360 Campaigns and M+R have collaborated on lots of organizing and digital campaigns through the years. We came together to think through how digital organizing can complement or replace boots-on-the-ground as COVID-19 hits. Here’s what we came up with.
Read time: 7 minutes
Our offices are closing. Our hands are leathery and cracked from overwashing. Schools, conferences, March Madness…for the good of us all, it’s all shutting down.
For those of us organizers and strategists with boots on the ground in 2020, this is an unsettling time. We can’t knock on doors, we can’t do house visits, we can’t register voters, campuses are empty.
But it’s even more unsettling for those hit hardest by the pandemic—retail, restaurant, airport, and home care workers at risk of financial ruin; families who rely on public schools for meals and childcare; poorer folks with increased health risks and worse medical access; the incarcerated. Disproportionally Black and brown. And—whoa, coincidence!—these are also some of the people who’d be harmed most by four more years of Trump.
Because of them, we can’t stop organizing. We just have to change how we do it.
And, as scary as this is, it’s also a potential quantum leap forward for organizers. We can expand our skillsets; we can pioneer new forms of digital organizing; we can meet people where they’re at; and we can provide connection and meaning to voters in a splintered time. If we do this right, we could emerge after the pandemic stronger, bigger, and better trained than we might have been otherwise. Our canvassing and tabling and voter reg could be supercharged by the digital acumen we picked up when we were stuck organizing from our apartments. Just in time to beat Trump.
So how do you evolve right now, and make sure you keep evolving? Here are ten ideas to get you started:
- Get realllly good at virtual volunteer meetings
Invite people to a virtual phonebank, text bank, letter writing party, or general organizing meeting—i.e. a video conference where volunteers can get a quick campaign update, and do some useful volunteering. The best calls start with an emotional campaign update from someone impacted by your issue, a lead organizer or high-level staffer, a well-known partner, or a volunteer with a compelling story. After the intro, you train them up in a skill, have them do it right there on the call, bring everyone back together for a debrief, then have them commit to the next step. Do it weekly, monthly, or in rapid-response moments. Use a platform such as Zoom that allows for “breakout rooms” so volunteers can meet each other, or use Facebook Live for an easy low-lift solution.
- Talk to your people
Personal outreach matters in a disconnected time. Call and text your whole list. Do it again. Then do it again. Organizers could spend 4-5 hours every day just phonebanking and texting for simple actions, then follow up with handraisers to invite them to virtual volunteer shifts or organizing calls where they can sign up for leadership roles doing additional remote organizing. You will come out of this period with a cleaner list, more leaders, and new volunteers. And outside your existing list, organizers can use listservs, Facebook groups, and personal networks to continue to build their own contact lists using digital petitions.
- Ramp up (or launch!) your relational organizing program
Relational contact (i.e. contact to a voter or potential volunteer from someone they know, as opposed to a stranger) has been shown to bump voter turnout and volunteer engagement significantly. Have organizers use peer-to-peer text + phonebanking to activate your list in their area and recruit relational organizing volunteers. Each volunteer is then responsible for reaching out to 10-20 of their friends/families about your issue every 1-2 months (or weeks, if your folks are super committed). The ask to their friends could be to register, call a member of congress, become a volunteer themselves, share something on social media, and (ultimately) vote early, vote absentee, vote vote vote! You can use one of the many apps out there to facilitate this, but you don’t need one. Try vote tripling—an app-free technique that lowers the bar for volunteers.
- Digital lobby day!
Pick a single day for organizers to recruit calls into target MOC’s offices using blast or peer-to-peer SMS. Volunteers can be responsible for generating a certain amount of calls within their particular network as well, as well as Tweeting short selfie videos at electeds and even sending letters ahead of time. Promote ahead of time on social media and report on progress throughout the day. Recruit folks to film selfie videos (potentially with a tool like Flipgrid) to send to your political targets about why they care about your issue you are working on.
- Have organizers grow their own social following
Train organizers to focus on growing their own social media audiences on social channels with people living in key states. Start with follow/followback blitzes, posting tons of content (5-10x per day), commenting on dozens of relevant posts, and DMing new followers with your petition or voter registration form. Have organizers identify 10-20 key influencers/celebs originally from target states, and encourage them to speak out for your issue. Then, organizers can grow their partnerships with local chapters of key allied orgs via social media interaction and planned joint activities such as Twitter chats. Organizations can sometimes be uncomfortable with this ceding of control, but it’s worked out better than most organizations’ local social media channels every time we’ve done it.
- Curate a digital “speaker series”
Organize an “exclusive” speaker series where once a month or so, volunteers can call in/join a webinar. Consider pairing experts with speakers from impacted communities. Give supervolunteers a role introducing or asking questions. Invite reporters who might be interested in doing a profile. Or, do it publicly as a series of Facebook Live events or even prerecorded videos, released once a day for a week or two.
- Build community
Start a Slack instance for your campaign. Give organizers, volunteers, and supporters a place to socialize online as offices remain shuttered and hangout spots empty out. Encourage non-work-related interaction in these spaces, and model it yourself. It will help connect folks, provide meaningful experiences beyond the transactional ask, and build long-term affinity for your campaign.
- Take advantage of the new campus reality
Campus is shut down? Knock on the same doors, but virtually. Connect with students online, find out what channels they’re using to stay in touch, and use those channels to organize. Reach out to issue experts from shut-down campuses (many will have time on their hands!) and have 1:1 calls with them about how we can partner together when classes resume, students they would recommend to us, speaking on a virtual panel, etc. Get invited into virtual classes for campuses that are shut down and make class announcements that ask students to pitch in.
- Do a local media push
Timed with a news moment on your issue, encourage volunteers to submit letters to the editor or op-eds to their local paper. Provide a toolkit. Support on social media by encouraging people to tweet at their local media outlet to cover your issue. Call local reporters and set up virtual briefings on your issue with a local organizer and a local expert or influential voice. Pitch an editorial board.
- Spark joy and embody care
Organizers and volunteers aren’t numbers on a spreadsheet. We’re not machines for churning out contacts. We’re human. And most of us have never organized in a pandemic before. Anxiety, fatigue, the need to binge-watch cooking shows…they’re all part of what we do in 2020, in a way that’s never been true before.
So don’t just think about how to push results—think about care, joy, and connection. Take more time for icebreakers on conference calls, and make them personal. Start a slack channel for daily shout-outs from team members (at M+R, ours is called #HOTD—Hero of the Day—and it’s one of the most meaningful shared spaces we have). Let your people start their own channels for what impacts them, what delights them, or what makes them go . Crowdsource check-in agendas to surface what everyone else wants to talk about. Model vulnerability and realness for your team, even when you’re not at your best. Find your organizers and volunteers who are on TikTok and have them come up with their own ideas of stuff to post.
And through it all, make sure they know altruism is good for their health. Many will be stuck at home, bored and anxious. Push them to do an hour of activism a day, along with their exercise, work, and binge watching. Or try #OnePerDay—one thing per day to help the world and its people.
This stuff will make us stronger now AND in the final stretch.
It’s activism as the new yoga: good for each of us—for the good of all of us.
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