Super Hero Vote and their Success
Last Friday we wrapped up our weeklong training for “New Organizers.” Our 41 participants were some of the most talented, creative and interesting people I’ve ever met. They came from electoral campaigns, community organizations, unions, advocacy organizations, anti-war organizing and, of course, college. More than half are now seeking jobs as new organizers, the rest are taking what they learned back to revolutionize their own organizations.
This may have been the first-ever systematic attempt to teach all aspects of new organizing, from fundraising to field mobilization. We had an agenda: to drive home the idea that online organizing is not about the Internet or computers, it’s about people – inspiring, mobilizing, organizing and empowering people. Our constant refrain: don’t choose online tactics because they’re cool, choose them only if you can see the real, quantifiable benefit for your campaign. This is why I’ve been gently pushing the label “New Organizing” in place of “Online Organizing.” The field is so new that there are no “experts” to teach it. Therefore, our strategy was to expose trainees to experienced practitioners who could talk about their own successes and failures rather than treating subjects in the abstract or simply relaying conventional wisdom. Trainers had to back their claims up with direct personal experiences. It was encouraging that all of our trainers were very open minded looking forward, with no one preaching any dogmas of online organizing just yet. The result was a deep look into this emerging field that I hope will allow our trainees to have more successes faster, without the expense of having to make so many known mistakes themselves.
The EMILY’s List campaign training program, Campaign Corps, gave our training its structure, and held our hand as we went through something for the first time that they’ve been through a million times. All of us working on the NOI training were absolutely blown away by Susan Markham and Mary Hodge from Campaign Corps, and also by our consultant Sujata Tejwani who’s a veteran trainer with Campaign Corps and other training programs. Simultaneously, they taught us how to teach this all-new curricula, and took hold of all the details of the week to push it through to success. Susan Markham, the director of Campaign Corps, should start a new training program for progressive leaders where she teaches them to be just like her.
The pace of the training was incredibly intense, with seminars all day long and campaign simulations every night that occasionally kept teams up until morning. Honestly, I don’t know how the participants did it. I was terrified that, with so little sleep, people would get little from the classroom sessions. But I guess it’s a testament to our selection process that the energy level stayed high every single day, with presenters getting drilled with questions at the end of every session.
At the end of the week, participants were fired up and ready to take their skills on to new jobs or back their old organizations. I thought folks would have mixed feelings and just be happy to leave by the end of such a grueling week. But when we finally had some free time to talk on the last night, everyone was gushing about how much they had learned and how happy they were to have come.
It wasn’t all roses. I learned that being responsible for 100% of 41 people’s time for seven days is truly tricky business. This is where Campaign Corps saved us from utter catasrophe. But Susan, Mary and Sujata still had to agonizingly watch us make our own errors all the way through, thankfully none of them fatal.
One of the great surprises of the training was the diversity of the class. More than half were women, and more than one third were people of color. For me this is one more nail in the coffin of the myth that online organizing only interests white men. This first class was chosen from a wide open and well-publicized application process – and in case anyone’s wondering, we did not choose any less-qualified applicant over more-qualified applicants to achieve diversity. This is proof that people of all communities and backgrounds are attracted to this work. Meanwhile, an area where I failed to surprise anyone was in the predictable lack of diversity among our new organizer trainers. The all-white-guy lineup on our blog panel was the worst example of this failure on my part. During the panel, the question came up of why “almost all A-List bloggers in the U.S. are white men?” To form the panel, I, a white guy, asked a couple of white guy bloggers I knew to make me a list. Though it came back almost all white guys, I accepted it. All of them are amazing people and they were fabulous presenters and we were proud to have them. However, that same sloppy selection process no doubt plays out most times a journalist or academic goes looking for bloggers to write about – one of the things that decides who’s “A-List” and who isn’t. Don’t take this for white guilt – if all insightful bloggers were white guys, then I’d happily pack the panel with them again. But with literally millions blogs in the U.S., how can that be the case? We’ll just be selling ourselves short if we repeat this mistake in future trainings.
Now we get to follow our trainees as they go into their new campaign jobs or back into their old organizations. We’re setting up a helpdesk for all of them use – and for all online organizers anywhere for that matter. The idea is to make our trainers available to our grads, and others, for mentorship and advising, including many experienced people who could not make the training itself. Our purpose is not to provide free consulting, but rather to push up the field of new organizing and bring up a new generation of organizers much faster than would happen without our mentorship. After completing this first training, I’m even more convinced of how important this work is.
Thanks again to everyone who made this first New Organizer Training possible!