This is the first piece in a new Forge series — What’s Your Power Analysis? — in which veteran organizer Deepak Pateriya talks with organizers and movement leaders about the power analysis that guides their work, the power they’re trying to build and exercise, how it’s going, and how they know. 


When I first conceived of the idea for this series, I knew that I’d want Doran Schrantz to be one of the organizers I interviewed. The organization Doran leads, Faith in Minnesota, describes itself as “a multiracial, democratic, community organization representing thousands of people of faith and values across Minnesota, drawn from childcare centers, barbershops and beauty shops, and Christian and Muslim faith communities.” Faith in Minnesota is the 501(c)(4) sister organization of ISAIAH.  During my time at Community Change and Community Change Action, I had the privilege of collaborating with Doran and Faith in Minnesota on a number of occasions, including on our shared national child care campaign as well as the 2020 national Win Justice voter engagement collaboration.

Faith in Minnesota made an important leap forward in its exercise of statewide political and governing power during the 2018 Minnesota Gubernatorial primary race. Building on years of deep base building across many parts of the state — in the Twin Cities, the suburbs, and “Greater Minnesota” — they were able to assert a powerful independent role in the primary by having 132 of their members elected as delegates to the state convention of the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party. (Minnesota does have the best-named state Democratic party!) That was over 10% of the convention delegates, and gave Faith in Minnesota members and leaders a visible and institutionally strong role in the DFL party’s nomination and decisions that year.  

It’s a telling moment — one step in the larger story of how Faith in Minnesota, along with strategic allies across the state, has built and wielded electoral and policy-making power. Some of what you’ll hear in this interview is how Faith in Minnesota members have been exercising power and navigating policy agendas with the Democratic statewide elected officials who eventually won that 2018 election, as well as with the currently divided state legislature.

I’ve always experienced Doran as one of the smartest and most self-aware organizers I know — especially about the central questions animating this series. What is your power analysis? And how are you doing on building and exercising the power you need to win? As you’ll read, and as Doran would be first to point out, one key part of the power of Faith in Minnesota is the breadth of strategic smarts among its members, leaders, and staff, not just Doran. They’ve built a culture and practice of honestly analyzing power — theirs and others’ — and constantly learning from wins and losses.

The following is an edited and condensed transcript of our interview, conducted over video call and email. I welcome thoughts, reactions, questions on this series, as well as ideas on other organizers I should interview. Email me at


Tell me about Faith in Minnesota’s power analysis. 

The core challenge to building statewide power in Minnesota is that you have a majority white state — including a majority white Democratic Party and an electorate that is still very much majority white. I think it just got below 90 percent in 2020.

So there's a gap in power between the emergent power of BIPOC communities and the older, whiter part of the Democratic coalition and wider electorate. There's very real emerging power of Black, brown and new immigrant communities, and that gets manifested in particular elections, like [US Representative] Ilhan Omar. There are Hmong and Somali communities, there are different immigrant communities that have built significant electoral, political power. And among Black Minnesotans, you have both Black immigrants and Black African Americans. Black Minnesotans are the targets of an enormous amount of anti-Black, politically weaponized attacks. And the Black immigrant community, they're mostly Black Muslims, which makes them a target of both anti-Black and Islamophobic attacks.

You have a changing state. So the reactive politics — to racial demographic change and the emergence of multiracial power  — is what we're dealing with at almost every level. We're dealing with it electorally. We're dealing with it politically. We're dealing with it in institutions. We're dealing with it at the state legislature. It feels to people like a cataclysm of change, even though anyone who's from the state of California who came here would be like, it is so white! 

What I'm saying is, Minnesota is in a struggle about whether or not we're going to become a multiracial, democratic, pluralistic state with a policy agenda to match that emergent coalition. That is the struggle we're in at almost every level. 

If we're talking about statewide power, there really is no path without whites being the largest plurality, for now, of the democratic, multiracial coalition. To build the statewide power to govern, everyone has to be committed to robustly invest in and build, over the next 10 years, the political power of BIPOC communities while also sustaining a strong base among liberal to progressive whites. 

So then, the two lenses to me about statewide political power are statewide electoral campaigns, like statewide offices, and then policy-making in the state legislature. And just those two lenses give you very different math. It’s an even more different picture if you look at just Minneapolis or St. Paul — different coalitions but the same struggle over how to hold a multi-racial, governing coalition that can hold its own against increasingly reactionary, white politics. Statewide, Democrats have an advantage, and it's a geographic advantage and it has to do with the Twin Cities. Minnesota is 6.5 million people. And something like 70 percent of them live in the seven-county metro region centered around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. 


But you can't run the legislature or consistently win statewide elections with just those seven counties.

Absolutely not. That's the thing. So, the second question is, how “progressive” can a statewide Democrat be and still be elected? The most recent test run was in 2018 with Attorney General Keith Ellison, who won as a progressive and is a Black, Muslim man. He won by 49 percent to 45 percent. Governor Tim Walz — a more moderate Democrat but not a centrist by any means — won by 54 percent to 42 percent. Walz can wield a different part of the Democratic coalition. But they can both still win. Ellison wins by less. But, the fact is, it is very challenging for an overt progressive candidate to win a statewide primary.


But Ellison can win a primary just because of who he was?

Ellison will tell you how he won it. Energize the progressive base and bridge to the center.  Like, if you don't get some of the building trades, if you don't get the Range Democrats — that's the Iron Range up north — if you don’t get the white liberals as well as the non-activist, broad base of Black and immigrant voters, older Dems, etc. — if you don’t get some coalition of those groups of voters, you can’t win a primary and probably not a general. So, you have to energize the progressive base while being able to reach that other part of the Democratic coalition because the overtly  “progressive” base is 30 percent of the Democratic coalition. It's been about 30 percent in the last few test runs.


Thirty percent of who actually votes in a primary?

In a primary, yeah. In the primary with Biden versus Sanders, Sanders got 30 percent. Erin Murphy versus Tim Walz [in the Democratic primary for Governor in 2018] — Erin Murphy got about 30 percent. So, that is the ceiling right now for an overtly progressive candidate who's trying to win by mostly firing up the progressive base and attempting to expand the primary electorate. Ellison, by contrast, doesn't run his campaigns that way. He absolutely fires up the core progressive base, and then bridges to the broad center of the Party. To be clear, I don’t mean “center” ideologically, I mean center more like “broad-base.”  

So, the conversation we've been having is, as we approach 2026, what do you have to build, not only to win statewide, but to get more Ellison’s into statewide office? So, if you're talking about the power analysis for winning elections statewide as progressive, the question is: with what coalition? What will it take for a multi-racial, racially and economically progressive, political coalition to have that kind of political power in Minnesota? What do you have to be able to demonstrate and communicate to the wider Democratic primary base? And a lot of it is like, “Can that racially and economically progressive 

candidate actually win ?” I think half of it is just that — primary voters just don't think a progressive can win statewide. And many will never want it. 


They don’t believe that the progressive candidate will be able to beat the Republican in a general election?

Right, they think that someone like Sanders will not be able to beat the Republican. We have to ask — is this just a narrative people have come to believe or is it true? It's  probably both a narrative and a little true. And the narrative is about other voters — those voters  in “Greater Minnesota” and the suburbs. People are terrified of losing there. There's hard memory that goes back to when former Governor Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, was elected. Democrats didn't win the Governorship for about 20 years. So, the older Democrats remember that, and they are just very sober about the prospects of an overtly progressive candidate. Especially if that candidate is not a white male. .

So, there's this big fight going on in the Democratic Party in Minnesota about, who are we becoming? 

The electorate right now is not as progressive as a lot of people wish it was — it is not “conservative” either — but it is made up of thousands and thousands of conflicted people who can be moved one way or another based on the climate, the media, the conditions of their daily lives. So, to move this public into a political moment, you need a very clear-headed analysis, strategy, and the capacity to advance. People get really pissed off at our political leadership, and I understand that. But, often, I know exactly who they think they are managing or talking to, and it's not always wrong…politically. I have myself been sobered by the nature of statewide and even municipal elections and the electorate. Over the last five or six years of our electoral experiments, you learn some lessons about where people really are and just how much work there is to do.

Those lessons mean that we, the wider we of our ecosystem, have to take responsibility for narrative, for worldview, for leadership, for the infrastructure in the party but also the community infrastructure, base organizations, candidates, electeds. How are we building and increasing the power behind our orientation, and how are we organizing more and more people who are authentically with us among the wider public? 

To me, the most important reason to do that is the state legislature. We are stuck in the state legislature right now. Republicans control the Senate and Democrats control the House. There is no way for Democrats to control the Senate or maintain control of the House without expanding where we're winning. And that means winning in some places that are not the Twin Cities. And if we do win in those places and add them to the coalition…what is the cost? We cannot win at the expense of critical parts of the multi-racial coalition — short term victories can mean long-term losses. But, regardless, we have to expand the map of what’s possible or we have to resign ourselves to having a ceiling on our agenda. 


What’s your plan to build power and change the electoral realities in those parts of the state?

We and many of our partners believe there is a way to expand the map, carefully, over years that can be grounded in a multi-racial, democratic coalition and still win. The key is to not think only in terms of electoral cycles and to build sustained, community-grounded, place-based, relational power over time. For example, there are places like Rochester or St. Cloud. These are “Greater Minnesota” regional centers, have significant BIPOC communities, some younger people staying due to some stronger market forces or a college/university or both. But it means doing the deeper organizing work, building the capacity of leadership in place, working on issues that are immediately relevant (a city climate action plan, recognizing religious holidays in the schools, local healthcare for immigrant women, ARP dollars to build a well, and so on) and then, from there, testing political capacity. But if the party or a parachute plan to mobilize for an election is the only plan, it actually takes us backward. We need a longer-term horizon, patience, and deep, unwavering commitment to the politics of multi-racial democracy. We have to have the patience to actually do politics, not just slogans and tactical electoral field programs. 


Let’s switch gears to the public policy side of your power analysis and plan. It’s related, of course, but talk about the state legislature and the Governor and the power analysis there.

The state legislature – yes. Let's say you actually have people in state legislative seats. The other thing we think a lot about is, when you're trying to pass policy at the Capitol or get the Governor to do something, your power is definitely related to electoral power, but it's also related to institutional power. Do you know what I mean by that?


I think so, but say more.

There's a set of people, there's a set of institutions that are recognized by the legislative and gubernatorial power structure. They're “in the deal.” 


You mean decision-makers see those institutions as ones they need to take account of before they decide?

Yes — they have to be in the deal. Labor is in the deal in state policy making. They always feel like they're not in the deal as much as they want to be, but they're in the deal. And, to be clear, some labor is more in the deal than other labor. 


How about Faith in Minnesota and ISAIAH?

So, we have also been working on how we creatively use the political power that we've built, and our base power, to establish ourselves over time as one of those institutions — like consistent, institutionalized, sustained, demonstrated power over time. Where do you consistently demonstrate the power of a base? Where do you consistently partner with electeds and policy-makers and also deliver substantive value? Our early education childcare campaign, made up of a base of 512 community-based childcare centers — Kids Count On Us (KCOU) — has two lobbyists. They are technical experts and know DHS [Minnesota Department of Human Services]. We are writing legislation. We are adding to the wider coalition that represents the childcare industry — teachers, advocates, providers, etc. We are behind the scenes and out in public. We are doing communications. We are delivering value in a back and forth relationship with policy-makers around strategy, policy, political position and showing consistent, demonstrated power so that the KCOU base of teachers and providers is one of those groups that has to be in the deal, you know?


What else can you share about your overall power analysis of the state government, especially the legislature, and how you’re building and exercising power in that arena?

We have consistently demonstrated presence at the State Capitol for probably 15 years, but in the last five or six years especially, with the emergence of a much more progressive House majority and with the establishment of the Minnesota Values Project, which is not a “progressive caucus” or a “rump group” but is made up of the leadership of the DFL House members, staff, administration staff, and Senate members and staff along with outside partners such as us, other grassroots organizations and labor partners, etc. It literally is a space that we and many other partners helped organize and we help sustain.


This is the collaboration where Democratic legislators and Democratic legislative leadership themselves engage regularly and directly with movement leaders on priorities and strategy, right? 

Yes, we now have that kind of relationship with the Speaker of the House, top committee chairs, and, to some extent, the Governor's office and the Governor himself. So, I'm just naming that because it’s part of what we've done for the last 10 years. We are building a base and electoral power, but there's also this thing that's about, how do you become an institutionalized, recognized power force that's both delivering value and decision-makers feel like they have to deal with you? Not just like, "Oh my god, they're protesting us!” It also allows for a different kind of accountability. We can have space to talk through more difficult problems of how to hold together such a difficult coalition when the electoral coalition is being wedged apart around race. It’s not perfect, but it can help. 

The challenge ahead, however, is that we may be living with divided government for a long while, and how do we deliver material victories to real people and communities in this context? The essential workers coalition just got a win of $700 compensation for 600,000 frontline workers in Minnesota. We have had significant gains on pay for childcare workers. We have reduced collateral sanctions significantly. Homecare workers are getting wage increases every session. Close to a billion dollars has moved for climate mitigation, green jobs/green development, etc. But big vision bills cannot pass in divided government, and it leaves many who don’t have the direct experience of these gains feeling even more like government doesn’t work for them — and that is understandable. But this four-year period had a significant gain in coordination, inside/outside alignment, shared analysis at the State Capitol — more than I have experienced before, and it could go a lot further. 


You could be a big, undeniable electoral powerhouse but not build all that other capacity and strategic sensibility for the inside game. Then you would be in a different place. And there's the flip side — there is a way to do the second thing (the inside game) with limited or zero actual base raw power, right? There is some of that in our world. Not just from the corporate, big money side, but from liberal advocacy organizations. I’m raising that to ask you: what combination of those two things (inside game and outside or base power) have you all done that's gotten you in the power relationships that you're in? 

That has been a central question because our commitment, or certainly my commitment, in the framework of co-governing has been to ask, can you actually take bases of regular people (for us that means Muslim congregants and Imams and Somali women business leaders or barbers or tenants or congregational members from Red Wing) and make them powerful and politically relevant? And I don't mean that in just an electoral sense but politically significant in a range of arenas and spheres of influence. Can we do that? Or is base “organizing” always boutique? Can you do that in such a way that volunteer leaders or members are building their sophistication and their own strategic skills. You're building that muscular, almost political party-esque infrastructure that is governing and doing political work. Can you build that kind of base and leadership that can wield power and be politically relevant? And even if the decision-makers don't really understand it — because they don't. I don't think any of them actually understand ISAIAH or Faith in Minnesota.


What don't they understand?

The nature of the base and how the base is constructed to wield power. So, they know that it's true, that there is some power there, but from their eyes, Faith in Minnesota is weird. Like, how did this weird faith group become this political force? We don't totally know, but we recognize it. I mean, that's sort of what I imagine is in the minds of many of these electeds. We do this long-form, deep base-building work and want it to be powerful but independently powerful. Whatever we build, it has to own itself and wield its own power and whatever they do in the public arena, the power has to accrue to them and to nothing else. This is why we have been very intentional about how we waded into doing electoral work. We are not someone else’s “field.”


I think you mean, you didn't want to become a vendor for other people's strategies?

Right. We don't want to be a vendor for other people. We don't want to think that our power equals how many new contacts we did for the audience of some political funder’s idea of a voter universe. The conventional wisdom in the dominant electoral practice is that some organizations or leaders have access to a particular community and are paid to be the field — field meaning the cheap, efficient machine for producing “voter contacts”— and, if you can prove your efficiency at making a certain number of “contacts,” that will accrue political power to that community. There is no evidence for this assertion. It may accrue to a politician. It may accrue to the donor. It may accrue to a set of professionals. I do not think it accrues to the community unless you design it so that it does. How much money you spent on an independent expenditure voter program is not a direct translation to that at all. In fact, what might be a better translation is, how many delegates were at the State Senate District Convention that were attached to Faith in Minnesota, and then how many of those people organized other people in relationship with that candidate? Did a candidate actually come from that base of people and then use the base to win the endorsement and then win the election? If we're going to be doing political organizing with an independent expenditure component, how do we leverage our power into the political space and make it visible and recognized by political actors? How do we participate actively and engage within the party, within all of the party infrastructure — infiltrate it but also deliver value to it. 

The key is, whatever the arena you are trying to contest, does your vehicle (organization or committee or configuration) own the power it built at the end of the day? For that to be true, you have to intentionally design the political work so that the members, the leaders, the base is differentiated and independent, not part of someone else’s machine — which means the people themselves have to be co-owners, designers, architects, strategists, not merely volunteers for a cause. You have to embed the ingredients required for agency. This will create tremendous tension around you, but it is necessary tension.  


Let’s turn to some of the other dimensions of power you’ve built and how you think about them.

We did really build out what I would call strategic capacities on communications and on lobbying or policy infrastructure. And the question became, how do those capacities relate to the base and not disempower the base. Lars Negstad [Policy Director for Faith in Minnesota and ISAIAH] does a lot of stuff independently — you've got to let him go do his thing. Most of us are not at the Capitol all day long. But he's always feedback-looping it back and working with the organizers and their bases. He's really, really good about being authentically accountable.

You have to have people who can write the memo, who can operate in the currency of state policy-making. Talking to and coordinating with other lobbyists. Someone that a decision-maker or their staff can call and be like, "I'm pissed off that ISAIAH did blah, blah, blah," and then that person goes, "Well, let me talk to you." Having that kind of capacity attached to our organization, where we're not borrowing it, matters.


And how about on communications?

JaNaé Bates [our Communications Director] is beloved. The legislators love her. She's always training them and their staff on grounded messaging that advances our long term vision but also gets us through the real world political moment. She works with other organizations and organizers and members. She's all over the place. She works with our leaders on telling their stories and writing letters to the editors, and she does all these trainings. She calls her work “communicanizing” and deeply reflects on how she is both a public voice but also cultivating the public voices of hundreds of other people. She is a narrative strategist who grasps that there is no message without the countless people repeating that message to their friends and family and neighbors and, for them to do that, they, themselves, have to be “in on it.” Communications, power-building, and organizing are intimately connected. 


Let’s broaden out again. How do you understand the power being exercised on the other side, and how do you quantitatively understand your power either on a given issue or in the grand battle for the state writ large? 

The question about how you quantitatively know how much power you have is very challenging. There are obvious things you can know — like, did your policy pass? And did you win the election? But I think there are much more interesting things that those of us who are operating politically know, but it's hard for people who are not regularly operating in that world to know. So, for example, if we are pushing for something and then the Chamber of Commerce backed off that thing, that means we have power, but it may not show up in public. Or recently, I had this experience with a very powerful public elected, they actually publicly yelled at me in front of allies about some fairly modest public criticism around the way childcare workers were compensated through the pandemic and ARP funds were being negotiated over — criticism I would not have even imagined this person would have clocked. I was surprised because I was like, oh, this person is actually thinking about us. This was in the context of the state budget. 


That's excellent. Somebody write that date down!

I didn't receive it in the moment like it meant that KCOU has built some real recognition and power, but that's actually what leveraged these weekly meetings with high level people and a team of our members. They were like, “We're not in enough communication. We need to be meeting with you and working with you to manage all of these issues.” These childcare providers and teachers are getting closer to being in the deal and they have leveraged material results out of this process. That is real. But hard to quantify. 


Let’s briefly turn back to your membership base and grassroots leadership — it’s already come through clearly as the core of your power.

Yes, we've done a bunch of stuff to double down on our organizing and base building, to center that in everything about the organization, and to measure that power. How many active members and leaders do we have? How do they enter the organization? What puts people on a real path to leadership and what is merely mobilization? We've done all that stuff. We've also been increasingly intentional about decentralizing strategy and strategizing across our organization.

How do you train and equip more and more people in the organization — members, leaders, and staff — to have a strategic compass, to have a power compass? That's actually the word I use: power compass. We need more and more people, especially as the power grows and we're operating in more arenas. I can't monitor every little thing that's going on down in Rochester — no one person can do that nor should they. That is not what a “director” of an organizing organization does. My role is to provide the infrastructure and space where more and more organizing and strategizing and building can happen with more and more people. In Rochester, Saleh and Jack [ISAIAH organizers] and their teams, they have to be able to do that. So, what is our intentional work that develops the power compass, not only in organizers but in all of our top leaders so that they become strategic operators, political people, political actors in their own right? How do they know how much power we have, and how do they make a judgment about what to do or how to act based on how much power we have? And not just based on our own opinion of our power?


One broader question of power that I wanted to ask is related to everything you’ve said about the Governor and the legislature and the party. There are often smart, sophisticated, dare I say conniving, electeds from “our side” who do some of the things that you just described in a co-opting kind of way. They invite you into meetings and consultations; they put you on advisory committees. But they aren’t really taking you seriously in decisions; they’re just making it look like they are. And they waste a lot of your time and energy in the process. How do you know when you really have some power and are being treated as such versus when it’s the other thing? 

I think there are some folks in the State House right now in Minnesota who are authentically with us, meaning they have an analysis themselves that the only way we're going to get our agenda passed is if we're in a co-collaborative mode, inside and outside. And there is a set of people who have emerged in [legislative] leadership. Then there are others who we may be aligned with on some things but do not have an analysis or a desire to imagine sharing power with constituencies, bases, movements. I don't think it's possible to convert many people on that question. So then, to me, it just becomes, how much power do we have to make them move? Because we just don't have the power to get everything we want. However, I think we have to avoid the temptation of only blaming elected officials for things not moving. We have to take some responsibility for seeing where we do not have power in the real world. Every frustration is a revelation. Public life is extremely exposing and it is an effort to see clearly where we are positioned and rigorously check ourselves around telling ourselves comforting stories about our own rightness. I struggle with this, and it helps to have a real practice in your own organizations or formations to have at least one of your lenses be: what are we learning about how much power we have? What is our evidence? What did we test ourselves against? It opens up pathways to action and possibility. 


What do you know now that you didn't know five or ten years ago? 

There are so many things that I know now that I didn't know. Either it's just because I'm old-old or more wise — depends on who you'd ask. I have a much more sober analysis about what it takes to make things possible. And what it means to be responsible for stewarding power. Not just your own power. If you think about the Democratic/DFL coalition and our broader liberal/progressive coalition to win state power — it's a pain in the ass, but even just yesterday, Lars [Faith in MN/ISAIAH Policy Director] tweeted something, related to this rent issue. Someone who is a significant political actor from another organization texts me at midnight about it. What was up with this bulls**t?  So then, I have to call this person. And my first internal reaction is, you know what? F-you! My second reaction was, this is someone who could play and can play a critical role in moving our whole movement closer to a more progressive, racially and economically just center of gravity. This person is a bridge person and they are trying to stay linked to the center-left and to the multi-racial, progressive part of the big tent coalition, and I can't just say F-you to them. So, I'm navigating that structural reality. I have to try and calculate the costs. I have to look five more moves ahead on the chess board. The geopolitics of this…I have to take some responsibility for it. So I called them, and we worked it out. I feel like the more power we have, the more you become responsible to be a steward of the bigger picture, of the total math of possibility, and it's not always going to be understood by your base or by all of your allies.

I am also very, very sobered by the gap between activists, people like you and me, and those who have a high potential of being organized into the vision we hold. It is a very, very large gap. We can make no assumptions about any group of people being “with us” without the work. Because I think that what we're dealing with in the electorate and in the public right now is hugely complex, and knitting together a multiracial, democratic governing coalition in the context of a very real, weaponized, white grievance, authoritarian political movement in our context is very hard. I think there is an extraordinarily complex set of dynamics that are playing out, and it requires a sober analysis and way more strategic judgment than I have every day. And being in relation, like really deeply in relation to the reality of a place, of a constituency, of a district, and how do you move it to a multi-racial, abundant, justice-grounded vision, you know? That dance is way more complicated than people wish it was. 

So, those are two things that have really changed for me in the last five years.


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