Darkness is in the air. The Rebel Alliance is hopelessly outmatched. The Empire terrorizes the galaxy. The rebels train to fight back. The ‘force’ is with them...
Oops. Wrong script. That’s Star Wars.
Back in the real world, thousands of activists hone their skills to resist and run for office. But, how do you train an army of volunteers and candidates to bring about change? Does online training really work? What resources already exist? What's the right software platform?
Training thousands of people on civic activism and running for office is hard. Classroom training can’t keep pace with the demand. Online training delivers and is independent of both time and location. Students are better prepared with with online training to attend classes in person. Here are some other benefits:
Time - Students need to be able to learn at times convenient for them.
Distance - Traveling to a class might be too costly or just not feasible.
Content - A wide range of skills need to be learnt requiring many lessons.
Teachers - Scarcity of experienced instructors to meet the demand.
Budget - The logistics of organizing classes physically makes them costly.
Revisions - New courses and revisions to current classes are required.
Lifestyle - Short attention spans. More social media and mobile phone usage.
What’s your story?
Training someone to advocate for change is hard. They have to be able to connect with others to persuade them to work together for a cause. No jedi mind tricks are needed. Instead, learning the ‘Personal Narrative’ method is a good first step. Personal values are shared through storytelling in order to inspire others and enlist their support for a common goal.
This technique was developed by Marshall Ganz, a legendary activist and Harvardprofessor who worked with Cesar Chavez at the United Farm Workers. Ganz later developed grassroots organizing training for President Barack Obama’s winning 2008 campaign.
Activists are often taught the technique in a day long, interactive workshop. Recently in order to meet demand, it has also been adapted for online delivery to expand its reach. The adaptation has to be done carefully in order for content to be effective. Online courses are often designed as short, engaging segments to accommodate typical attention spans of under two minutes. Questions embedded in the modules track students’ comprehension.
Online courses vary in duration based on their objective and the material to be covered. For instance, The Resistance School offers a series of free lessons on activism and organizing that are 90 minutes long. The highlight is a course by Professor Marshall Ganz on "How to Structure and Build Capacity for Action." On the other end of the spectrum, Democracy Labs offers an eight-minute course on how to apply the Personal Narrative method to activism.
Online training platforms
Choosing the ideal platform to distribute online training will depends on:
- Does access to the training have to be restricted?
- Are students expected to answer questions? Or will they just be watching it?
- The budget for online course delivery?
- How much student information has to be collected?
- Is video the right format ? Or is a podcast or other means better ?
- Does the training have to be embedded in another website or is it standalone?
Training platforms & resources
YouTube and Vimeo - Ideal for streaming training without questions for students.
Udemy - A versatile platform to host training content at no charge. Students can be asked questions and they can also download additional learning materials.
Creative Catalysts - a group of Bay Area-based creative professionals championing progressive causes through media projects and online training.
The How To Resist Podcast - uses educates activists with podcasts such as “How To Resist with Humor” distributed by Stitcher’s streaming platform.
OFA - uses Google Drive and Adobe PDF for its “Digital Organizing 101” course.
There are over half a million elected positions in the US. Every race is unique. But many of the tactics are similar, and can be taught. A candidate need to file disclosures, design a campaign, engage supporters, fund raise, build an online presence and get out the vote. The process is complex and often holds back people who can’t afford a political consultant when they launch their campaign. Online training lowers this hurdle so more qualified candidates can run for office.
- Organize for Action trains and mobilizes the next generation of progressive organizers through both in-person and online video training.
- National Democratic Training Committee (NDTC) offers Democratic candidates
up and down the ballot, access to free online campaign training. Classes are video-centric, about 30 minutes long with downloadable templates.
- Democracy for America has trained over 100,000 activists and provides over twenty hour long courses at no charge. They cover a range of topics including online fundraising, precinct organizing and crisis management.
- NationBuilder offers a free two hour course on how to run for elected office. It teaches how to calculate your vote goal, develop a plan to reach and persuade prospective voters.
- Action Groups Network provides in-person and virtual training developed for grassroots leaders and resistance groups to become more effective and sustain momentum - with dedicated coaches and resources.
The force arises
Video training is powerful. A team of inspired volunteers is even more so ! Susan Pfeifer volunteers with Democracy Action to organize phone banks in San Francisco. A surge in volunteers forced her to spend a lot of time training them on phone banking basics. The training was necessary but how could the process be improved - ideally for free?
Help appeared in the form of Rodriguo Toquetao a volunteer with Indivisible SF, Sarah Thompson-Peer and Dina Maria Munsch a highly acclaimed videographer, editor and motion graphics artist. Together they produced a video course on "How to PhoneBank." Volunteers now first train with the video course. This new approach improves call making and saves Susan time to recruit other volunteers!
Creating changemakers isn’t easy, but as Yoda teaches Luke Skywalker in Star Wars “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”