Friday, December 19, 2014

On Community, Organizing and the Internet

About 10 years ago a bunch of people who worked on the Internet team of John Kerry’s US presidential campaign got together after the election. It was the first time digital technology played a major role in a campaign and they knew it was the future of politics.

They also knew there was a long road ahead. They founded a scrappy organization, the New Organizing Institute, to define, train and recruit new organizers who could continue to expand and innovate. In 2006, NOI held a small unconference, Rootscamp, to spread the word.

This weekend in Washington, DC that conference is happening again. It’s grown from a gathering that filled a couple of classrooms at a community college in Brooklyn to a weekend that brings together more than a thousand progressive organizers from across the US and the world.

But it’s more than the size of the event that has changed.

I’ve worked in this space all that time. When I began, just after the 2004 elections, it was in its infancy. Few people understood what we did or why we did it. Most people thought if you worked on the Internet team you would fix their computer. We regularly heard people say they “didn’t do the Internet.”

Yet, we knew what it would be. We knew the power of the Internet had the ability to influence every single aspect of the campaigns we worked on. We know it was a tool for change. A way to bring people together. To find common ground. To build power. To make the world a better place.

We also knew we couldn’t do it alone. We needed allies. We needed more of us. We needed the powers-that-be who controlled the budgets and everything else to give a damn and pay attention.

Rootscamp was where we came to figure out how to make that happen.

Yesterday I walked the halls of the Rootscamp2014 that buzzed with energy. There were happy reunions. The opportunity to run into a colleague you worked alongside years back and hadn’t seen lately. Hugs from friends whose lives had taken them away from DC. But most striking was I saw more faces I didn’t recognize than those that I did. I was struck by how far we’d come. How the community we had hoped to create had become a reality. How that collective work had blossomed into a community that was beautifully diverse and inclusive.

It’s given careers to people who had passion and purpose. It’s been a launching pad for companies, nonprofits and campaigns and individuals that work to elect our representatives from school board to president, stop climate change, end gun violence, increase women’s equality, give a voice to the voiceless, and much more. It’s where we want to solve big problems and answer hard questions. It’s a place where we know we are more powerful when we do that together.

Of course, we still have work to do. We continue to strive for more. But we have a place where that happens – a community where we learn from each other and challenge ourselves to be and do better.

If you’ve ever wondered about doing this type of work. if you’ve wanted a way in, I encourage you to google the New Organizing Institute. You could be walking the halls next year alongside us, full of energy and empowered to create change. That would be a beautiful thing.

I’d love to hear how you’ve created a community of your own, challenged the status quo, or followed your bliss.

With gratitude for this community too,

Tracy Russo
tracyrusso[AT]gmail.com
Washington, DC

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