Retake Our Democracy was founded in the fall of 2016 by Roxanne Barber and her husband, Paul Gibson. Their bios follow.
Roxanne Barber. Retake Our Democracy Co-Founder. I grew up in Southern California, watching orange groves and dairy farms disappear to make way for tract homes and strip malls. This was back when kids played almost exclusively outdoors, when butterflies, lizards, frogs, and other wildlife were still abundant. We developed our sense of justice and our respect for the environment by playing unsupervised outdoors for hours, catching pollywogs in the irrigation ditches, rescuing baby birds who’d fallen from their nests, and believing if we could only dig long enough and deep enough, we could dig a hole to China.
There were five kids in my working class family, and my mom shopped at White Front, the equivalent to Walmart today, for everything from groceries to auto parts, from school supplies to small appliances. We didn’t live in poverty, but we were poor. Everyone wore hand-me-downs and you got a new pair of shoes once a year, just before school started. But we owned our home, we lived in a neighborhood with lots of other kids, and like most kids, I didn’t notice what we didn’t have.
My political life began in 1967 when I was the first kid at my junior high school to refuse to stand up and say the pledge of allegiance every morning. I was protesting the Vietnam War. The other kids thought I was weird. They were shocked when I didn’t get in trouble, and they started asking me why I refused to stand. Soon, other 7th-graders joined me in refusing to stand. It wasn’t a mass movement, but at least I got a few other kids thinking, and acting.
I carried out some similar small political gestures in high school and college, attending an occasional protest march and demanding better working conditions in my early years in the workplace. Then, life intervened. I got married, had a daughter, and became a single mom when my daughter was 4 years old. I struggled financially for years, working a full-time job during the day and freelancing at home in the evenings as a transcriptionist and, later, as an editor. Keeping a roof over our heads and food on the table, paying my bills and buying my daughter clothes and shoes, took all of my time and energy. I worked so hard but I wasn’t getting anywhere. I was just surviving. There were years when I didn’t vote because I didn’t think it mattered. I didn’t care. All I could think about was surviving – keeping my job, keeping my apartment, protecting my daughter. Those were tough years, most of my thirties.
I eventually found a better job and worked my way up to a comfortable salary. I finally felt “successful” the year my daughter went off to college. At last, I was living again, not just surviving. That’s when I started dreaming again–– dreaming about what I still might be able to do with my life. While working full time, I went back to school and got a graduate degree in creative writing–– not because I needed it, but because it was exactly what I wanted to do. Then I returned to my dream of moving back to Santa Fe, NM. I’d lived in and fallen in love with Santa Fe in the early 1980s before my daughter was born, and I’d always wanted to go back. I started making my plan for a modest semi-retirement in Santa Fe. When I met my husband, Paul Gibson, in 2009 and it looked like it might be serious, I told him I was moving back to Santa Fe, and if he didn’t want to go with me, there was no point in continuing to date. Luckily, he didn’t have retirement plans, and he’d always enjoyed Santa Fe, so it grew from a plan for “me” to a plan for “us.” We were married in 2010, and we moved to Santa Fe in 2012.
Where does politics come back into my life? Well, Paul is partly responsible for pulling me into activism. But most of the credit goes to Bernie Sanders. Bernie awakened my sense of justice, my sense of hope, my deep sense of compassion and respect for other people, and for our planet. I’d always had a decent moral compass, a penchant for fairness, a lifelong sense of camaraderie with the “underdog.” But I’d given up on our ability as Americans to apply a moral compass to politics, to raise our voices, have those voices heard, and change what is wrong with this country. Then Bernie gave me hope. Hope that maybe there were some decent, caring people in government after all. Hope that if enough of us stood up together, raised our voices together, put everything we had into fighting to make sure government served the people and our planet instead of corporations and the wealthy, we could make it happen. Paul and I started the local campaign, Santa Fe for Bernie, in May 2015, the day after Bernie announced his candidacy. We worked our tails off, along with hundreds of other volunteers, for 15 months. We met so many people, we made lots of friends, we found our place in this wonderful community of Santa Fe.
Sadly, we didn’t get Bernie, and I felt myself sliding back into cynicism and resignation. Paul and I were both exhausted after coming home from the Democratic Convention in late July 2016. I needed to take a break. Once again in my lifetime, the person I believed was the best candidate to lead this country did not get the nomination. I’m getting older now, and Bernie felt like our last best hope. I suffered a familiar, deep disappointment. I felt the need to withdraw, to protect my time and energy. And for a couple of months I did. I gardened, I walked, I wrote, I obsessively pet my cat, I struggled against depression.
Then Trump happened. Not the impetus I expected or wanted, but definitely the jump-start I needed to get back in. And so, with renewed outrage, renewed astonishment, and renewed determination, I joined Paul in launching Retake Our Democracy in November 2016. We have both been awed by the numbers and enthusiasm of people who have signed up to volunteer. We are honored and proud to be organizing hundreds of volunteers in Northern New Mexico to stand up, to speak out, to take action. We are honored to be partnering with organizations around the state to engage, educate, and activate people from all the beautiful and diverse communities of New Mexico. Trump gave me a jump-start, but it’s the people who give me hope. Together, we will stand up and fight to protect ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our planet––to put government back in the hands of the people where it belongs.
Paul Gibson, Retake Our Democracy Co-Founder
Paul Gibson began his activism in 1968 when he volunteered for the Bobby Kennedy campaign. He was at the Ambassador Hotel when the Senator was assassinated. Throughout the Viet Nam war, he was active in the anti-war movement at UC Santa Barbara. But then operating his own consulting business and being a single father of two boys led to a significant reduction of his involvement beyond constant reading of The Nation and participating in periodic marches supporting environmental, social justice and anti-war demonstrations, signing petitions and posting on Facebook.
Gibson & Associates, his consulting firm, provided planning, evaluation and state and federal grant development, with the purpose of this work always being to transform child welfare, health, education, criminal justice, HIV/AIDS, and behavioral health systems. In relation to grant development, Paul maintained a 90-95% success rate and has generated over $500M in funding primarily for health, education, housing, and community development initiatives.
Paul briefly became involved in politics again in 2007 when his firm hosted Move-On phone banking efforts for the Obama campaign and canvassing with his son in Nevada, a swing state. His disappointment with the Obama presidency festered, beginning with his caving to Wall St after the mortgage collapse; and continuing with his failure to close Guantanamo; or end our involvement in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; his promotion of the TPP; continued deportation of immigrants; and support for the Keystone Pipeline.
When Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy, Paul and his wife Roxanne instantly formed Santa Fe 4 Bernie and coordinated that campaign, developing a large contingent of volunteers and sending e-blasts to over 2000 Bernie supporters. After the convention Roxanne and Paul followed Bernie’s advice and went local, forming Retake the Roundhouse. Working with advocacy groups throughout the state to organize canvassing, phone banking, voter registration, and Get-Out-The-Vote efforts.
After the election, Paul and Roxanne formed Retake Our Democracy, a tax-exmpt 501-c-4 education, community organizing, and advocacy organization.
Retake continues to produce a blog four days a week, a weekly radio show on KSFR, twice monthly Zoominars, and a statewide alert system focused primarily on advocating for transformative legislation in the NM State Legislature.