“Call your f~ing representatives!” and other sentiments from Netroots Nation
I just returned from Netroots Nation in New Orleans, where I was lucky enough to talk about about New/Mode’s approach to civic engagement and hear from outstanding progressive organizers. Over three packed days, the event featured impressive presentations from Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Cynthia Nixon, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bill de Blasio and Senator Cory Booker–to name just a few. Beyond keynotes, the panels and training sessions were led by some of the best and brightest humans I’ve met.
Despite strong turnout from the Democratic establishment, the majority of representatives, candidates, advocates and attendees presented more independent progressive ideologies. It was exciting –and encouraging– to see the collective conversation shift quickly away from one party or one person to, instead, working together to shape the socially just future we all need and deserve.
So what’s the plan?
If I had to distill 70 hours of learning and connecting, it’s this:
1. Never stop organizing.
“We’re not going to beat big money with more big money. We’re going to beat big money with big organizing.” — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary win was described as the biggest upset victory in the mid-term cycle. She won on an unapologetically progressive platform for education, healthcare, climate, immigration, social justice and human rights. Instead of moving to the center, she successfully grew support by deeply engaging the people who were disenchanted, dejected and cynical about politics, and by letting them know that she was fighting for them.
The key takeaway for any advocacy organization, citizens group or candidate is to engage people in a meaningful way on the issues you both care about.
2. Go forth and advocate, together.
“We have to embrace the unshakable truth that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” — Senator Elizabeth Warren
The big challenges of our time won’t be stopped by a political party. They will be stopped by grassroots movements advocating for just and equal societies; first in protest and then by electing new, bold and unapologetically progressive leaders. This work is about more than overcoming the far-right or single-person politics. To build a better future for everyone, we have to unite, work together on issues-based advocacy campaigns and build strong community support, especially where people are the most vulnerable.
“Nobody matters if everybody doesn’t matter.” — LaToya Cantrell, Mayor of New Orleans
3. Call your f~ing reps.
I didn’t make this up. It was the subject of two training sessions, one rally call, and our friends at 5 Calls had the foresight to put it on a t-shirt.
In “From Protest to Policy Change: Congressional Advocacy 101”, Wardah Khalid (Poligon Education Fund) walked us through the facts:
- Direct constituent actions have more influence on lawmakers decisions’ than other strategies
- 94% of Congressional staff believe direct contact with constituents influences undecided lawmakers
- 79% of Congressional staff believe personal stories help shape legislators’ opinions
This session, and the enthusiasm from participants, was especially relevant to me since it continues to validates the “how” and “why” of our work at New/Mode.
As an organization or community group, inviting your supporters to call decision makers is one of the best ways to deepen engagement and build sustainable support for your issue. As an individual contacting a representative, it’s the best way to make sure your voice is heard and to have an actual say in the decisions that impact your life.
We recommend taking this a step further by emailing, tweeting and faxing your reps, and sending letters to community papers. No politician wants to be on the receiving end of constituent communications in every channel — which is why it works.
4. Be all in.
“As progressives we are used to being told ‘you are going too far’. Our authentic values are exactly what will move people in this country. Double down on what you believe in.” — Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City
My first Netroots session was an inspiring panel on building community power and authentic relationships. We talked about the challenges of scaling personal relationships to thousands or millions of supporters (this is where engagement tools become really helpful), but we also talked about the personal motivation and determination that’s required to make big changes.
We’re clearly at a social and political pivot point, and I think Cliff Walker (candidate recruiter for Texas Democrats) said it best:
“What would you do if you were the only thing standing between your people — your own friends and family — and the fire of this country? If you’re not all in, get all in.” — Clifton Walker
5. Rejuvenate yourself and your work so we can outlast the opposition.
While we’re busy being all in, it can be difficult to remember to pause and sustain. This year, Netroots invited daily “practice goddess”, Angel Kyodo Williams, to step us through the good rejuvenation, connecting and healing work that we all needed.
“This is not a problem. This is an opportunity. They’ve pushed us all together and we have to work together to solve this problem. The only weapon we haven’t fully used is that of Love.” — Angel Kyodo Williams
The learning opportunities were plentiful and the messages were inspiring, but the most important thing I took away from Netroots was the connecting and community, and a renewed sense that we are all working together and our work is 100% necessary… so call your f~ing reps.
Missed Netroots live or want to hear great stats and quotes for yourself? Watch the videos here.
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