Interview with a Web of Change first-timer

I was introduced to Yee Won Chong by Agenda Anchor Karen Uffelman, who shared that the journey to Web of Change 2012 will be Yee Won’s first international trip since becoming a U.S. citizen. Yee Won has lived in this country since 1996, and has been working in social justice for more than a decade, most recently managing communications and development at Western States Center. We couldn’t think of a better way to christen the new passport and bring some great ideas and relationships back to the Center!

How did you first learn about Web of Change?
I learned about Web of Change through Groundwire. We work with them on our website, and last year Karen Uffelman and Kelley Bevans told me about Web of Change and suggested I attend. At that time, I had recently attended a couple of other conferences, and it was hard to justify another. But, I started looking into it, and thought it seemed like a really cool community. If I’m not mistaken, the website and exchange of ideas happens all year long.

Tell me more about Western States Center
We train people to become community organizers, and build capacity through recruitment and mobilization. Essentially, we prepare advocates to speak to legislators and help them see the connections between different issues. Part of my job is to tell our groups’ stories to the general public, helping them understand what movement building is about. Each summer, we host a conference called AMP (Activists Mobilizing for Power) that is attended by about 450 people.

What do you hope to get from Web of Change?
At Western States Center, we are very much in the learning stages of using technology, particularly tools like CMS and CRM. A lot of our work is community organizing, so the one-to-one relationship is very important. However, I see some real potential for scaling up using technology: helping our groups get access to Voter Action Network and boosting fundraising efforts, for example.

Like the groups we work with, Western States Center has limited communications capacity. But there are many different channels to reach donors and supporters. I would like to hear how organizations can integrate different channels to get the message out without spreading staff too thin. What systems are people using successfully to think about and manage communications?

I hear this will be your first trip abroad since becoming a U.S. citizen. Can you talk a bit about your journey?
I came here from Malaysia when I was 21, and went to college in rural Minnesota. I got into activism there, and wanted to continue doing this work after graduation. I received political asylum in 1999 based on sexual identity, orientation and political activities. September 11 created considerable delays in the green card process, and then I had to wait several more years to take the citizenship test. But the wait was worth it. Staying in this country enabled me to pursue a career in social justice, which is difficult to do in Malaysia.