Dr. Robert Kraig, Executive Director (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison; M.A. University of Georgia; B.A. University of Pittsburgh) Robert took the helm in September 2009 at the height of the Great Recession, when Citizen Action was in virtual bankruptcy, and has led a dynamic team of organizers in rebuilding it into one of the leading progressive forces in Wisconsin. Robert is a leading strategist in the Wisconsin progressive movement, and is especially known for developing innovative approaches to strategic communication and issue campaign design and implementation. He has also appeared on major national and international media outlets such as Fox News, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now, many syndicated radio programs, and has been quoted in national newspapers a nd magazines such as the New York Times, Washington Post, In These Times, The American Prospect, The Atlantic, and Mother Jones. He is also a regular panelist on the local PBS television program International Focus. Robert is the author of several major academic articles on American political rhetoric in Rhetoric & Public Affairs and other academic journals and collections. His book, Woodrow Wilson and the Lost World of the Oratorical Statesman (Texas A&M Press), topped a Wall Street Journal list of the five best books on presidential rhetoric. Robert also occasionally teaches graduate rhetoric seminars at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Robert is the former Wisconsin State Council Director for SEIU, where he helped develop and win the passage of several policy innovations which enabled over twelve thousand low-wage workers to form unions. He is also the former Policy Director for the Wisconsin Blueprint Project, where he cut his teeth on devising strategies to build-out progressive infrastructure. He grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, and has lived in Wisconsin since 1989.
Matthew Brusky, Deputy Director (M.A. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, B.A. Loyola Marymount University) Over the past 17 years, Matt has played a leading role in devising and implementing cutting-edge civic engagement strategies that increase voter participation in our democracy. Matt also leads in the development and implementation of innovative social media strategies that are integrated into traditional organizing and civic engagement programs. Matt hosts Citizen Action’s weekly podcast, Battleground Wisconsin, which features the latest progressive news from Wisconsin. The 9-year-old podcast has built a statewide audience and produced Nearly 300 shows. In 2007 Matt shared (with his colleague Robert Kraig) the “Progressive Innovation Award” from the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. In 2004 Matt won the “Forty Under 40” award from the Milwaukee Business Journal, which recognizes up and coming professionals. Before Citizen Action, Matt worked for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, where he was Field Director. He was the Deputy Political Director for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Wisconsin State Council from 2000-2005. Matt helped found Milwaukee’s Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Coalition which spearheaded historic campaigns to establish job standards for large economic development projects in Milwaukee. Matt was raised in Milwaukee and went to Marquette University High School.
Rafael Smith, Climate & Equity Director
Born and raised in Milwaukee’s North Side neighborhood of Harambee to a single mother of seven, Rafe developed his black working class identity early on by watching his mother get up at 5:00 am just to get to her job at 7:00 am, and not come home until 5:00 pm. Even though she worked hard, at end of the week she had to make the hard choice between whether to pay rent and electricity or buy groceries. Witnessing this injustice, Rafe made the decision that he would dedicate his life to betterment of his community and to make sure no one ever would have to choose between shelter or substance again. He began his organizing career with Wisconsin Jobs Now and Fight for 15/Raise Wisconsin campaign. Rafe is still inspired by the bravery of those who put their jobs on the line just so we all could have a better future for us all and with recent news Amazon that will start their workers at 15 and both Wal-Mart and Target going to 11. “I know that we made a real impact on working class people lives.” To further his development, Rafe moved Washington DC to work with Washington Interfaith Network. He worked with both faith based and nonprofits in North and Southeast DC to bring resources to those impacted communities in the form of improved urban grocery stores, and starting the work on affordable housing for all. His experience in field, organizing, and campaign management has brought him here to Citizen Action of Wisconsin, where he is fighting hard for economic and social justice that will improve the day to day life for the people in our community.
Angelique Rogers, Associate Director Angelique has been working in movement and electoral politics for more than two decades, and rejoined Citizen Action Staff in 2018 as Organizing Director, after initially working as the Citizen Action Field Canvass Manager from 2006-2009. When Angelique moved on from CAW in 2009, she started her own political and non-profit consulting firm. Over the years she has worked on more than 45 local and state level candidate campaigns, and consulted for several issue and political nonprofits on legislative and electoral campaigns across the state including Voces de la Frontera, United Wisconsin, Wisconsin Jobs Now, Fair Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Voices. Angelique’s main areas of focus are in nonprofit management and operations, strategic issue and electoral campaign planning, data, technology, training and professional development, and field. In her spare time Angelique loves playing video games, hanging with her dog, kayaking, interior design, and DIY projects around the house. The coolest thing Angelique has done in the last 5 years was paint gigantic murals of Bat Man, Super Man, and Wonder Woman (complete with light up lasso) on the walls in her newly self-renovated basement.
JoAnna Bautch, Movement Politics Director
(B.A. Alverno College)
JoAnna is passionate about the growth of her community. She is born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, and loves everything the city has to offer. Raised by a single mother, JoAnna knows the importance of a strong work ethic, and coming from a matriarchal family, she knows the power of the Latina voice. Although JoAnna struggled through high school, she is a proud MPS graduate, and in May of 2017, she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communication from Alverno College. JoAnna stays active with her community as a board member of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) Milwaukee Chapter, the Milwaukee Water Commons, and TRUE Skool. She is also a member of the 88Nine Cultural Commons/Community Stories Live Steering Committee and the Alverno College Latinas Con Fuerza Ceremony committee, a ceremony she helped found during her senior year at the college. In her spare time, JoAnna enjoys drinking coffee at local coffee shops, taking in various cultures at different festivals and eating tacos from a food truck.
Claire Zautke, Health Care for All Director (M.P.A, University of Wisconsin-Madison, B.A. Carthage College) Claire is a former Milwaukee School Board member and outreach director who came to Citizen Action after completing her Master of Public Affairs at the UW’s La Follette School of Public Affairs. Claire studied policy analysis, program evaluation, statistical and cost-benefit analysis, and nonprofit management. Claire is passionate about addressing the failings of our health care system, and advocating for high-quality, affordable, and equitable access to health care for all.
Brian Wooldridge, Operations Director (B.A. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) Brian is passionate about moving progressive issues forward in our community and culture. Brian was born in Hartford, CT but grew up in central Indiana. After High School he moved to Milwaukee to attend the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and graduated with a History Major and Communications Minor. Brian is also a musician and has released several albums and has toured the US. Brian oversees the operations of Citizen Action and produces the weekly Battleground Wisconsin Podcast. He is married and has two sons, they reside in Wauwatosa, WI.
Karen Kirsch, Health Care for All Co-op Organizer (B.A. Mount Mary University) Karen is a native Wisconsinite originally from Port Washington, WI. She is a graduate of MATC with an Associate Degree in Human Services and a graduate of Mt. Mary University as an Art Education major. Her father, Harvey Weber, worked in the Milwaukee area during the era of flourishing manufacturing and unions. Her household was a USW home and while her father was elderly during the Scott Walker union busting times, Karen became newly activated politically on his behalf as he always reminded her of his post depression era upbringing and how belonging a union changed his life. She’s worked for a myriad of Democratic candidates in the Southeastern Wisconsin area and most recently serving as deputy campaign manager for Julie Henszey, a 2018 Wisconsin state senate candidate and Milwaukee Co-op member. Karen is also active at the local and statewide level of the Democratic Party and serves as an elected administrative board member. Karen became a Co-op member several years ago as she was saw the value in keeping issues alive and in the foreground during non-election years.She most recently worked in the advertising, marketing and PR world for a notable national advertising agency. Working on global brands with some of the most talented messaging people in the county has taught Karen the importance of attention to detail, deliberate and well thought out communication, framing and execution. She is excited to bring this experience to the table in advancing the progressive agenda. At a young age, she was excluded from healthcare due to a pre-existing condition and that event led her to tune into the issue as she saw others that were even more impacted than her. She believes healthcare is a right, not a privilege. The lack of it, sets people into a vicious and often deadly cycle. Today she lives in Greenfield with her partner, Robert Hansen and step-daughter, Abigail Hansen and their two dogs. Coincidentally, Robert is also from a USW household, as his father Albin Hansen worked for a paper mill in Upper Michigan. Her household has a full fledged USW foundation and they will forever be grateful.
Noah Reif, Northeast Wisconsin Co-op Organizer (B.M. Liberal Arts, St. Norbert College) Noah grew up in the Kettle Moraine Forest and attended Random Lake High School. After graduating, I studied music at St. Norbert, graduating in 2015. A month later, she began volunteering on Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, eventually working up from knocking doors to helping drive youth turnout in Northeast Wisconsin. As the campaign in Wisconsin drew to a close, she was approached to run for state assembly on the East Side of Brown County. “To say the least, it was truly a transformative experience. Like many people, November 9th, 2016 is seared deeply in my consciousness. I remember the “victory” party, the statements I gave to nervous crowds, and the number of drinks (9) I had with striking clarity. From that time on, I applied for every single political position I could.” In between political work, Noah was a paraprofessional in Random Lake, freelance music teacher, and a salesperson. Finally in 2018, For Our Future hired Noah as a canvass organizer in Green Bay. She learned so much from people like Jon Schwarze, Robin Smith, Dan Balm, and countless others whose names and contributions are often lost in the “grand narrative” of our work. By November 6th, she was managing his own field office and in North Central Wisconsin. As terrible as election night 2016 had been, 2018 was just the opposite. “I remember just as vividly hitting refresh over and over on the wards I had knocked in Portage County, waiting for them to announce the governorship. There were phone calls, tears of joy, exhaustion, and for the first time in what felt like an eternity, hope.” Noah currently resides in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and spends most of my time justifying her vast amounts of student loan debt spent on an arts degree writing painfully derivative sentimentality. She also likes Social Anxiety, Wisconsin Sports, and collecting stories for a book called “S*** Organizers Think.”
Breana Stanley, Northwest Wisconsin Co-op Organizer
(B.A. University of Wisconsin)
Breana was born and raised in a small town of 2,000 people in Barron County, Wisconsin before moving to Eau Claire in 2009. Breana received her Bachelor’s Degree in History and Political Science in 2013 from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire and her Master’s Degree in Administrative Leadership in 2018 from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. She is married to her husband, Neil, and has two beautiful children, Lennon and Abram.
Breana is the President of the Chippewa Valley LGBTQ+ Community Center, Secretary and Communications Chair of the Eau Claire County Democratic Party, and a committee-member on the Eau Claire Area School Board. She is also a member of the Young Democrats of Wisconsin and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. She has worked on several campaigns, interning for Judy Smriga’s 68th Assembly campaign in 2012, volunteering on behalf of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries, and Hillary Clinton in the general election of the same year. Most recently, Breana was the Regional Organizing Lead for Western Wisconsin with the Human Rights Campaign, which led to victories of pro-equality candidates across the state in 2018’s midterm elections. Breana upholds a strong value of inclusiveness and intersectionality in her organizing practice and is excited to start working with Citizen Action to uplift those values in Northwestern Wisconsin’s co-ops.
In her free time, Breana loves to read anything by Stephen King, listen to true crime podcasts, and watch Peppa Pig with her kids.
Joel Lewis, Organizer, North Central Organizing Co-op (B.S. Upper Iowa University, Associate’s at Northcentral Technical College) Joel graduated from Upper Iowa University with a double bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Social Work in 2010. Shortly thereafter, the passage of Act 10 happened, and the uprising in our State capitol was one of the results. Joel got involved in the recall efforts and has been organizing ever since. In 2011, We Are WI, Credo SuperPAC and Wisconsin Jobs Now arrived in Wausau, WI, where Joel was raised, and where he is currently raising his family. Joel was already very active with the Democratic party, but wanted more than just another meeting. These three groups offered that through direct action, organizing around issues and building campaigns. Joel’s dedication to these causes led to him being paid by Credo SuperPAC and then, OFA (Organizing for America) during the 2012 elections. He then was hired by Wisconsin Jobs Now in the beginning of 2013 to work in cooperation with Citizen Action of Wisconsin on a campaign to pressure Gov. Walker to accept the Medicaid (BadgerCare) money being offered through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and then immediately after, Joel organized for the Fight for $15 and a Union movement. After being frustrated with the Marathon County Board for failing to pass a resolution urging the Governor to accept the BadgerCare money, and after they refused to even consider a living wage referendum or resolution, Joel ran for the County Board. He is currently serving his 3rd year (2nd term) on the Board. He also serves on the Education and Economic Development Committee, the Social Services Board, and the Aging and Disability Resource Center-Central WI Board (ADRC-CW-represented by members from four counties: Marathon, Lincoln, Langlade and Wood Counties) as a part of his duties to the County Board. In addition to the County Board, Joel serves on the Marathon County Central Labor Council AFL-CIO as a delegate for his union, OPEIU Local 9 and as a Trustee. He also serves as a consumer board member on the Board of Director’s for the Bridge Community Health Clinic (a Federally Qualified Health Clinic) in Wausau. He is also involved with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (The Quaker Lobby group). Joel has a wife named Melissa Engels-Lewis, who is involved in environmental activism. Most recently she went to Standing Rock to take donations to the tribes and in the Summer of 2016, she and her family walked 4 days along the Enbridge pipeline (the organizers of this event walked for 33 days from Southern WI to Superior). She was also very involved in the fight against the Penokee Hills Gogebic Taconite mine. Joel and Melissa have 3 daughters, Shawna Engels, Haley Steffen and Carra Adair Lewis. Organizing and activism have become a part of their daily lives. The North Central Organizing Co-op is comprised of members from 10 counties: Wood, Portage, Marathon, Lincoln, Langlade, Oneida, Vilas, Price, Rusk and Sawyer Counties. He is very excited to have people from the Northwoods, deciding what needs to be worked on.
Mireya Mercado, Digital and Community Outreach Organizer (B.A. Marquette University) Mireya is a public relations professional who works to amplify CAW social media and media presence. Mireya has worked on various electoral and issue campaigns. She also led student efforts at Marquette University to ensure equitable representation of students of color on campus. She recently completed a fellowship through NextGen in efforts to mobilize the Youth Vote on her campus and increase voter turnout. Mireya looks forward to utilizing digital tools to highlight our fight for equitable access to health care for all. Mireya holds a B.A. in communications from Marquette University.
Ben Wilson, Southwestern Wisconsin Co-op Organizer
Ben Wilson is the Citizen Action Southwestern Wisconsin Organizing Cooperative Organizer. Ben grew up in Lansing Iowa right across the Mississippi River from the region he organizes in now, and through most of his twenties worked on marketing events from coast to coast which left him feeling unfulfilled and as though all he had accomplished was making major corporations more profits. That’s why Ben got involved as a volunteer in the 2016 presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders. He later took a job as a canvasser campaigning for Hilary Clinton and Russ Fiengold during the 2016 election, which broke his heart but strengthened his resolve to create a better tomorrow. During the 2018 midterm election Ben managed more than 50 canvassers knocking doors across 12 counties working as a lead organizer for the group For Our Future, which runs a large canvassing operation across the state during major elections.
As a gay man living with HIV, with everyday under the Donald Trump administration feeling like a fight for survivial, Ben understands the consequences elections have on our daily lives and is committed to fighting for a world where the next generation does not have to worry about our basic human rights being taken away, not having access to needed healthcare, or our planet being unlivable.
Ben now works with Citizen Action Southwestern Wisconsin Co-op member-activists to create real change on the issues of climate change, healthcare for all, and other local issues deemed important by co-op members.
Barbara Cerda, Southeastern Wisconsin Cooperative Organizer
(B.A. Alverno College)
Barbara is passionate about uplifting the Milwaukee community by participating in social justice movements, advocating for positive changes in her neighborhood, and most importantly, by serving others. She was born and raised on the south side and attended Milwaukee Public Schools. Barbara is a proud Alverno College Alumna and obtained her B.A. in Community Leadership and Development in December 2017. Most recently, she obtained a Non-Profit Board Leadership Certificate through the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County’s Project LEAD (Leadership, Effectiveness, and Diversity) Program.
She is currently working for Citizen Action (CAW) as the Southeastern Wisconsin Cooperative Organizer. Previously, she was a Lead Field Organizer for CAW. For as long as she can remember, she has attended protests advocating for immigrant and worker rights. In 2016, Barbara interned at The Reproductive Justice Collective and it was there that she discovered her passion for organizing.
Barbara serves on the Board of Directors for Civitas Law Group, Inc. and is an Exhibit Curator/Lead Coordinator for the Wisconsin Hispanic Scholarship Foundation, Inc./Mexican Fiesta. She is the founder of Barby The Book Fairy, which is a program that focuses on providing empowering and culturally relevant literature to families in the Milwaukee community, particularly in area codes 53215 and 53204.
Barbara is a full-time mother to three brilliant and adventurous girls. In her spare time, she enjoys thrifting, reading and spending quality time with her friends and family.
Anita Johnson, Community Organizer – Retired (A.D. Milwaukee Area Technical College). Anita is one of the most respected organizers in Milwaukee’s African American Community, with three decades of experience speaking out on important issues. Anita’s focus is faith-based organizing on the issues of poverty, civic engagement, and voting rights. Anita joined Citizen Action of Wisconsin in August of 2008 as the Election Administration Advocate. Prior to joining Citizen Action, Anita worked for People For The American Way as Wisconsin Election Protection State Coordinator. Anita spent a number of years working for the largest public employee union in Milwaukee County, AFSCME District Council 48. Anita has received the U. S. Postal Service Award for Community Service, “Women Who Put Their Stamp On Milwaukee,” and the Grassroots Organizer of the Year award from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in 2013. She is also a graduate of Leadership Milwaukee. Anita grew up in Milwaukee, and is a lifelong resident of Wisconsin’s most diverse city.