San Francisco Rising builds the political power of working-class communities and communities of color in San Francisco to lead the way for democratic governance that prioritizes racial, economic and environmental justice.
We are an alliance of grassroots organizations led by people of color, and a political home for San Franciscans who care about justice and sustainability. We build power through deepening multiracial solidarity, educating and mobilizing voters, working closely with policymakers, organizing, and developing leaders of color.
Mission + Vision
We are San Francisco Rising, an alliance of base-building organizations rooted in San Francisco’s working-class communities and communities of color. Our multiracial electoral field campaigns amplify existing organizing in our communities and bring that power to the ballot box.
We believe that our journey towards racial, economic, and environmental justice is a journey for political power. Political power is about who represents us and the rules that govern us. It’s about our future.
We organize day in and day out to we shift power to our communities and become co-creators of our future alongside our elected officials. We will always empower the people who are most marginalized in San Francisco to lead the way for government that centers racial, economic and environmental justice.
Theory of Change
San Francisco Rising builds the political power of working-class communities and communities of color in San Francisco to lead the way for government that centers racial, economic and environmental justice. We are an alliance of grassroots organizations led by people of color, and a political home for San Franciscans who care about justice and sustainability. We build power through deepening multiracial solidarity, educating and mobilizing voters, working closely with policy makers, organizing, and developing leaders of color.
Who We Are
- We are rooted in grassroots organizing of working class communities of color; and we are led by women, young people, immigrants, and people of color
- We have a track record of winning innovative policy to combat inequality; our local victories have sparked national movements for a $15 minimum wage, free community college, sanctuary cities, and ethnic studies
- We build an integrated strategy connecting local, regional, state, and national issues and campaigns
What We Do
- Support and train people of color to be community leaders
- Organize to expand our membership and base of supporters to win at scale
- Deepen political unity among our diverse affiliates and constituents
- Advance policy solutions toward our long term vision
- Inspire and mobilize voters from our communities, who are typically ignored by mainstream campaigns but must have a voice in our democracy
- Build community-based political infrastructure capable of running sophisticated campaigns each election cycle, and win
- Win political representation and lasting political power of SF working-class people and communities of color
- Be a political home for San Franciscans fighting for racial, economic, and environmental justice.
- Win policies that do right by communities of color and working families, replacing lip service and token acts
- Practice co-governance that brings community leaders & elected officials together to move an agenda that advances equity, justice, & sustainability
Communities of color and working-class communities have the political power to advance a bold agenda that serves the people and planet.
Rising in Unity: A 10-Year Retrospective of San Francisco Rising
2019 has been a banner year for progressive change in San Francisco. We’ve rejected politics that benefit big corporations at the expense of everyone else, and now have a progressive supermajority on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. We’ve passed a historic proposal to close Juvenile Hall. We’ve moved $44 million in our city budget to people-centered needs like housing, health, and eviction defense. In the face of a hostile federal administration and a racist, xenophobic president, we’ve defended sanctuary for all.
No movement wins every fight. But where we’ve lost races, it’s by a margin of a few hundred to a thousand votes – even when we’ve been significantly outspent by corporate and development opposition.
Here’s the bottom line: People power can take on corporate money, and win. We’re San Franciscans united for a bold progressive vision, and we’re just getting started.
A rising majority
Working families and people of color hold enormous political power when we organize strategically and increase civic engagement among our communities. From the Bayview to Chinatown, the Tenderloin to the Mission – and everywhere in between – folks who have been shut out of the electoral process by status quo politicians are returning our democracy to the people. With the demographic shifts across the country, we’ve demonstrated it’s time for people of color to lead the fight for justice. Together, we make up the rising majority – and we’re dismantling the machinery of San Francisco politics.
Bold ideas take time, but they’re worth the investment. The hard-fought victories we’ve won in the last year were nearly unthinkable a mere decade ago.
When we founded San Francisco Rising in 2009, the nation was in the midst of a recession. City leadership was cutting social services left and right, and they were decimating vital programs that had kept some of the ravages of gentrification at bay.
Instead of requiring the richest among us to pay their fair share, elected officials told low-income communities of color to tighten our belts. Revealing their true priorities, they cut crucial programs and essential services for low-income communities of color. We didn’t have majority representation on the Board of Supervisors or in the Mayor’s office that answered to our communities at the time. All across the city, folks were giving in to electoral apathy – demoralized by the understandable belief that San Francisco politics was an impenetrable machine that could never work for them.
It was time to throw down.
Long-standing grassroots organizations that had spent decades organizing Black, Latinx, Chinese, and Filipino communities in San Francisco (meet them here) formed the San Francisco Rising alliance to shift the balance of power and push back against establishment politics that were harming our communities.
We all had different focuses – housing and worker rights, environmental and racial justice, and youth and women’s empowerment – but what we had in common was a progressive vision to build power together. We also had a strategy to win.
Because we’d been doing grassroots organizing in our communities for years, we knew that there were tens of thousands of voters throughout San Francisco that had been discounted by the political process. No one at City Hall was taking meetings with them. Candidates were skipping over them to knock on the doors of “reliable voters,” reinforcing a cycle that discouraged their political power. Political consultants that sent mailer after mailer to older, wealthier white voters were ignoring our communities. The message was clear: People of color, immigrants, and low-income voters were not seen as politically valuable to those already in power.
Those voters – our communities – were about to create a new political reality for San Francisco.
City Hall just didn’t know it yet.
We got to work building a multi-racial alliance that had enough political unity and boots on the ground to put the needs of communities of color front and center inside City Hall and inside every election.
San Francisco Rising was brand new, but we had the raw ingredients we needed to create a grassroots, community-based political infrastructure capable of running sophisticated electoral operations each election cycle, and winning.
We had less funding and a smaller budget than we would have liked. But we had the organizing expertise, language skills, deep roots in our communities, a commitment to civic engagement as one strategy among many, and a wealth of common causes that could unite our members.
Before we launched SF Rising in 2009, we did a review of local ballot measures of the previous six years that were narrowly defeated and which would have benefited working-class communities of color. One measure from 2008, which would have established a citywide affordable housing fund, lost by only about 7,600 votes. In fact, these progressive measures all lost by roughly 8,000 to 13,000 votes – a small but crucial margin. We now had a clear and concrete goal for turning out voters from our communities–so that our communities would become that margin of victory.
Our first step as an alliance was to share our organizing lists among ourselves and commit to reaching our alliance’s collective membership of about 4,000 voters by the end of 2009. In our first year, San Francisco Rising members knocked on thousands of doors in the Mission, Bayview, SoMa, and Chinatown. In Spanish, English, Tagalog, and Chinese, we spoke with residents all across the city – many of whom no one had ever contacted before about an election.
Our data shows that when we talk to our communities, they vote. When we contact voters, those people generally vote 12-17% more often than the citywide average in San Francisco. This kind of transformation is what is making working-class communities and communities of color the margin of victory for change in San Francisco.
By the end of our first few years as an alliance, we had dramatically improved voter turnout in communities of color. We’d also proven that our multi-racial organizing model was working.
A decade of victories
Over the last decade, San Francisco Rising has talked to over 50,000 San Francisco voters through our multilingual field campaigns. Our civic engagement programs educate San Francisco voters about issues and policies that lift up working-class communities, give us insight into the kinds of progressive policies our communities want, and have allowed us to lay the groundwork for a series of progressive victories.
Since the launch of our first civic engagement program in 2010, our members have helped to pass landmark legislation including a $15 minimum wage, a “mansion tax” that funds free City College, and even statewide initiatives like Prop 30 and Prop 55, which tax the richest in California to fund schools and social services. We’ve also mobilized to block local legislation that would take us backwards, like Propositions P & U, which would have made it harder to build affordable housing and taken housing away from the lowest-income households who need it the most.
Together as an alliance, we have been able to support the policy campaigns of our affiliates, ensuring that the California Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, the Free MUNI for Youth campaign, and the Due
Process for All ordinance passed.
We’ve also taken a stand for the institutions that ensures San Francisco remains a city that cares for all. In 2012, our communities fought back when a powerful hospital conglomerate tried to shut down St. Luke’s Hospital, which has long served San Francisco’s Mission District and prioritizes treating immigrants, the elderly, and low-income patients – 90% of whom are on Medi-Cal or Medicare. By collaborating with community groups and labor unions across San Francisco, we even secured a $70 million community benefits agreement from the hospital group, CPMC, and commitments to honor labor agreements with nurses and healthcare workers.
We entered the 2016 election cycle with a strong commitment to continue our work locally against the backdrop of an increasingly troubling presidential race. While the battle on the national front unveiled new levels of right-wing conservatism and normalized hate speech against immigrants, we worked to ensure that San Francisco stuck to our values. Our years of building power within City Hall allowed us to work with electeds to revise and update San Francisco’s decades-old sanctuary policy, preparing the City to stand strong against the immoral and unconstitutional challenges it would face under the Trump Administration.
Our first decade of work has proved that when San Franciscans stand united, we can turn some of our most urgent problems into our most transformative victories.
For instance, San Francisco City College faced an accreditation crisis in 2014 – threatening the very future of accessible and affordable higher education in our city. San Franciscans thrive at City College, whether they’re getting their bachelor’s, fulfilling a lifelong dream of returning to school, learning English as a second language, training in a trade skill, or taking courses for their citizenship test.
Sitting this one out wasn’t an option. We collaborated with organizations and unions across the city to launch a robust defense. With a mobilized army of San Franciscans behind it, City College bounced back from its accreditation crisis and it is now serving more of our residents than ever. We helped pass a measure funding a free City College pilot program in 2016, and just this year helped secure ten more years of stable funding to make City College free and accessible to all.
An audacious vision
In the years since our founding in 2009, San Francisco Rising has established the People’s Platform to guide our community organizing and civic engagement work. Our united organizations share an audaciously progressive and increasingly winnable vision for San Francisco’s future.
We believe in a city where all of us can access quality healthcare, affordable public transportation, and excellent public education opportunities for both youth and adults. The San Francisco we’re fighting for will be a safe and healthy place for us to live – standing against government-supported gentrification, planning for growth in coordination with those of us who already live here, allowing us to afford to live near the places we work, and ensuring that we have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.
And finally, we see a future in which San Francisco puts people before profit, in which corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share, and our budget priorities are shaped by working families, people of color and immigrants, not corporations.
We won’t achieve this vision through electoral politics or civic engagement alone. This work will always require strong organizing efforts on the ground. By implementing a sophisticated electoral strategy paired with a commitment to base-building and grassroots organizing, we’re proving that a new progressive paradigm is possible.
Looking forward to the next decade of this work, we should be optimistic and even bolder.
We’ve built power in San Francisco by building multi-racial alliances across neighborhoods and organizations. Now we’re leveling up – we’re building alliances with Rising groups across the Bay Area, and have formed the regional network Bay Rising. In 2017, we co-founded the Bay Resistance Network, a rapid response network that defends our communities from the Trump Administration’s attacks and brings new people into local movements, led by people of color and those most impacted by right-wing policies.
We’re building power regionally through Bay Rising, and statewide with California Calls for even bigger victories. Our first order of business is passing the Schools and Communities First initiative, which will restore the resources we need for our communities by ensuring that everyone pitches in for each other in California, including the wealthiest corporations. We’re poised to make this a historic win at the state ballot in November 2020. Simultaneously, we know that in order for San Francisco and the state to become the leading edge of visionary politics, we must activate and organize young voters. To achieve that, SF Rising is a founding member of College for All California: this is a campaign to make all four-year public universities free, and importantly, a campaign that prioritizes the needs of low-income students and students of color. It’s the first of many intra-state campaigns we intend to wage for the future of California.
In California and across the country, the corporate stranglehold on our democracy is stronger than ever. This moment requires us to be bold. Our funders and supporters will need to be bold with us. We’re always outspent by our opponents, but that doesn’t stop us from winning or learning new lessons as we contest for power.
We’re on the verge of leveling up, and we’ll need to try things that haven’t been tried before.
We need our supporters to invest in big ideas, like College for All, even when they seem audacious. We need the freedom to fight for policies that take time to win. We need the flexibility to run nimble campaigns that meet the needs of voters, whether that means talking to them about the latest ballot measure or helping them hold elected officials accountable.
People power has driven a progressive movement in our city that seemed impossible ten years ago. With your support, we can continue to empower a progressive future built for the people, by the people, in San Francisco and beyond.
Civic Engagement Work
Through San Francisco Rising, our leaders and affiliates support each other to increase voter turnout within our communities, educate voters, build the capacity to run electoral campaigns, and develop local leaders. Our outreach ranges from canvassing and phone banking to voter registration at college campuses and high schools.
Canvassing and Field Programs
San Francisco Rising is the local anchor for California Calls, a statewide alliance that grows the political power of communities of color. We run civic engagement programs through California Calls two or three times a year, each several weeks long, during which our team of paid and volunteer canvassers speak one-on-one to thousands of voters. During these programs, we do everything from voter education to grassroots lobbying for specific ballot initiatives. We do all of our outreach in multiple languages, typically in Spanish, English, Chinese, and Tagalog.
Voter Registration Programs
SF Rising registers hundreds of young voters and voters of color each year through high school and college campus presentations, tabling, and outreach.
Now, more than ever, it’s increasingly important for us to show up in the voting booths in a powerful way and make our voices heard on the issues that matter to us. Voter registration is a critical part of that, and it’s a necessary step to make sure that young people make voting a habit earlier and often. Evidence shows that when young people vote in their first few consecutive elections they become lifetime voters — ultimately strengthening our democracy. Our youth voter registration programs focus on youth of color, who make up 70% of the millennial generation in California and 50% of whom have immigrant or refugee backgrounds. Many families may lack elected representation in schools and communities if parents are undocumented or non-citizens and cannot vote—making it even more critical that young people of color register to vote as soon as possible and exercise their full voting rights.
We regularly distribute our own voter guides with positions on local, regional, and state measures, often in multiple languages. For the November 2018 election, we distributed close to 10,000 voter guides.
Candidate Forums & Town Halls
We hold public events that put candidates in the hot seat to answer questions from our membership and affiliates and center the issues that our communities face. For example, we hosted candidate forums for the 2018 mayoral election and previous district attorney races. We also host town halls where we gather hundreds of people to discuss issues and policy proposals and co-create solutions.
We train people to become skilled leaders through our canvassing programs. When people participate in our canvassing programs, they gain more leadership skills and have the opportunity to become team leaders. As team leaders, they themselves learn how to manage a canvassing program on their own. The canvassing and outreach skills that we model and teach prepare participants to continue to do community organizing—and be proactive, knowledgeable leaders in these efforts—wherever they go.
A People's Economy
All of us contribute to sustaining our communities. But while San Francisco is home to corporations that make billions of dollars in profit, only a small group of people benefit from this wealth. It is time for the city to put people before profit, for businesses and the wealthy to pay their fair share, and for poor and working-class people of color and immigrants to take leadership in shaping the City’s economy. The City needs to protect and create meaningful work with livable wages for all, and take immediate action to protect the rights of all workers.
Housing Is a Human Right
Everyone should have housing, regardless of our income. But corporate-driven gentrification continues to destroy communities of working-class people of color in San Francisco. City politicos have used land-use and zoning policies to systematically displace our communities, and now the City needs to stand against government-supported gentrification. We need to ensure that everyone who lives in San Francisco can afford to stay here and that the land resources in our neighborhoods benefit our neighborhoods.
Sanctuary stands for safety and dignity in our communities. However, certain city politicians and administrators have pushed so many Black people out of San Francisco through a combination of city policies, redevelopment, discrimination in employment practices, and more. It is time to make San Francisco a sanctuary city for not only for undocumented immigrants but also for other marginalized communities, including Black communities, that have been systematically attacked by government policies and practices, from discrimination and criminalization to incarceration and deportation.
Quality Education for All
All young people deserve the opportunity to learn in schools with the resources and leadership to support their dreams, no matter what their zip code or what public school they attend. And everyone in this city has the right to quality public education as a means for bettering their lives and communities. But certain politicians have chosen to criminalize young people of color instead of breaking down barriers to learning. We must protect quality public education, childcare, and public support for families to make it possible for everyone to learn and thrive.
Everyday people have the right and responsibility to participate in politics and in the governance of our city. But when big money takes over our government, the very wealthy reduce our communities to bargaining chips rather than the constituents of elected officials. Big corporations, banks, and real estate developers are hijacking the laws, institutions, and policies that are meant to serve the people. That’s why we must ensure that everyone who lives in this city can exercise full and independent political power by protecting fair elections and expanding voting rights.
Environmental Justice & A Just Transition
All people have the right to a clean and healthy environment in which our communities can live, work, learn, play and thrive. As CEOs profit from pollution–like the air, land, and water pollution in the southeastern neighborhoods of San Francisco, affecting low-income people, people of color and immigrants disproportionately–and the escalating climate crisis, our survival lies in community-rooted solutions that shift us towards harmony with the earth and with each other. We must transform our communities into healthy, thriving neighborhoods by taxing the biggest corporations and corporate developers and reinvesting in solutions like world-class public transit.
Staff + Bios
Emily Ja-Ming Lee (she/her) is the Co-Director at San Francisco Rising. Emily leads the political strategy and organizational development of the alliance and our staff. In the last five years, Emily has served as Co-Chair and Political Director for the alliance, leading city-wide electoral campaigns with key partners. Emily is a recognized leader in electoral organizing with particular expertise in multiracial alliance-building, community-labor partnerships, volunteer engagement, multilingual field operations, and ethnic media. Outside of work, Emily enjoys hiking, being an auntie, and reading radical science fiction.
Celi Tamayo-Lee (they/them) is the Co-Director at San Francisco Rising. Celi coordinates SF Rising’s affiliate organizations and leads our work organizing students at San Francisco State University, City College of San Francisco, and the University of San Francisco. Celi is a third-generation San Franciscan and grateful to organize in their community. On weekends you can find Celi geeking out about public-political-participatory art, baking broccoli and cashew cheese pizza for friends and family, and relaxing in nature.
Lead Student Organizer
Alex Lalama (they/she) is the Lead Student Organizer at San Francisco Rising. Their love for social movements and studying the history of communities of color helps inform them about student organizing, especially in their pursuit to cancel student debt. Alex organizes with students throughout SF and the Bay Area for economic justice in higher education. Their background in organizing with students of color and formerly incarcerated students affirms that our education should be a human right, not a privilege. She is also passionate about abolition, transformative justice, and healing embodiment work. In Alex’s free time, they enjoy being in nature, long road trips, and reading alongside her cat, Luna.
Communications and Civic Engagement Organizer
Sana (she/her) is the Communications and Civic Engagement Organizer at San Francisco Rising. She helps to keep community members informed about elections and other ways to say civically engaged, as well as sends out SF Rising’s newsletters, manages the social media accounts, and coordinates press outreach. Some of the issues she’s most passionate about include healthcare for all, immigrant rights, and environmental justice, although she will talk your ear off about many others. When she is not organizing, Sana is usually reading yet another dystopian book or trying to stop her dog, Lupin, from eating everything.
Causa Justa :: Just Cause organizes Black and Latinx tenants in Oakland and San Francisco to challenge displacement, gentrification, corporate development, and entanglement of the criminal justice and immigration systems and build a society organized in support of our full human potential.
The Chinese Progressive Association educates, organizes and empowers the low-income and working-class immigrant Chinese community in San Francisco to build collective power with other oppressed communities — and demand better living and working conditions and justice for all people.
Coleman Advocates is a member-led, multi-racial organization working to build a city of hope, justice, and opportunity for all children and families in San Francisco through inter-generational organizing for education equity, racial justice, affordable housing, and voter engagement.
Dolores Street Community Services (DSCS) is a multi-issue, multi-strategy organization that improves people’s lives on an individual level, alongside affecting broader social change by engaging in advocacy and community organizing efforts to address the root causes of suffering and injustice. Dolores Street Community Services works on a wide range of issues—from homelessness to housing to immigration to employment. One of the projects of DSCS is the Women’s Collective (La Colectiva), which was a founding member of SF Rising, and whose members remain active participants. La Colectiva is a worker-run collective that empowers immigrant women, connects them with domestic worker jobs, and trains women to take action for effective and safe cleaning techniques and worker rights.
The Filipino Community Center provides a safe space for Filipino families in San Francisco to access services and build community, and fosters community empowerment, grassroots leadership, advocacy, and organizing to address the issues of our communities locally and in the Philippines.
Mujeres Unidas y Activas is a grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women in San Francisco and Alameda counties with the double mission of promoting personal transformation and building community power for social and economic justice.
People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER), based in the Mission, Excelsior, and other southeast neighborhoods of San Francisco, organizes Latinx immigrant families and youth to exercise people-powered solutions that are locally based, community-led and environmentally just; nurture everyday people’s leadership; regenerate culture; and build community power.
The South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN) is a multi-racial, community-based network that organizes and supports low-income immigrant youth and families in the South of Market and Excelsior neighborhoods as well as in greater San Francisco through leadership development, advocacy, direct services, and referrals.
We love to partner with others. SF Rising is part of the following alliances:
- Bay Rising, a regional alliance that unites 30 Bay Area grassroots organizations building political power among working people and communities of color. SF Rising, Oakland Rising, and Silicon Valley Rising are the local alliances that anchor Bay Rising.
- California Calls, an alliance of 31 grassroots, community-based organizations spanning urban, rural, and suburban counties across the state. California Calls educates and engages new and infrequent voters among young people, communities of color, and poor and working-class neighborhoods to win equality, opportunity, and prosperity for all Californians.
- Power California, which harnesses the energy of young voters of color and their families to create a state that is equitable, inclusive, and just for everyone who calls California home.
- The Bay Resistance Network, a rapid response network that defends our communities from Trump’s attacks and brings new people into local movements, led by people of color and those most impacted by right-wing policies.
- People’s Action Institute, a national organization that advances a long-term agenda for racial, economic and gender justice by investing in powerful state and local organizations and campaigns that win real change in people’s lives. People’s Action Institute supports scalable base-building and leadership development, digital organizing, direct action, nonpartisan civic engagement, independent grassroots fundraising, and issue campaigns that move people on their values and self-interest. SF Rising is an active member of Student Action, a program to organize students across the country and win free college for all.