Q & A with an Accountability Expert

Rio Tazewell, Senior Campaigns Manager, People For the American Way discusses memorable campaigns, the significance of the Georgia senate races on federal legislative reform, and mobilizing for a more equitable democracy.

What can you tell us about People For the American Way and your role at the organization?

We’re a multi-issue progressive advocacy organization that focuses on systemic issues like social justice and political equality. We have more than 1.5 million members across the country that we mobilize in support of reforms at the national, state and local level. My role as Senior Campaigns Manager involves coordinating our participation in various reform and advocacy efforts, as well as other special projects and campaigns aimed at advancing our progressive agenda.

Can you tell us about some of your most memorable campaigns? Which one(s) are you most proud of and why?

I just finished up managing a campaign called Enough of Trump, which was a partisan (clearly) campaign run through our 501c4. It was a very creative and interesting campaign in that we partnered with world-renowned artists to produce art using the word “Enough” to convey what people have had enough of with the current administration. We got some incredible contributions, from artists like Shepard Fairey, Carrie Mae Weems and Ed Ruscha, which we used in a multi-platform marketing campaign focused on the battleground states to get people out to vote. We got some excellent media coverage in the process, including from the New York Times, Forbes and the Guardian. Overall, the campaign was a huge success.

Tell us about your very first campaign.

That would be back in 2008 when I worked on a nonpartisan issue campaign called “Power Vote” focused on mobilizing around the issue of clean energy and climate change in the 2008 election. I was in college at the time and it was my first experience managing a campaign on the local level, which was a part of a much larger national effort. Safe to say that it sparked an ongoing passion for campaign work!

What’s PFAW looking forward to the most when the Biden-Harris administration begins in January?

Many different things given that we are a very multi-issue, intersectional organization, but one of the things that we are most certainly looking forward to is having a president and an administration that supports reforms to create a more equitable democracy.

On the congressional front, are there issue areas you will be focusing on when the new Congress begins in January?

Right now, we are doing a lot of work to mobilize support around For the People Act (H.R. 1), particularly through our involvement in another coalition, the Declaration for American Democracy. Currently we’ve got the support of the entire Democratic caucus in both the House and the Senate, and Speaker Pelosi has indicated it will remain a top priority in the House with the new Congress. Obviously, everything hangs in the balance with the run-offs in Georgia. The makeup of the Senate will determine the fate of not just For the People Act but of so many legislative priorities for the Biden administration and for PFAW. But in terms of mobilizing, For the People Act remains a top focus, as it encompasses so many reforms that can help create a more equitable democracy.

Are there any other upcoming projects or reports to be on the lookout for from PFAW?

We’ve got quite a lot on the horizon for us in 2021. On the national level we’re largely waiting to see what happens in Georgia, as it will determine what might be possible in terms of federal legislative reform, but we are assessing opportunities for investing in state-level reforms on a variety of fronts. Also, we’ll be doing a lot of work in Virginia, which has state elections in 2021.

What’s the most beneficial part of being part of Open The Government as a coalition partner?

We love coalitions! The most beneficial part is that being connected to other organizations working on the same and complementary reforms creates opportunities for collaboration and mutual power building, which can generate the political will necessary to win.

What has been your biggest professional triumph so far?

Getting For the People Act to where it is now, having already passed the House of Representatives and primed to continue building support in the next Congress, would rank among my top professional triumphs so far, just being a part of the team that helped make that happen.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

That’s a great question. Probably the best advice I’ve gotten is don’t be afraid to go big. Even if you fall short (which inevitably we all do sometimes) you learn how to go farther next time.