Using Your Organizational Skills to Change the World Using Social Media

February 6, 2020

There is much more to social media than simply posting and waiting for results. The best efforts—including many of those highlighted in this series of excerpts from and interviews for Change the World Using Social Media (to be published by Rowman & Littlefield later this year—often combine first-rate communication skills online as well as onsite with tremendous organizational skills and organizational development. #BlackLivesMatter without the Black Lives Matter organization would be a far less influential movement than it is. #ClimateStrike, with the Global Climate Strike organization, combined online meeting place and onsite local chapters throughout the world to continue its work to foster positive responses to the global climate crisis, which is also promoted online through #FridaysForFuture and its online map of onsite events. #DACA takes on a real-world physical presence, through the support of more than 1,400 organizations and individuals, in its efforts to support undocumented immigrants who want to continue living in the United States. #MarchForOurLives benefitted and continues to benefit from the deft combination of a broad-based organization designed to reduce gun violence and online posts from organizers and supporters. #MeToo would be much the poorer if it didn’t have the organizational prowess the local and national organizations providing services to survivors of sexual violence and of Tarana Burke’s Just Be Inc., created to support young women of color “with the range of issues teen and pre-teen girls are faced with daily” more than a decade before her #MeToo hashtag went viral. #WomensMarch, with its broad-based network of trainings, programs and events, drives the movement to “harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change,” its website suggests.

The connections between the stories of March for Our Lives and Fridays for Future provide particularly noteworthy examples of how quick, consistent attention to the complementary nature of online and onsite (blended) interactions, and onsite-online organizational skills, led to successes for both groups. The process of creating a strong, sustainable March for Our Lives movement and organization, well documented in Dave Cullen’s book Parkland: Birth of a Movement and Lauren and David Hogg’s book #NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line, rose out of the activists’ almost immediate recognition that building a strong organization would be essential to success; they drew upon experienced, knowledgeable supporters to help them after quickly recognizing that they needed to establish a nonprofit foundation to manage the large donations made in support of their efforts. Inspired by March for Our Lives and an earlier protest, in which students stayed away from school to stage a “climate strike” timed to coincide with the opening day of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris, Greta Thunberg began her school strike—an initially solitary effort calling attention to climate change—by standing alone (with a handmade sign in hand) in front of the parliament building in her own country in August 2018. Recognizing that she would need a well-run organization to support her efforts, she established Fridays for Future that month. She continued to combine her onsite efforts with online posts (through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) to call attention to her climate strike—an effort that steadily attracted a growing, yet relatively small group of supporters. The moment of transformation in terms of the amount of attention she was drawing to her cause came when that combined onsite-online effort led her to the opportunity to address members of the United Nations late that year, when she was 15 years old: attention through mainstream media outlets as well as through tremendously larger numbers of responses via Twitter (going from a few thousand responses on Twitter before the UN speech to more than 483,000 mentions by August 2019) allowed her make “an unquestionable impact,” and “nowhere is that more apparent than on social media,” Paul Herrera notes in an article for Maven Road.

But it’s not just about attention and reach; it’s also about the concrete results produced through those well-organized, blended efforts. When you look at what March for Our Lives has helped produce, you see changes in legislation at the state and national levels, growing support nationally for positive actions to reduce violence involving the use of guns, and efforts to register and engage new voters in the electoral process. When you look at Climate Strike, you see that the first sixteen months of activities put Thunberg in conversation with world leaders willing to support positive responses to the effects of climate change and “inspired 4 million people to join the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, in what was the largest climate demonstration in human history.” Those marches, executed with a scope and efficiency reminiscent of the Women’s March and March for Our Lives efforts, spurred action by students “in 2,233 cities and towns in 128 countries, with demonstrations held from Australia to India, the UK and the US.”

At the heart of all this is community—onsite, online, and at the level of the blended efforts so frequently apparent to you as engage in your own world-changing efforts and as you follow the work of those you admire for their world-changing actions.

Tips designed to create, nurture, and sustain these blended communities include establishing organizational plans—with strong mission, vision, and value statements—that help keep community efforts focused and measurable in terms of achievements vs. goals that remain unreached. They include a commitment to building relationships that allow your colleagues and supporters to see themselves as your partners in creating the change you are proposing to make. They are centered around a commitment and ability to tell your story briefly and engagingly through all means available to you onsite and online—in ways that are personal and invitational rather than coldly factual and distant. They are built upon an understanding that change—small-scale as well as large-scale—is a step-by-step process that requires building upon the successes you achieve and that are not derailed by the inevitable setbacks, opposition, and even harassment you and your colleagues will face. They include a commitment to learning from others—those who support you as well as those who oppose what you are attempting to accomplish—with a well-maintained commitment to empathy so you can understand why others might not be as enamored of what you are attempting to do as you are, and they require a strong commitment to frequently thanking those who support you and doing everything you can to keep those supporters informed, involved, and energized—actions that take you far beyond any mistaken belief that social media is a magic bullet that, once fired, resolves everything you and members of your community are attempting to resolve.   

N.B. — Paul has completed his manuscript for Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the 22nd in a series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


Changing the World Through #NeverAgain

July 30, 2018

When we look at what has happened in the five months that have passed since the shooting of students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School took place in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day earlier this year, we’re left with a clear-cut vision of the difference a few people can make in promoting positive change out of the worst of circumstances.

If the situation had played out differently, David Hogg and his sister Lauren would not have survived the shooting, and we would not have the short, gripping first-hand account of the shooting and its aftermath they provide though #Never Again: A New Generation Draws the Line, recently published by Random House.

The basic details have been abundantly covered: 17 students and others on campus that day were killed by a former student. An Instagram video taken and posted by a student and numerous text messages provided some of the earliest, most graphic images and descriptions of what was taking place. The survivors immediately began asking what they could do to help stop the cycle of violence involving shootings on school campuses, followed by meaningless expressions of sorrow and prayer, followed by inaction, and then followed by more shootings. David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, and other Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) students began meeting within days to create a plan of action, which led to their formation of Never Again MSD (also known as #NeverAgain and #EnoughIsEnough); spawned the global March for Our Lives movement that helped organize events in more than 850 cities worldwide the following month; and has also spawned the Vote for Our Lives movement currently mobilizing young (prospective) voters across the United States in an effort to respond positively to a situation that they—and many of us—feel is completely intolerable and could more effectively be addressed than it has up to this point.

The human part of the story comes through loudly and clearly in the book, as this excerpt (written by Lauren) shows: On the night of the day that the Parkland shooting took place, “I basically passed out. I couldn’t physically stay awake. The same thing happened the next night and the next night and on like that for weeks. During the day I’d have to take naps, then I’d pass out at eight or nine every night and wake up in the middle of the night, so I’d start the next day exhausted again. It’s still hard for me to get a normal night’s sleep. So many of the kids at my school are like that. I never thought trauma could take that kind of toll, but it does” (p. 68).

Many have expressed shocking cruel and brutal disbelief in online posts that students as young as these writer-activists are could help mobilize and inspire the level of action they have already inspired through social media platforms and other resources—boycotts that caused “big companies from Delta Airlines to Hertz” to distance themselves from the NRA; gun-control legislation in New York, Vermont, (Deerfield) Illinois, Florida, and Maryland; and those marches themselves (pp. 124-126): “Then we left Dr. Phil and went home with friends to our old neighborhood, and I had to go to sleep again because I was falling asleep even in the car. The next morning, really early, something like four a.m., my phone started buzzing and buzzing,” Lauren writes (p. 81). “I finally got up and looked at Instagram to see why people were on there, and I saw all these white supremacists and neo-Nazis saying horrible stuff on my Instagram account, like You’re going to hell, you’re an actress, your whole family is going to hell. There was one that read, Your whole school is not real, you’re all actors. I thought that was just so bizarre that someone would even think that. My whole school?”

The narrative throughout the book responds to that disbelief. David describe how what they learned at home from their father (a retired FBI agent) about remaining as calm as possible under the most trying of circumstances helped carry them through the moments during which the shooting was occurring. David also writes about how his experience gathering and posting news reports through coursework he was completing led him to actually take videos of himself describing what was occurring and sending those for posting before that initial day of horror was over. Both acknowledge the positive impact their instructors and coursework had in preparing them for their transition from learner to activist—a much-needed tribute to what is good in our educational system at a time when so many critics complain bitterly about how ineffectual that system is. And they explicitly acknowledge how that magnificent community of learning pulled together in ways that brought friends together to apply what they had learned so they could attempt to change a world that so clearly is far from the world of their dreams.

March for Our Lives, San Francisco (3/24/18)

The #NeverForget chapter at the end of the book provides a resource we would do well to read and reread on a regular basis if we do not want to lose sight of the human tragedy at the heart of this political movement: a list of some of the people who “have been killed in gun violence” since 1999, along with brief, often-poignant descriptions of those who are no longer with us. It’s difficult to imagine being able to read those descriptions without feeling a tremendous sense of loss and a desire to be part of the community attempting to respond positively to those losses with more than expressions of sorrow and prayer.

What we’re left with at the end of the final chapter is an inspiring call to action that again circles back to the importance of a well-functioning educational system that prepares our learners/youngest citizens to use all the resources available to them to not surrender to despair: “We learned to love people for what they are instead of hating them for what they’re not. And like the namesake of our high school—Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who changed her world by a full-on engagement with it, every day, as a journalist, a suffragette, and conservationist—we are learning to change the world by presuming that we can” (p. 141).

N.B. — Paul is currently writing Change the World Using Social Mediascheduled for publication by Rowman & Littlefield in 2020. This is the thirteenth in a continuing series of excerpts from and interviews for the manuscript in progress.


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