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From Investment Advisor to Democracy Defender: Meet Organizer Shaw Yang

Posted on May 1, 2022

Like many Swing Blue Alliance (SBA) activists, Shaw Yang transitioned from Democratic voter/supporter to activist in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. Now, he’s all in. A Swing Blue organizer and participant in our recent activist panel, Yang is also on the steering committees of Indivisible Acton Area and Indivisible Worcester. 

In late 2021, he and SBA co-coordinator Susan Labandibar collaborated to start the MAssachusetts Grassroots Information Center (News-MAGIC). Yang also co-founded the Coalition for Anti-Racism & Equity in Education (CARE) Coalition in 2021.

“For the first 50 or 60 years of my life, I was busy with my family and my career as a hardware engineer and investment advisor,” he said. “Then Trump got elected, and that did it. I started showing up at various events, and quickly realized that Trump was not the main problem.”

The “main problem,” he says, is that “we are losing our democracy. Across the country at state and local levels, structural and systemic issues are undermining our democratic system, which is, in fact, very fragile.”

Defending Democracy, One Step at a Time

Yang began to get more involved by attending events sponsored by a number of different grassroots organizations. Indivisible Acton was his first stop. For about four years, Shaw helped out in a variety of areas, from phone banking to canvassing, attending rallies, and recruiting other activists. His Invisible Acton Area involvement grew over time, and in his second year, he joined the Steering Committee—his current position.

Yang also serves on the Steering Committee for Indivisible Worcester, which he helped co-found in 2022. “I was always interested in expanding and building grassroots action groups,” he said. 

As he sees it, activists make a difference in three main areas: 

  1. Elections, where you help get the right people into office,
  2. Visibility, where elected officials know you, represent you, and are accountable to you,
  3. Advocacy, where you can translate your values into law.

In addition to his commitment to saving democracy, Shaw Yang is also passionate about eliminating systemic racism. His growing awareness of the magnitude of this problem led to his dedication to “fight racism wherever I see it.”  In 2021, he co-founded the Coalition for Anti-Racism & Equity in Education (CARE). CARE’s main purpose is to work on issues of anti-racism and equity in education, advance truth in education, and integrate ethnic studies into education at every level. Currently, the group is working to pass the anti-racism ethnic education bill that battles racism at its fundamental level—”educating our children.”

News-MAGIC: Empowering Activism across Massachusetts

In late 2020, Yang collaborated with SBA co-coordinator Susan Labandibar to brainstorm ideas about new ways to encourage activism and support this work throughout the state. The result was News-MAGIC. 

“Our goal is to empower local activist organizations to work together to achieve results,” said Yang. “News-MAGIC is a central location for local groups to post information about events and actions that support Democratic causes and candidates. Organizers can use it to connect with each other to facilitate joint or complementary actions, and individual activists can use the site to find local communities they want to be part of.”

The core of News-MAGIC is its calendar. Updated regularly, the calendar provides a central place for Massachusetts-based activist organizations to post events. Users can sort the offerings by various categories including action types, media channels, geographic location, and more. Of course, some events may relate only to a specific geographic region and might not be right for the News-MAGIC calendar, but many focus on statewide and national issues or candidates. For organizers of these events, News-MAGIC is a space to potentially attract more participants. 

“We wanted to break down the information silos of all the local groups,” said Yang. “News-MAGIC brings people together so they can share information and help each other.” 

Remember, Volunteers: We Are Not Alone

As Yang puts it, “With so much at stake, it’s easy to feel isolated and helpless.” He continues, “Yes, the challenges are myriad and major. But we are not alone. We can do more than complain and despair.”

This is where grassroots activism comes in. As Yang says, “it empowers you and gets you onto a team of like-minded, passionate folks to make progress together. There is power in numbers.” Indeed, there is. 

Based on his experiences with Indivisible Acton Area, Indivisible Worcester, SBA, CARE, and News-MAGIC, Yang has discovered and tested several methods that organizers can use to get things done and get more people involved.

  • First, have a strong steering committee. This makes a huge difference in how successful your organization will be.
  • Build a community. Volunteers need to feel like they are part of a team. Remind people that they are not alone, that their votes are part of a movement of millions, and they only have to do their share.
  • Empower and support volunteers in the ideas they want to pursue. The steering committee needs to focus, plan, and organize actions that support volunteers’ passions.
  • Bring together your community through recurring events. For example, a weekly event like Touch-base Tuesdays enables your group to come together to air concerns, review events, etc.
  • Have a good newsletter. Staying in touch, offering encouraging support, and highlighting priorities is key. 
  • Make room for socializing at your events. Or simply plan an event that’s all socializing—an outing at a park, for example. This promotes a sense of community, connection, and a sense that we’re doing something important together. 

“Having hope is critical,” says Yang. “I can’t overemphasize the importance of organizers emphasizing to volunteers that every action matters, every action helps. As leaders, we need to do more than provide projects for volunteers to work on. We need to keep reiterating that when you take any action, however small, you are making a difference. And if we all take actions, we will win.”

Marilyn Hirsch is a freelance copy and editorial writer based in MetroWest Boston.

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