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“How much do I change my voter registration outreach plan for 2020?”

The phone is pressed between my shoulder and my ear while my hands fold laundry. I hear my husband preparing lunch for our two-year-old in the kitchen. And it’s just like any other day in COVID-19: endless multitasking from home and that question.

That question has no 100% correct answer. It’s been a few weeks but regardless, my phone still doesn’t stop vibrating with that question.

When I hear that question, I think about my love for on-the-ground community organizing. As a digital strategist, I know (and in the words of Beth Becker) digital should augment, complement, and supplement the work you’re doing offline.

But I’ve also worked in infectious disease and epidemiology at the federal, state, and local level. I consume the data, read the news, and know there’s no clear path forward except to stay at home.

So, I go back to the basics: Gather people smarter than I am. At Organizing 2.0, I hosted a panel called “What Do We Do With Our Field Team Now?,” that featured Betsy Bevis, statewide field maven for fiscal policy and education funding (Fair Tax Colorado and Great Education Colorado), and Greg Basta, the Sustainability Initiatives Director at the Center for Popular Democracy. Despite some technical glitches, we had some great takeaways. Here are a few:

What has changed about field organizing since COVID-19? Everything.

  • In person events and engagement aren’t an option
  • There are many new volunteers coming through to help, especially since some segment of the community have a more flexible schedule and potentially more time on their hands
  • People need help registering to vote, especially for vote by mail options
  • Learning technology is a challenge. Sometimes having a conference call before a Zoom or webinar can be helpful.
  • Relational organizing is promising for continuing our work
  • Virtual barnstorms and other online events are promising, especially if they are done well with opportunities for engagement

Now is a time built for organizers

  1. Ask
  2. Listen
  3. Build a team
  4. Create solutions
  5. Fight for them

(repeat)

First things first: Reach your people as people

Hopefully, y’all have already connected on a personal level with your team (to be clear: this is not a general team check in, this is a personal check in). Based on that outreach, you’ll probably end up triaging some support they might need. This may be out of the official scope of work. That’s okay. You’ll want to repeat this on a regular basis as a pandemic continues on.

Then, you can reach out to the groups you normally work with. Calling and one-to-one texting are a great way to get this started.

Greg was able to dive into the specifics of what his team is now doing by phone with new and former members:

  1. Ask about their jobs and their families
  2. Potentially connecting them to unemployment and other resources

Next: We really need to meet people where they’re at

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“How we approach digital organizing with new-to-tech volunteers will make it or break it. It could launch them into helping us plan our next advocacy effort or be the reason they never want to try digital organizing again. We have to make sure we’re meeting people where they are.” — Betsy Bevis

All field teams should be continuing to organize using digital tools

5 things you need from everyone involved:

  1. Tools
  2. Skills
  3. Change management
  4. Support

We will be exclusively digital organizing for the foreseeable future. You need to change whatever plan you had for 2020 to adjust for that.

“We are making the calculated decision to plan for no in-person field organizing in 2020.” — Greg Basta

In so many ways, all bets are off.

We are going to see some big policy changes in the COVID-19 era.

And as the pandemic affects many of us less and less, we are going to need to be ready to fight to make sure those policy changes aren’t rolled back.

“There are systemic issues…data access, how good wifi is esp in non-urban areas, equipment to participate in digital organizing. would be interested in strategies to address these barriers as well.”— Positive Women’s Network

This is not our first rodeo, but it is our first pandemic

“I want to look back at this time and see that we all came together and were ready to really, really fight systematic oppression in an intersectional and complex way”— Rosemari Ochoa

No one knows what they are doing

But the one thing you should remember is that you have a whole bunch of amazing activists shoulder-to-virtual-shoulder with you working on the same uncertainty. We are here rooting for you like never before.

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Please keep in touch:

Rosemari Ochoa

rosemari@rosemariochoa.com

Betsy Bevis

betsy.e.bevis@gmail.com

Greg Basta

gbasta@populardemocracy.org

Written by

Digital strategy nerd. Social justice advocate. Feminista. Sucker for a good story and cappuccino. Opinions my own.

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