HOW TO BUILD GRASSROOTS ARMY

Recap of Webinar from 4/19/19

Amanda Litman, Run For Something
Alessandra Biaggi, NY State Senator

Amanda Litman started Run For Something in 2016 and now has an army of volunteers, candidates and elected officials.  Here’s how she did it:

  • Ask for help.  You don’t get help if you don’t ask for it.  

  • Make it easy for people to plug in.  Be clear about expectations and what people should do. Make sure it is easy for people to respond.

Senator Biaggi unseated Jeffrey Klein.  Here’s how she built a grassroots army:

  • Understand why you are running and have a personal connection to the message.  Make sure people understand why the specific issue you are raising matters to them. Remember to be positive in your message.  It’s easy to be negative when you are running against someone or some issue, but people respond better to a positive message and they will get more excited.

  • Through social media messaging, she was able to reach people who usually don’t historically come out to vote. She had 500 volunteers by the end, mainly young people.

  • If you know why you are running and you stick with a positive message, then really leverage your endorsements and get them excited, that will help you succeed.

Tools Senator Biaggi used in her campaign:

  • Start with what you have.  Her campaign headquarters started out in her basement.

  • Use the voter file from the Board of Elections, this can be uploaded into Facebook (her campaign had identified FB as the primary social media platform used by people in her district).  The message was targeted based on the population she wanted to reach. This was a very effective tool. It’s possible to sort by demographic and by geographic district, so she was able to craft a message specific to the people she wanted to reach.

  • Targeting young people on social media yielded more and more volunteers.

  • She also knocked on many doors and asked people directly if they wanted to volunteer.

Tools Amanda Litman used to manage the Run For Something community:

  • Candidates sign up on the website and then get invited to a conference call.  The information from that call is funneled back to their CRM, which is Action Network.  This is used to keep track of every interaction that occurs online.

  • Volunteers also sign up on the website and are invited to a conference call.  They are then provided access to a Google Doc which is a 30 page guide on how to be a Run For Something volunteer.  The volunteers have a conversation with every candidate, so RFS is able to scale both.

  • Slack is used to keep all of the information in the same place.  Senator Biaggi also uses Slack and created different channels for the staff and the volunteers.  It enabled everyone to talk to one another and broke down barriers.

  • AirTable is used to track information about the candidates and the conversations people have with them.  

  • The goal is to have a record of every interaction that is had with both candidates and volunteers, and to be able to track all of the data so that it can be measured.  The more they learn about the people who are involved, the more they can measure how they are being attracted to RFS and how they are being engaged.

  • RFS has a network of 500 mentors across the country who are available to help the candidates.  While technology has a place, human contact is most effective. (31:00) While technology helps you scale, it doesn’t replace the personal relationship.

Senator Biaggi on meeting with her constituents:

  • NY State has a very opaque budget process.  Historically, before the budget happened, elected officials would talk to people with whom they had relationships in the community about their priorities.  This left a whole population out of the process. (33:18) Senator Biaggi decided to hold a budget forum for everyone in her community to have a chance to express their priorities, whatever they might be.  This had never been done before in the Bronx.

  • It was critical to get the information out, using many channels of communication, about this forum so that everyone had a chance to participate.  This was also important for the Town Halls that Senator Biaggi has held. Her goal was to listen to her constituents, many of whom had never attended a forum like this before, and to share her front-line experiences, and to get feedback from her community.  (34:47) It is essential that she represents all of her constituents. She was elected as a Democrat, but also has Republicans in her district and represents them as well. (34:18)This is how we transform politics.

  • The budget was then followed by a post-budget forum to describe what happened, what passed and what didn’t, and an overview of the budget process itself. (36:04) It’s important to educate everyone about the process. If the constituents are better informed, the system can be changed.  Although there are some electeds who don’t want the process to change.

  • The new way of leading is to make sure that all of your constituents have a place to reach you.  Open office hours, town halls, forums, giving them real insight into what you do all day. They need to know what’s going on.  

Amanda works with dozens of elected officials.  Here’s an example of someone doing a great job in passing progressive legislation:

  • State Senators Alessandra Biaggi and Jessica Ramos, along with others in the NY delegation have passed significant legislation in New York State including expanding early voting, campaign finance reform, passage of the Reproductive Health Act.

  • In Virginia RFS candidates are trying to modify the ERA in VA and to pass Medicaid expansion to 400,000 people.

  • In Florida RFS candidates are getting Florida to be energy self-sufficient, as well as allowing undocumented immigrants to get late driver’s licenses and ID cards.

  • In New Mexico an RFS candidate created a task force to take on the issue of missing indigenous women.

Techniques for engaging constituents to build support for making changes:

Senator Biaggi:

  • After the budget was passed, she sent a campaign email to her constituents describing what had happened in the budget process in Albany.  She wanted to be truthful and described what was accomplished and what wasn’t, and pointed out that there are some people who claim to be for certain things, but in reality they aren’t.  (41:31)It’s important to follow up with the people who represent us and hold them accountable. While that message was well-received by her constituents, it made many people on the inside feel uncomfortable.  It’s important to Senator Biaggi to be authentic, and she feels that’s what’s happening now across the country- it’s not the same way of doing things. It’s important for leaders to speak about what they are seeing in order to effect change.  Silence has allowed systems to perpetuate abuse. It’s a balance - you need to work with your colleagues, but you work for your constituents.

  • When there are diverse voices at the table, issues that hadn’t been dealt with before can get attention.  For example, a discussion of breast-feeding in the Senate chamber, although supported by men, was going to be raised by a woman.  (40:15) You bring to the table your limited experiences, which is why you need people from all walks of life and with different experiences to be in the room.

  • Senator Biaggi is addressing sexual harassment in the workplace.  She’s been responsible for the first hearing on sexual harassment in 27 years in NY State. This issue hasn’t been addressed by NY State government and that’s one of the places where people have been sexually harassed in the workplace.  This is a symbol of the change in leadership. Senator Biaggi led the charge on an 11-hour hearing on this topic. There will be additional hearings around the state, so different voices can be heard, which will then inform the policy-making.  Gaps in the law haven’t been updated and there are different standards that need to change. One is the “severe or pervasive” standard, which has enabled cases to be thrown out in NY State that should actually have been considered. This will allow more individuals who are abusing positions of power to be held accountable.  

  • There are resistant individuals in every system, and when it comes to violence against women generally, we see a real resistance to the people who are trying to change ti.

Communication tools that have proven effective:

Amanda Litman:  

  • The challenge is to build momentum around an organization and a cause.  RFS creates a strategic plan that is transparent and available and includes their goals as well as an assessment of what they do well and what they need to improve.  This is made public.

  • RFS is aggressive in its use of social media.  Twitter can be valuable to shape a conversation.  It’s important to sound like yourself in social media, to be authentic.  They use email for fundraising and connecting to donors and stakeholders and are transparent in all the communication.

  • Providing a public glimpse into the inner workings of the organization has been a useful way of engaging people.

Senator Biaggi:

  • It’s really important to be authentic and honest.

  • Social media is one of the best tools.  It’s important to be mindful of what you say.  She has Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for her campaign side and separate ones for her Senate side.  She splits her accounts because she thinks the message from the Senate should be about policy; her campaign accounts allow her to address wider issues that are important to her. She responds personally to all of her direct messages on all accounts.  The fact that people can get in touch with her and actually get response has made her accessible and people feel they can actually contact her. In the Senate they have a system called Bluebird which has aggregated all of her constituents so she can send them mail.  The older population may not use social media, and she wants to reach them as well.

  • Senator Biaggi has a team that works with her.  She has a public facing email and she hired someone to answer those for her.

  • She’s moving into office space on street level so she is more accessible to her constituents.

Amanda Litman on social media use:

  • Tumbler for reaching young people

  • Instagram for telling the stories of their candidates

  • Twitter for interacting with activists, journalists and candidates

  • Facebook skews older and it’s used for volunteers and donors

  • It’s important to answer every message on every platform.  It helps to have that personal connection.

Final thoughts:

Senator Biaggi:

  • Currently there is incredible possibility being met with incredible resistance.  (1:01:45)What women are doing when they are leading is to lead in a very different way.  Albany is a place where it is very hard to change, but it’s happening. She was elected because of her values and she won’t abandon them moving forward.  It’s up to the voters if they like what she is doing. If you can establish who you are, this allows you to be independent and to speak about what you believe is right.

  • Having a network of people you can call on when you need your allies and friends is critical.  

Amanda Litman:

Remember you are doing something hard and you are not alone.  It’s supposed to be difficult and that’s what makes it rewarding.