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Digital Organizing in These Uncertain Times

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April 1, 2020

With the emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 outbreak, many people who work in organizing have been forced to postpone events, conferences, and campaign work. For many of us, it felt like all of the hard work we put in was for nothing, especially now that we’re social distancing and quarantining in our homes with little information and many unanswered questions.

As an organizer who does paid work temporarily or for short campaign “seasons,” I was especially worried about the prospects of my work, especially as it relates to the full time organizing jobs I had applied for.

Many organizations I’ve applied to have sent out letters of apology stating that, “at this time the hiring process is being postponed but your application will remain on file” or suddenly shifted their interview questions to be entirely focused on my experience in comms/communication, digital organizing, and data management.

I felt as if all of the work that I had been doing was not enough, and that I was a fraud for calling myself an organizer because I didn’t handle the backend work associated with VAN, didn’t have all of the campaign metric data for the work I had done as a canvassing manager, or that I didn’t take a seemingly insignificant opportunity to do comms/social media work when I had the chance.

To make matters worse, the only real human being I’ve had contact with in the past 3 weeks is my mother and I have begun to have very lengthy discussions with my cats. The cabin fever is undoubtedly getting to my head and making me question the importance of my work, but in doing so, it made me value the work that so many digital campaign people do, as well as appreciate how much data and comms work is necessary for Reproductive Justice organizing.

Especially with so much work focusing on young people, we have to be engaged in social media platforms and start compiling together digital organizing toolkits to help young people feel educated, motivated, and supported in their efforts to continue their fight for the protection of basic human rights.

I think, if anything, this very abrupt switch to fully digital work has made many people feel as if they’re starting their first day at a job where they have no idea what to do. But the skills that we’ve learned, and the talents that we’ve embodied and refined as leaders and head organizers are not just limited to in person, on the grounds work. We can do this in the digital sector, and if anything, we will be able to have better outreach, turnout, and increased interest in our work and organizations.

It is especially difficult, however, for people who feel as if social media and comms work is overwhelming, and do not want to deal with the added stressors of reading horrible comments or feeling as if their posts just get lost in the algorithm. It feels similar in many ways, to having people slam doors in your face or seeing that your campaign numbers aren’t what you wanted them to be, but for a lot of us, this is still uncharted territory.

Tools like bit-ly’s, links, online petitions and forms, and zoom calls make it easier, but there are only so many online organizing tool-kits I can get in my email until I feel like I have no direction in what I’m supposed to be doing. So many young organizers and activists often juggle multiple jobs, and even school work on top of everything else, so to have all of our environments dramatically shift and change overnight, is a hard transition. 

There are so many uncertainties at this point, varying from our jobs, our access to utilities, our homes; responses from programs that we applied to or jobs…and everyone is valid in feeling like they’re confused, lost, or unmotivated. It seems as if everything was paused but we are still expected to go on and be productive.

With all of this, I feel so disconnected. I’m supposed to be getting my degree in Public Health with a concentration in epidemiology and disease control in May, and yet now I feel like I won’t be able to get a job or that my master’s program decisions will be delayed and I don’t know what I am going to do. Again, cue the feelings of being a fraud

What especially irks me is that I know exactly what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization are saying, too well. And it scares me to see the outcomes and events of these next coming months.

But on a positive note, I feel supported and uplifted by other activists and organizers that feel the same way, and are finding outlets to continue to do the work that we are passionate about. 

Because now, more than ever, we need to continue to be loud, proud, and demanding. We can’t take compromise for an answer, and I know that with all of us together, we can do this. It will take time, but we 100% got this. It’s just going to take a lot of handwashing and social distancing! 

Handwashing Meme, credit to creator