Updated: Jun 7
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Violet Rae of the Rose Caucus: “Be kind, be brave, and do the hard things; Try the impossible things Allow yourself to be vulnerable for someone you don’t know”
by Penny Bauder
Your entire life, people have likely been telling you that you are only one person and cannot change the world. If you are anything like me, you ignored that terrible advice. Always stick to your morals, and what you know in your heart is right. Be kind, be brave, and do the hard things. Try the impossible things. Allow yourself to be vulnerable for someone you don’t know.
It will open up the world to you in a way you didn’t know was possible, and you will find yourself in some of the best company a person could ever ask for. The movement is like a family. We are looking out for one another and defending our rights as a people together. There are few things that can bond you with other people so well.
You are not alone when you share a noble goal.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Violet Rae.
Violet Rae is a 30-year-old socialist activist & organizer. She got her start in politics through self-education, and was inspired by the work of individuals such as Senator Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and Virginia Delegate, Lee J Carter.
Violet was the Strategic Director for Joshua Collins (a 26-year-old Socialist Truck Driver, running for Congress in Washington’s 10th Congressional District) until January of 2020, when she founded the Rose Caucus. At this time, she stepped down from the directing staff position, to focus on the work the Caucus needed to do, and to avoid any future conflicts of interest between campaigns, and the Caucus. Using social media sites, like twitter, Violet connects with her peers to educate on leftist political issues, advocate for human rights, and provide outreach to those who need it. Her primary focus is on advocating for “The Peoples’ Platform”, which is approaching 500+ policies; all written by real working class people, whom these issues would most impact.
She also uses her platform to talk about other issues often unspoken about, such as her autism, life struggles, being LGBTQ+, and children & youth rights. She considers herself an outspoken advocate for autistic adults, and is a proud anti-fascist.
In her personal life, Violet enjoys spending time with her 10 year old son, and singing. She moved to Manassas Virginia in January of 2020, where she lives with her son, her partner (The Honorable Delegate Lee J. Carter), and their feline comrade, Verity. She also enjoys reading, photography, and late night karaoke with friends.
Violet established Manassas as the pilot location for the Rose Caucus, and has been working within her community to build relationships with other orgs and activists.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and a few parts of Southern Indiana. Folks from my hometown call the area “Kentuckiana”.
My father worked a blue-collar job installing glass, and my mother was an early adopter of the internet who followed the dotcom boom out west. I was only a few months old when my parents divorced. I am not particularly shocked, as they were vastly different people; down to which side of politics they fell; my mother being very liberal, and my father very conservative.
I did not have a gentle upbringing, so I really try not to focus on my childhood. I very much found myself in the sort of situation, where I ended up mostly raising myself. I would not choose it for anyone. My parents both misunderstood how to handle my autism; one side outright denying autism was real, and the other denying I could possibly be different. Autism really doesn’t care about the personal feelings of neurotypicals, and it was something I was left to struggle with and manage on my own.
Without diving into what that arrangement was like, I prefer to focus on advocating for children & youth’s rights; part of the reason I got involved in activism in the first place. No child should suffer an abusive guardian. In a lot of ways, the drive to see childhood abuse ended motivates me daily. Not only for myself, and for my own son (who is now 10, and also diagnosed with autism), but for every child lost in, or failed by the current system.
Now, I am a 30-year-old activist, with a significantly larger microphone. I am not the scared, abused child I once was. Now I feel empowered to speak out about these issues, and advocate for them daily, which is not only personally healing, but also deeply satisfying work.
You are currently leading a social impact organization. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today? The Rose Caucus is a non-profit, with a focus on developing & advocating for “The Peoples’ Platform”. The platform has hundreds of policies, with each plank expanded by real people any potential legislation could impact. That means that our disability plank was written by disabled folks, many of whom are also activists.
We take our cues for climate from indigenous folks, and from youth climate activists. We invite real people to the table, to help us write a platform that is truly for and BY the very people these changes would impact. Most of the time, we see politicians writing these policies, and then calling on us to vote for them.
We do not believe this is a healthy dynamic. Politicians should have their ears bent to the will of the people, but in the current dynamic, we are only given lip service, and then asked to vote for them after compromising on our needs. NEEDS should never be compromised, and Rose Caucus fights to make the voice of the people heard.
We have not had to search for politicians willing to run on our platform; many real, working class people are running for office in record numbers, and this past cycle we had almost 40 candidates across America, running on our mutual values.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause? I have been paying attention to politics since I was a teenager, but never felt particularly drawn to it as a calling. I openly identified as a Socialist in 2012, long before the mainstream conversation was ready to have those talks. It wasn’t a popular position to be in, but it was what felt correct to me. I am anti-imperialism, anti-war, and anti-fascist. I believe that no one should starve or die of a treatable illness. I believe that no one should be houseless or denied education. I believe people should be allowed to love who they love and live as the person they wish to be. To practice the religions they believe in, and to live without fear of being targeted for their differences. I was told, repeatedly, that these values were foolish by society, yet society taught me that it is our duty to be kind to others. To be charitable, and fair. To seek justice. The lessons I learned in Sunday school made me into a socialist. The lessons my representatives have taught me is that the burden of these morals fall on the backs of the people to solve for themselves. They want us to do the impossible work of taking care of one another, when they hold all the resources and power to solve these problems.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger? When you realize that your country has a government that is not working for all its people, sometimes it leads to a level of personal investment. If they will not fix it, we have to, right?
People are suffering. Daily, I see that suffering growing worse. Our climate will not be able to sustain us if we proceed as things are now. Workers continue to be alienated from the value of their labor and exploited for profit. People get sick every day and die of preventable or treatable illnesses. Some folks cannot even afford to go to the doctor in the first place. Black and brown people continue to be brutalized by our police. ICE continues to lock children in cages. The for-profit prison system continues to effectively legalize slave labor under the banner of justice… but when has slavery EVER been just?
I was taught to speak out against injustice. I could not spend another day living like everything is fine, or waiting on someone else to take this leap. We realized that no one is coming to save us. We are going to have to save ourselves.
When I realized this, I stopped working in Web Development (as I had for 15 years prior) and took a career leap into politics; headfirst, no life-vest, no plan. I started educating myself, and networking with groups of people who seemed to feel the same way I did. I learned a lot of things; about politics, and about myself.
Having daily conversations about the state of things and talking to other people about it gave me confidence I had never really felt in social situations before. Gradually, my peers began to look to me as a source, rather than a casual participant… and it started to click that I actually might be effective dedicating my time to politics full time.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started? The first thing you need to find are other people who are also passionate about your cause. Our group was extremely fortunate, because the initial draw was public excitement, over the first version of the platform.
My advice to young people, who are looking to start their own organization, is to be very mindful of who you surround yourself with. It is exceedingly difficult to organize with a unity approach if you are all there for different reasons. It is much easier for passionate, creative people to be productive, if everyone is working towards the same goal.
Establishing an identity and mission is a crucial first step. Define who you are and cement it with the founding members. Compromising your identity or morals can blunt the initial excitement that people seeking your values feel. There isn’t a lot of money in political organizing, and when you are a leftist working against the tide it doesn’t really bring you much popularity with the media, or establishment types. The only way to keep folks motivated through ongoing crisis, is to speak to their passions & goals.
Do not water down the messaging of your org to cater to what you think others want. Focus on what your org is there to do, and stick to it. Change is hard, and there will always be people who are ready to stand in your way. Fight.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization? We have terms on our website, that we call the “Terms of Engagement”. Within, it clearly states our values, and what we will and will not compromise on. There are parts of our platform that many people may find “radical”, but when your original platform begins with the call to Abolish the CIA and only gets more direct from there, people start talking.
We have made it very clear why we have that plank on our platform, but occasionally we still have folks try to join, only to immediately ask that we remove that policy, or a similar one (like Abolish ICE, or Defund the Police). We have had police officers, or other gov agents try and join our caucus. We deny their applications if they are obvious, but once or twice we have had one slip through and start acting really strange in our group chats.
Those people never last long. They are usually in there trying to see if we are “up to no good”, but they are often disappointed to find our “evil chats” are all about how to solve the housing crisis, or feeding the hungry. Sometimes if we get really wild, it’s pictures of our pets, artwork, or some random project we are working on. I’m really not sure what they expected to find, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the wholesome content they ended up seeing.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that? I wouldn’t call it a mistake we made, but we were actually fairly surprised to get pushback on our formation, from a couple DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) chapters on the east coast. One or two chapters were upset that we had endorsed in races they had abstained from endorsing anyone in.
No one can really prepare you for friendly fire. Since our organization is a socialist org, and DSA is a liberal org for social democrats, we knew there would be a mixed opinion, but we never expected outright hostility. We have similar goals, so the point should have been unity & support. I think our mistake was assuming that everyone was there in good faith, like we were.
We felt that we had not made any hostile gestures towards them, but I think any time someone comes out doing something new, you should expect that it may make others nervous, or confuse them. By and large, we have support from most DSA membership, and people we have interacted with; with a few exceptions.
A member out of a chapter in Georgia commented that I should have “asked permission”. My response, in short, was something along the lines of “there is no CEO of socialism, last I checked.” And we just left it at that.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I was hired on last summer by a congressional candidate, Joshua Collins. He is a twenty-six-year-old Socialist Truck-Driver, who is running in Washington’s 10th Congressional District. The Collins Campaign did things a bit differently from establishment campaigns, and it certainly attracted a lot of attention.
The most notable difference between our campaign operation and others, was our choice to democratically control our workplace. We used committee team leadership, meaning that all the directing staff members voted on things like our wage, our hours, our positions, and so on. It also meant that we could sit at the table and help develop the platform.
As part of his team, I helped Joshua develop parts of the original platform, as did the rest of the staff. Honestly, his comms director, Danni, did an incredible amount of heavy lifting. We used a unity approach, all wanting to arrive on good policies, rather than focusing our own egos or agendas. The result was the first draft of what would later become “The Peoples’ Platform”. Other candidates saw what we were doing, and approached Joshua for endorsement, asking about adopting the platform. We knew the platform should not belong only to us.
For one thing, many parts are written from sourcing materials from many orgs & movements that we support and believe in. For another, if we were developing it directly from the needs of real people, it stood to reason that they should be heard. I realized, as more and more people began to join our informal group chat, that we were already organically organizing. We just needed to decide a stated purpose and give ourselves a name.
Mr. Collins still gave us permission to absorb the platform and continue to develop it, and the group began to formalize, originally with only a handful of members. I was unanimously voted to become the chair of this new org, Rose Caucus, and to avoid any possible conflict of interest, I left my position as directing staff on the Collins Campaign, with the full support of my candidate. The Collins campaign, and the people I worked with there, changed my life. It taught me that a workplace can be democratically controlled by its workers and be a productive environment. It showed me how I wanted to be treated in a workplace, and how I would want to treat those laboring for our cause.
When every worker has equal ownership, and shared goals, it is much easier to become excited and invested in what you are doing.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause? Because people came to trust our endorsement, and donated to our fundraising list (this cycle we used actblue to make a list, that donated to each candidates account directly. Rose Caucus was not accepting donations as an org, because we were not formally incorporated at first), we had several down-ballot campaigns that were able to afford basic things they would not have had access to as grassroots campaigns.
More than one of our candidates were able to purchase lit, yard signs, and other resources to help spread awareness for their campaigns through their communities. Other fundraising efforts helped candidates raise enough money to get on the ballot in some places, and their voices were able to be added to the conversation; something they would have been denied without the small donor support; not only from their own states, but all over the country.
Next cycle, we plan on working exclusively with Crowdpac; a bipartisan fundraising org, that is democratically owned by it’s workers, takes less money than actblue, and is not beholden to any political party (actblue only works with the democratic party.) We have enjoyed working with them so far.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve? Politicians can do three things immediately to facilitate lasting change.
Listen to the voice of the activists. They are the people passionate enough to speak up for their needs. It is the job of the politician to represent their constituents. I feel they often skip this step.
Run on The Peoples’ Platform. Mean every word.
Advocate for the platform and hold to the morals and promises they made running. Stop lying to the people about the things you will vote and fight for. We can see your votes. How are we paying more attention than they are? Unacceptable.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Not Everyone Will Be Excited Some people are going to be very upset with you for demanding change. I know that’s obvious, especially for the people we expect to react to us negatively. What people don’t tell you is that often, you will find yourself arguing with people who you expected to be on your side. These issues are incredibly complex, and opinions fall all across the spectrum. Learn not to exhaust yourself arguing with people who don’t get it. Focus on educating the folks who will and empowering the folks who do.
Not All Attention is Healthy Sometimes people may get TOO excited about what you do, and overstep boundaries. It’s really important that you learn to set and enforce your own healthy boundaries. It is equally important to work with people who respect those boundaries. Your organizing space shouldn’t be a battle zone.
It is Okay to Gatekeep You heard me. I have learned that it is impossible to have a SAFE space, AND a space that is all inclusive. If you are making a club for people who love dolphins, you would not invite dolphin hunters into the group. That is not going to work for anyone. Obviously, it is important to hear many opinions for a full understanding of any issue, but if someone is in your space operating in bad faith? Eject them. I have seen too many good groups ruined because no unity can be reached by its membership; mainly because too many people were there to do different things.
Don’t Feed the Trolls This one I knew from being on the internet a long time, but it becomes a lot more difficult to spot these sorts of agitators at a glance, when you have a stream of otherwise earnest questions, or interaction at the same time. A troll is literally just attention seeking, and if you give them the attention they are looking for, it will only get worse. Remind yourself that (especially in the case of social media sites, like twitter), their interaction with your post is only boosting your engagement. Pick and choose your battles, or risk discovering that you are doing an awful lot of repeating yourself, for no good reason. If they are not there in good faith, they aren’t worth your energy.
Become Trauma Informed Most people today are traumatized in some way. Knowing how trauma can impact your neurological and physiological health can expand your understanding of situations that might otherwise be a disaster to your org, and the people within it. There are several resources on the topic, but one of the easiest to find is “Mutual Aid, Trauma, & Resiliency”, by the Jane Addams Collective. They have it free online, but also sell physical copies at various book retailers for around $12.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them? Your entire life, people have likely been telling you that you are only one person and cannot change the world. If you are anything like me, you ignored that terrible advice. Always stick to your morals, and what you know in your heart is right. Be kind, be brave, and do the hard things.
Try the impossible things. Allow yourself to be vulnerable for someone you don’t know. It will open up the world to you in a way you didn’t know was possible, and you will find yourself in some of the best company a person could ever ask for. The movement is like a family. We are looking out for one another and defending our rights as a people together. There are few things that can bond you with other people so well. You are not alone when you share a noble goal.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-) I am on record stating that I adore Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and honestly I have missed meeting her directly on THREE different occasions now. Breakfast with her would be an extreme honor because I have admired her work for years. She does not compromise on her morals and fights her hardest to see justice. We need more legislators like her.
How can our readers follow you online? You can follow me on twitter (@UltVioletRae), tiktok (@UltVioletRae), or instagram (@UltVioletRae). You can follow Rose Caucus on twitter, facebook, and instagram (@RoseCaucus), or on https://RoseCaucus.com
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
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