By now you’ve probably read what feels like a million different blog articles talking about how we need to change organising in the face of COVID-19. And sure enough, us organisers are here sitting around, as we fall asleep, as we take showers, and (even more so) as we work with our organisations trying to figure out the answer to the big problem: how are we going to shift electoral and advocacy organising in a world where we are all stuck in our houses?
The variations can look something like this:
How do we find new voters to register when we can’t do canvassing?
How do we do field organising when our organisers can’t go outside?
How do we recruit new people when we used to do major sign ups on street corners and fairs?
How do we connect our people without having in-person events?
Will we even be able to do GOTV efforts? Will voting even be an experience that involves going ‘out’?
All the articles have almost the same generalised solutions (ours, too):
Everything is going digital
Distributed organising is key
Personalise your outreach
Virtual meetings and town halls
Digital speaker series
And while all of this is good general advice, for organisations, political parties, and candidates, it’s probably as useful as a screen door on a submarine.
Because frankly, the honest answer is “We don’t know.”
None of us know. Because as much as innovation happens in our field, truly good digital organising always happens based on what has worked in what contexts and best practices.
Our attempts to try to solve this problem are based on an enormous set of assumptions. The reality is that none of us have ever tried to organise in any way close to what we are going through now. None of us have ever even lived through anything like what we are going through right now. Which is kind of the whole point. Everything is different.
Any solutions from the past we try to conjecture will work are, at best, a guess.
So your one solution to mobilising is the following:
Try, test, and optimise.
Don’t look for one solution. Look for a set of solutions. As many as you might be able to roll out in small measure to try and see how they perform.
Be as creative as possible. Some organisers are hosting digital dance party fundraisers, others are making sure to use community specific messaging apps. The important thing is to not assume anything. And try to fail. Yes, fail.
If you try and run 10 different methods, try to take enough risks that at least 70% fail. Your remaining 30% will be stronger and more successful. And more likely than not, not the ones you expected to succeed.
Because: We. Don’t. Know.
Ask your communities and the communities you are not reaching to help you draft strategies to try. Ask them what networks they know in their community.
And I don’t mean traditional networks. I mean, go to where people are already connecting. That could be HouseParty, or food delivery, or whatever. Now is the time to be bold in the ask of those untraditional allies. It never hurts to ask.
Key here of course: don’t just ask the people you are already connected to. If you are trying to persuade people, find the people that are still on the fence and ask where they have contact with people. If you are trying to register people, ask the unregistered people what networks they have and use. You can even ask them if they are interested in helping you find other unregistered people in their communities. You’d be surprised who is willing to take part in civic engagement on a level like never before. The whole world has had a shift in priorities these last few weeks.
Of course, you don’t want to neglect your existing base, either--you want to be contextually relevant to them NOW. Make sure you are not forgetting to keep in regular contact and that you are meeting them where they are - i.e., acknowledging what we are all going through. If COVID relates to your mission, relate it - but don't stretch if it doesn't.
Oh, and lastly: you are going to have to keep testing what works. We have never in our lifetimes, maybe in our history, seen a shift in the way global society functions so rapidly. And it’s not going to stop. The rate of societal change in these next months will be faster than anything we’ve known. So what might work tomorrow, might not work in a few weeks. We have to keep on testing, shifted, optimising, changing, etc. Above all, we must keep listening.