Posts tagged NOI
Back in December of 2010, I reflected on the previous RootsCamp. Among the biggest negatives was the large crowd & less than stellar session leaders. The positives? The wonderful people and efforts of the New Organizing Institute, the activists and enthusiasm.
A little over a year later, we returned to the scene of the first RootsCamp (2006), the NEA Building. Attendance was limited to a more reasonable number and the quality of experience was back up to the expected (very high) levels.
There was one session that was horrifically bad and I would certainly like to see more content geared at challenger candidates/campaigns, but overall it was a great experience with some wonderful sessions/presenters/discussions.
One of the more amusing sessions Saturday was led by Adam Green & Stephanie Taylor of the PCCC, “Fire the Consultants: Venting & Solutions.” Similar to sessions they have conducted in the past, the intent is both therapeutic and to stop so many campaigns and organizations from repeating the mistakes happening far too often every cycle. Among the more amazing revelations, one participant discussed how a consultant was 4 months behind schedule on a 6 week deliverable. They asked what they could do about that, several in the room responded, “Fire them.” A better question would be, why weren’t they fired after passing 12 weeks on a 6 week deliverable?
Too often candidates and lefty non-profits find themselves in this sort of situation. Sometimes the result is a poorly communicated proposal, an inadequate or absent contract, or just the unwillingness to demand what was paid for by the organization. Refer back to the Rules of Organizing, #9 If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist. The consultant telling you they have written a plan, collected the data, and so forth isn’t good enough. They have to both write down the plan and share it with the customer. A good contract will specify that all data procured or created by the consultant in the process is also handed over (or shared digitally) to the customer.
Some RootsCamp attendees were put off by the title, and the animosity directed at consultants. As a consultant, I say get over it. The profession is rife with leeches, hacks and stuffed shirts. The few good and honorable among us need to understand that, accept it, and not get hostile about being mistaken for one of vast majority of vultures that dominate the profession. Unfortunately the burden is on us to prove we aren’t part of that majority that serves only to inhibit or exploit challenger candidates.
I spent this past weekend at the southeastern regional training for trainers (t4t) of PowerShift 2011
This spring, over 10,000 young leaders will converge on Washington, DC to stand up for our future. At Power Shift 2011, we’ll stand together to reclaim our democracy from big corporations and push our nation to move beyond dirty energy sources that are harming the health of people and the planet.
To train 10,000 in DC, they held regional trainings throughout the nation this past weekend. In Atlanta we had roughly 80 attendees learning to be Coaches and Facilitators, sharpening their skills as organizers and activists. PowerShift itself is a program of the Energy Action Coalition, which includes 50 youth oriented environmental and social justice organizations.
Through the New Organizing Institute, PowerShift gains a great program, training materials and some very talented master trainers. The regional program was a three-day adventure, not without logistical & communication lapses and mishaps, but overall execution was very good. The base of the training materials comes from Marshall Ganz‘s organizing model, as many of you may have learned through the Obama campaign. The materials themselves are published by NOI to coincide with the program, with some occurring a bit out of sequence from the program as it was presented in Atlanta. You can find some of NOI’s great training materials online at their Toolbox.
There was a pre-training session for Coaches Friday evening at a quaint little hotel North of Atlanta, with a nice drive through blooming dogwood trees along the way, but the feature venue for the Southeast Regional training was Fuzion Lounge at Atlanta’s Underground at the end of “Kenny’s Alley.” I’ve done trainings in all sorts of venues, from living rooms to civic centers, I even chaired a caucus in a Las Vegas Casino once – this was my first training in a night club, giving or receiving. My team’s breakout sessions were held in the “VIP” Area (I think they call it “the Blue room”), complete with stripper pole. No, I didn’t try it out. I won’t speak for the rest of my team though. Quite an experience, we could have done without the black lights, but we worked through the breakouts and much learning was done.
Saturday started with a narrative journey down the timeline of PowerShift’s history as well as the first examples of Story of Self. For those who never heard of him, the story and actions of Tim DeChristopher are quite remarkable, a young man who stood up against all odds for justice, when few others were even paying attention. We heard about Dan Cannon’s involvement with student organizing on campus and Anita Poushan’s border crossing revelation. Through their stories, everyone became more engaged and inspired, this is the strength of this snowflake organizing model. We found unity when Dan asked the crowd, “Do you know who Monsanto is?” The resounding chorus of boos was instant and passionate. In general session and in our group breakouts we heard diverse stories of how people came to be at this event, part of this movement. Some were well aware of the moment they became inspired, the events and experiences that caused them to join the movement. For others, it was the beginning of a process by which they will gain self awareness and through a better understanding of themselves, become better at understanding and persuading others to join the movement.
If you are organizing an event with a bunch of activists that starts early in the morning and is expected to go well in to the evening, what is the one logistic you can’t fail to deliver? Yeah, so there was a coffee deficiency, it happened, we got through it, and much learning was had. It isn’t a big deal to me, as I don’t drink coffee, I brought my own caffeine source with me, for others the situation was dire. Everyone survived, no blood was shed, and due to hydration deficiencies, there weren’t even tears. Logistics were managed by the Master and Lead trainers, and coffee was had by all that desired – this is a lesson in having faith in organizers. Another lesson was had with the failure of technology was an inability to get a laptop working with the projector, an easel, pad and marker were located, teamwork was employed and training was conducted with great success. One big lesson I learned early in my campaigning/organizing life – things are going to go wrong, in ways you couldn’t have possibly imagined, and some in ways you should have, all we can do is move on and find solutions to accomplish our goals in spite of the unexpected obstacles. Getting through such obstacles is the mark of a good organizer, never panicking, expressing despair, or becoming consumed by the emotional roller coaster – that is the makings of a great organizer.
I was placed in a group that later became known as a the Green Tigers, an homage to the bulk of our group being students at Clemson University. With a wide array of ages, experiences and interests. Through our breakout exercises, we shared our stories of self and helped each other improve our presentation of our individual inspirations. In the process we learned just how different our lives have been, and yet each of us was drawn to the same place and time for this shared experience. In the beginning of every DFA Training Academy, the lead trainer for the opening session informs the attendees, “You are not normal.” Showing up for a training about improving your capacity to participate in Democracy early on a Saturday, that isn’t normal. Knowingly subjecting yourself to the physical, mental and emotional abuse of running for office, that isn’t normal. Volunteering to work (paid or not) on candidate or issue campaigns, very not normal. Within this group, the Green Tigers, the members may feel a sense of normalcy they don’t typically find in other groups and settings.
The second key early morning lesson at a DFA Training Academy is, “There is no magic. There is work.” The PowerShift Training, like DFA is about providing activists with the skills and understanding they need to do the work needed to create change. In a little over a week, 10,000 participants will have the curtain pulled back, they will see that it isn’t magic, that they can make a difference. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? PowerShift 2011 is still seeking facilitators, can you do your part to help achieve the goal of training 10,000 youth energy activists? Discount registrations are available for facilitators who participate in pre-training (5-7 hours of webinar and/or phone based training), contact me directly if you are interested.
From my tweets during the Southeast Regional T4T:
@mpiscatella: I’m @ #PowerShift because as one, my power is limited, as an empowering trainer my power is limitless – join us in dc #pfla #p2
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).