“Do we need to live in a democracy?” asked Susan Labandibar, the regional coordinating organizer of Swing Left, at Pizza, Press & Politics, a speaker series hosted by the School of Journalism at Northeastern University, on Oct. 11.
Her answer is most definite: Yes. She directed her question to an audience of mainly young students, impressing upon them their direct role in the future of American politics, as she discussed her work as a political organizer with Swing Left, a national organization founded in the wake of the 2016 presidential election by people from different industries, including tech, media, finance, nonprofits, and art, she explained.
The organization helps voters find and commit to supporting candidates they define as “progressives” in their closest swing district. Their goal is to help Democrats win a majority in the US House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections, which are Nov. 6. There are currently 238 Republicans and 197 Democrats in the House.
A common problem for political organizations around the country, Labandibar pointed out, is a large gap between the ease of crafting an online presence and the capacity to mobilize volunteers in real life for building a social movement. “What you have is this incredibly powerful tool but you don’t have the capacity behind it to actually deliver,” she said.
Nonetheless, she believes many of the problems facing the country right now can be solved by young people and offers her experience to help them.
While working with Swing Left, Labandibar said she has learned both the limits and benefits of technology in activism, as well as general strategies to keep in mind for new activists.
“Put information out there. Don’t lock it. Let people contribute to it,” she said. Using online documents like Google Docs, where
participants have the ability to view and edit, is a simple and inclusive way to share information, as opposed to using website links, she said. Labandibar even places her phone number on Google Docs she shares with the public.
Avoid the pitfall of overhyping the technology and the platform and understand that they are just tools for organizing and mobilizing
Using social media heavily runs the risk of leaving out people who are not tech-savvy. For Swing Left, email newsletters have proven
to be a much more effective platform than any form of social media.
Use “fear of missing out” to persuade and engage people. It is the number one reason why people volunteer. If you have an interesting
idea for the campaign, look for “trailblazers,” people who are charismatic, have a large network, and can persuade their friends to join the cause.