The New Activism – Boston Spirit Magazine
Grassroots leaders’ tips for staying progressive in regressive times
“If you’re disappointed in your elected officials,” President Obama said in his farewell address, “grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office yourself.” Of course not everyone wants to run for office. But it seems like just about everyone in the LGBT community is fired up to resist the regressive policies and actions of the Republican president and neo-cons in Congress, and many of us are looking for ways to make a positive difference. At least two New England political activists answered President Obama’s call literally, and their inspiring stories are full of ideas how each of us can make a difference in our own way.
Meet the Candidates
The day after President Obama’s address, lifelong political activist Gretchen Van Ness—the first openly gay president of the Massachusetts Women’s Bar Association and cofounder of the national LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal—applied to Emerge, an intensive six-month training program for Democratic women who plan to run for office or take a seat on a local board or commission. “After the horrible defeat on Election Day, I looked at their website and told myself I might as well do this now,” she says. “I’ve got to do something. We’ve all got to try to put ourselves in a place where we can be effective—whatever that means for each of us,” she says.
Grassroots community organizer Corey Dinopoulos also credits President Obama’s speech with his decision to enter a race. Dinopoulos has worked on successful campaigns ranging from Deval Patrick’s gubernatorial run to Julian Cyr’s recent state senatorial race to Beacon Hill. Now he’s running for city councilor for Boston’s District 2, which includes the South End, Bay Village, Chinatown, Downtown and South Boston. If he’s successful, Dinopoulos will be the first openly gay councilor to serve the city in 23 years. “I’d been mulling over the idea to run for office for a few years now, but after Hillary’s loss and Obama’s call to action, I’m ready to launch my campaign,” he says. “Definitely the election lit that fire in me.”
Sew Your Own Seeds
Dinopoulos’s advice to his fellow grassroots activists: Get out there and follow what fires you up.
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, Dinopoulos admits he never really followed politics that much until he got involved in the Patrick campaign while studying graphic design at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. “He got me really excited about being engaged in my community and in city and state politics, finding out what’s going on. I remember bringing a lot of my MassArt friends from classes to one of his first rallies in Boston Common. None of them had been to a political rally before either. But we were all so fired up with his message. We started knocking on doors and canvassing for him and making calls at phone banks. That’s how I got my first taste of politics.”
As a young art student, Dinopoulos saw his schoolwork morph into his political ambitions. “My thesis at Mass Art was to create a hypothetical Boston Olympic bid.” That thesis actually became the nonprofit that kicked off the city’s official Olympic campaign, which Dinopoulos considers an incredible learning experience.
“I gained an incredible understanding of the complexities of city government, including its capabilities and limitations. It was humbling to understand how things work and don’t work. We had a lot of great conversations that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.” Ultimately, he says, “we had organizations across the entire landscape, not just the city but the state, talking to one another for the first time in a long time. We also now have a privately funded master plan for the city, which can hopefully be put to use in the next couple of years.”
Currently a mobile app and user experience designer for a financial company in the Back Bay, Dinopoulos has grown solid roots in the local gay community. A member of Boston Pride, he’s played for FLAG Flag Football league for six years now. “I played softball for three years, but it really wasn’t my thing,” he says with a laugh. This year, he’s also on the Fenway Health Men’s Event planning committee. Dinopoulos admits he could use a little help with his campaign. “You should see my calendar! I’d love to master all this myself, but it gets a little challenging,” he says. He’s hoping to find some kindred spirits who maybe worked on Hillary or Bernie’s campaigns and are still fired up. “I mean, as long as their passionate about working with me and working in civic life.”
If you’re interested in volunteering on his campaign, your can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.coreyforboston.com.
-Rob Phelps, Boston Spirit Magazine