Guest Post By Cheryl Aguilar (@cheryl_aguilar)
If you think you need to be a social media or new media professional to join the renowned LATISM’11 social media conference in Chicago this November 9-11, you are about to be enlightened. Read along to learn how social media has allowed a community organizer to advance his work and the issues he cares about.
A few years ago Marvin Randolph (@mrandolphdc)—former Deputy Executive Director of the Campaign for Community Change and its action arm Change Nation and recently named Senior Vice President for Campaigns at NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Color People) –wouldn’t have thought social media would be a part of his work. As far as he was concerned, Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, and all those other “hot” social media sites interns at his job talked about, were simply the indulgences of people obsessed with watching the boring, mundane routine of other peoples lives; and had no bearing on the “real work” of community organizing and advancing the important social justice issues that he was so passionately committed to.
Fast forward three years to now, and his tune has certainly changed; as now Marvin uses social media obsessively, and capitalizes daily on its powerful reach in pushing and promoting important messages about the communities and issues he’s dedicated his life to fighting for. Now more than ever, Marvin understands the value of social media and how crucial it is to renew his skills and interact with other influential in the field.
How do you use social media in your work?
Well that parts pretty easy. Actually simpler than I would have thought it to be three years ago. I use it to push out messages I want people to be talking about. I use it to build a buzz, and I use that buzz to build a following. I use that following to build an army of organizers across the nation to promote issues I am fighting for every day. Some do it from their living rooms, and others through their work, or their own social networks. But they are doing it all over the nation! And at a scale that I could never reach. Even if I were to spend every waking hour organizing.
What have you learned from social media?
The most important thing I’ve learned is that these tools don’t replace my day-to-day ground game of community organizing. They augment it! Quadruple and quintuple its reach to make my organizing more effective. For example, if the President is about to do a speech on jobs, and my organization is pushing him to promote a “bold jobs agenda,” I can use social media to tell people what we think he needs to say. And get them talking with me, and amongst themselves about what they think he should say. And while he is saying it I can comment — and have them join me in commenting — about what WE collectively think is good and bad about what he is saying and how he is saying it. What we are really doing is building a common bond around a collectively held set of issues and beliefs, and while the President’s speech is unfolding – real time, rapid-response-like – building an organizing buzz to agitate and activate people around.
Don’t you see the power in that? It’s just a new form of relational organizing – only virtual. But it speaks to every piece and practice in the central premise of what “Alinsky-Styled” organizing teaches us. That all effective organizing begins by starting “where people are at,” and getting them to speak to their own “self-interest.” And through that, to find a common story, a common narrative they share and want to organize collectively around. Only in this instance they are doing it in a virtual environment, instead of face-to-face. But faster, wider, deeper, and most importantly – quicker. “
You can get to massive scale in the few keystrokes of one short tweet with a link to an important article; or a witty Facebook post with your personal take on an issue bubbling out there that you want people (your “friends”) who are like you and care about the issues you care about to speak too – and ACT on.
What are some of the major lessons you have learned?
At the heart of what I have learned is that Organizing 2.0 requires that field, online and social media are no longer separate, but are in fact inseparable. And, more importantly, that being an effective organizer in the 21st century does not require making a choice of one over the other. It means finding a way to make the two augment each other; building on one another as notes in a symphony or chord of music; and to a new sheet of music that IS Organizing 2.0.
Neither all one or the other, but a healthy blend of the two. Kinda like an Organizing Mocha-Frappachino – part online caffine jolt , part addictive offline “Chocolat”, part frothy social media whipped cream – each building on the collective strengths and accounting for the inherent weaknesses of the other.
I’ll tell you this much – it makes for one mean organizing cocktail! Especially in this day and age, on such rapidly shifting terrain, with tools constantly evolving and being aggressively used by what I have come to understand to be a very different type of opponent we find ourselves fighting. Mastering this is crucial for anyone who wants to be competitive and successful in organizing these days. Period.
I have also realized that within the progressive community, there exists a set of misplaced perceptions as relate to these new forms of organizing. Many misperceive this as the replacement of classic “field based, relational community organizing” with new age “cloud-based self-organized social/online activism.” We need to stop thinking about this as a conflict between what is old and what is new. And instead as a confluence of what the powerful mix of old and new can offer in a new millennium – with an evolving arsenal of organizing tools – in an age where people communicate, get, access to, and act on information at various levels, and through multiple platforms at the same time.
My friend Eric Wingerter, Director of Web Campaigns and New Media for the NAACP, has taught me a new more specific way to describe it. It is more than just “new” or “social” media. Those terms are so broad and nebulous. It is what we community organizers should start calling “digital engagement.” A natural complement to our classic arsenal of community, legislative and civic engagement campaigns. Pretty cool huh? Eric really out-did himself coming up with that one. Absolutely, brilliant!” In the final analysis there is one simple bottom-line to it all. The world has changed, and community organizing has to change with it. This I have come to the clear-headed realization is an uncompromising reality we all need to face. Face it, or face extinction as the price for ignoring it.”
How did you get into social media?
The only accurate way to characterize it is to say “I was pushed.” And there was one person persistently consistently doing the pushing. A very persistent mentee of mine – Cheryl Aguilar. The moment that you commandeered my Macbook Pro and began signing me up for “every social media site on the planet” was when I realized that our roles had fundamentally shifted.
As I look back, my whole world-view on the subject of social media was so very skewed – AND dated. I was looking at it like more of a social play-toy rather than what I now know to be a powerful tool for engagement, but just a different kind; “Digital Engagement” as my buddy Eric Wingerter continues to coin it. But back then it was just what I, and a seasoned set of colleagues from my 20 plus year campaign background had dismissed as an “untested medium” for communication. Starkly defined in my mind as one that didn’t have any definable audience demonstrating that it could act at real scale to affect anything. But the lecturing and finger wagging from my 26 years of campaigns didn’t stop, or slow, or dissuade Cheryl from getting me on the social-media bandwagon. But not without a fair amount of resistance from me on the front-end I’m embarrassed to say.
Why are you going to LATISM’11?
In addition to the fact that the first, and coolest, Twitter Party I ever attended was organized by them (and yes Cheryl got me in), I am excited about all the new things I can learn there to help build and strengthen my social media network. Not to mention all the bright, cool, savvy and exciting people I know will be there. And for the record, I count myself as one of the luckiest people at the conference.
Who are some of the Tweeps you follow that you recommend others follow? Here’s a quick list of my favs.
Cheryl Aguilar is Principal at Aguilar Communications and a contributor to @LatinaLista @NewAmericaMedia and @MetroLatinoUsa. She will be attending LATISM’11 for the first time. To learn more about why she is going to the LATISM ’11 Conference, read her LatinaLista.net piece by clicking here