By Victoria Kaplan

(Excerpted from a longer piece on

The opening plenary session at the May 12 Grantee Summit in Seattle was attended by about 125 people. The session led by Mijo Lee, SJF executive director, was a conversation with grantees Micah Nielsen from Montana Women Vote and Huy Ong from OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon. The format enabled Micah and Huy to “show by telling” that thinking deeply about the root causes of disparity – as opposed to thinking about symptoms – can lead communities to long-term, systemic change. Effective organizing helps people build a collective vision.

Anna So from Critical Resistance PDX reported on the ways CR works with people involved in police issues including houseless people and people inside prisons. Their focus is on abolishing the prison industrial complex.

Shar Litchy from the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane talked about work to end racial disparities and win non-jail solutions and non-arrest solutions, to stop the cycle of crime, save money, and change lives.

Shujat Qalbani from Unite Oregon told us how they develop coalitions working on criminal justice reform to create a more restorative model. Unite Oregon is led by people of color to create criminal justice policies that are accountable to the entire community.

For me, the two most important pieces of information from this panel were:

How important SJF funding is so they can organize and strategize instead of spending all their time fundraising, and it’s vital to be patient and keep at the work. Effective social change takes a long-term commitment and building a large base of support is what’s beginning to shift the power. There are small victories along the way, there are many gifts that come from working together in community, and it takes grit, tenacity and love to keep moving forward.

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