Mary Alice Crim

Distributed Organizing Associate Director at Sierra Club

Blueprints for Change is an open library of progressive advocacy “how-to’s” put together by campaign innovators around the world. Mobilisation Lab has been involved with this project since its inception and we continue to be deeply involved through advisory and bottom-liner participation. We are excited to publish this article by Mary Alice Crim announcing the launch of BFC’s first full-length manual.

Last spring I was at a Momentum movement building training and facilitator Nicole Carty* posed a practical question: What would you do if 100 organisers knocked on your door at the same time? 1,000, 10,000? Would you be ready to onboard them and get them to scale?

I was sitting on a metal folding chair in a room full of incredible organisers and trainers, but my mind drifted back to the day when this actually happened in real life to myself, my colleagues and our allies.

At the time I was a leader with Team Internet and we had just finished a massive online day of action in support of Net Neutrality, also known as the fight for an internet free of censorship and corporate control. (Net Neutrality means there shouldn’t be discrimination on the internet.)  

We planned the day of action to highlight and protest the Trump Administration’s planned rollback of our digital civil rights. Lots of partner groups were involved. We asked online action takers to let us know if they’d like to sign up to volunteer and campaign on the issue where they lived. As a field director at the time it was my job to work with our team to welcome new volunteers. I thought it would be great to have 2,000 sign ups. To be honest that would have been a lot of people for us to onboard and absorb but we were ready for the challenge.

As it turns out, 200,000 volunteers signed up. All at once. On the same day. A few days later that number ballooned to nearly half a million volunteers.

I wish someone had a picture of the Team Internet staff Zoom calls that week so you could see our faces in the moment. We were ecstatic and overwhelmed at the same time. To answer Nicole’s question, we were as ready as we could be in that moment, but we weren’t really ready. We still had a lot to learn.

Together Free Press Action partnered with our allies Demand Progress and Fight for the Future as well as some consultants and got to work right away. We brought in a peer-to-peer text messaging service and immediately began texting shifts to contact all the volunteers, invite them to orientation calls and ask them to sign up for a role on a national volunteer team. We were united by a shared goal to stop the administration’s plan to allow AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to lock down our internet connections and control our ability to connect and communicate.

Team Internet was a life-changing organiing experience for me. And it was a wild ride. I had to learn to organize at a scale I’d never experienced before. It required the deepest of partnerships with trusted allies and an incredibly dedicated, but very small staff.

During that time I remember wishing there was some kind of guide or manual that would give me all the answers and help me figure out the why, what and how of my day-to-day work. I desperately wanted to be part of a community of practice and have a group of organizers who were sorting through the same kind of organizing so we could support each other, solve problems together and challenge each other.

Since then I’ve learned about a long history of distributed and decentralized organizing. I got connected with networks like Momentum and Blueprints for Change that put volunteers, organizers and activists at the center.

Momentum is a movement incubator and training institute helping people like me skill up and learn the theory and practice of mass movements.

I learned that Blueprints has a library of co-created, peer-reviewed guides created by volunteers who want to support progressive campaigning.

In fact, Blueprints has guides on how to set up and run a peer-to-peer text program, best practices for building networked coalitions and running distributed organizing projects. These didn’t exist when we were starting Team Internet, but they were the exact kind of thing I longed for at the time. The guides aren’t static, they’re designed to be updated and shift and change so I was even able to add my expertise to the guides in hopes our collective knowledge can be useful to other organizers.

The goal of Blueprints is to create guides in response to real time needs in the field that help organizers and campaigners around the world “up their game” quickly. We’ve already engaged more than 100 individuals and groups around the world in the creation of our guides.

This month we’re launching our first compendium, or Progressive Organizing and Campaigning Manual, in PDF form that includes all 14 of our existing guides in one place, plus a bonus new guide on dealing with disinformation campaigns and a few revised and improved guides. These are all volunteer created and they’re free for you to use, pass around and even add to.

Check out the Blueprints for Change Progressive Organizing and Campaigning Manual at this link. Note that we ask for people to identify themselves and the movements they work with to access the download. We want to make sure this stays within progressive circles only as much as possible!

Now that I know there’s these movement generous networks of people diving deep on distributed organizing, mass mobilizations and movement building I know that am not alone. I know that I don’t have to recreate the wheel and figure things out. It is incredibly valuable to me to be part of learning communities that share knowledge across issues, organizations, movements, time-zones and borders. I want to share all the knowledge, information and tools we have so that all of us are ready for the moment when 100, 10,000 or 100,000 volunteers knock on our door at the same time.

I hope you’ll check out the new Blueprints for Change Manual and share it with the people you organize and campaign with. I invite you to join our helper network so you can add your expertise to the existing resources and create new ones that are needed in this political moment. I hope to see you at an upcoming Momentum training, webinar or gathering. In these times of turbulence, political chaos, rising white supremacy and xenophobia we can come together to share what we know, build community, fight loneliness and individualism and win some shit.

Special thanks to Tom Liacas for reviewing a draft of this blog.

*Editor’s note: Nicole Carty is also a MobLab Facilitator.

Mary Alice Crim

Mary Alice Crim is the Distributed Organizing Associate Director at the Sierra Club. She volunteers with Blueprints for Change and is part of the Momentum network.