Meet Irene, Jamecia & Bilal: Digital Organizer School in Durham, NC
We just wrapped up a week of training a brand new class of digital organizers in Durham, NC. This is the first year we’re offering a hybrid program that combines in-person learning with online cohorts. Over the last few days, they’ve created compelling digital campaigns by writing effective emails, shifting dominant narratives, incorporating analytics and tracking, and creating frameworks that decolonize data and center people and community. We’re so excited to see what they do in the world, so meet some of our newest digital organizing alumni:
Hi Irene! Tell us about your work at LEAD NC — what excites you about it?
At LEAD NC, we’re focused on progressive candidate recruitment and training in North Carolina. A few years ago, many of us in political spaces recognized that there were not nearly enough forward-thinking candidates stepping up and running for office. Candidates who held completely opposite values from us were able to take control of both state legislative chambers to our state’s detriment. We realized that our state can’t be in that position again — so we decided to do intentional recruitment and training to find the next civic and community leaders of North Carolina. We work to make sure they’re not just ready to run for office, but to also govern successfully. Our Executive Director, Kara Hollingsworth, is a Wellstone alum!
Why did you decide to come to Digital Organizer School?
It was important for me to come here and learn about how technology has changed and how to use it effectively in campaigns and election. As we’re working to build a a reflective democracy, one of the things that our candidates (and potential candidates) express is that they want to make authentic and meaningful conversations with their communities. Yet they don’t know how to do that, or even how to find people that do. I attended a training like this almost 8 years ago; so much has changed in the digital landscape and I wanted to bring that knowledge back to my organization.
How do you see digital tools fitting in with the political organizing work that your team is doing?
Many of the people we work with are not what others see as typical political types; they didn’t always know they wanted to do this work or lead in this way. But they experienced emergencies in their communities, and they recognized that they did have the resources to step up, so they are doing it — even when they’re scared.
In November 2017, there wasn’t a single Latinx person serving in elected or appointed office in North Carolina. Today, we have two forward-thinking Latinxs running for state legislative seats (this is the first time we’ve had Latinxs running for statewide seats). In January, my hometown appointed its first Latina city council member in Durham. In fact, she’s currently the only Latina politician in the state. It was really exciting to be able to advise or connect with all the Latinas who were putting their names in for consideration for that city council appointment. The fact that so many from my community were considering serving in public office is thrilling. This training helped me see how digital and tech can help us make those connections and strengthen relationships with our supporters and communities.
I’m learning from other brilliant minds and being in the same space as people who have always been in my orbit (but haven’t actually met) has been really refreshing. It’s wonderful to be affirmed of the things that I quietly knew myself, in an upfront and professional learning environment.
I have never seen this many Latinx digital organizers in one room, in North Carolina. This is revolutionary.
Jamecia, where did you grow up and how did you get involved in political work?
I’m from Tallahassee, FL — and I would say my experience with political work started at a very young age. My mom is a surrogate for political folks in Florida; so as a child, she dragged me to fundraising events and phone banking events. I became obsessed with political work; I wanted to be the Mayor!
Why digital organizing, and why now?
I want black folks and folks of color to have roles in campaigns that expand beyond field positions. I want to see folks of color in the rooms where high level decisions are made about data, digital, and campaign strategy. Learning about VAN helped me understand that data is power. Finding out that Ida B. Wells was a pioneer who used data as a source of power was transformative for me.
It’s why I chose to develop my skills in data and analytics and digital organizing with Wellstone. I’ve realized that it’s helped me understand how to better infuse movement work with electoral organizing, which is a real tension in my life. I feel this tension in my leadership roles in a PAC, For Our Future, and Dream Defenders, a grassroots organization. Activists don’t trust the political system for very real reasons and it makes it hard to build power in this way. I think there’s a way where we can be strategic and do both at the same time.
Tell me about your experience with DOS— what have you enjoyed the most?
I’ve had a great experience — this is an extremely inviting environment where I feel like I belong. The content is strong, there’s space to learn and grow no matter what level you are coming in at, and the snacks are key.
I like that I have access to vendors and tools and strategies; I can see what is and isn’t possible. I’m also learning how to clearly describe my work to the people back home; I could go home and do best practices on every session I sat through here.
I also appreciate how powerful the race, class and gender framework is in the training — I’m happy it isn’t neglected. This makes us all better digital organizers, and creates a space for me where I’m seen and heard.
Wellstone has committed to my growth; I attended a Data & Analytics camp and the lead trainer, Ari Trujillo-Wesler, made sure she was available to give me feedback and check in on me.
So what are you up to now?
I’m advising other organizations on how to use data and digital to do political work effectively. I want to bring this knowledge to my people and ensure we can keep up. There’s a lot we can do to elevate and amplify our current work.
I love that the trainers are mostly women, black women, and people of color — we are out here and doing this work and creating excellent spaces. Y’all are an amazing bunch. I can now see myself doing this work. I can do it.
Black queer women can do anything. That needs to be clear. We are here.
Bilal, tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into this work.
I’m from a very diverse community in Newark, California. It’s a “Bay area diverse” community, which meant well-meaning and liberal people who don’t challenge racism head-on. I was born in Afghanistan, so I’m connected to another community. I would say I’ve always been socially conscious and aware that the world is bigger than me; I care about issues abroad as well. Then I realized that the issues I care about are also present in the United States.
My parents would tell me to lay low, not speak out as much, because we are part of a Muslim community. And here, in America, that’s a tenuous spot. Interestingly enough, in Afghanistan my parents were part of the active resistance against the Soviet occupation. They weren’t making the connection of how this resistance is also happening in the United States.
How did the results of the 2016 presidential election affect your family?
On November 9, we woke up in a country that decided to discard my family. I can’t believe that today, in 2018, this is happening. My entire life I’ve worked on anti-Islamophobia work — helping communities thrive and celebrating those communities. I’d look around and see all the people around me doing this work, reminding me that I’m not alone. Yet here we are in this incredible moment where people are actually voting to take away people’s humanity, and an administration that wants to create a registry of Muslims. The most vulnerable among us are at the forefront of the attacks. We need to step up.
So what brought you to a Wellstone training?
This is my first Wellstone training; I knew about Senator Wellstone because he’s a big progressive hero and my boss encouraged me to sign up for this. I feel like digital work can have such a great impact, along with long-form media and traditional communications. And I really enjoy being around so many talented young people of all different backgrounds who are on the spectrum of our movement, across issues and candidates. Movement spaces are usually male dominated, but here, all the trainers are women. I can’t remember the last time that this happened.
What has been your experience at DOS? What resonates with you?
It’s been incredibly useful and exciting. I’m the only person who does this, so it’s easy to minimize the work that I do. I realize how important my work is, because it’s all about organizing your people in a way you couldn’t before. I’ve also learned that we need to present compelling narratives to people. People think they care about immigration and refugee stories , but they don’t know why. This is a game changer. Our movements are about our people.
What’s the message you want folks to come away with after “meeting” you here?
These are hard times for all of us and it can feel overwhelming and it can feel like you just want to stay in bed. But meeting all these other people who inspire me and who are doing similar work in all different fields, with different backgrounds — we are inspiring each other. It’s not a superficial training. We are really learning from each other; it’s an information exchange. This is their work and cause too.
It helps make me feel optimistic about us as a movement, as a country, and how we can go forward.