownsville and East New York set the policy framework for Governor Cuomo's recent announcement. The recent announcement by Gover Cuomo is a result of CCB through our research coming to understand the impacts of social determinants of health and how to most effectively capture local community knowledge stakeholders and champions from the community, community-based and intuitional health providers, labor unions, the NYC Mayor's Office to the state capital chambers in Albany. "For too long investment in underserved communities has lacked the strategy necessary to end systemic social and economic disparity, but in Central Brooklyn those failed approaches stop today,” Governor Cuomo said. “We are going to employ a new holistic plan that will bring health and wellness to one of the most disadvantaged parts of the state."


We look forward to continuing our work with CCB as they look to implement near-term projects and as we launch a similar study with Interfaith Medical Center and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, key providers in Central Brooklyn and CCB.

Stay tuned for more updates this summer!