Right now, every advocacy group and political campaign in America is rethinking how they organize communities in the middle of a pandemic and national uprisings.
Earlier this month, I sat down with a group of leading practitioners from the Democratic National Committee, Sister District, Emerge America, Spread the Vote & Project ID, as well as a candidate from New York’s 55th Senate district to talk about how they’re adapting to this moment — what’s working, what’s not, what we need to build, what we need to change.
Here are a few takeaways from the discussion:
1. Welcome the saturation
It can seem overwhelming when everyone has a platform and everyone is taking steps to organize their communities. Don’t be intimidated by the saturation. Having more trusted voices in the arena will only help to reach more individuals.
Our panel was inspired to see large corporations like the NBA or MLB actively looking to partner with nonprofits fighting for racial justice and working to dismantle white supremacy. Organizations that may have misstepped in the past are recognizing their faults, becoming engaged in the space, and in turn, activating entire populations that may not have been active before.
I don’t think you could ever oversaturate giving voters good information. Having different validators do it just allows you to reach more people”Meg DiMartino, Democratic National Convention
2. Look beyond this November
Everyone is laser-focused on November 3rd, and rightly so. But it’s also important to take a beat and recognize the impact of what we’re building in this moment. The organizing infrastructure being molded now will support movements and communities far past this election.
Think of other ways to utilize your volunteers — who are fired up and trained — to take action. Use whatever platform you have to share other calls to action and redirect people’s energy towards other worthy causes.
We all know that this fight doesn’t end after a single election — even with a good outcome.
Everybody is going to have to work really hard to impress upon people that the election is just a milestone — not the finish line — and that there will still be a lot of work to do after the election is over.”Lala Wu, Sister District
3. Rely on community leaders
Reaching communities most susceptible to voter suppression in the middle of a pandemic is no easy feat. It’s something that Spread the Vote & Project ID in particular have been working to address over the past few months.
Few people they represent have internet access, some are behind bars, others don’t have a permanent address. So, how do you reach folks who are offline during a pandemic where person-to-person contact is discouraged? Community leaders.
Rabbis and priests — who are still allowed into prisons under COVID-19 restrictions — can help deliver voter registration materials. For those displaced or without homes, rely on individuals who are working at shelters or community groups.
Communities who don’t have access to virtual means have to be first priority when getting out the vote.
We had to take all of our on-the-ground GOTV programming that we had planned and turn it into something that is digital and accessible to both the wider world that has regular access to the internet, but also to our client base — only 1% of whom have access to a phone.”Kat Calvin, Spread the Vote & Project ID
4. Meet people where they are
There’s always innovation to be had in organizing, especially in this digital space. But what does “innovation” actually look like in the field?
Because people are no longer constrained by place or time to have a positive impact, campaigners have an opportunity to energize more volunteers than ever before.
The DNC was able to complete more than 80 organizer training sessions since the start of March, something that would have been nearly impossible to do if virtual trainings weren’t an option. By meeting people where they are, you open the door to a whole new subset of volunteers.
In addition to virtual training sessions, campaigns and organizations have begun leading virtual phone banks. They’ve worked well, giving volunteers the flexibility and ease they might not have had before. Some obstacles, like transportation or childcare, have been removed.
Something important to remember as we move away from in-person gatherings is: How are we still ensuring that we’re building connections and community?”Ryanne Olsen, Emerge America
5. Take advantage of extra eyes and ears
In a moment where people have more hunger for a sense of community, more frustration with the status quo, and more time to dive deeper — it makes sense that we’d have more eyes and ears. What you do with them makes all the difference.
Be prepared to give folks new to your organization the space to learn but the impetus to take action quickly. People are eager to put their time and money into something that will address our nation’s issues head-on.
The vast majority of people are already on board to do the right thing, they just need a little direction.
We have to be able to accelerate our pace of progress now that we have more eyes and ears.”Samra Brouk, Candidate for New York’s 55th Senate District
If you want to listen to the whole conversation from our organizing webinar, click this link.