As Mitch Smith recently wrote in the New York Times, “America’s state capitals are as polarized as they have been in decades, with lawmakers imposing unflinchingly conservative or liberal agendas this year, even in politically diverse places.” To create a just, multiracial democracy amid this polarization, racial equity practitioners in state governments and their partners must work diligently to create an aligned race-explicit vision and strategy that is durable and consistent in its principles, yet tailored and responsive enough in its tactics to endure various political environments and challenges. GARE, in partnership with State of Equity and others, have been convening state practitioners to develop a shared language, create effective strategies, build infrastructure, grow community, and deepen belonging.
We believe the work of uniting, supporting, and equipping our state-level practitioners is critical to the efforts for racial justice across the nation. State-level work creates channels that allow, or block, the flow of policies and funds between federal and local jurisdictions. Ultimately, state governments set the standards and create the environment that our local jurisdictions operate in.
The racial equity field has focused a great deal of its energy on providing resources at the local and federal level. However, legislators are increasingly using state level legislation as a vehicle to define how racial equity will fare at the local level, some seeking to end and others promoting racial equity work. State practitioners, like their counterparts in local government, face internal barriers such as restrictive communications guidelines that slow or limit how they do and speak about their work. In interviews conducted in 2023 by Needle Strategies and State of Equity, one state government employee relayed, “People may not say it directly, but some government staff do work behind the scenes to put up barriers to racial equity work under the auspices of legality, communications guidelines, etc.”
Amid this adversarial climate of state-level legislation meant to undermine racial equity, practitioners began connecting informally and requested additional coordination, support, and resources. These informal requests spurred a major cross-team effort for GARE and resulted in the creation of a States Work Steering Committee with our most closely aligned partners in the work including State of Equity, the Urban Institute, and Elana Needle of Needle Strategies, LLC supported through a contract from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In deep, transformative partnership, we are creating a multi-level response called “The Bigger We.”
With the guidance of the Steering Committee, over the past year GARE, State of Equity, and several state practitioners have collaborated on projects including CCORE (Capitol Collaborative on Race and Equity), States Lab, the Whole of Government Pre-Conference with FIRE (Federal Initiative to Govern for Racial Equity) at Facing Race, and the GARE Statewide Convening in California.
“I am incredibly proud of our partnership with GARE, which has grown from bringing racial equity training and organizing to nearly 60 units within California’s state government to now advancing a national strategy for racial equity at the state level. GARE’s framework, tools, training, and network of practitioners have been a bedrock for our work – and will continue to be foundational as we take our state-level experience and support this work on a national scale.” — Julia Caplan, Executive Director, State of Equity
Despite challenges, the potential for far-reaching systems-wide change is great. State level equity offices are diverse in scope and handle aging to environmental justice to workforce development and everything in between. State level equity offices occupy a wide variety of positions within state government from stand-alone agencies to embedded departments within a governor’s office. We are strengthened and inspired by the work that state practitioners have already accomplished and the boldness they continue to show. As a state government practitioner stated, “It’s people in the government understanding the role they play, and actively owning and being brave leaders for racial equity that is going to transform government. It’s in the implementation- things can be changed from department/agency level.”
In the upcoming year we will continue to align, deepen, and expand the work of the States Work Steering Committee towards a whole-of-government approach for racial equity. If you are a state practitioner, or if you are a local or federal level practitioner interested in a whole-of-government approach, please contact Dalila Madison Almquist or Holly Nickel on the GARE Network portal or at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.