The Future of Political Organizing | Grassroots Organizers

by Ben Holse (He/Him)

political organizing

What Does The Future Of Political Organizing Look Like?

We’ve written a lot about political organizing and tools like canvassing and phone banking in the past. But what does the future of political organizing hold? As a former organizer who likes to stay up to date on all the latest trends, allow me to dust off my crystal ball and give you my take on the future of political organizing.

Canvassing Is Still King
Some things just never go out of style. Though it may seem like one of the least high-tech organizing tactics, canvassing is still really, really effective. Meeting with people face-to-face and telling them why you are supporting an issue or candidate consistently proves to make an enormous impact. While people can very easily ignore a phone call or be rude on the Internet, most people do have a real problem being mean to someone who is directly in front of them. And having real people talk to other real people about the issues that matter to them carries a lot of weight and will undoubtedly continue to do so in the future.

Phones Are the Past
As a prolific phone banker, this one hurts to say. But while phone banking can still be effective as a volunteer recruitment tool (particularly if you have a preexisting relationship with that person), in terms of direct voter contact, traditional phone banking is dying. The primary reason being: cell phones. More and more people are ditching their landlines. And federal law prohibits using any predictive dialer technology to call cell phones, meaning ever single one of them has to be hand dialed by a volunteer. To make matters worse, more and more people are becoming hesitant about answering calls from numbers they don’t already have in their phones, preferring to listen to a voicemail after and make a decision about whether or not to call back. The other major reason for the decline in phone banking? Other organizing tools (like canvassing!) are just so much more effective. Though there are still a number of older voters out there that do have landlines, it is just not as effective as it used to be.

SMS and Email Are the Present
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to many. In the modern age, the vast majority of people have cell phones. And in most cases, people actually have to go out of their way to shut off the text-messaging feature. This means there’s a pretty enormous pool of people out there that an organizer can reach via text messaging. Further, texts are generally viewed as a highly personal form of communication. And if you begin early enough in the campaign collecting SMS sign ups, this can really pay off as you get closer to Election Day. Particularly in light of federal law prohibiting predicative dialers from calling cell phones, SMS is actually a really smart alternative. But while SMS is increasingly being used as an organizing tool, in my experience at least many smaller campaigns have not yet jumped on the SMS bandwagon. My prediction: SMS becomes an invaluable organizing tool of the future. Further, while it’s hard to call email a “tool of the future” at this point, what’s very clear is that it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Email continues to get more and more effective as an organizing tactic as more people have access to their email on their phones or tablets. In the modern era of organizing, email is as important as ever and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  

Social Media Is the Future
Simply put, social media has changed the game in terms of political organizing. Taping into the fact that someone’s entire social network now lives online, organizers are increasingly using social media to have volunteer reach out to their friends or have friends of friends make warm introductions in order to make their asks more effective. Back in the good old days or organizing, you had to ask someone who else they knew who may want to help out. Not anymore. Organizers today have their volunteers reach out to their friends and talk about the issues that matter to them. In the future, social media will only continue to help refine asks and use positive social pressure to produce real change.

Relationships Matter, Now More than Ever
With all of the flashy new tools available to political organizers today, one thing is clear: relationships still matter a lot. All of these tools that we’ve mentioned above are only really effective when they are backed up by a strong personal connection. For instance, having a canvasser be vulnerable and tell their real story at the door is the key to real persuasion. And while social media has really changed the game in terms of organizing, it’s strength lies in the fact that it is essentially tapping into the personal relationships between users. It’s clear political organizing is still very much based in personal relationships.