There is no such thing as online organizing (rant)

This is a rant – all of y’all might reading know this, but

When we were planning the Friends of Caltrain summit last winter, one of my fellow planners suggested that I moderate a session on “online organizing.” I politely declined. We should have a session on organizing and outreach. “But it might be crowded,” someone said. “If it gets crowded, we should split into two sessions about organizing.” In the sessions, we should brainstorm about what communities people participate in, and how to reach them.

When we succeeded at turning out thousands of people to email regional decision makers, and helped turn out hundreds at in-person meetings, we got plenty of compliments at “using the internet” to change the dynamic of the situation. But it wasn’t “the internet” – it was people, in their neighborhood groups, bike clubs, business groups, environmental groups.

Working to help spread the word about Limmud Bay Area, a volunteer-driven conference and festival, I reviewed the list of volunteer categories. One category was marketing and outreach. Another category was “technology and social media.” I politely suggested that we change the categories so that social media was part of outreach and marketing.

Even communities that spend much of their time online, such as open source projects and online political discussion groups are fueled and refueled by meeting periodically in person.

Organizations reach constituents, and people reach out to each other online. There is a distinctive set of tools for this, true. But the tactics used to communicate online are part of an overall organizing strategy. People meet each other and get to know other human beings. The venue, a bar or a Google+ hangout or facebook group or a mailing list is a just a tool for meeting other people. And most of the time, reaching out online is one tactic to help people achieve something together in the 3d world.

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