Applying lessons from traditional advocacy to online organization

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Community Organizing and Digital Advocacy -- Online and Offline

Facilitator: Ivan Participants: Sarah, Sarang, Michael C., Maegan, Roshani, Javier

Context: Developing theories about strategies regarding community organizing in the online and offline space.

4 Tools for advocacy work

  • Pyramid model -- few people with power at the top, many people with less power at the bottom. Remove the bottom and the top collapses.
  • Spectrum of Allies -- You <==core group==allied organizations==neutral==institutional allies of powerholders==> Powerholders It's not necessary to have powerholders to come over to you, but rather to move each wedge of the spectrum one step closer to you.
  • Myth of the Hero Social Activist -- that in order to effect social change you need a transformative social leader (ala Gandhi). Take Rosa Parks. She was trained for months, part of a larger organized movement consisting of many actors. We should challenge the notion that we should wait for a leader. A single person may have a vision, but that's only a part of a larger social movement.
  • Safety Valve Theory of Society -- It's almost never the case that society builds up and just explodes in change. It never happens truly spontaneously. A good example is the Egyptian revolution/April 6 movement. There was an online aspect and an offline aspect that intersected with each other well before it was picked up by national and international media.
  • Talking Points:
  • Can use the spectrum model to create coalitions by finding intersections on issues that overlap between various entities.
  • How do you get the history of the movement disseminated and shared over and over again?
  • No sense of shared history is a stumbling block to coalition building.
  • No issue is new either. Strategies change, and an assessment of this change is a good reason to have some recorded history. How do we make compiling this history an ongoing project?
  • Academics are an important part of producing this history. Occupy had archives (Occupy Archives). Also art and murals are important such as in Northern Ireland.
  • Academics can be an important resource despite the academic industrial complex. There ought to be a dialogue between the ivory tower and organizers on the ground.
  • It's important for organizations to reflect at the end of a campaign too.
  • Can we put pressure on funders to include documentation as part of a campaign's requirements?
  • Surveys and oral histories are a good way to pull in this history, but alas this is often a priority that gets dropped.
  • Are there examples of this type of documentation of online campaigns?
    • Can we bridge the gap between the online and offline work?
  • Online good for national conversations, offline good for local conversations.

But why is the online more effective for national conversations

  • Maybe one way is to create online dialogue and narrative spaces for existing offline communities, like wikipedia pages or archives. Example is changing the narrative around neighborhoods.
  • Sukey: using mobile phones to prevent "kettling" (where police encircle

protestors), originated in the UK. Crowdsourced reports of police locations. But there is always the concern of provocateurs, false flags, and surveillance/interception.

  • Ushahidi: mapping projects and tools (gained prominence in crisis mapping). To

ensure data integrity, they cross-reference data and use reputation.

  • Citizen Science projects
  • What to do about messaging? Often it's too revolutionary, and that leads to burnout, jadedness, etc.
  • Is there a way to avoid this tension between being realistic and being revolutionary in one's messaging?
  • Pushing organizations to be more transparent about what they are capable of.
  • The will to believe and delusions are also important, for funders, volunteers, etc.
  • Hate groups are awesome at being inclusive and pulling people together.
  • How do you connect this sort of simple messaging with more than a single person or election or movement?
  • Above All Else: Keystone XL case study (documentary film)
  • Another issue is an excess focus on quantitative metrics, for the purpose of funding and other sustainability issues.

Key Takeaways:

  • Social change is a long term process that requires a lot of work and

infrastructure building.


  • Online Advocacy Books
  • Deanna Zandt
  • Amy Sample Word
  • Beautiful Trouble (book of strategies and tactics)
  • Global Nonviolent Action Database
  • Gene Sharp (1970s) history of nonviolent actions
  • The Instigators - Egypt Revolution case study
  • I've got the Light of Freedom -