Equipping Digital Organizers

October 7, 2016
As a part of our expanding Movement Technology curriculum, Wellstone was in DC this summer for two rounds of Digital Organizer School -- a four-day training designed to introduce organizers to the nuts and bolts of digital tools and organizing in a digital space.
81 organizers from 22 states, DC and Ontario came with a wide variety of backgrounds and job descriptions. Participants dug into big picture organizing pieces like leadership and power mapping, they explored new tools and expanded their skills with familiar ones, and, throughout the training, they practiced putting it all together in their break-out groups with practical, hand-on exercises. 
"Wellstone gave me the full picture of what it meant to be a digital organizer," says Chrissy Etienne. She valued being able to work through what a digital campaign looked like from beginning to end, and especially appreciated approaching each piece with an organizer lens, "Whose mind are we changing and how are we doing that? Whose mind is changeable?" Chrissy is the Online Communications Specialist at Believe Out Loud. Back at work, she's thinking more holistically about the digital world. 
Prentiss Harvey signed up for DOS, because he'd been to other Wellstone trainings and valued the holistic approach to organizing. "Wellstone understands the value of what people need to be better organizers." He goes on to explain how understanding and teaching these skills through a racial lens was a crucial part of this training. "As a black queer man, this is not usually a space we're asked to occupy. Here, we were asked to take up space and tell our story." 
As a digital practitioner, Prentiss stresses the importance of having a message that's representative of the communities that you're working in:
"Any progressive orgs that believe in an intersectional movement that actually puts people at the center need to send their digital practitioners to this training."
One of our Wellstone Corps alumni, Toni Preston, found that DOS reaffirmed things she'd been learning the field. "How do we change what's happening now? It's about how we show up in the space, how we speak up, having a voice and capacity to do so."
Like Prentiss, Toni found the inclusivity of the room to be a crucial aspect of this training. "On a personal level, it was the best and most memorable that the majority of the trainers were people of color challenging the way that we think about data and social justice."
Many of our DOS trainees found themselves diving deeper into tools that had previously seemed too complex.
Kathia Canlas came to DOS for her job at Orange County Labor Federation -- one of our  Movement Building partners. Recently promoted to Communications Coordinator, Kathia found that Digital Organizer School opened doors to a wealth of new tools and skills. "I was using Action Network all the time, but I didn't know how to edit the code or change things." Now, she's got the confidence and skills to dive deeper. After DOS introduced her to Hustle and the basics of text-message organizing, Kathia and her supervisor are working on a plan to integrate Hustle into their ongoing campaign. 
Prentiss appreciated Aliya's approach to coding workshops, "She demystified the process. Everyone has the potential to create whatever they need to create. Everyone can be a coder."
Taking on new technologies and tools wasn't the only confidence builder for our trainees. They're bringing a keener organizing lens to their work and to their organizations.
Since attending the DOS training, Catherine Jones, who is a Senior Channel Manager at GPS Impact, has found herself advocating for the use of digital platforms at her workplace. "I have more to contribute to the conversation," she told us. "Everything we did in the training I do on a daily basis." Now, she's approaching her projects with a digital organizing lens, layering all the pieces of a digital program together like she did in the DOS exercises.
Chrissy found one particular workshop on race and power to be personally transformative. As a black and queer person, Chrissy had previously encountered organizations where her voice wasn't valued. "I didn't have a theory of change," she says, explaining how insights from the workshop made her rethink how she approached her work environment. "In the future I have an incredible personal tool that will help me think through the larger scope of my work as an activist."
Our DOS alumni have also told us that the connections they made at the training have turned into a valuable ongoing resource. 
Kathia, who is the only person doing this kind of work at her organization, was able to connect with other labor folks that she had a lot in common with. "We've been chatting about information and resources, reaching out when we need help with a project."
Chrissy's small group created a slack channel to connect about digital organizing work after the training. As events unfold in their cities and in the news, they discuss how to tell the story about what is happening. "I'm no longer feeling siloed in my work," she says.
For Wellstone, our biggest takeaway from these first digital organizer trainings was the incredible need for more trainings of this kind. We only had space for less than half of the people who applied. 
35 of our DOS trainees were able to attend because of full or partial scholarships. "Wellstone gets it," Tori says, "What you bring to the table is more valuable than the money. If you can't afford it, they will find a way."
You can help make these skills accessible to more grassroots organizers like Chrissy and Kathia: Donate to support our scholarship fund.