Sustaining Organizing Momentum During Social Distancing | National Democratic Training Committee

If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how we as Democrats move forward with constituency outreach, volunteer recruitment, and voter engagement during the harsh reality of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coronavirus and the failed federal response to its spread, has quickly disrupted daily life and the electoral process as a whole, but this election year is too critical to sit idle during the extended period of social distancing it will take to bring the epidemic under control.

In times of crisis, the seemingly daily search for a “new normal” can make long-term thinking hard. That’s totally normal, but don’t let it paralyze your organizing efforts! Take a moment to breathe with me, and let’s dive into some ways we can sustain the movement toward Election Day.

Working From Home: the New Norm

It’s likely your campaign is working from home during this time. Some campaign staff already are work-from-home veterans, and some might be new to it. Whichever camp you’re in, you can be successful by being intentional about how you are going to use your new workspace.

Try to configure your space and time as closely to how you would if you were in your normal work environment. With distractions like a sink full of dishes or a load of laundry around every corner, it’s important to keep the distinction clear between what is “home” and what is “work.” If you’re new to working from home, create work blocks for yourself and publish them to your calendar; this will help keep you accountable to large and small tasks.

This isn’t just about keeping up productivity: when you work from home, you need to take extra steps to set personal boundaries. You or others on your team have had to abruptly repurpose a place that is normally a refuge. If you can, work in a different room from where you sleep. Turn off the computer and leave it in another room at the end of the day. If it’ll help you sleep better, check email one last time before bed. You could also let your team know you’ll follow up immediately via text message if there’s a pressing issue. Most importantly, give yourself time to adjust and be realistic about expectations for yourself and others.

If you think you or your team could benefit from added attention to time management and goal setting as you pivot to WFH, check out the Managing Your Time, Deadlines, and Priorities Course for helpful tools to up your efficiency game.

The Art of Managing Others From Home

Campaign staff might feel disjointed as we continue to adjust to working from home for the time being, so be intentional about campaign staff meetings. You might need to schedule a daily video conference check-in with all staff, and it will be helpful to maintain community norms in the digital space as well. Consider including a norm that all staff should have their video on during the all-staff call. Even if folks are in their pajamas, the connection and additional focus it creates are worth it!

If you manage a team of folks who may be new to remote work, consider taking NDTC’s Creating a Positive Team Culture Course. In it, you’ll find a Professional User Manual template that you can use to set expectations about communication and collaboration with your team. For even more best practices specific to coronavirus, check out “5 Tips for Managing Remotely During COVID-19” from the Management Center.

Proactively Maintain Connections

Check in with your people: supporters, donors, volunteers, and more! They’re probably still as motivated as you are to stay engaged, but let’s face it, a lot of people are scared and uncertain right now. Set aside time to message your campaign’s strongest supporters; ask them if they need anything from you; let them know the campaign is still moving forward, and share any updates. Give them something to put on their calendar like a digital town hall. Or, if appropriate, re-up a donation push ahead of any big filing deadlines. Keep lines of public communication open by hosting moderated candidate Q&As or releasing periodic video diaries.

Maintaining connections applies to our work across campaign teams as well. You may not realize how much cross-team collaboration takes place organically just by sharing a physical space with one another. A lot of that can get lost when you can’t just walk over to someone and instead have to make the deliberate choice to send them a message or pick up the phone. You don’t want to duplicate work, and you’ll want to be consistent in how you’re connecting with supporters amid a rapidly changing, extended crisis.

Are You Staying Informed?

Between disrupted primaries and inconsistent messaging about how long it will take to suppress the spread of COVID-19, no one can say for certain what the rest of 2020 is going to look like. But the central goal of your campaign remains unchanged: win. You may not be able to predict what the world looks like after social distancing ends, but thinking strategically now is the best way to avoid operating in survival mode in the interim.

Where to begin? First, do your research. Find out what changes may have been made to elections in your state, and coordinate with district, county, and/or state Democratic party leadership to align on messaging around voter engagement and constituent outreach. No one person will have all the answers, and there isn’t exactly a playbook for navigating some of these new challenges, but your campaign will need to stay on top of the following key considerations:

  • What is the timeline for sharing election information with candidates and their campaigns? How are they talking about these updates and changes with their supporters?
  • Are there registration or eligibility deadlines that voters need to be aware of? How is that info going to be shared with voters?
  • When, where, and how can eligible voters receive ballots? How can they access that information?
  • Has a campaign or party staff member been delegated to monitor and communicate any changes to state guidelines, declarations, or executive orders?

This period of uncertainty will be a critical time to establish trust with your supporters and constituents. When you chat with supporters, be upfront about the fluidity of the present situation in your state. Let them know your campaign is closely monitoring any changes to the election and that you will share that info as quickly as possible.

Need to revise your GOTV plan in response to changes in your state? NDTC CEO Kelly Dietrich has you covered. Register for his on-demand GOTV Course here!

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Your Communications team will play a pivotal role in relaying messages to supporters and voters and get them the accurate info that they need to vote — and to vote for your candidate! Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram make it possible to keep folks connected to your campaign no matter where they are. Keep supporters informed and engaged with a regular flow of substantive content across different platforms.

Consider making communication a two-way street. Digital town halls (or similar opportunities to have questions asked and answered) will give supporters a sense of closeness to your candidate and make folks much more likely to tune in. Responding to public concerns and input like this can also illustrate your candidate’s capacity for leadership amid a crisis in a very practical way.

This Too Shall Pass

You obviously need to adapt your campaign strategy to account for these new roadblocks, and these adaptations will be different for individual campaigns. Keep in mind that while this may be a long-term disruption, the present moment will not last forever. Be ready when the time comes to pivot back to in-person contact by laying a solid foundation for yourself now.

Lastly and most importantly, take care of yourself! Drink plenty of water, do some body movement, meditate, work out when you can. The campaign you are working on needs you! For more tips, check out the CDC’s recommendations to “take care of yourself and your community.

These are some of our ideas. What do you have in mind? How are you moving forward with the campaign you are working on?

Want to learn more about organizing during social distancing? Click HERE to register for an upcoming Virtual Live Training.

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Zachary Packineau

Zachary Packineau (he/him/his) is a citizen of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation and a descendent of the Santa Clara Pueblo.

Zach has spent the better part of his personal and professional career advancing social justice advocacy in the Upper Midwest. While mastering the art of wearing multiple hats in movement building, Zach has worked on two incredibly successful campaigns to defeat two restrictive ballot measures in North Dakota, each by a 2-to-1 margin. Zach is an experienced facilitator and sexual health educator, as well as a proud alumnus of the Midwest Academy of Organizing for Social Change, the Social Justice Training Institute, Camp Wellstone, and the North Dakota Change Network.

Zach's work experience includes the American Indian Public Health Resource Center in the Department of Public Health at North Dakota State University, and successful stints with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library.