If you’ve interacted with Swing Blue Alliance (SBA), it’s likely you know Susan Labandibar. Susan is a tech entrepreneur, mentor, and co-founder of SBA, a grassroots network organization that has grown to 15,000 members actively working to protect our democracy and its democratic principles. Susan relentlessly supports SBA’s volunteers and leaders on the ground and has been instrumental in the collective growth of SBA’s continuously expanding network. She mentors and encourages volunteers to take on leadership roles and ensures that they have the skills, support, and resources to succeed in leading as changemakers on the front lines of our democracy.
Many SBA volunteers turned to activism after feeling helpless in the wake of the 2016 election. With SBA activities, every volunteer can approach activism as an antidote to despair.
“What works for me is thinking about what the other person needs to get out of this, how I can help them assuage that fear that’s inside them that things are going off the rails and the need to take action as a result,” says Susan.
Susan’s Path to Cofounding Swing Blue Alliance
Even before her work with SBA, Susan stood at the forefront of democratic grassroots organization, with prior endeavors including sitting on the leadership team of Force Multiplier, founding Activist Afternoons (a Cambridge-based coworking space for activism), and serving as the Swing Left Regional Organizing Coordinator for New England.
Susan was instrumental in the rebranding of Swing Left Greater Boston to Swing Blue Alliance in 2021, and emphasizes the importance of infrastructure to the organization’s successful relaunch and overall growth. In fact, a dedication to strong infrastructure is woven throughout everything the organization does.
“It is not a straight line to implementing an idea,”says Susan. “You really need to work on things from different angles; you need to get different pieces of the infrastructure up and running.”
Swing Blue’s Key Activities and Core Values
But what does this infrastructure entail? Susan says advocacy comes to fruition through larger local-leader ecosystems, perpetuated by existing SBA activities, including (but not limited to) Activist Afternoons (a dedicated two-hour time for activism, pre-COVID, where any activist leader could gather groups for phone banking, texting, letter writing, canvassing launches, training, etc.) and News Magic (a space where newsletter editors can gain more information and access to local events and democratic organizing).
In short, Susan and other SBA leaders are champions for relational organizing: an activism strategy that organizes leaders, inspires confidence, and builds action on many levels. It is a system of people in whom a deep-seated need for action remains embedded, a passion for keeping our democracy healthy and fending off the many threats it continuously confronts. With SBA, Landibar has helped to create an ecosystem of volunteers in which leaders rise and make change, where every volunteer can explore – and find strategies and resources for – their passion for changemaking, advocacy, and democracy.
What Susan’s journey shows, above all, is the understanding and passion involved in creating and maintaining a volunteer-powered organization such as SBA. There is no litmus test for activism, no code of conduct that one should follow to a T. Rather, it is a messy, involved process that requires stepping into various roles outside one’s field of expertise and taking one’s passion for democracy to its extremes. It is messy, yes, but in advocacy we look not for perfection, but in effective action.
Skylar Wiseman, a Winter 2022 intern with Swing Blue Alliance, is a sophomore studying politics, philosophy, and economics at Dartmouth College.