Thursday, March 22, 2012

Organizing vs. Advocacy

"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will." - Frederick Douglass
At the National Bike Summit this week, I'm realizing the impact that the Midwest Academy has had on my view of the advocacy world — and my idea of the difference between advocacy and direct action. But why does "organizing" or "organizer" often carry a negative connotation?

Community organizing is a long-term approach where the people affected by a concern identify the problems and take action to achieve solutions. Every type of community organization — of any size and shape — has a spot on the spectrum from direct service to direct action. While all types of community organizing are essential to strengthen any community, some make change by directly improving lives while others demand change from people in power.

My work as an online organizer has mainly been somewhere on the spectrum between advocacy and direct action organizing, though there is always an educational component to the messaging.

I believe that we can create the change we need from the top down by demonstrating that we have power from the ground up.

Our elected officials are easy targets because they, most often, want to be re-elected. So if we can demonstrate to our elected officials that the community we're speaking out for (advocacy) is organized and powerful enough to shift the votes to the other candidates, they may give us what we want. In order to demonstrate the community's power, we need direct action from community members. We need the community to demand change.

National Bike Summit: Increasing Engagement Through Online Organizing

After attending the National Bike Summit three years in a row, I realized the unique position I'm in. Working for an amazing national organization has allowed me to build skills in an emerging industry: building and demonstrating power through online organizing. So I decided to propose a breakout session for 2012 and recruit John Mauro from Cascade Bicycle Club and Greg Billing from Washington Area Bicyclist Association to share their work as well. It was an honor to present Increasing Engagement through Online Advocacy at National Bike Summit 2012: Save Cycling.

What is online organizing? It is using the tools we have available over the internet and cellular network to educate, engage, and empower people that support your cause with the goal of building and demonstrating power to create change. Engagement requires that the supporters feel they're getting something out of it. Often for personal reasons, supporters want to join your cause because it will improve their own situation. So providing a way for them to help create change allows them to participate in the process at the personal level, it empowers them to take direct action. Our goal is to move these supporters up a Ladder of Engagement.

The goals of the Ladder of Engagement are to build leaders that can organize and grow grassroots efforts (aka power) in their own communities and to increase the supporters' commitment to your organization's goals and campaigns.

When you build a campaign, you want to work in ways to engage your supporters along the way. You start simple and grow from there, increasing the difficulty and impact of each tactic. Some supporters may never move beyond the simplest of tactics — like clicking a button to sign a petition. But some may move on to be your most powerful coordinators in the field. All supporters are essential to every movement, but providing those willing with the tools they need to build more power in their community will benefit the cause to the nth power.

My presentation went over a few of the essentials and benchmarks for online organizing and provided ideas and examples for building campaign strategy and implementing tactics. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments!

I would have changed a few things if I had it to do over. But the important thing is that I learn and make those changes the next time. For example, I wish we would have used "organizing" instead of "advocacy." Why?

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