Q&A: Freedom Action Now Talks About Black Herstory and Radical Rest & Reflection
In honor of Black History Month, Movement Voter Project had the privilege of speaking with Mahnker Dahnweih, Executive Director of Freedom Action Now (FAN). FAN is a Radical Queer Black and Southeast Asian Feminist organization that uses mass mobilization to expose systemic oppression and improve the lives of the most impacted communities in Wisconsin. Right now, this includes voter turnout for the upcoming state Supreme Court race which could open up a major opportunity for reproductive justice to finally reverse the state’s 1849 abortion ban.
Since its founding in 2020, MVP has been a committed funding partner to support FAN’s voter engagement, policy advocacy, high-impact campaigns, and movement building. In short, FAN is building a world where we can all thrive together.
Read on to find out more about Freedom Action Now from Executive Director, Mahnker Dahnweih.
MVP: How would you explain your grassroots work to someone who has never heard of your group? (In your own words, what kind of future are you working towards?)
Our vision is to advance a feminist abolitionist agenda, through which survivors of gender-based violence are the protagonists in the on-going struggle for liberation. With power to govern, create policies, and to shift the material conditions that impact their daily lives. Our collective freedom is our ultimate goal.
MVP: What are some memorable wins you’ve celebrated over the past year?
We celebrate Black Herstory by working to secure Black futures. Right now that means engaging in voter turnout work around the Supreme Court race. As we are currently living under an abortion ban from 1849, getting a progressive justice in would allow the lawsuit to reverse the ban to be successful.
MVP: What are some memorable challenge(s) you’ve faced? How did you overcome them?
Our biggest challenge has been finding the support to build up Black and Southeast Asian political power in Wisconsin. We still have a lot of work to do around connecting the dots for folx around how violence against Black and SEA women and girls, queer, trans, and intersex folx negatively impacts us as a whole. And that the only way for us all to thrive is to make sure those most marginalized are supported and celebrated.
MVP: We know that there is a lot of work to be done to create a future where all of us can truly thrive. We also know that white supremacy and capitalism create barriers to safety and care and it’s often up to us to create those spaces ourselves. As a Radical Queer Black and Southeast Asian Feminist organization, what role does community care play in your work?
At FAN, we model how we want the world to be through our internal structure. We make sure all staff have really good pay and benefits. As well as making space for survivors to politicize their stories and get long term investment in their leadership as change-makers. This is what we want for our entire community, a future where we are not all suffering alone behind closed doors but sharing our struggles, getting support, and then building power to address the root causes of our oppression.
MVP: As someone with extensive knowledge and experience when it comes to grassroots organizing, what sort of support (e.g. resources, tools, etc) would you like to see more of? How would this help shape your work as a Black-led organization?
Radical Rest and Reflection. Radical Rest and Reflection. Radical Rest and Reflection. Black leaders don’t get to rest. Especially Black women and QTI leaders. We must be the best, all while navigating hostile spaces as we move through our work. We build up a layer of protection around us that is hard to let down even when we are in “safe” spaces. The biggest harm in that is it prevents us from building authentic relationships in our field that are essential to doing political work well and winning. Investing in substantial time for us to rest and reflect individually and in groups will lead to bigger and bolder strategies and lots more wins, with the sustainable infrastructure to maintain and build in the wins.
Mahnker is the child of Liberian refugees and grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Later, she moved to Normal, IL where she studied Geography at Illinois State University and has spent most of her career in electoral politics. Mahnker is passionate about building political power with other Black Queer folx and Survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.