Clairelise Rodriguez is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

It’s been a jam-packed couple of days at 50CAN U’s campaign boot camp, but I finally have a few minutes in between sessions to report back on what we’ve learned so far.

One of my first takeaways from campaign boot camp, courtesy of Denis Calabrese and his “10 Rules for Changing the World,” was that “organized people who are wrong beat disorganized people who are right all the time.” The basic premise of advocacy is that being right is not enough to challenge the status quo. This has proven especially true of education reform: we’ve known for a while what works, but we’re still learning how to get policymakers to translate those right answers into the policy changes that will benefit our kids. If we want to move reforms from principle to practice, we need a powerful movement of citizens to create the political will needed to drive those changes.

But how do you make a movement?

For starters, by organizing. Yesterday Jeremiah Kittredge, the head of Families for Excellent Schools, came and talked about his work organizing some of ed reform’s most important constituents: parents. Parents and their families, he reminded us, are “the reason we get up in the morning.” Their children are the ones being disenfranchised. And they are the ones who, if organized properly, can make the most compelling case for why we need great schools.

During our lunchtime discussion Jeremiah walked us through examples of good organizing, with an emphasis on what successful rallies look like. Rallies, Jeremiah explained, can – if done right – send a powerful message to those in charge because they are “impossible to deny.” How can you ignore the demands of thousands of citizens who feel so strongly about an issue that they take off work and put their lives on hold to rally for what they believe in?

While rallies can be powerful, they are difficult to pull off. So Jeremiah suggests a few basic tenets that every good organizer should live by:

  • Secure a strong air traffic controller who calls the shots. When there are so many moving pieces, coordination is key. Designate one person as the go-to decision maker and one responsible for keeping everyone on the same page.
  • Agree on a defined update structure. Nothing’s worse than finding out the day of your rally that no one will show up. To avoid this kind of nasty surprise, make sure there’s a plan in place for getting frequent and regular updates on how many people have been recruited to turn out in the weeks leading up to the rally.
  • Agree on roles and responsibilities and set front-end accountability. Everyone involved should understand what they are supposed to do and how they will be held accountable for doing it.
  • Don’t separate media and grassroots staffs. This goes back to coordination.  At 50CAN we believe that media outreach and grassroots mobilizing go hand-in-hand, which is why our state teams work so closely with the national communications team.
  • Say thank you and remind folks why. Organizing is hard and often tedious work. Never forget to show your organizers how appreciated they are and remind them of what they’re working for (great schools for all kids).

There’s no simple formula for making a movement, but there are a few key ingredients that every good organizing campaign should have. And as Jeremiah so vividly illustrated, effectively recruiting and organizing your constituents can make all the difference.


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