Summer Heat: Tips for organizing in-district meetings with elected representatives

 

Watch this webinar recording to learn tips from Brandon Forester and Mary Alice Crim to help you organize member-led in-district meetings with elected representatives.

Brandon and Mary Alice were leaders with Team Internet — a network of nearly half a million volunteers who came together to protect Net Neutrality.

In response to the Trump Administration’s threats to the open internet, Team Internet volunteers held 600 in-district meetings in two months and then organized a day of action with 700 coordinated protests.

These actions led to the passage of legislation in both the Senate and the House and garnered support for Net Neutrality from 70% of incoming first-year members of the current Congress.

When you watch the recording, you’ll get answers to questions like:

  • What are the pros and cons of scheduled meetings and unscheduled drop-in visits?

  • How can we prepare people to increase the impact of the visit?

  • What can I do to help keep people involved in the campaign for the long-term?

You’ll also learn the three principles that Mary Alice and Brandon recommend to use for guiding a member-led in-district meeting program.

Presenters

Brandon Forester is the National Organizer at Free Press where he works with allies and activists to help empower people in their own communities to fight for a fair and open internet for all.

Before joining Free Press, he worked as a community, labor, political and electoral organizer. Earlier he worked as an educator and served as an English education volunteer in the United States Peace Corps, serving in both the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and Rwanda.

Brandon is originally from Kansas and earned his B.A. in international political economy with a focus on international development from the University of Puget Sound. On weekends he enjoys being out in his garden or smoking meats to share with family, friends and dogs.

Mary Alice Crim has been an organizer and advocate for community-centered media, arts, and technology for more than a decade.

Most recently she was the field director at Free Press and Free Press Action Fund where she fought for everyone’s rights to connect and communicate. She’s had a key leadership role on issues such as Net Neutrality and addressing the local news crisis in our country. She sets national field strategy, runs campaigns, supervises organizers, and participates in ongoing policy initiatives through organizing and public education activities. Mary Alice has extensive experience running national conferences, local events, online trainings and webinars, including in-district meetings with members of Congress. Currently, she chairs the board of an award-winning community media center, Northampton Open Media.

When Mary Alice isn’t working she’s likely taking on one of her hobbies: softball, volleyball, playing with her dog, gardening, community herbalism, and brewing.

Randall Smith is a director at PowerLabs, a consulting firm that supports organizations to design and run people-powered campaigns. He specializes in providing strategic support to help organizations create the strategy, structures, and processes to allow them to scale their work.

Organizations he has worked with include Courage Campaign, Free Press, IfNotNow, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Movimiento Cosecha, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Sunrise Movement, and United for Respect.

Resources

Campaign calls, action guides, coaching, debriefs and other support for members

Malcolm Knowles, a leader in the study of informal adult education, believed that adults learn best when:

  • They understand why something is important to know or do.

  • They have the freedom to learn in their own way.

  • Learning is experiential.

  • The time is right for them to learn.

  • The process is positive and encouraging.

Organizers can apply these same concepts to our work.

They understand why something is important to know or do. We recruit people to participate through a campaign call — a call with five to 2,000 or more participants. Participants learn the story and strategy of our campaign and how the tactic fits in our plan to win.

They have the freedom to learn in their own way. We recommend providing support for members through offering 1:1 coaching, live and recorded online training, office hours, action guides and action workbooks.

For example written materials, check out the Free Press Action Net Neutrality Valentine’s Day Drop-In Toolkit and their scheduled meeting guide.

Learning is experiential. Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as "learning through reflection on doing."

We encourage people to act even if they aren’t experts on an issue or on the legislative process. We recommend people reflect on their drop-in visit with other event attendees over a meal, on a call with an organizer and on a group call with other event organizers.

The process of reflection — reflecting back on an action with an individual to help that individual develop a larger sense of meaning around that act — has been found to increase the likelihood that the individual will participate in a follow-up action [pdf]. Get our post-action debrief script.

The time is right for them to learn. People decide if and when this is the right time for themselves to participate. We don’t guilt them or agitate them into organizing an in-district meeting.

The process is positive and encouraging. We center the activist’s experience throughout the campaign — from the initial campaign call to the post-action debrief.

One way to keep the experience positive is to explain that despite our preparation anything can happen, and that it’s better for participants to take an approach that rolls with whatever happens on site. Their participation still matters even if things don’t go exactly according to plan.

Some examples of things you might want to talk about and set expectations around: we showed up and the office refused to meet with us, no one was at the office when we arrived, the meeting was way shorter than we anticipated, some of my fellow participants didn’t show up, I couldn’t find my group, etc. Those are all based on things we’ve heard and people felt bummed out about.

Watch the recording to get more tips on how to center the activist’s experience and create a positive and encouraging process.

Learn more about changing the behavior of elected representatives

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Watch this webinar recording with Jack Zhou and Carina Barnett-Loro of the Climate Advocacy Lab to learn some of the essential takeaways to improve your organizing with insights from social science.

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To win change at the scale that we need, organizations must build and maintain broad constituencies that persist through the ups and downs and whims of different administrations.

So, how do we build the kind of movements that generate the collective action necessary to shift existing power dynamics?

Watch this webinar recording with Carina Barnett-Loro and Jack Zhou from the Climate Advocacy Lab to learn the basics of social movement theory and how those insights can be applied to building durable political power.


 

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