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LIVE from Providence: Organizing Outside the Lines: Reaching Hard-to-Reach Communities On and Offline

“These are not the only people working on these issues”, the moderator emphasized at the beginning of the panel. In a packed ballroom hall, this panel attempted to talk about ways to genuinely engaged groups that are not traditionally engaged. The moderator had to emphasize that “hard-to-reach” was in quotes, as communities which might be hard for some people are everyday friends and neighbors for others. This reminder was very pertinent, as too often it is easy to take people as the voice of their community and movement, and the tactics which worked for some may not for others.

The first panelist, working with DREAMers, spoke to their victories, and continuing struggles (with President Obama deporting more immigrants in three years than Dubya in his entire term) and then showed a video about United We Dream and their community engagement.

The second panelist was from Planned Parenthood, and talked about how they defeated the personhood amendment in Mississippi, by accepting the religiousity of the voters (especially when voters had to “pray on it”). By utilizing the faith and values component, they were able to win in Mississippi while other conservative issues passed on the same ballot.

The other panelists talked about their campaigns with the Troy Davis case, the Trayvon Martin case and raising awareness of people who have been unjustly murdered by police and vigilantes.

The moderator opened up to the audience and let us connect the themes of the stories of the panelists. Different themes included unconventional political organizing, focusing on the community instead of a face and a leader, and the merging of online and offline organizing. A major focus was also increasing civic engagement through helping a community realize its own power.

Audience discussion also included how to convert from responding to a crisis to pushing for a better world, which was developed through the response which talked about the work which was done beforehand and developing email lists afterwards, which included being sensitive to how people came into contact with the organization and inviting them to join. Another response was to say that that you can’t push for better if the crisis is continuing to occur, such as high incarceration rates and the stop-and-frisk policies which need to be dealt with lest it continues that “the house is on fire”.

In the last round of questions, importance was place on targeting those decisionmakers who will help an organizaton get what it wants, and also how to target Obama “without electing Mitt Romney”. The biggest answer was that by targeting Obama the progressive movement will actually help the campaign because by getting the Administration to do what we want it will energize the demoralized base and get people out to vote, citing the strategies used to get Obama to support marriage equality.

There is much to connect with the last comment, because many people have been disillusioned to Obama the President,and much of what have been said in previous Netroots Nations by representatives of the Administration was to hold their feet to the fire and ensure their accountability to progressive policy. The panelists made it clear that by not being overcautious due to fears of a red November we will reelect a President of the caliber we need to make a better country and world, because a non-progressive Obama will make the voters stay home and usher in a Romney Administration.