Maker Feature: RISE

“The morning after the election, we were both crestfallen,” says Ellie Bahrmasel of herself and friend Genevieve Thiers. “It was about the fact that a person had won who symbolized something that is so very un-American” — division and the shaming and othering of various groups of people.

Bahrmasel and Thiers were upset, but they were also motivated to help change the system that had brought about this outcome. So on November 9, 2016, they decided to do something. They founded RISE. The name nods to the act of rising above what divides us to find a common ground.

By November 11, the two women — who met at the Venture Fwd summit — had named their group, purchased a domain name and put up a splash page for their coming website. That evening, they invited anyone who was interested to convene at Thiers’ home for a brainstorming session — 200 people showed up. Bahrmasel and Thiers stood in front of the group with dry erase markers and a white board and asked for input on what RISE should be and what needed to be done to heal the United States or to bring about, as RISE’s website would later proclaim, the Reunited States of America.

“Our country is at a point where the divide among us is growing bigger and bigger when we need the exact opposite to happen,” Bahrmasel says. That night, they realized there was a huge need to restore empathy, unity and civil conversation to the political landscape. And who better to do this than them?

“We want to transform the way political engagement happens,” Bahrmasel says. “It is a movement about transformation and the redirection of energy — giving people an outlet to help shape the future of the country.”

With this first meeting, RISE not only gained a direction, but also plenty of volunteers.

“We’ve got an incredible core team of people,” Bahrmasel says, each utilizing their expertise to further the group — for example, those with ad agency experience work on the group’s messaging while others with digital knowledge develop the website.

Bahrmasel herself has experience in government and politics as well as in corporate social responsibility and social impact initiatives, all of which informs her work with RISE. These days, in addition to working full-time jobs, core team volunteers also work more than 40 hours a week on RISE.

In January, the group hosted their first fundraiser at Savage Smyth. It attracted over 200 people and included a spoken-word flash mob, brief presentations from Bahrmasel and Thiers and general mixing and mingling.

“The RISE event at Savage Smyth was an important opportunity for us to build community,” Bahrmasel says, “which is what we need more now than ever before.”

That same week, members of RISE boarded two buses to the capital to participate in the Women’s March on Washington the day after the inauguration.

The group wanted to be there as a “sign of solidarity and empathy with every single person who feels like their personhood is threatened by the new leadership at the top of the country,” Bahrmasel says. They also had organizers at women’s marches in Denver, L.A., San Francisco, New York and various other cities across the city. Bahrmasel herself spoke at the march in Chicago.

So what’s next for RISE? The group recently opened offices at Industrious Chicago in River North and hired their first full-time employee. RISE is focusing on empowering people to take action in their communities and support the candidates they want, paying close attention to those neighborhoods where there was low voter turnout.

“We hope to diversify the pipeline of talent for public office,” Bahrmasel says — so that elected officials accurately represent the constituents they serve.

As for the group’s volunteers, RISE hopes to create a space for everyone who wants to be involved — whether as someone applying their skills within the organization or a leader starting their own volunteer group with RISE’s support.

“People are more than ready to be activated,” Bahrmasel says, “and we’re excited to be able to give people an outlet to channel their hope, fear, frustration and love into meaningful action.”