Fighting for a cause has never been more fun.
Photo by SameSide.
THE GOOD NEWS:
Activism paired with social activities makes for a fun way to connect with a politically engaged community.
In between courses of English pea bisque and roasted Jidori chicken during a recent dinner, a group of 40 strangers were all talking on their cell phones. It’s a typical scene at The Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, but tonight, the callers had a distinct mission. They were each making calls to their senators, asking for support of undocumented youths who were brought to the United States as children, and whose protected statuses under the Obama-era’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are now in jeopardy. For some of these callers, it was their first experience phoning up a lawmaker. And for others, it was their first time meeting DACA recipients, also known as DREAMers, who shared their stories of struggle and activism throughout the evening.
The gathering was part of a Dinners for DACA series helmed by SameSide, a company operating out of L.A. and Denver, with a unique business model that blends social activism with fun, engaging activities. Their goal is to bring budding activists into the fold. For this particular event, each participant purchased a $35 ticket for a casual three-course dinner and introduction on ways they could help DREAMers and their families. SameSide streamlined this experience by providing easy phone scripts and postcards to send to legislators too.
This company’s approach is part of a growing trend of folks trying to find creative methods to build stronger community activism that extends past a one-time march or donation, or the ubiquitous social media slacktivsm that plays out in Facebook screeds.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]We created this to make grassroots political action accessible.[/quote]
Co-founders — and brother-sister duo — David Legacki, 40, and Nicole àBeckett, 36, first came up with the idea of SameSide soon after Donald Trump was elected president. After àBeckett attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. in January 2016, she wanted to figure out a way to sustain that energy and engagement. She had experience participating in politics, having worked under former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and current Mayor Eric Garcetti, but she wanted to create a new form of social engagement. That’s when she partnered with Legacki, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, who had a similar ideas about community building.
“I was working on Airbnb Experiences at the time and I was wondering if there was a way to marry building community and experiences with fun, unique individuals at a local level,” Legacki says.
Photo courtesy of SameSide.
SameSide held their first event in March 2017 in support of Sara Hernandez, a progressive L.A. candidate running for a vacated seat in the 34th Congressional District. Legacki and àBeckett managed to bring out 10 people to phone bank for Hernandez, and topped it off with a local brewery tour. “Everyone was intimidated at first, but by the end of the phone-banking experience, they were joking with one another, giving each other high fives and were able to convert people over to Sara Hernandez’s campaign,” Legacki says.
This test-run showed Legacki and àBeckett that their business model could work, that people just needed an easy entry point into activism. “We created this to make grassroots political action accessible, and [we are doing this] through music, arts and culture events, things that people can relate to and feel comfortable [attending],” says àBeckett.
Since then, SameSide has held a bevy of events with similar letter-writing and phone-banking engagement. They’ve hosted dance, music, and comedy festivals that support refugees, a wine tasting for Planned Parenthood, a yoga class supporting the homeless population, and an urban-garden tour and lunch aimed to aid low-income families.
While SameSide has hosted some free events and are looking into other models, typically their experiences are ticketed, ranging from $15 to $100. These events aren’t fundraisers. Hosts are allowed to set their own prices — 85% goes directly to them, and 15% goes to SameSide for marketing and operations. Legacki and àBeckett says charging for these experiences is crucial to their model.
They’ve deduced that if hosts were to volunteer their time and resources, they wouldn’t be able to put on these events on a consistent basis, so that’s where incentivizing the experiences comes in. The hosts can choose what they want to do with the money, either donating it to a cause or keeping it for themselves.
In return, SameSide asks the hosts to helm these experiences at least twice a month, to ensure they don’t become one-off events. Legacki says they approach leaders from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, as a way to also bring people out to underserved communities and “spark a huge political movement.”
“If they’re hosting twice a month, then those letters start adding up in legislators’ letter-boxes and emails, and phone calls start adding up,” Legacki says.
Photo by SameSide.
Legacki and àBeckett are now working on expanding SameSide to other cities throughout California, Colorado, and North Carolina, and strategizing on new locations where they’ll be most influential for this year’s midterm elections.
There’s still a lot of work to be done, just like for activists and DREAMers Claudia Roldan of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles’ California Dream Network, and Karen Zapien, Dream Team LA's chief policy analyst, who both attended the dinners for DACA event. Their attendance at the SameSide event and their interactions with these newcomers to activism was just the beginning. By helping with SameSide’s indirect action campaign, Roldan and Zapien were not just fighting for themselves, but also for everyone else whose lives are in limbo. Roldan is no stranger to action. Recently she protested in a legislator’s office, where she and other DACA recipients led a chant: “If you don't let us dream, we won't let you sleep.”
That mantra could be a good motto for the mission of SameSide too.