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.
Organizers around the U.S. and across the globe weighed in during our panel. Here’s what they said:
- 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
Emerge Colorado’s Michal Rosenoer gave me the powerful and much-needed reminder when I leading a training on Remote Voter Contact During COVID-19. She said “now is a time built for us.” And it’s okay to still be overwhelmed. But it may help to remember these five steps of organizing:
- Build a team
- Create solutions
- Fight for them
First things first: Reach your people as people
Reaching your community now and letting them now you’re there for them as a person and a potential resource can be extremely powerful. The first thing you should be doing is reaching the people on your field team to check in.
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:
- Ask about their jobs and their families
- Potentially connecting them to unemployment and other resources
Next: We really need to meet people where they’re at
Maybe you’ve been working on an issue for a long time. You care about that issue. Your community cares about that issue. But right now, there are likely other priorities they need to take care of. And if your organization is really dedicated to making the community better, you’ll shift what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
“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:
- Change management
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.
Government officials at all levels are doing things to help meet the needs of their communities in an unprecedented way. Hotels are opening up for homeless people. Healthcare open enrollment is now available. Evictions aren’t being enforced.We need to demand more.
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
The issues being thrust into the spotlight because of COVID-19 are hardly new. Inaccessible housing, healthcare accessibility, food insecurity, lack of paid leave, racial disparities, the digital divide, domestic violence, educational inequities, the lack of protection for so many essential workers, and so many others. Many of us have had the privilege of working on these issues in a meaningful way before this started. We know what it’s like to fight hard for real change. We are better equipped than so many others.
“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
Just as a final reminder, no one knows how things are going to turn out. No one knows if what worked before will work now. If you’re feeling uncertain about what field work will look like for you, that’s totally normal.
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.
Please keep in touch: