Marta Popadiak, APTP Class of 2003, has made a career out of the passion for social justice that she developed at APTP. We interviewed Marta about her blossoming career as an organizer around progressive political issues and candidates in Minnesota.
APTP: Tell us about your exciting new job.
MARTA POPADIAK: I am a Regional Field Director with the Al Franken for US Senate campaign. There are six regional positions in the state and I will be heading the field organizing team in the Minneapolis office.
APTP: Before this new job, what was your career in politics, organizing, and public service?
MARTA: Right now, I am managing Greta Bergstrom’s State House race in Saint Paul. It’s critical to have more bold progressive women who will champion the progressive agenda in our state.
Before that, I was a field organizer on the Betsy Hodges for Mayor of Minneapolis campaign. I had the opportunity to organize in some of the most economically depressed areas of Minneapolis, engage voters in the process, and empower people to not only elect someone who cares about making our communities stronger, but also hold her accountable to what she promised. I knocked on thousands of doors and had hundreds of conversations with people about what they want out of their mayor and how to improve our communities. We kicked serious ass and won! Now I’ve got the Mayor’s number in my phone. No big deal.
MARTA: I have been organizing around progressive issues and candidates since 2008 with a few organizations, mostly TakeAction Minnesota. TakeAction Minnesota is a state- wide peoples’ organization that works to advance issues of racial, social and economic justice. Last session we closed over $400 million dollars in corporate tax loopholes and taxed the top 2% of income earners in our state to create new revenue to fund public schools and other crucial programs. We were the first state to block the racist Voter-ID amendment in 2012. I also worked on a successful electoral campaign in Northfield, MN where the margin of victory was 75 votes!
APTP: What issues have been most important to you?
MARTA: I am most motivated by issues of economic justice. The “American dream” narrative where folks work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps is crap and nearly impossible to achieve. I see this in my mother who makes the same stagnant poverty wages she made in 1979, and has no healthcare or retirement plan. Trust me, if bootstrapping was possible my mom would have done it a long time ago. I believe that government has an obligation to ensure that the economy benefits us, not just large corporations and the 1%.
APTP: Why does this work fulfill you?
MARTA: I grew up feeling disempowered and disengaged from the process that makes decisions on my behalf. I’ve had to work hard to unravel the lies that teach me that I can make no difference and that my voice doesn’t matter, and it’s a continual process. It is fulfilling to be empowered and to empower others who grew up like I did, to make some serious change in peoples’ lives. I’ve come off of a series of wins, and winning feels damn good. It is also an incredible feeling to be surrounded by others who are like-minded and energized by this work. A better world is possible and going inch by inch toward that is an amazing feeling.
I've been organizing around progressive issues and candidates since 2008. Working inch by inch toward a better world is an amazing feeling.
APTP: You also worked as a language teacher.
MARTA: I worked at Language Sprout, a foreign language center in Saint Paul. Its mission is to provide quality language instruction to people of all ages and change the culture of language learning. I taught Spanish and Polish to people age 18 months to seniors for three years, and my role expanded to Assistant Director after that. As Assistant Director I worked on curriculum development, training teachers, and making sure our teaching plans were solid. This work gave me a window into what it is like to work for a small business, in a time when that is a hot topic. We went from three staff and contracts at a couple locations to 21 staff and contracts with over 25 schools and day care centers. I am proud that I had the opportunity to oversee that growth.
APTP: How did your time with APTP shape your journey?
APTP was the place where I formed my social and political consciousness. Through our work of exploring and telling the stories of my community, I learned to think critically about the world around me. This continues to shape my worldview and helps me see the structures of injustice and racism at play every day of my life. My time at APTP inspired me to work for justice and equity.
APTP: What aspects of your time at APTP remain the strongest influence in your life?
I remember a specific conversation with Laura Wiley (APTP’s late co- founder). The conversation started with me declaring that I hate taxes. Laura probed me to understand how I came to that conclusion. Without saying it, she helped me see how influential the dominant worldview, with it’s roots in racism, sexism and injustice, can be. This conversation reminds me every day to have a critical eye on how I develop my convictions. It’s conversations like these that remain the strongest influence on my life. It was an incredible learning experience.
APTP: How long have you been connected to APTP?
I joined the company in 1999 as a freshman in high school. My sister Maggie (now APTP’s Associate Director) was already involved and I actually used to hate on her and say, “Wow you have no life. All you do is APTP.” Little did I know how involved I would get and the impact it would have on my consciousness and future. My first show was Firmer Ground, and my final production was Aquí Estoy, just before I started at Earlham College in 2003. I am still connected as a donor and continue to come back for all the shows. And obviously I am connected through my sister and brother-in-law (David Feiner, producing artistic director).
APTP: I know you’re just starting a new job. Any dreams for what’s down the road?
MARTA: I love Minneapolis, but I dream of coming home to Chicago. I am going to smash Chicago’s political machine and organize a peoples’ government by working to engage all people from all communities to hold Chicago’s elected officials accountable to a more socially, racially, and economically just city.