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Rootscamp 2013 – fieldworkers, strategists and the urgency of progressive organizing

12/16/13 @cwebba1

I just returned from the Rootscamp 2013 Conference, hosted by New Organizing Institute (NOI) in Washington DC. Rootscamp is a conference for progressive organizers held every year in the post-election / pre-inauguration season. This is my second year attending.

I saw the Rootscamp review posted by Slate so I thought I would post my own. Slate has argued that Rootscamp ignored the Affordable Care Act as both an issue to address and as an achievement. I disagree and I think that Slate misses the point. Rootscamp isn’t about specific issues or about supporting the administration, although those things happen too. Rootscamp is about progressive organizing and the lessons and tactics learned by professionals in the field.

Rootscamp is about fieldworkers and the strategists who love them. A non-fieldworker can feel like an outsider in a cloistered society. Everyone seems to know everyone else from previous battles. I volunteered and helped to work the registration table and monitor a few sessions. As a volunteer, I had a great opportunity to meet people and get to see the NOI staff in action.

Rootscamp is run as a “un-conference” where session subjects are offered and produced by attendees. Each Rootscamp conference is a mashup of funk, new voices and sophisticated strategic planning.

As a technology specialist, I attended some sessions about technologies for organizers. Fieldworkers are big on programs to sort data, parse email lists and APIs. One session went over various technologies available for organizers. Some were specialized web apps, but GoogleDocs was mentioned as a valuable resource as well. Attendees were encouraged to contribute and I offered that everyone should explore Lanyrd.com.

Other sessions attracted me. Sessions like What we need to do now to win in 2014; another session was about creating defining stories to drive engagement; and another was about creative agit-prop tactics. With an interest in content development and story telling, these strategic subjects really got my juices going.

Two things about Slate’s argument about Obamacare: First, Slate’s article seemed to come with an agenda. Coming to #Roots13, I wondered if Valerie Jarrett would show up and get heckled again about global warming. I wondered as well what attendees think about the NSA spying scandal and the genocide in Syria. Valerie didn’t show and I did not hear about the NSA or Syria although with 16 sessions per hour I may have missed it. Rootscamp was not about my pre-conceived list of grievances.

Elizabeth_Warren_Roots13

Not Valerie Jarrett

The focus of the conference is organizing and the structure of conversation revolves accordingly. Maybe “Obamacare” did not specifically take focus because it is no longer an organizing issue.

Fieldworkers and organizers are focused on fresh battles. The Affordable Care Act as an organizing issue is now embodied by dozens of Planned Parenthood organizers. Obamacare as an issue has transformed into the clarion call for gun reform and the need to defend transgendered people.

Urgency has currency at Rootscamp. Progressive issues compete in the Rootscamp idea market to gain traction and support. Up-coming off-year elections are organizing battles worthy of focused attention.

Maybe Slate will write a second article that goes into depth about issues that were discussed at Rootscamp instead of a boorish diatribe about what was not discussed. #Justsaying.



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