In my work as Fellowship Manager, I’ve been lucky to connect with some amazing people, two of whom actually happen to be married to each other.
Katie Belanger (pictured, right) is a 2010 alumna of the LGBTQ Advocacy Fellowship. A longtime grassroots activist, Katie is the Executive Director of Fair Wisconsin, an electoral and legislative organizing institution dedicated to advancing the civil rights of LGBTQ people. Jason Sidener (pictured) is a 2011 alumnus of the Upper Midwest Fellowship. Also with deep roots in direct action and organizing, Jason is the Political Action Representative AFSCME Council 40. AFSCME is the nation’s largest public employee union and Council 40 represents over 32,000 county and municipal employees in Wisconsin.
Both Katie and Jason are veterans of dozens of local, state and federal political campaigns and yes, they met on the campaign trail. I caught up with Jason and Katie recently, asking them about life, love, and leadership.
It’s been a pretty intense few years in Wisconsin, what have the two of you been up to?
To say that Wisconsin has been crazy in the last two years would be a huge understatement. From 100,000 person protests at the Capitol to non-stop recall, primary and general elections, our lives have been completely tumultuous. But there would be no better time to try out the tools and skills we learned at Rockwood.
Somewhere along the way, we were also able to achieve some significant local victories together. Jason does political work at AFSCME Council 40, representing the city and county public employees in 71 counties. Katie works at Fair Wisconsin, our statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization. We brought our organizations together in the to support grassroots efforts to build more inclusive workplaces for LGBT and union employees through the passage of domestic partner benefits in multiple communities across the state.
In 2012, we supported the passage of domestic partner benefits for represented and unrepresented city employees in Manitowoc. Though his work in Manitowoc on behalf of his members, he had relationships with the Mayor and members of the City Council. When one councilor decided he wanted to explore providing domestic partner benefits, Jason was able to connect him with me and Fair Wisconsin could take the lead on messaging and supporting the effort, making the effort about fairness and equality and expand equal employment benefits to Jason’s members and all city workers without working though the collective bargaining process. By partnering, we were able to achieve an even broader, smoother victory for both of our organizations.
What part of your fellowship experience was most useful looking back?
We both went through Rockwood, but we attended different tracks and were looking for very different experiences. Jason found the work on listening, being intentional and articulating a vision particularly helpful. Katie’s participation in the LGBTQ session provided lasting connections and relationships within the LGBTQ movement that have been a tremendous sources of knowledge and support.
Anything you use in your day-to-day work?
While our sessions covered similar themes, the Rockwood experience impacted us both in very different ways. Because the labor movement in Wisconsin has been under attack, creating a new vision for the future is imperative to moving Jason’s work forward. Because of the work he did at Rockwood, Jason can more clearly articulate his vision, while also being a better listener to his colleagues and members. Speak less and listen more has become a key element of his leadership. Anyone who knows or works with Katie knows that she POPs everything! No Fair Wisconsin staff meeting or planning session is complete without at least one…and when things go awry with the group, bring it back to the groups shared purpose has never led her astray. Ultimately, for Katie Rockwood helped give her the confidence to trust in her own instincts and to be bold about her vision while giving her some concrete tools to bring back to Fair Wisconsin.
So what’s it like being married to a Rockwood alum? Are you creating a POP* for your dinner plans? (Hee!)
We live together, we work together, and we are a family, so a transformational experience like Rockwood has definitely impacted our relationship. By going through Rockwood, we have a common language with which to communicate, that in turn has allowed us to communicate more openly. As with most couples, we come home at the end of the day and share all that happened, but our more conscious listening and peer support skills has turned the daily dish session into truly supportive conversations. And while we may not write our POPs, we are more conscious about the purpose of whatever we are planning together and more intentional about the time we share at home.
Editor’s Note: POP – or Purpose Outcome Process – refers to a Rockwood tool for setting and communicating a meeting agenda or goal. We’ll be posting more on the topic of POP soon.