A Fish’s case for Sustainable Grassroots Organizing
Principles behind Project Swimmy
“How many people have learned to ride a bicycle?” Marshall Ganz, a veteran organizer asks the crowd. “Did you learn to ride the bicycle by reading about it, by watching videos about, by hearing lectures about it?” To add from my journey in organizing, like riding a bicycle, you can’t learn to organize alone. You’ll fall and need the courage within you to get up, but you’ll need the help of people around you to keep learning.
“How many people have learned to ride a bicycle? Did you learn to ride the bicycle by reading about it, by watching videos about, by hearing lectures about it?”
The community formed from Bernie’s run for president continuously helped me along the way. I learned hope, inspiration, and grit from Bob, my dear 80 year old neighbor, who spent every weekend knocking on doors to persuade voters. I was also incredibly fortunate to have joined the New Hampshire for Bernie campaign, where some of the best veterans from the progressive electoral campaign world taught me how to lead a team, persuade, motivate, and train volunteers, analyze and target data, and much more. Thanks to this community, I learned how to organize and continue to learn today.
Building relationships within a strong community enabled me to organize. But that wasn’t true for many first-time organizers. For many, the first point of contact wasn’t someone in their community, but was a form on a website, followed by an ask for a donation, then a steady stream of emails from someone they’d likely never meet.
“Because relational work is so foundational for a social movement and can only be conducted to scale by many leaders skilled in this practice, a capacity to train leadership-not only at the top-is a core social movement competency.”
— Why David Sometimes Wins by Marshall Ganz
From within the campaign, we wanted to reach out to all who signed up online to volunteer, but we were in a constant state of bottleneck. There were a few million sign ups, and even a few hundred full time staff does not have the capacity to build relationships with each person. Meanwhile, there are thousands (perhaps millions) of leaders in communities across the country who could not be directly connected with volunteers who had signed up online. Because of this, we identified a technology gap in how organizers and volunteers, who are eager to take collective action, connect with each other online.
Then came Swimmy
Project Swimmy is a website and app that connects individual activists with local action-oriented organizing groups. Volunteers can easily find groups near them by causes such as racial injustice, women’s rights, and income inequality. Instantly, activists and group members can meet virtually and are provided the tools to organize for events and collective actions such as: calling elected representatives, reaching out to their community by going door to door to discuss issues, and registering new voters. Groups can also post calls for volunteer help on specific tasks, whether that’s legal advice, marshals for a big event, help writing a press release.
In addition to local events held by groups, Project Swimmy also organizes online training modules to enable growth and learning. Some training modules include: how to engage and persuade, sharing your personal story, and facilitating organizing meetings.
This project is being built in the same way it is intended to be used: we are building coalitions with other projects such as Call Your Rep, Voter Registration Guide, Grassroots Phone Bank, and a community of experienced organizers to train and mentor new organizers. Our strategy is to combine our efforts through coalitions of tech tools to better serve grassroots organizers and volunteers. Similarly, to confront the injustices we face, we must build coalitions across issues and take an intersectional approach. A timely example is Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, which reminds us that the struggle for the liberation of poor working people is closely intertwined with dismantling America’s racial caste system.
In addition to direct mobilizing actions, building capacity and making a community stronger are the pillars of successful organizing. Capacity is built through enabling new leaders, and that can only be done through building relationships, training, and mentoring.
As the campaign moved past New Hampshire, I felt that we were letting our community of Bernie supporters down because we had to focus on rapid results and could no longer focus on building capacity.
As the campaign moved past New Hampshire, I felt that we were letting our community of Bernie supporters down because we had to focus on rapid results and could no longer focus on building capacity. This hit close to home as the campaign turned its attention to New York state. I built strong bonds and deep solidarity with a local group in NYC through my first project as a volunteer: organizing phonebanks to inform non-Democrat voters in New York about the early party affiliation switch deadline (back in fall 2015). As we got closer to that fateful primary date in April 2016, I felt immense grief and loss that as a campaign staffer, I wasn’t able to support the amazing grassroots community in New York and beyond.
Post-campaign, I and many others yearned for something like Project Swimmy: something that would enable grassroots organizers and volunteers to form sustaining groups and coalitions. Through hundreds of conversations, concept drawings, and fierce discussions and debates with allies in the movement, we have started building it.
Our goal is for Project Swimmy to help accelerate building capacity and enabling future organizers across the country. This will enable the change we so desperately need for victories in 2018 and 2020. Please join us at ProgCode.co, channel: #Project-Swimmy or email Erika at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Organizing is to enable people who are confronting the need for change with the capacity to create that change. Leadership is accepting responsibility for enabling others to achieve purpose under conditions of uncertainty”