What I learned at RootsCamp 2013

What I learned at RootsCamp 2013

For those unfamiliar, RootsCamp is an unconference for progressive organizers (with a tech flavor) put on by the New Organizing Institute, held this December in Washington DC. It used to be much smaller than Netroots Nation, but has grown rapidly — and this year’s was the biggest ever. Here’s some great lessons I learned about the progressive movement that may be applicable to you!

1) No one is in this crowd is slacking off, just because it’s an off-year. This is good news for the progressive movement, that the conference was even bigger than last years’ — which was held in the immediate aftermath of the 2012 election. There was no “off-year” fall-off in attendance or intensity. Indeed, our host city of DC passed paid sick leave and a minimum wage increase just days after the conference ended, thanks to the work of some of the attendees.

2) People want to be in this fight for the long haul. The room for a session on sustaining yourself in a progressive career was full, and many of the presenters and participants are people I am in awe of for how much they do. Presenters and attendees alike had been in the movement for 20, 30 or more years — as well as some ‘newbies’ in their first ear or two of organizing. It was great to see how they too were concerned with being able to keep up their amazing work.

3) The tensions that were apparent at last year’s Rootscamp, namely between Occupy vets and people with more conventional progressive politics like OFA and other campaigns, seemed greatly diminished. Tensions were visible between advocates of public education and advocates for privatized schools, and over the use of unpaid internships, but that is as it should be. The overall atmosphere was one of healthy, challenging movement forward.

4) The movement is so big it is beyond impossible to take it all in. There were 26 sessions at a time, which means there were fascinating ones I did not get to attend. Even the 5 minute “Ignites” talks on new tools ran over into two sessions, and I could only make one of those. That session was chock full of interesting tools, however. Kudos to Amicus for having the most fun presentation, and an interesting idea: bringing back actual postcards, the kind you hold in your hand. Basically, it appears to be a sharing tool but instead of a message on Facebook, you send people an honest-to-gosh postcard like the kind you used to get from people on vacation. Obviously, that wouldn’t work with rapid response issues, but I would love to hear more about how it works for ongoing campaigns.

I also heard from ShareProgress, a tool that optimizes your sharing page and gives you sharing metrics — they’re like an Optimize.ly for social sharing, and Attentive.ly, which runs your email list to see who is on social media, and finally Crowdtangle, which sends you a digest of top-performing Facebook posts. I was familiar with all these tools, but it’s great to see them in person to be aware of all they do. For instance, Attentive.ly gives you a graph of keywords your email list members are discussing on social media, and Crowdtangle will send you alerts when content first begins to go viral.

5) I already technically knew the importance of taking care of your email deliverability from reading this blog, but it bears repeating. The session my colleague Laura Packard facilitated with the email experts of Salsa, NGP VAN and NationBuilder was a good wakeup call. All of the different staffers were unanimous about the importance of cutting loose inactive members after 6-12 months, letting people easily unsubscribe, making sure your list is opted-in, and promoting good list engagement. In a stern tone, they even suggested that not doing these things was making it harder for other organizations to get into inboxes. So be a good “netizen,” clean up your email list! If you need help with this, feel free to give PowerThru a call!

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