Organizing 101: Don't Do Another Ferguson March or Rally Without Getting The Digits
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Bruce A. Dixon
At a meeting I attended last weekend, a lady told me an inspiring story, but not as inspiring as it should have been.
In a social media exchange, somebody asked her if an event on the Ferguson murder was happening nearby. Probably not, she replied, and suggested the questioner put one together. She did just that, starting a Facebook page, and hawking it on Twitter and other social media platforms. With only a few days lead time, a couple hundred people showed up. They sang, they chanted, they felt the strength that only comes from connecting with others in a just cause. And they dispersed.
Did anybody pass out a sign in sheet, I asked? Did you get the digits of the folks that showed up? I asked this because getting those digits is the first lesson in organizing 101, it's what we did before anybody ever heard of social media. Back in the day if we got 4 people, or 40, or 400, we got those digits.
I also asked because Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine, causes.com, change.org and other social media platforms DO NOT give the organizers of petitions or events ANY of the contact information on the people you're supposedly “organizing” because the corporate social media business model ain't never been about helping YOU do good, it's about mapping the people you touch, the people you influence and who influence you so they can sell that to marketers.
All the social media platforms can and do manipulate their algorithms and hashtags for commercial purposes, and their systems are private property. If they wanted to squelch your political activism tomorrow, or just show you more cat videos, or if the people who turned out last time simply were not on Facebook or Twitter for a day or two, they might never know about the next meeting or demonstration or even the murder that prompted it.
The answer to my “did you get the digits” question was “no”. Nobody passed a petition, a sign-in sheet or volunteer cards. Nobody got anybody's email, phone numbers or the best times to call.
In fairness it's an easy mistake to make, but a costly one. Remember the Million Man March? Organizers remembered to pass the hat but didn't pass a sign-in sheet, so there was no Million Man Mailing List or phone tree. Talk about missed opportunities. Most Occupy encampments didn't take names or contact info either.
When you have an event, publicized by social media or the radio, like so many of the Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin and Ferguson and other happenings, and you don't get those digits you are completely at the mercy of Twitter, Facebook or the radio station to recontact those people. Radio is a great way to get a crowd, but you rarely have access. Also you may have noticed that whenever radio stations take the lead, they put the Al Sharptons or their local equivalents at the head of the crowd. If you don't want to listen to those guys, you gotta get your own list, so you can get your own crowd. Most people are not already affiliated with any existing organization. That's a piece of Organizing 101 as well.
I'm not saying don't use corporate social media or radio when you can get it. But take it from an old school organizer: if you're depending on Twitter, on Facebook, on corporate social media and the radio to get your crowd and you don't pass a petition, a sign in sheet to enable you to keep in direct touch, or have the most enthusiastic among them sign volunteer cards you ain't got no movement, because YOU cannot MOVE it, only they can, and only when, where and for as long as THEY want to.
You want a movement – every crowd, every meeting, every flashmob – you get those digits.
Next week we'll talk a little about Organizing 102... what to do with them.
For Black Agenda Radio, I'm Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com, and remember --- Facebook and Twitter don't necessarily show you everything we or similar sources publish. The only way to keep up on the latest Black Agenda Report is to subscribe to our free weekly email updates at www.blackagendareport.com/subscribe. That's www.blackagendareport.com/subscribe.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a state committee member of the GA Green Party. He can be reached via this site's contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.