United Vision for Idaho - Boise, Idaho, and Moscow, Idaho
Idaho’s forested mountains and desert scrub are home to ranchers, farmers, and loggers. In recent years, those established sources of employment have provided fewer and fewer jobs for a growing population. Government work, high-tech industries in Boise, and resorts catering to tourists provide a larger percentage of employment, but not without inequities. Workers in this changing state who hope to organize for better pay and working conditions find barriers, as do those urging an increase in civic participation. For example, Idaho is now almost 10 percent Latino, but these residents are overlooked and underrepresented by state government. Another source of concern is the growing income gap between rich and poor.
Seeds of commitment
United Vision for Idaho (UVI) took shape in 1995, when a group of organizations decided to link their efforts to even the playing field for marginalized citizens. One striking aspect of the 24 groups that now comprise United Vision for Idaho is their diversity. Member organizations range from Church Women United to the Idaho State AFL-CIO, to the Idaho Conservation League, to the Idaho Hispanic Caucus. The founders of United Vision for Idaho understood that these groups, many of which are narrowly focused, could increase their effectiveness by creating a multi-issue organization that would consolidate power, expertise, and membership. Together, they could bring voter-rights issues, campaign-finance reform and tax-policy ideas into the public spotlight. UVI’s leaders -- Jim Hansen, Gloria Muñoz, Roger Sherman, Judy Brown and Lucinda Hormel – say their commitment flows from their diverse faiths (Catholic, Buddhist, Unitarian, and Episcopal) and is “motivated by our association with people who share a passion for organizing for social change.”
“Bridge building is at the heart of our work,” write the leaders of United Vision for Idaho. First, UVI helps groups develop the expertise to run effective campaigns in support of their individual agendas. Second, it presents a united front on issues that its 24 member groups have decided are important to all. Third, it nurtures relationships among groups that decide to collaborate on campaigns. Finally, it develops leaders and organizations to address unmet needs in Idaho.
To help small and emerging organizations in Idaho sustain their efforts, UVI provides advice, training, and encouragement. And when UVI’s membership decides an issue affects them all, UVI will marshal forces in a concerted effort. As UVI leaders describe it, “We help put the work of each constituency in the context of a larger, cohesive movement.” One example was the UVI-inspired public debate about tax policy in Idaho, which focused on how tax cuts have affected education, health, and environmental programs. UVI’s analysis of the issues and subsequent public discussion changed the terms of the debate: Ordinary Idahoans joined in calling for a common-sense tax structure and the governor began championing raising taxes to pay for schools. UVI also took part in the public debate about a newly adopted legislative-redistricting plan, which gives Idaho’s Latino voters a stronger voice in elections.
United Vision also encourages start-up organizations and new alliances. It helped form the Fund for Idaho, which seeks to build a base for social-justice philanthropy in the state, and founded the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, Idahoans for Fair Elections, and the Idaho Progressive Student Alliance.
United Vision for Idaho’s organizational chart lists an executive director and program directors, but UVI’s leaders insist that shared leadership and decision-making is key to their success. Like its member organizations, each has a variety of interests and skills that are complementary. Executive director Jim Hansen is a visionary who makes connections among groups. Gloria Muñoz is the financial and administrative manager, but plays a key role in nurturing young Latinos in social change work. As program director, Roger Sherman is an “organizer’s organizer” who expertly brings people together. Having grown up poor, Judy Brown, an economist, knows how to help low-income people talk about the importance of changes in tax and budget policies. With a background in financial management and social work, Lucinda Hormel is a skilled organizer and social worker but is also the teams’ leader on using technology. Together, they help others gain the power and skills to succeed.
United Vision’s principals consider the development of leaders one of their most important tasks. The coalition created the Progressive Leadership Project to identify and support people to become leaders of organizations and candidates for public office, particularly beyond the metropolitan area of Boise.
“We all see ourselves working in the movement for social change for the rest of our lives,” say the leaders of United Vision. Possibilities include leading other coalitions or consulting with similar organizations throughout the state. Increasingly, UVI members and leaders say they may consider running for public office.
More about United Vision for Idaho
“Together, all five have inspired countless people. Their approach is to make sure others get credit. Thus, they are not widely known outside Idaho, and that is fine with them. The work they are doing is gradually transforming this state, and there is plenty of credit to go around.”
- Mary Lou Reed, Idaho State Senator 1982-96
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