Power, and the lack thereof, is the fundamental cause of inequity, in communities around the world because it maintains and holds those inequities in place. For the many foundations focused on addressing racial, social, and economic inequities, therefore, achieving transformative change means shifting power to the people most impacted by these inequities. But while many foundations are now focusing on building power within communities, funders still grapple with defining and measuring power, and with the question of how best to support community power building.

A report I developed on the role of prosecutorial campaigns in mobilizing and engaging communities of color based on a set of case studies conducted several years ago led me to develop what I call a “power building framework” that may help address those questions. The case studies were each told through the lens of the organizing groups: The People’s Lobby and Texas Organizing Project. The framework emerged empirically from interviews with grassroots organizers and their partners engaged in campaigns to build community power through the election of reform-minded district attorneys (DAs) in two counties, one in Illinois and one in Texas. I created the framework to understand the case study data related to the work organizations conducted leading up to the elections and also related to the work organizations conducted after their candidates won.

After a brief explanation of how organizers and their partners in two counties constructed their electoral campaigns to build power and to hold the elected DA accountable, I’ll provide an overview of the framework, with the goal of informing grantmaking strategies that support organizations building the power needed to advance structural changes that lead to greater equity and justice.

Efforts to elect prosecutors who support criminal justice reform began in earnest in 2016 with Kim Foxx running for DA in Cook County, Illinois, and Kim Ogg running for DA in Harris County, Texas. While these counties had diametrically different political contexts, they shared similar challenges, including a well-funded police union opposition whose narratives equated safety with tough-on-crime strategies. Both counties also experienced movement moments highlighting the systemic racism and injustice of the criminal legal system: In Illinois, the Chicago police killed Laquan McDonald resulting in social uprisings. In Texas, police arrested Sandra Bland for failing to signal a lane change, and she died in a nearby Walker County jail cell.

Read the full article about electoral power building by Gigi Barsoum at Stanford Social Innovation Review.