Staying Connected: an update on our Alumni Network

About Us: Progressive Turnout Project is the largest voter contact organization in the country, specifically dedicated to mobilizing the Democratic Party and defending democracy. Our mission: rally Democrats to vote.

At Progressive Turnout Project, our work depends on the power of a personal connection. Building and maintaining a community of progressive organizers is one of the ways we make sure we’ll be able to continue rallying democrats to vote year after year, cycle after cycle. The Alumni Network is dedicated to fostering these connections. 

Our Alumni Engagement Manager, Kristen, is herself one of our alumni, having worked in Wisconsin in 2018. She reaches out to the people who helped make this organization run — including  district directors, Campaign Fellows, and Community Mobilizers — and starts a conversation. We find out what they thought of their time with us, what they’re up to now and, most importantly, how we can help. Then, through direct contact, social media, or even virtual mixers, we connect our alums to each other. 

Our network of committed change-makers is a force for defending democracy across America. We want to do everything we can to equip them for a long, successful career in the progressive movement. Part of that work involves creating spaces where people can explore their similarities — and maybe even develop their differences into something new.

Ready to meet some members of that network?

We spoke with three alumni, Angela Maxwell, Brett Deresienski, and Lyndon DeFoe. Here’s what they had to say about life post-PTP:

Angela Maxwell

2020 Michigan District Operations Director 

Angela is currently managing Kim Nagy’s campaign for State Senate in Michigan. She is also the executive director of Ottawa Integrity, a local PAC focusing on protecting county and local level seats from a slate of well-funded extremist candidates who are focused on dismantling local DEI efforts and attacking the county health department. With both of these roles, she has the opportunity to be hands-on support to numerous candidates running in our district.

What are you looking forward to personally and professionally in the next year?

Professionally I am looking forward to seeing winning campaigns throughout the district for candidates who are solution-focused, value democracy, and prioritize service-to-community. From Kim’s seat to county commission to school board, November will bring lots of reasons to celebrate. Personally, I am trying to focus on fun this year. Things have been so hard, and the older I get the more I really want to embrace all the joy I can in life and spend all the quality time I can with my child. After the election, I hope to take a big vacation.

Is there any part of your experience that really stuck with you?

So much has stuck with me! I was with PTP when COVID first hit. I remember watching the news during training and it felt like a very distant thing at that point. That year was so difficult for so many reasons. We had to make major shifts in our work and people were struggling personally with it all. 

But the difficulties are not what stuck with me the most. That year really solidified how passionate I am about managing people in unique and challenging roles. I feel grateful that I was in a position to lead our team successfully through such a challenging time. I still talk to several of my Field Reps and genuinely get so excited when they reach out for a reference. I am honored to have worked with them all. My experience at PTP definitely helped to prepare me for the work I am doing right now – leading a diverse group of people to work together toward solutions in an incredibly difficult climate.

What activities or hobbies do you turn to for a break from work and the world?

I am a simple person. A good meal. Taking a walk. I am lucky enough to live really close to Lake Michigan and love spending time by the water, just sitting in the sand and listening to the waves. I love being a mom and spending quality time with my kid, doing just about anything. I bought a chemistry kit a few days ago and we have been doing a couple of experiments each evening together. It was a long winter so I am looking forward to summer weather and getting outside. 

Brett Deresienski

2020 North Carolina Field Representative

Brett started a graduate program in Food Studies last fall with a main focus in Urban Agriculture. This summer, he’s working on two different farms in the Pittsburgh, PA area, including assisting with a weekly farmers market.

What overlap do you see between urban agriculture and political organizing?

There is a lot of overlap between urban agriculture and political organizing, specifically the aspect of working with the community. Just as in political organizing, the goal of working in urban agriculture is to make sure everyone’s voice is heard and everyone’s needs are met. The target demographics for both of these fields often intersect as the areas with the most voter disenfranchisement also tend to be major food deserts (also known as food apartheid). While political organizing aims to provide everyone access to the polls, urban agriculture aims to provide everyone access to fresh produce that is often nonexistent in lower income areas without supermarkets. To be successful in urban agriculture, one also must be successful at community organizing, using the same tactics to fight exclusionary zoning laws and development as we use to fight voter suppression.

What is one piece of advice that has stuck with you?

There is no need to have your whole life figured out in your 20s. It is totally acceptable to not know what you want to do after graduating college and work in a field that doesn’t match your degree. In fact, I think people should be encouraged to try out multiple career fields so they end up settling on the one that gives them the most fulfillment.

What is your favorite vegetable/fruit/flower/plant to grow?

This is a tricky question because there are so many to choose from. For vegetables, I would say potatoes. They require little maintenance to grow and harvesting them is like a fun scavenger hunt digging in the soil. For fruit, I would say blackberries. There is nothing like a fresh warm blackberry off the vine on a summer’s day. For flowers, I would say Zinnia. They are one of the hardest working flowers, come in a variety of colors, attract loads of pollinators and butterflies, and promote vegetable growth by shading out weeds. For plants, just anything native, really. Growing native plants is very beneficial for increasing soil health and pollinators, which are keys to growing successfully and treating the land properly.

Lyndon DeFoe

2020 Turnout Fellow with the Haley Stevens campaign MI-11 

Currently, Lyndon is the Wisconsin Voting Rights Coordinator for the America Votes Wisconsin Team. In this role, he leads the research efforts for the Clerk Engagement Project, a multi-pronged research initiative that targets the top 50 municipalities focusing on expanding voting rights and supporting local election officials. 

Can you go into more detail on what you’re doing professionally these days? 

The Clerk Engagement Project entails a multitude of work designed to uplift issue advocacies, provide organizing tools, monitor changes/updates in the election administration landscape, and build relationships with grassroot partners and organizations. Some of my main work thus far has included building out a system of one-pagers (comprehensive landscape reports that address the unique ballot access challenges and opportunities in the top 50 municipalities), planning clerk recruitment webinars (informational sessions designed to educate prospective clerk applicants on the role of a clerk and how to uphold pro-democracy values), and engaging as an active partner within the Wisconsin Voting Rights Coalition offering strategy around issue campaigns and insight on how to advance our mission of expanding voting rights. 

What motivates you to wake up and do the hard work of organizing each day?

For me, it is all about the ability to see how my work is bringing about a real change in the  communities I am serving. I am motivated by the awareness of how my work positively changes the lives of community members most vulnerable to disenfranchisement.  Voting rights work is not easy, let alone in a state like Wisconsin, but when the gains of such work (i.e. higher voter turnout and a more inclusive democracy) show up in very real and measurable ways, this is evidence for me to keep going despite the inherent difficulties (both partisan and personal). Ultimately, associating myself with something that I know is much bigger than me allows me to realize how my piece plays into a much broader narrative, and that I am part of the solution rather than the problem.

Is there any part of your experience that really stuck with you?

One of my lasting impressions from PTP was not a what but a who. Daniela Nyiri, who at the time was the Fellows Program Coordinator at PTP, had worked on the same campaign for the same Congresswoman in 2018 who I was working for in 2020. Daniela was from Michigan and had first hand experience in the district that I was then new to. Throughout my time with PTP, I found Daniela to be an exceptional Fellows Coordinator, helping me navigate field organizing in Michigan. She also became a respected resource for me to learn how to successfully move on to my next political gig. I enjoyed my PTP experience largely thanks to her deep involvement in the Fellows program and the similarity we shared organizing in Michigan.

To support the programs that these alum were a part of, you can contribute here, volunteer, or work with us to rally Democrats to vote.