Arena Summit Texas

Austin Marriott South
June 11 – 12, 2022

Arena Summit Texas - June 11-12

Hosted in conjunction with Texas Future Project, the Texas Democratic Party, Battleground Texas, and Annie’s List, Arena Summit Texas will gather 400+ activists, civic entrepreneurs, elected officials, candidates, and community leaders to make connections, forge partnerships, and imagine new ways to move our progressive agenda forward in advance of the 2022 midterms.

If you are motivated by a desire to come together as a progressive community and galvanize change, Arena Summit Texas is for you. Among other issues, we’ll be highlighting the fight for gun violence prevention, reproductive rights and gender justice, voting rights, and better climate change and energy policy, focusing on ways we can work together to build a better future.

Register by June 1

It’s not too late to build a better future. Register by June 1.

Attendees: Please review our FAQ, COVID Policies, and your Agenda.

Meet the Speakers

Alphabetical by last name: A – J  |  K – S  |  T – Z
Speakers are added on a rolling basis. Check back regularly for new additions.

Delilah Agho-Otoghile
Executive Director at Texas Future Project

Delilah Agho-Otoghile is a nationally recognized organizer and strategist with extensive experience in electoral campaigns across the country. She leads the Texas Future Project as the Executive Director, advising and aligning millions of dollars to support progressive civic engagement organizations in Texas. She is also the co-founder of VoteSimple, a digital voter registration nonprofit organization in Texas that’s registered thousands of registering young, BIPOC and queer voters to vote.

For the historic November 2020 presidential election, she served as the National Field Director for Win Justice and a Senior Advisor to the New Georgia Project which successfully helped flip control of the White House and the U.S. Senate. Notably, she was the Texas State Director for Beto for America and in 2018 was the Field Director for Stacey Abrams’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign. 

A native of Houston, TX and the daughter of a Nigerian immigrant, her work is dedicated to ensuring our democracy truly reflects progressive values and the striking diversity of our country.

Jessica Angima
Training Associate at Arena

Jessica is a first-generation Kenyan American cultural producer and healing artist, working in the modality of meditation. In a constant state of process, she facilitates intimate community through the exploration of art, justice, and contemplative practice. She serves as Training Associate at Arena, where she works to support and grow Arena training programs. She has taught for BRIC, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, SELF Magazine, SHAPE Magazine, Google, theSkimm and more. Jessica was a 2019 Create Change Fellow at The Laundromat Project and holds an MA in Arts Politics from New York University Tisch School of the Arts.

Lauren Baer
Managing Partner at Arena

Lauren Baer leads the Arena team in convening, training, and supporting the next generation of candidates and campaign staff. Lauren is a nationally-recognized civic leader who has built her career generating social impact at scale. An attorney and foreign policy expert, Lauren served for six years as an official in the Obama administration, acting as a senior advisor to Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, and to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. In 2018, Lauren was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress in Florida’s 18th District. One of the earliest candidates placed on the DCCC’s prestigious Red to Blue list, Lauren received dozens of endorsements, earned national media attention, and won more votes in the district than any Democrat had during a midterm election. She was supported in her run through the Arena Fellowship. A staunch advocate for diversity in politics and LGBTQ+ rights, Lauren sits on the Board of Trustees of the Florida Democratic Party, the Jewish Democratic Council of America NextGen Leadership Council, and the LGBTQ Victory Fund Campaign Board. She was a 2014-2019 Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. 

Terry Bermea
Executive Director at Battleground Texas

Terry Bermea is a political and organizing strategist. Terry has served in multiple roles to push for change, working for multiple Presidential campaigns, helping enroll Texans in healthcare through ACA, and working with Battleground Texas. In 2020, Terry served as the Texas Organizing Director for the Biden-Harris campaign, managing staff and thousands of volunteers to contact millions of Texans to vote in 2020. She also served as the Western States Organizing Director for the history making Presidential Inaugural Committee where she organized volunteers across 10 states to host service events for the National Day of Service. Terry currently serves as the Executive Director of Battleground Texas, an organization that works to engage, register, and mobilize new voters. Terry Bermea is a native of the Rio Grande Valley and currently lives in McAllen, Texas.

Alex Birnel
Advocacy Director at MOVE Texas

Alex Birnel (He/Him) is the Advocacy Director at MOVE Texas. In his role with MOVE Texas, he leads issue-based campaigns affectIng the lives of young people, building power across the state of Texas. Alex helped found MOVE San Antonio during his time studying anthropology and political science at University of Texas at San Antonio and is also an experienced community advocate and organizer. Recently, Alex has helped in the fight for paid sick time across the state, to pass Cite and release policies in San Antonio and San Marcos, and helps lead in passing voting rights reforms in Bexar, Dallas, Hays, Webb, and Harris Counties. Right now, he’s working to pressure CPS energy in San Antonio to close the Spruce coal plant. In his personal organizing efforts, he helped found the local San Antonio DSA chapter. He also served a year term on the National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America, a 16 member body and the highest political arm of that organization.

Verónica Carbajal
President at Justicia Fronteriza PAC

Verónica Carbajal is a fourth generation fronteriza. Verónica grew up commuting from Juarez to El Paso, where she attended public school and her mom worked. She is a graduate from Brown University with two concentrations: Environmental Studies and Ethnic Studies and The University of Texas School of Law. Since 2004, she has been a lawyer at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. Verónica has devoted her life to social justice, particularly environmental justice, fair and affordable housing, homeowners’ rights, historic and cultural preservation, and animal rights. She is also a children’s book author. She ran for Mayor of the City of El Paso in November of 2020. She is the President of Justicia Fronteriza, PAC, which is committed to supporting progressive candidates and El Pasoans for Fair Elections, SPAC, which is working on ballot initiatives to democratize local elections.

Ben Chou
Voting Rights Attorney

Ben Chou is a voting rights attorney and has worked on dozens of Democratic campaigns. He previously worked as the Director of Innovation for the Harris County Elections Department where he helped create drive thru voting, a service that nearly 130,000 residents used to cast their ballot during the 2020 general election. Prior to that, he worked for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. He co-founded VoteSimple, a nonprofit voter registration organization dedicated to registering people of color and LGBTQ Texans.

Jessica Cisneros
Immigration Attorney and Candidate for US Congress

Jessica Cisneros is a human rights lawyer and the proud daughter of Mexican immigrants running for Congress in TX-28. She grew up watching her parents work hard and struggle to keep a small business afloat, and she’s seen her family and community continue to struggle with many of the same challenges today: lack of access to health care, too few job opportunities, and a broken immigration system. Jessica made a commitment at an early age to become an advocate for families like her own and protect the rights of immigrants and working people. In June 2019, with the support of her community, Jessica launched her campaign to challenge Rep. Cuellar, who is an anti-choice, anti-labor, pro-NRA Democrat who voted with Donald Trump and the Republicans almost 70% of the time in the last Congress. Since her first run in 2020, Jessica has kept fighting for South Texas as a human rights attorney helping detained families who couldn’t afford lawyers navigate our broken immigration system and organizing in Texas to help Democrats take back Congress and the White House. About a month after the election, Jessica started working at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid and the Asylum Defense Project in Laredo, Texas, answering the call to help immigrants and asylum seekers who were affected by Trump’s draconian Remain in Mexico policy.

Rose Clouston
Voter Protection Director at Texas Democratic Party

Rose Clouston has been the Texas Democratic Party’s Voter Protection Director since 2020. She leads the organization’s efforts to educate, empower and support voters as they navigate Texas’s repressive voting laws – and fight back against them. Prior to joining the Texas Democrats, Rose served as the Director of Online Training at the National Democratic Training Committee and as National Coordinator at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. At the Lawyers’ Committee, she oversaw the national Election Protection hotline that supported over 100,000 voters in 2016 and the organization’s advocacy and poll watching work in Pennsylvania, New York, and Florida. When she’s not fighting for voting rights, you might find Rose skating with Violet Crown Roller Derby or cooking delicious vegetarian meals.

David (Dave) Cortez
Director at Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter

Dave Cortez is a 3rd generation El Pasoan now based out of Austin where he lives with his partner and 4 year old daughter. He grew up and learned organizing on the frontera, where industrial pollution, poverty, gentrification, racism and the border wall are seen as intersecting issues. Dave serves as the Director of the Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, and has been organizing in the Texas environmental movement for 16 years. The recent winter storm was the latest example of a crisis of multiple intersecting struggles. While Dave and his family were without power for about 60 hours and without water for several days, the trauma and stress of protecting his toddler daughter from the stress of the storm still lingers. Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Texans had much more traumatic experiences with the storm. Dave is supporting staff and volunteers across Texas who are organizing to center racial justice and equity in their work to win environmental justice, to expand clean energy, and to protect the land and resources so every Texan has access to clean water and clean air.

Rep. Jasmine Crockett
Texas State House of Representatives, District 100

In the midst of political turmoil, economic distress, and racial inequality Civil Rights Attorney Jasmine Crockett laced up her shoes to march for justice and run for the Texas House of Representatives. Though the media has covered Crockett’s boundless efforts to seek justice for high-profile clients, very few are able to witness her quiet relentlessness and genuine safekeeping for these individuals after the cameras and limelight have passed. Her passion for empowering people politically and in justice led to her career as a public defender, county party chair, and civil rights and criminal defense attorney focused on defending our most vulnerable neighbors from unlawful accusations, and exploitation, in the criminal justice system. Jasmine has purposefully made every decision with one goal in mind: protecting the civil liberties of those in underrepresented communities.

Representative Jasmine Crockett earned her BA in Business Administration from Rhodes College, and her JD from University of Houston. She is licensed to practice law in Texas, Arkansas, and Federal Courts. Crockett is the past Bowie County Democratic Party Chair, holds various leadership positions within the legal community, former board member of the Dallas County Metrocare Services, and is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated.

Wendy Davis
Founder at Deeds Not Words

Wendy Davis, once a teen mom living in poverty who went on to graduate from Harvard Law School, has long been an advocate for creating a more fair, just and equal world in which we all can thrive.

As a Texas State Senator from 2009-2015 and a member of the Fort Worth City Council for 9 years before that, Wendy primarily focused on creating access to affordable, educational summer care for children; advocating for greater investments in education, including higher pay for teachers and greater funding for public schools and community colleges, fighting against voucher efforts that would drain resources from public schools, equal pay for equal work, reform of predatory payday lending, protecting the sacred right to vote, and consumer reforms in the electric and insurance industries. 

Wendy rose to prominence when she stood for 13 hours in her pink sneakers, filibustering a law that threatened to close almost all abortion clinics in Texas. After attempting to become Texas’ first Democratic governor in decades in 2014, Wendy later founded the non-profit, Deeds Not Words (a phrase borrowed from the suffragette movement), to activate young women as advocates for gender equity because she has always believed that “talk is cheap” and that only through our concerted efforts and actions will we create the gender equal world that our daughters and granddaughters deserve. Deeds Not Words is on 12 college campuses around the state and has 9 regional voter engagement and turnout managers working in community colleges, technical colleges and the community at large. They are one of 2 statewide organizations in the state with a specific focus on engaging and turning out voters this November who are motivated by access to abortion rights and healthcare.

Danny Diaz
Director of Organizing at LUPE Votes

Danny Diaz is a campaign strategist and organizer advancing the power of working families to harness policy to win transformative change. Born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, he serves as LUPE Votes Director of Organizing where he leads campaigns to win thriving neighborhoods and protect family unity. Previous to this role, Danny advised Jessica Cisneros’s insurgent progressive primary campaign in South Texas’ 28th Congressional District. He also led LUPE’s policy efforts during a major mobilization that secured streetlights and flooding protection for RGV colonias. Danny attended La Joya ISD schools, and graduated with a degree in History from the University of Arkansas.

Emily Eby
Senior Election Protection Attorney & Policy Counsel at Texas Civil Rights Project

Emily is a Voting Rights attorney in Texas. At the Texas Civil Rights Project, she is in her third cycle of the Election Protection program, where she has trained more than 1200 volunteers to provide non-partisan customer service for Texas voters. She also live-tweeted and testified at the endless Texas legislative sessions of 2021, including threads about Pointing Out Voter Suppression (literally), Marvel Heroes Who Can’t Vote in Texas, and Bad Voting Law as a Board Game. Emily enjoys haunted house novels, gel pens, and living 1000 feet from an Alamo Drafthouse.

Nery Espinosa
Managing Director at NEWCO Strategies

Nery Espinosa is Managing Director at NEWCO. Born in Mexico and raised in Texas, Nery is dedicated to amplifying the voices and issues affecting immigrant and diverse communities, working families and marginalized populations in the U.S. and abroad. She believes in the power of storytelling and targeted media campaigns to advance causes that blend social justice and foreign policy.

Nery graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a B.S. in Political Science and Latin America Studies. She has also studied at the Universidad Católica de Quito and Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales in Quito, Ecuador and completed the Washington Semester Program with American University where she interned with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

Kimiya Factory
Central Texas Regional Organizer at Black Voters Matter

Kimiya Factory 23, (She/her) graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio with a Bachelor’s of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Legal Studies.

While Leading/Co-Founding the movement #ChangeRapeCulture, Factory challenges Title IX policies regarding structural violence and sexual misconduct at institutions across San Antonio, Texas. She continues to advocate for Reproductive Justice as a National Speaker for Planned Parenthood.

Factory serves as the President/Executive Director of Black Freedom Factory – an organization that encourages Data-Driven Activism, #RedefiningProfessionalism for BIPOC LGBTQIA+ Communities/youth, and dismantling racial inequity across the State of Texas. Factory is actively working alongside advocates nationwide on issues concerning Voting Rights, Police Accountability, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline in the interest of grassroots efforts for vulnerable populations. Factory is also a Participatory Action Research Fellow for Southwest Folklife Alliance and Identifies as a Queer Indigenous Afro-Latina. She is a recurring political commentator for CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, The Grio and has been featured in The New York Times as well as local Texas news media.

Anika Fassia
Co-Director at We Make the Future Action

Anika is the Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of We Make the Future Action (WMTFA). WMTFA launched in early 2021 to combine strategic communications and coalition building to implement race forward narratives that motivate our base and persuade the middle for wins that allow all our communities to thrive. Anika leads WMTFA’s strategic direction and engagements in partnership with researchers, content creators, labor and community based organizations to bridge narrative and practice through creative implementation. Anika was the former Outreach and Training Director of Race Class Narrative Action where she led the outreach and partnerships of organizations spanning seven Midwestern states. Anika also developed the workshops and curriculum to support organizations in infusing the Race Class Narrative framework into their strategic communications and organizing. Prior to Race Class Narrative Action, she managed the inception of Race Class Narrative with founding principals, Anat Shenker-Osorio, Heather McGhee and Ian Haney Lopez at Demos.

Natali Fierros Bock
Co-Executive Director at Rural Arizona Engagment

Natali Fierros Bock is the Co-Executive Director of Rural Arizona Engagement (RAZE), an organization dedicated to empowering communities in rural Arizona through civic participation, voter education, and youth leadership. Natali has a B.A. from Pepperdine University and a master’s degree in Elementary Education. As a fifth-generation Arizonan, a public school teacher, and mother of three daughters, Natali decided to run for state Legislature in 2018. This experience highlighted the vacuum existing in rural organizing within her state and ultimately became the catalyst for RAZE. She now spends her time working to advocate, educate and collaborate, in and with disenfranchised communities throughout rural Arizona. Natali is also an avid reader, ultra-marathon runner, and Wordle enthusiast.

Vanessa Fuentes
Austin City Council Member

Vanessa Fuentes proudly represents District 2 on the Austin City Council, which includes the diverse neighborhoods of Dove Springs, Del Valle, Pleasant Hill, Dittmar, Easton Park and Goodnight Ranch. It also encompasses Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Circuit of the Americas and McKinney Falls State Park.

Since taking office in 2021 amid the pandemic, Vanessa has fought for improved health and livability by championing issues around COVID-19 response and recovery, climate resilience, transit, creative arts survival and quality of life issues. In addition to tackling these community challenges, she has taken a stand for health equity as vice-chair of the Public Health Committee by sponsoring legislation on community health workers, vaccine distribution justice, mental health services and healthy food access.

Born and raised in Central Texas to an immigrant mother from Mexico and military veteran father, Vanessa understands the unique challenges District 2 constituents face. Beginning her career in the public sector as a legislative aide focused on criminal policy reform eventually transitioning to health care focused advocacy and policy at a national nonprofit, she is a staunch advocate for healthier communities and racial justice.

Rochelle Garza
Civil Rights Attorney and Democratic Nominee for Texas Attorney General

Rochelle Garza is a civil rights attorney and 5th generation Texan from the Rio Grande Valley. Her parents met as public school teachers and together taught Rochelle to have faith, work hard, and that every person is deserving of dignity and respect.

Rochelle became a lawyer for the people and has legal expertise in immigration, family, criminal and constitutional law — fighting for children, immigrants and our most vulnerable.

In a landmark case which received national attention, Rochelle took on Donald Trump, Ken Paxton, and Brett Kavanaugh when they tried to prevent an immigrant teen, Jane Doe, from exercising her right to choose — and won. This case resulted in the reinforcement of reproductive rights across the country with the implementation of the “Garza Notice,” named after Rochelle, which mandates the federal government notify teens in immigration detention of their constitutional right to access abortion care without obstruction or fear of retaliation.

As Attorney General, Rochelle will fight for all Texans. Rochelle graduated from the University of Houston Law Center and from Brown University with honors. Rochelle and Adam, her husband, live in Brownsville with their newborn daughter and their dog, Ramses.

Victoria Gavito
President and Co-Founder at Way To Win

Tory Gavito is President of Way to Win and is responsible for steering the vision and strategy of the power network of donors and strategists. Prior to Way to Win, Tory was the Founding Executive Director of the Texas Future Project. Under Tory’s leadership, the Texas donor table transformed from an idea to a powerhouse institution; established the Texas Future Project Research Center; and developed and financed a strategic plan to make Texas competitive statewide by 2022. Alongside power-building strategists, Tory organized donors around races that culminated bringing the loss margin in Texas to a mere 2-points in 2018, making it a battleground 2020. Tory has a JD from Saint Mary’s University School of Law, was an advocate for immigrants in the workplace for a decade, and grounds her work in movement-building. Tory’s career is inspired by her grandmother and namesake, who immigrated to Texas from Mexico in the 1940s.

Josue Guillen
TX4All Coordinator at Texas Organizing Project

Josué is Technology Director at the Texas Organizing Project, the leading statewide organizing group in Texas, advancing racial and economic justice through community and electoral organizing. Anchored in the three largest metro regions of the state, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, TOP has a base of over 100,000 members and supporters who are reflective of Texas’ growing population – people of color, low-moderate income families. A proud alumni of the Center for Third World Organizing’s Minority Activist Apprenticeship Program, Josué worked as a labor and community organizer throughout the 1990s. A stint with the non profit internet service provider IGC started his shift into supporting movement work with their technology needs. The MayFirst Technology Collective, the Praxis Project, Avaaz and the Center for Popular Democracy have all made good use of his skills and expertise. Josué is a graduate of Wesleyan University and Hunter College High School.

Judge Lina Hildago
Harris County Judge

Lina Hidalgo was raised in an immigrant family. She was born in Colombia, when the drug war still raged and everyone knew someone who had been kidnapped. Her parents had two goals: to make sure she had a good education and to get the family to a safer place. Lina grew up in Peru and Mexico, where her parents were offered job opportunities, before emigrating to America in 2005. Lina is a proud product of Houston-area public schools and, as her parents dreamed, was the first in her family to attend college in the U.S. She graduated from Stanford University with a degree in political science the same year she became a U.S. citizen. Since arriving in Texas, Lina has been committed to giving back.

Before running for office, Lina dedicated hundreds of hours to our county’s most vulnerable communities—from her time at the Texas Civil Rights Project to serving as a Spanish-English medical interpreter at the Texas Medical Center and supporting immigrants in search of lost loved ones. While pursuing a joint degree in law and public policy at NYU and Harvard, Lina conducted research on criminal justice policies and coordinated with advocacy groups and governments to push for criminal justice reform. Before that, Lina worked throughout Southeast Asia to promote transparency and accountability by supporting journalists, bloggers and artists.

Rep. Gina Hinojosa
State Representative HD 49 (Austin)

First elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2016, Gina Hinojosa proudly serves the constituents of District 49 in the heart of Austin and the Central corridor of the Texas capital city.

During the most recent 87th Legislative Session, Gina was re-appointed to serve as Vice-Chair of the Human Services Committee and as a member of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Gina proudly passed legislation and budget riders focused on defending voting rights, public education, clean energy, and more.

Gina is a native Texan and a proud product of public schools. She came to Austin to attend The University of Texas and graduated with Honors with a Plan II Government Bachelor of Arts degree. She received her law degree from George Washington Law School in 1999 and was licensed that same year. With the exception of her years in law school in Washington, D.C., she has called Austin home ever since.

Chris Hollins
Former Harris County Clerk and Candidate for Mayor of Houston

Chris Hollins has shown what local government can achieve when new ideas and accountable leadership are met with real purpose. Chris led the 2020 elections effort in Harris County as County Clerk and gained national acclaim for protecting and expanding voting rights for 2.5 million Houston-area voters during the most important election in our lifetime. His innovations – which included drive-thru voting, 24-hour voting, online mail ballot tracking, and tripling the number of early voting centers–led to eye-popping record voter turnout despite the ongoing global pandemic.

Rep. Donna Howard
Texas House of Representatives, District 48

Representative Donna Howard has served in the Texas House of Representatives since 2006. She is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and State Affairs Committee.

A native of Austin, Donna earned a Bachelor’s degree in nursing and a Master’s degree in health education from the University of Texas. She worked as a critical care nurse at Brackenridge and Seton hospitals, and served as Austin’s first hospital-based Patient Education Coordinator. Donna is a past president of the Texas Nurses Association (District 5) and was a health education instructor at UT.

Donna was elected to the Eanes ISD board in West Austin for the 1996-1999 term. She has served on the boards of Austin Area Interreligious Ministries, Common Cause Texas, Texas Freedom Network, and the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. She now serves as a board member of the Expanding Horizons Foundation, supporting low-income housing and education.

Becca Israel​
Development Director at Arena​

Becca leads Arena’s fundraising efforts. They have spent the past decade working to promote progressive causes and marginalized voices. Prior to Arena, they helped manage philanthropic engagement and strategy throughout the East Coast and Midwest for the c3, c4, and PAC of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, the leading national Jewish organization focused exclusively on social and political change in the U.S. In the 2018 election, Bend the Arc’s PAC endorsed 40 candidates for U.S. House and Senate and had 32 winners, including 16 seats that flipped from R to D. Before joining Bend the Arc, Becca lived in the Bay Area and worked on the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Becca lives in Maplewood, NJ with their wife and two sons and sits on the New York Advisory Board of the New Leaders Council and Bend the Arc’s Finance Committee.

Rachel Gita Karp
Program Director at Unstoppable Voters at the Center for Artistic Activism

Rachel Gita Karp (she/her) is the Program Director of Unstoppable Voters at the Center for Artistic Activism. Through Unstoppable Voters, Rachel supports bold, strategic, and ambitious organizations, people, and projects that protect the freedom to vote with creativity and innovation. She’s helped over 50 pro-voter groups and over 300 artists and activists via training, community-building, mentorship, and more. This work builds off of and feeds Rachel’s background making activist performances for voting and voters, reproductive freedom, and increased gender representation in politics. www.c4aa.org/unstoppablevoters | www.rachelgitakarp.com

Lawanna Kimbro
Managing Director at Stardust Fund

Lawanna leads Stardust’s philanthropic investment in leaders, organizations, and progressive social movements, using diverse and innovative strategies to catalyze change, build power, and support thriving communities. She has more than 20 years of leadership experience within social service agencies and nonprofit organizations aimed at improving the lives of the most vulnerable in our communities, most recently serving as Chief Program Delivery Officer for the NYC Department of Homeless Services, Deputy Commissioner for Outreach, Rehousing and Landlord Management and Chief Program Officer at the NYC’s Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Prior to her leadership within New York City government, Lawanna worked as an attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative, where she focused on juvenile justice, anti-poverty, and anti-discrimination initiatives that challenge the legacy of racial inequality in our country. Lawanna serves on the boards of Brooklyn Community Foundation, Children’s Rights, and Think of Us. She holds a MPA in nonprofit and public management and a MA in mental health counseling from New York University, as well as a JD from Georgetown University Law Center. Lawanna is based in Houston.

Julia Leitner
Director of Training at Arena

Julia leads Arena’s staff and candidate training work, including Arena Academy. She has developed content and managed training programs for Arena Academy, Arena Academy 201, and Campaign Academy 2020, the first-ever volunteer training held at the Democratic National Convention. Previously, she worked as Training Director for Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 campaign in California and ran a unique distributed organizing and training program. She managed a team that trained over 1,500 volunteers in person and online. Before joining the Warren campaign, Julia was Director of Training with Arena and helped launch the inaugural Arena Academies in 2019 and then pivot them online in 2020. In 2018, Julia worked with Arena to support staff and candidates across the U.S. She has designed and led training programs for candidates, staff, and volunteers. She has over a decade of labor and electoral campaign experience with SEIU, UAW, Hillary for America 2016, and Tom Udall for Senate 2008. Julia graduated from Harvard with a degree in Latin American History and Literature. She speaks fluent Spanish. When she’s not organizing and training, Julia can be found rock climbing, skiing, or hiking somewhere in the Southwest.

Dyana Limón-Mercado
Executive Director at Planned Parenthood Texas Votes

Dyana Limon-Mercado (she/hers) is the immediate past-chair of the Travis County Democratic Party and the current Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. Born and raised in Austin, Dyana and her family have lived in the Travis County community for more than 130 years.

In 2018, 48,627 Travis County voters elected Dyana as the Travis County Democratic Party Chair, the first Hispanic person — of any gender — to do so. As Chair, Dyana innovated and expanded voter education and outreach efforts, and helped Travis County to achieve record voter turnout in a midterm election. 

She earned her MBA from the University of Texas at San Antonio and her BBA from Texas State University. She graduated from Austin High School and is raising her two daughters in South Austin with her husband, near the same neighborhoods her parents and grandparents grew up in.

Colleen Loper
Senior Director of Political Strategy at Way to Win

Colleen is a queer feminist who has been working to empower women, young folks, and communities who haven’t been lifted up across the nation. She most recently served as Deputy Director of the Texas Future Project where she advised major donors on how to best leverage investments in Texas infrastructure to build independent political power while also strategizing how to win near-term elections for long-term people power. Colleen has worked in many fields of campaign work from field to communications to political, having managed campaigns as well as recruited and trained pro-choice Democratic women to run for office. She knows that the strategy of winning close races lives in the creative space where data meets culture. She is a fourth-generation Texan from a union home, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Women Donors Network Reflective Democracy Grantee, and an alumna of the Obama campaign and Annie’s List.

Terry Marshall
Founder at Intelligent Mischief & Center for Artistic Activism Alumnus

Founder/Creative Director, is an artist, strategist and cultural studies scholar living in Brooklyn by way of Barbados and Boston. He has 20-plus years of experience as a labor and cultural organizer and previously founded the Hip Hop Media Lab and Streets is Watching. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab Civic Media Fellowship and an alumni of the Laundromat Project Creative Change Fellowship. Terry loves movies and comics and is a #WalkingDead superfan.

Jane Mantey
Race/Class/Gender Narrative Coordinator at Texas For All

A first generation, queer Ghanaian-American born to working-class immigrant parents, Jane (She/They) has spent the last decade organizing and advocating for racial equity, environmental and climate justice, and tenants rights. In their new role as Texas For All Race/Class/Gender Narrative Coordinator, Jane provides strategic communications guidance, narrative training and technical assistance on the RCGN framework to Tx4All coalition members, and co-develop narrative and culturally-driven communication strategies that link our progressive movements and bases across the state so we can reclaim political power for everyday Texans of all different races and from different places. A two-time historically Black college/university (HBCU) graduate, she also received a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne, MD, where she found her voice and fighting spirit. Jane is also a proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated. Jane is currently living in Fort Worth, TX with her wife, son, and two dogs.

Rosann Mariappuram
Executive Director at Jane's Due Process

Rosann Mariappuram (she/her) is the Executive Director of Jane’s Due Process, an organization that fights for teens’ reproductive rights in Texas and helps young people confidentially access abortion and birth control. She has been working in reproductive health, rights and justice for the last 10 years on the national and state level. Rosann is a graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, City College of New York and New York University. She is originally from Ohio and is the proud daughter of immigrant parents.

Rae Martinez
Texas Rising Senior Director at Texas Freedom Network

Rae Martinez serves as the Texas Rising Senior Director at the Texas Freedom Network. In 2013 Rae took their first step as an organizer in the fight to pass the Non Discrimination Ordinance in San Antonio. After the ordinance passed, and as a non-binary latinx Texan, they realized that they needed to continue to work towards progressive change and in 2014 they became an organizer for Battleground Texas on the Wendy Davis campaign. In 2015, Rae found their home in the Texas Freedom Network as the Regional Field Coordinator for San Antonio and San Marcos. At the Texas Freedom Network they focus on building power among young people of color, and in 2020 they led Texas Rising to conduct the largest youth voter engagement program in Texas.

Shaniqua McClendon
Senior Political Director at Crooked Media

Shaniqua McClendon has worked in politics for more than a decade and currently serves as Senior Political Director for Crooked Media, home to the popular podcast, Pod Save America. In this role, Shaniqua led the creation of their voter engagement program, Vote Save America and volunteer engagement program, Adopt a State, which educated millions of voters, recruited hundreds of thousands of volunteers and raised millions of dollars for progressive causes and candidates. Prior to Crooked Media, Shaniqua worked on Capitol Hill, serving as a policy advisor to Senator Kay R. Hagan and Congresswoman Alma S. Adams. Shaniqua earned a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications and a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She is also an inaugural Leader of the Year Anthem Award recipient and was a fellow at the USC Center for the Political Future.

Christian Menefee
Harris County Attorney

As the Harris County Attorney, Christian D. Menefee is the chief civil lawyer for the largest county in Texas. He is the first African-American and the youngest person to serve in the position.

Before serving as Harris County Attorney, Christian practiced in the Houston offices of two international law firms, focusing on business litigation and corporate investigations. In private practice, Christian also focused heavily on pro bono work, including advising the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, advising immigrants and their families at Bush Intercontinental Airport during the “Muslim ban,” and working with Texas Appleseed on expanding alternatives to involuntary commitment for the mentally ill. Additionally, he completed a fellowship with the Harris County Public Defender’s Office.

The son of two veterans, Christian attended public schools in Harris County and was the first in his family to attend college. He is a graduate of The University of Texas at San Antonio, and Washington University St. Louis School of Law.

Esosa Osa
Deputy Executive Director at Fair Fight Action

Esosa Osa serves as Deputy Executive Director of Fair Fight Action, a voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, where she manages the organization’s research, communications, political, and organizing portfolios. She also leads the organization’s pro-democracy reform efforts, with a focus on policy reform and combatting disinformation and political violence. This follows her work as the Campaign Manager and Chief of Staff for a top 2018 U.S. Congressional election. Prior to her time in politics, Esosa was a Portfolio Manager at BlackRock— where she managed a wide array of fixed income products, analyzed monetary and fiscal policy, and led firm-wide research on housing, healthcare, and inflation modeling. Esosa is a native Ohioan and a graduate of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Ana Ramón
Interim Executive Director at Annie's List

Ana Ramón was born and raised in San Antonio, TX. She began her legislative career with Texas State Rep. Joe Farias who represented the southwest and northeast portions of Bexar County. Starting as a district aide she eventually became his chief of staff and served two sessions working on behalf of Texas House District 118 and its constituents. She managed the legislative agenda for Rep. Farias with a focus on public education, veterans and criminal justice.

After Rep. Farias retired in 2015, Ana was named Executive Director of the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee where she worked with Texas Legislators and allied organizations to elect more democratic members to the Texas House of Representatives. She then had the privilege to lead the Texas Legislative Study Group, where she managed a team of 10 Masters of Social Work students who analyzed legislation and its potential impact on Texas families. She has also held different advocacy positions within both the healthcare and public education sectors. Most recently, leading a coalition of more than 100 organizations to defend against the “anti-critical race theory” attacks meant to dismantle diversity, equity, and inclusion in our classrooms.

Prior to joining the Annie’s List team, Ana was the Executive Director of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus. There she worked with Chairman Jose Rodríguez and members of the caucus to fight for a progressive legislative agenda and prioritize Texas working families. Including, working with the Senators and allies to keep Greg Abbott’s nominee for Secretary of State from being nominated after an attempt to purge voters from the rolls. Ana Ramón is the eldest of four children and lives in San Antonio with her partner and two cats.

Cecile Richards
Activist

Co-chair American Bridge, co-founder of Supermajority, former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, NYT bestselling author of Make Trouble, and lifelong organizer for women’s rights and economic justice.

Emmett Schelling
Executive Director at Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT)

Emmett Schelling is a trans South Korean immigrant by way of foreign adoption and currently serves as executive director of Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT). While his primary focus of work is on trans issues, his leadership is informed by the knowledge and lived experience that trans individuals are not impacted by single issues, but rather a myriad of issues that often manifest themselves in oppression and marginalization.

Before entering into social justice movement and nonprofit work he came from corporate management after studying Business Management and Marketing in college. He felt compelled to invest deeper into the ongoing work towards collective liberation of trans folks after taking on various levels of community organizing and engagement, along with experiencing a series of eye opening events that pulled him into advocating for trans Texans.

In addition to serving as the Executive Director of Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT), he is also a part of the Community Council for Transform Houston, board member of Deeds Not Words and House of Tulip (HoT), a member of Transgender Law Center’s (TLC) T4All national cohort, and currently serves as Co-Director for the TransFORWARD, a statewide trans powered research collective in Texas with Texas Health Institute, TENT, and Equality Texas. He was a 2020 Trans Justice Funding Project (TJFP) Grantmaking Fellow. He resides in Houston with his fiancé, child, and two adopted pups.

James Slattery
Senior Staff Attorney at Texas Civil Rights Project

James Slattery serves as a senior staff attorney with the Voting Rights Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project, leading the organization’s voting rights advocacy at the Texas Legislature. Previously, he also led TCRP’s initiative to boost high school voter registration rates in Texas and encourage voting and civic participation by young voters. Slattery originally came to Texas as deputy voter protection director for the Wendy Davis campaign in 2014 and worked on voting rights issues on President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign. He also served in the Obama administration as director of the Office of the Executive Secretariat at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Slattery practiced law as an associate attorney at Wiley Rein LLP from 2007 to 2012 and served as a law clerk for a U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge from 2005 to 2007. He graduated from Pepperdine University School of Law in 2005.

Rep. James Talarico
Texas House of Representatives, District 52

Representative James Talarico is a former public school teacher first elected to serve in the Texas House of Representatives in 2018. Born in Round Rock, Rep. Talarico attended Wells Branch Elementary School, graduated from McNeil High School, and still worships at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. He earned degrees from The University of Texas at Austin and Harvard University before teaching middle school on the Westside of San Antonio. He currently serves as the youngest member of the Texas Legislature, sitting on the Public Education Committee, the Juvenile Justice and Family Issues Committee, and the Calendars Committee.

During his two terms in office, Rep. Talarico has passed historic progressive legislation including the most significant reform to the state’s school finance system in 20 years, a sweeping bill to improve early childhood education across the state, the first-ever cap on pre-K class sizes in Texas, a ban on reality TV policing, a policy to open up millions in funds for social-emotional learning programs, a cap on insulin copays, and a law requiring all incarcerated minors in Texas be given the opportunity to graduate with a high school diploma. For these accomplishments, Talarico was named one of the Top 10 Best Legislators by Texas Monthly magazine.

Cathy Torres
Organizing Manager at Frontera Fund

Cathy Torres (she/her/hers/ella), 26, has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Biology from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Cathy is an Advocates for Youth alumnus who participated in Young Women of Color for Reproductive Justice for a span of 4 years. She now serves as a member of Advocates for Youth’s Board of Directors. She has 7 years experience in community organizing with a focus on social and reproductive justice. Cathy has been a volunteer with Frontera Fund, the Rio Grande Valley’s sole abortion fund, since 2016 and joined the Frontera Fund Board of Directors in 2019 where she worked as the lead helpline volunteer and event planner. She has since come on as full-time staff with Frontera Fund as the Organizing Manager. She also serves on the Board of Directors of South Texans for Reproductive Justice, a community organization advocating for Reproductive Justice in the Rio Grande Valley. Cathryn previously worked as a Youth Medical Case Manager for 2.5 years at the Valley AIDS Council, aiding youth living with HIV in her community.

Brandon Turner
Senior Regional Director at Run for Something

Seasoned political organizer with well over a decade of campaign management experience. Former Head of Campaigns at Sister District Project. Served as Director of Candidate Development for a national advocacy group that helps teachers run for office. And proud Texas Alum (Hook ’em Horns). Brandon specializes in working with first time candidates, is passionate about access to education, and really dislikes Vienna sausage.

Jesús Valles
Poet

Jesús I. Valles is a queer Mexican immigrant, educator, storyteller, and performer based in Austin, Texas, originally from Cd. Juarez, Mexico.  Jesús holds a Master’s in Communication Studies from California State University, Long Beach, with a focus on performance and qualitative research methods. Jesús is a recipient of the 2018 Undocupoets Fellowship, a fellow of The Poetry Foundation and Crescendo Literary’s 2018 Poetry Incubator, runner-up in the 2017 Button Poetry Chapbook Contest, and a finalist of the 2016 Write Bloody Poetry Contest. Their work has been published in The Shade Journal, The Texas Review, and The New Republic (forthcoming). Jesús currently teaches social and emotional learning to high school students, focusing on those recently arrived to the U.S.

Blair Wallace
Reproductive Freedom Policy & Advocacy Strategist

Blair Wallace is a policy & advocacy strategist for the ACLU of Texas, where she works on reproductive freedom as part of the Sexuality & Gender Equality team. Blair leads the Texas Abortion Access Network (TAAN) for the ACLU of Texas, which she co-founded alongside twelve other Texas abortion organizations. TAAN is building an advocacy movement for abortion across Texas, a state where local and state leaders have imposed some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

In her earlier work at the ACLU of Texas, Blair launched the Anthony Graves Speakers Bureau with Texas Southern University, worked on the annual Reproductive Freedom in Action Conference, and supported the organization’s work on district attorney races across the state. Prior to joining the ACLU of Texas, Blair was a community organizer for universal pre-K in Alief and Aldine and a student organizer at the University of Houston, where she studied political science. Blair’s strength as an organizer is informed by the many different jobs she held before becoming a professional advocate.

Blair is alumnus of the New Leadership Council class of 2021 in Houston.

Luke Warford
Democratic Nominee for Texas Railroad Commission

Luke Warford is the Democratic nominee for Texas Railroad Commission, the statewide regulatory body that oversees the Texas oil and gas industry and has been called “the most important climate election in the country” because of the Commission’s ability to curb greenhouse gas emissions and influence national oil and gas output. Luke is an economist and political operative who has advised global energy companies, worked to fight online harassment and misinformation, and led one of the largest voter registration campaigns in Texas history. At 32 years old, he is the youngest statewide Democratic candidate in Texas in more than 30 years.

Jonae Wartel
Managing Director at Arc Initiatives

Jonae Wartel is an organizer, trainer and innovative leader with over a decade of experience empowering communities and inspiring change. She currently serves as Managing Director at Arc Initiatives, a public affairs and communications firm based in Washington, D.C She previously served as the Democratic Party’s Runoff Director for the GA Senate Runoff Elections, flipping the balance of power in the US Senate. During the 2020 cycle she served as Vice President of Elections and Advocacy at More than a Vote, a coalition of black athletes combating voter suppression and systemic racism. Originally from Marietta, GA; she first began her work in Georgia with local candidates as a deputy at the House Democratic Caucus. She served as southern Regional Director for the Democratic National Committee (2017-2019); Chief Program Officer at Organizing Corps 2020, an initiative focused on training 1000 organizers for the 2020 presidential election in key battleground states including Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Arizona and in leadership roles on the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Presidential campaigns.

Shannon Watts
Founder at Moms Demand Action

Shannon Watts is the founder of the nation’s largest grassroots group fighting against gun violence, Moms Demand Action. With over 8 million supporters and a chapter in every state, Moms Demand Action and its partner, Everytown for Gun Safety, have stopped the NRA’s priority legislation in statehouses roughly 90% of the time, and passed hundreds of gun safety laws across the country, changed corporate policies and educated Americans about secure gun storage. Watts is also an active board member of Emerge America, one of the nation’s leading organizations for recruiting and training women to run for office, and Advance Peace, a prominent community-based organization that works to end cyclical and retaliatory gun violence in American urban neighborhoods. Her book, “Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World,” was released in May of 2019 and is now available in paperback.

Porsha White
Vice President of Voting Rights at End Citizens United/Let America Vote

Porsha White is a lifelong organizer and political strategist. She has worked on political campaigns on all levels, from mayoral to Presidential. In 2014, Porsha worked as the Public Policy Manager at Planned Parenthood Southeast, then became the National Political Director at Let America Vote. Recently, she was the Deputy Political Director for Deval Patrick 2020 before joining End Citizens United/Let America Vote as the Vice President of Voting Rights and State Organizing. Porsha is a native of Jackson, Mississippi, and is now a resident of Decatur, Georgia.

Sissi Yado
Executive Director at Texas for All

Sissi has over 10 years of experience working at the nexus of legislative policy making and political campaigns. They’re best known for their organizing work across the state of Texas and efforts to empower people to take action during key legislative moments. They currently manage a cross-movement coalition made up of progressive and justice-centered organizations dedicated to the advancement of civil rights and democracy doing work across 12 issue areas including access to abortion, climate justice, equality, labor, and voting rights. Sissi was raised by their sweet, affirming grandmother in the South Texas Borderlands and lives in Central Texas with his partner and two very stubborn dogs.

Crystal Zermeño
Former Director of Electoral Strategy at TX Org Project

Crystal Zermeño, a 12th generation Tejana, has worked for over twenty-two years in labor, politics and community organizing. Crystal is currently an independent consultant in strategic organizing and electoral campaigns. Most recently, she served as the Director of Electoral Policy for ten years with the Texas Organizing Project where she was responsible for building and managing TOP’s multi-million dollar electoral operations to help build power for communities of color in Texas. Crystal spent over seven years in the labor movement in California and Texas as a political organizer, strategic researcher and corporate. She has worked as staff on a number of political campaigns and independent expenditure campaigns across the country. She is a native of Houston, TX and a graduate of Stanford University. She is on the board of PowerPAC.org and United for Respect.

Rep. Erin Zwiener
Texas House of Representatives, District 45

Erin Zwiener is an author, educator, and conservationist who is currently serving her second term in the
Texas House of Representatives. She’s committed to fighting for our Texas values of healthy
communities, inclusivity, and common sense government.

She holds a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Conservation, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative
Writing, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion. She lives in Driftwood with her husband Quincy,
daughter Lark, a dog, three horses, a mule, a pony, a pig, and too many chickens.

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Republicans have spent decades cultivating talent and investing for the long run, and right now we’re paying the price. Republicans control 30 state legislatures, 28 governors mansions, and are just a few seats away from regaining control of Congress. Together with an activist Supreme Court, they’re enacting policies that turn back progress on everything from abortion to voting rights to climate change. 

Arena is building a new generation of political leaders who will lead the fight to save our democracy and build progressive power for the long run. It’s going to take all of us to make change. Join us in this work.

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