Our History

Catalyst Project does political education and leadership development with white organizers and majority white organizations to contribute to powerful multiracial movements led by Black communities, Indigenous communities, and communities of color. Catalyst Project works across movements to help stitch together the mass movement it will take to dismantle racial capitalism and build towards collective liberation.


Catalyst Project began in 2000 as a project of the Challenging White Supremacy Workshops (CWS) and was deeply shaped by 5 major influences: CWS and their lineage in the Black Freedom movement of the 1960s, the Global Justice Movement of the late 1990s, the antiwar movement after 9/11/2001, community organizing and mutual aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and Women of Color Feminism.

Challenging White Supremacy, founded by Sharon Martinas and Mickey Ellinger in 1993, was an anti-racism training program primarily for white activists and organizers. Sharon and Mickey were politicized as anti-racist organizers by the Civil Rights, Black Power and antiwar movements of the 1960s and 1970s and the call from the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) for white people to organize other white people to challenge racism.

Photo from the Shutdown of the WTO in 1999

Early members of Catalyst were part of the Global Justice Movement to confront corporate power—most famously with the shutdown of the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999. When Elizabeth ‘Betita’ Martinez issued a vital critique of the Global Justice Movement in her article, “Where Was the Color in Seattle,” Catalyst took up the call to push Global Justice organizers to wrestle with the historic role of white supremacy and how it was showing up in the movement.

The attacks on September 11th, 2001 and the subsequent so-called “War on Terror” influenced Catalyst’s work, as well. Challenging imperialism and domestic militarism through an anti-racist lens became a core part of Catalyst’s work in response to US imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, US support for Israel’s colonization of Palestine, and repression of Muslim and Arab communities in the US.

Catalyst was shaped by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, where poor Black people in New Orleans were completely abandoned by the government. Catalyst Project members spent months on the ground in New Orleans, participating in mutual aid and organizing led by longtime left and radical organizers at Community Labor United, People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, Critical Resistance, the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, and the Common Ground Collective. Catalyst Project worked to support the politicization of white volunteers and activists who came to New Orleans in the months after the hurricane. This work clarified the need for social movements of millions of people to create institutions, communities and systems which build racial and social justice in our day-to-day lives.

Click here for more detail about Catalyst’s early history.

The Anne Braden Anti-Racist Organizer Training Program

In 2008, Catalyst Project launched the first Anne Braden Anti-Racist Organizer Training Program with 25 participants. The program is named after Anne Braden, a white, Southern lifelong anti-racist organizer. The program was developed in consultation with Black organizers, Indigenous organizers, and organizers of color in the Bay Area to support white organizers to participate powerfully in people of color-led movements. The first several cohorts of the Anne Braden Program were run locally in the Bay Area and included placement with important people of color-led organizing projects in the Bay Area.

Photo of 2019 Anne Braden program. 60 facilitators and participants pose in a big open room. Wide, short picture.

The Anne Braden Program consists of intensive study, political education, leadership development and personal transformation work. Participants receive 1-on-1 support and structured mentorship, build grassroots fundraising skills, learn from leaders of various liberation struggles, and network with organizers from across the US and Canada. The program builds an understanding of racial capitalism’s history and how it shapes our current reality. It supports participants in building an intersectional and internationalist analysis grounded in women of color feminisms. It provides tools for participants to interrogate their whiteness in order to develop their leadership.

Over the years, Catalyst Project has adapted the program, often in response to important feedback, to further center the leadership our movements need, prioritizing poor and working class people, people with disabilities, Jews, trans women and trans femmes.

In 2018, responding to the urgency of rising white nationalism after the election of Donald Trump, Catalyst ran two simultaneous cohorts of the Anne Braden Program for the first time, doing political education and deep leadership development with 50 organizers from across the country. In 2021 during the Covid-19 Pandemic, Catalyst Project ran the first all online version of the Anne Braden Program with 4 cohorts and 140 participants from across the US and Canada.

As of 2022, Catalyst has run the Anne Braden Program 11 times, doing intensive leadership development with nearly 500 organizers who are working to build powerful multiracial movements for justice across issues and locations.

Local Organizing, National Organizing, Organizational Development, and Movement Safety

Stop urban shield protest. Protesters in street, blue sky, red flag, two, purple flags. 2 yellow banners. Trees in background.  Banners read: Stop Urban Shield. End Police War on Our Communities.

Catalyst Project participates in movements and movement moments in the Bay Area and across Turtle Island. We provide training and organizational support for majority white organizations. We also work to build good movement practice regarding protest safety and security as well as resisting state repression.

Catalyst stands in solidarity with Indigenous struggles, most notably at Standing Rock, where we co-led daily orientations for non-Indigenous people arriving at the encampment, as well as participating in the struggle to stop the Line 3 pipeline. We continue organizing for Indigenous sovereignty and struggles to return land to its rightful stewards through the Indigenous Solidarity Network (ISN).

Oceti Sakowin camp, Standing Rock as winter rolled in. Photo by Desiree Kane, Miwok journalist/photographer who spent 7 months at camp.