This last week was full of surprises! On Tuesday, my entire department left for a grassroots organizing conference in Boston, and I had no idea what to expect. Though I was excited to explore Boston, I was nervous to staff an event. I initially assumed that, since my department was hosting the event, I would be too busy at the front desk to actually participate in the conference; however, after the first few hours of working the desk, I was allowed to attend both the breakout sessions and the general sessions! I expected to love Boston, but I never expected to have such a great experience at the conference!
The annual summer grassroots conference, hosted by the DC office of ACS CAN, is a week-long gathering of ACS CAN grassroots managers from every state. The conference began with introductions and a quick summary of the week to come, and then each group separated by region. As a DC staffer, I was not placed in a region and, instead, was able to float around the room and listen to different regions and subregions discuss their plans for the upcoming year, their struggles, and give one another advice. I was surprised by how similar grassroots organizing for ACS CAN is to grassroots organizing for political campaigns – most of the problems involve recruiting volunteers, and everybody hates fundraising!
After the initial session, there was a panel on careers in grassroots organizing. I was surprised to learn how many different opportunities there are for long-term careers in grassroots organizing – I had always pictured it as a short-term job path. The two women on the panel were both grassroots organizers from New Hampshire. One had experience working on the John Kerry presidential campaign in 2004, and she now works for the ACLU. I learned so much from this panel’s discussion on recruitment, job hunting, volunteer retention, campaign organizing, and adaptability. I don’t think people really realize how multi-faceted grassroots organizing can be, and I was so excited to see examples of two strong women who have forged careers in this field.
Another exciting aspect of the conference was the breakout sessions. I attended sessions on volunteer recruitment and retention, organizing and leveraging capitol lobby days, and tactics to develop campaigns. I took over three pages of notes at each meeting, which surprised me as I did not know how much I had left to learn! I left each session with new ideas for campaigns and initiatives I am working on in my personal life, and I cannot wait to see how they work out!
Though I was unsure of how the week would go, I was pleasantly surprised. I truly enjoyed the opportunity to meet organizers from around the country, as I never imagined how diverse the organizing experience could be depending on where one lives. I learned more than I ever imagined, and I am so excited to put what I have learned to use!