There’s no playbook for the moment in which we find ourselves. As organizers and activists, we don’t have a set of protocols for mobilizing people in the midst of a pandemic.
But as a wide movement, we’re starting to develop theories and frameworks for how to move forward. Here are some ideas for moving forward that we recommend for anyone looking for support or inspiration.
We know we need new models for reaching people directly, and because we increasingly have the ability to map key relationships at scale, we’re seeing lots of campaigns and advocacy groups find ways to do meaningful relational organizing work. Sabina Tarnówka, a strategist here at Blue State, has written a white paper looking at a set of the most popular apps for supporting this work — download it here.
We don’t know how long we’re going to need to practice social distancing and work from home, but as long as we’re doing it, we should do it well. The Management Center has a great set of tips for how to be a good manager in this particular moment.
Even before this crisis, online conversations were becoming more closed off, and now, we’re in a moment where individuals feel more isolated than ever before. But we cannot cede the public internet in the 2020 election.
We need to shape an environment where those who share our values can connect and coalesce. We cannot allow a lack of visibility to reduce the chance that progressives win popular support. That starts with giving supporters and allies more collateral and tools to amplify key messages. User-generated video might be one way to make progress toward that goal — we’re particularly intrigued by new tools like Jotto and Soapboxx.
In the absence of field programs, we’re going to need to use virtual organizing programs to meet our voter contact goals. To maximize participation, we need to up our collective distributed organizing game. That means being transparent about our campaign goals and putting more trust in our volunteers to create their own (virtual) events, recruit their own teams, and achieve big things without command and control from headquarters. The folks at Mobilize America have put together a terrific guide for helping to move these kinds of supporter engagement programs online. They’re also offering free access to their core platform to 501(c)(3) organizations for COVID-19 relief work through May 31.
Vote by Mail:
Every theory of change we have, every rationale for our work, falls flat if people can’t vote in November because showing up at the polls puts their health at risk. We need nationwide vote by mail infrastructure — but we don’t have to wait for movement on that front to start organizing absentee ballot request programs. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington already have vote by mail. And in 28 states (as well as Washington, D.C), any citizen can choose to cast an absentee ballot without needing an excuse. But with the pandemic, state boards of election are changing deadlines, moving primaries, and considering the need to do more in the future. Vote.org is tracking all those changes here.
Looking for more?
Here’s Blue State’s report on fundraising during the pandemic.
Swing Left has a whole set of resources for virtual organizing.
Run for Something has developed a set of recommendations for candidates.
Sister District has a list of suggestions for keeping volunteers engaged.
Campaign Bootcamp has guides for running virtual training programs.
Movement School has put together its own round-up of resources.
The New Left Accelerator has collected dozens of trainings, informational materials, and reference documents here.
As this crisis becomes more acute and the need for government action becomes more obvious, we need to trust that supporters of our various causes are going to become increasingly hungry for something to do.
Several of our clients engaged their audiences around Congress’ third coronavirus relief package — and when we gave activists the opportunity to mobilize, they eagerly spoke out. Across multiple different communities, we saw open rates and action rates spike. For health care groups, we saw responses that matched or exceeded any individual activation we saw during the fight around protecting the Affordable Care Act in 2017.
We’re living through an unprecedented moment. That means we’re going to try things that won’t work. We’re going to test new technology that fails. But the important thing is that we try. That’s what we owe our supporters.
If we can help answer any questions, or if you have good learnings to share, we hope you’ll be in touch.