This weekend I joined roughly 1000 progressive activists in DC for the 5th RootsCampDC, my 4th, having missed the Februrary 2010 camp. RootsCamp is a fantastic “un-conference” put together and beautifully executed by the New Organizing Institute.
A space to bring people from all aspects of campaigning, advocacy and governing together to discuss successes, failures, experiences and opportunities, RootsCamp is great atmosphere for progressives to network and grow their talents. There is a fantastic spill over from the sessions to the common areas and of course to the twInterwebs (hashtag #roots10).
As always, NOI assembled and executed a great event, staffed by fantastic members of their team and a terrific group of volunteers. The facility at GWU was also great, with plenty of signs and human navigational aides provided to get people where they wanted to be in a timely fashion.
Thank you to all the participants, volunteers, staff and supporting/sponsoring organizations.
From the “back in the day” perspective, I feel like the first two RootsCampDC’s worked slightly better, with half (or less) the attendance, due to both smaller session sizes allowing more participation and the ratio of veteran activists to “rookies” being closer to 1 to 1 than what I would speculate was more like 5 or 6 to 1. It seemed like there were far more people who only have a historical knowledge going back to 2007 or 2008 than those who can put thoughts in the perspective of understanding from 2006, 2004, 2000, etc.
My two suggestions for the next RootsCampDC would be:
A: Lock down the open session schedule to just Saturday until just prior to the final session on Saturday when you open ONLY the first session time slot on Sunday. The remainder of Sunday should not be opened until Sunday morning. Let people process what happened Saturday, discuss with peers what they want to learn more about, which sessions should be repeated/extended/expanded, which presenters they want to hear more from, I believe the content will be more beneficial and more enjoyable.
B: More rooms/spaces for sessions. Too many sessions were standing room only, too many subjects/aspects weren’t well addressed. Beyond the obvious disadvantages to this situation, there comes one that may be overlooked… One of the great aspects of these conferences is the “Vote with your feet” option – when a room goes to standing room only, it makes attendees far less likely to leave, as to do so would be a massive disruption to the session. Some of the most productive RootsCamp sessions I’ve experienced in the past have been 5-15 people, where discussion can evolve to action in 45 minutes, something much harder to achieve with 40+ people.
My one complaint with no corrective suggestion is that too many session facilitators were lecturing more than fostering discussion or just not allowing enough time to have a valid dialogue, while really not having nearly the level of competence/expertise in the subject to justify such. An actual quote from one presenter “the message really doesn’t matter, we just have to organize more…” Really? Do we really need to explain to the presenters the relationship between messaging and organizing? To be clear, this wasn’t the norm of the sessions I attended, but really shouldn’t be happening at all.
My call to action: Now is the time to find, recruit and train progressive candidates if we want to take back the majority in 2012. We have state elections in several states in 2011 and a rough map coming our way to defend the Senate and White House in 2012. To have success, we must start laying the ground work for strong challenger campaigns at all levels, meaning now is the time to identify potential candidates, even though the district lines are still pending post-census redistricting. There is plenty of preparation that can be done in advance of the redistricting process, anyone considering a run should be taking a “be prepared” attitude rather than a passive “wait and see” approach. We need to do far more to prepare and train our candidates and staff for 2012, and we must fill more races with competitive and competent candidates.
Is there a potential progressive candidate you know? Now is the time to introduce them to DFA’s Training Academy or direct them to a good, honorable progressive campaign professional (Like MPA Political).