Staff Bio

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

Kate Beaton, Movement Organizing Director. Kate is a Wisconsin native who got her start bringing sustainable food equity to her community as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she has a bachelor’s degree in social work and a minor in environmental science. At 24, Kate became the youngest woman ever to serve in elected office in Eau Claire, a record later broken by Kate’s former intern! As an organizer and city council member, Kate has been a leader in the Western Wisconsin region, igniting a local climate movement, fighting for livable wages and affordable housing, and protecting our right to vote. Kate is passionate about training and empowering a future generation of leaders and has supported the effort to bring diversity to our local elected offices, so our leaders look like our community in age, gender, race and sexual orientation. As Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s Movement Organizing Director, Kate supports the rural and suburban co-op organizers and directs the Rural Climate Program. Kate owns a home in the Third Ward of Eau Claire where she lives with her partner, their cat, Ada and beagle, Elsie. In her spare time, Kate loves to backpack in the mountains out west, take long bike rides during the summer, do textile arts (especially macrame), and experience Eau Claire’s vibrant live music scene.

Priscilla Rose Bort, Movement Politics Director (M.S. – Southern New Hampshire University; B.S. – Carroll University). Priscilla Rose is passionate about working with anyone who is looking to find their place in the world, and in movement politics. She wants to change the status quo of Wisconsin politics by working with BIPOC candidates, getting them across the Election Day finish line and beyond. She grew up in West Allis, the daughter of a single mother union employee. She got her start within the gun control movement, and after the Parkland shooting she wanted to get involved in politics. She volunteered for Mandela Barnes’ Lt. Gov campaign and found her progressive political space. During her time at the Wisconsin Working Families Party she built programs with hundreds of volunteers and worked closely with 60+ candidates of all kinds up and down the ballot around the state of Wisconsin. She was also part of the unionizing of WFP with Workers United, serving on the bargaining committee, as well as the creation and development of curriculum for her programs Bet on Us Wisconsin and Candidate Services Training. The heart of everything she has loved doing is recruiting and encouraging candidates who want to change the way politics looks in Wisconsin. She currently lives in Milwaukee, and loves spending time outside near Lake Michigan. In her spare time, she loves reading, painting, roller skating, watching both the Golden and Gilmore girls, and all forms of self-care!

Valerie Ricks, North Side Rising Lead Field Organizer. (B.A. Marquette University) I’m a child of the 60’s Labor, civil rights, criminal justice, gay rights, environment, women’s rights issues started to bubble up all over in America. My family was active so it I never questioned being part of the fight. Some kind of way. I started advocating for BIPOC students’ rights in high school and at Marquette after moving to Milwaukee. I was lucky to find like-minded people who helped me create two Black Student Unions and Marquette’s Ethnic Minority Association under the office of Student Affairs. After working in the electrical industry I ran my own distribution company from 1989-2001. I had no intention of fighting for racial equality but, that was not the case. I was the only Black-owner female distributor of electrical apparatus and supply at a state, county and city level. I discovered that career equity is a major issue for the BIPOC population and women of all backgrounds. Yet, I was able to reach annual sales of 1,000,000. I also worked in the field and developed an appreciation of how construction, manufacturing, distribution, government and banking all come together impacting commerce, health, national security and over all well-being in society. I then took on a short stint with an attorney to help him expand his customer base and address some operational issues. Switching to the service industry in 2008 I became a union steward. I was instrumental in successful contract negotiation for SEIU Local 122, while holding the union against efforts by management. Our efforts were supported by LULAC, the Milwaukee Bucks, and Bernie Sanders. After leaving the hotel in 2019 I was happy to make a transition to involve myself more with labor issues and political canvassing through SEIU. We helped to canvass the 2020 election with a push for livable wages and healthcare. I also started working as a poll worker. I recently accepted the opportunity and challenge as the North Side Rising Lead Field Organizer. I look forward to working with a team of like-minded to build a strong, enduring, influential community co-op.

Karen Kirsch, Campaigns Director (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.

Keviea GuidenKeviea Guiden, Energy Burden Organizer. Keviea Guiden was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, raised in the Hillside Projects. She attended MPS schools and furthered her education at the MATC downtown campus where she acquired two degrees. Keviea has been a civically engaged grassroots organizer since 2018. She is a strong advocate for families in the 53206 zip code as well as surrounding neighborhoods throughout Milwaukee. Keviea has accomplished many goals as a Community Organizer. She created a free mask program in 2020 once COVID hit, she distributed over 5,000 reusable facial masks.Since then she attended a virtual tour with Nuns On The Bus. Keviea has been featured in a Documentary Short called Dress Rehearsal about progressive organizers, CNN, Washington Post, Mother Jones Magazine,Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and on German News channels. Keviea is currently a member of the Wisconsin Women’s Network, NAACP (Milwaukee chapter) and Wisconsin Democratic Party. Within the last six months Keviea has earned the following medals for being a Team Player,Producer,Fast Learner,Problem Solver,Achiever,and Effective Communicator. Keviea is devoted and invested in Milwaukee. She will continue to fight for energy burdens, clean water, social injustice, fair housing, liveable wages and thriving neighborhoods.

Natalie Hoffman, Northeast Co-op Organizer. (B.A. University of Wisconsin-Green Bay). Natalie was born and raised in Greenfield, WI and moved to Green Bay for college in 2016. She majored in German and Criminal Justice and minored in Political Science and Sociology. She currently lives in Green Bay with three of her best friends in a house full of cats. Natalie’s strong sense of ethics and justice developed in college as they learned more in-depth about the inequities of the criminal justice system and American political history, and the desire to fight for progressive change led them to the world of organizing. Natalie began her organizing experience during the 2020 election season as the Northeast Regional Organizer for Vote Mob (WI), where she worked with college students and other young activists to develop their leadership skills and educate young voters. After the election, Natalie continued to organize locally with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) Green Bay chapter, and she remains active with the group today. Natalie has also worked alongside Citizen Action within the past year, including being endorsed by CAW during her campaign for Green Bay City Council in spring of 2022. As the Northeast Co-op Organizer, Natalie builds people power in the northeast region of Wisconsin by training and developing leadership skills to give folks the tools they need to create bold, progressive change. In their free time, Natalie plays keyboard and tambourine in a local band called The Sinner and The Saint, and she enjoys reading, playing video games, painting, traveling, and spending time in nature.

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.

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.

Jeremy Gragert, Northwestern Wisconsin Co-op Organizer (M.S.E, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse; B.A, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire). Jeremy has lived in Eau Claire for over 20 years, and has served on the Eau Claire City Council since 2018. Jeremy joined the Citizen Action of Wisconsin team in 2022, as the Northwestern Wisconsin Co-op Organizer. Previously, Jeremy was a climate and energy organizer in Wisconsin for the National Wildlife Federation, and the coordinator of the Wisconsin Climate Table, a network of non-profit organizations focused on addressing climate change in the state through innovations in energy, buildings, and transportation. Jeremy’s past work experience includes: Communications specialist for the Chippewa Valley Museum, northwest ambassador for the Wisconsin Bike Fed, and civic engagement coordinator for the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Jeremy is a board member and co-founder of two transportation-focused non-profit organizations based in Eau Claire, the Chippewa Valley Transit Alliance and Bike Chippewa Valley. Born in Minneapolis, Jeremy grew up in Stillwater, Minnesota, and in addition to living most of his life in Eau Claire, has lived in the western Wisconsin communities of La Crosse and Menomonie.

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.

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.