One of the key capabilities of Next Economy companies is building a platform to harness the energy of a loosely connected network. But most networks—think Uber or Airbnb—have built a network around a single task: offering rides or a house for rent. Becky Bond and Zack Exley, who built the online organizing platform for the Sanders campaign, had to do something even harder: they built a decentralized network with a constantly changing mix of tasks, where a worker could be a manager one day and a field worker the next. They built an initiative network. Not only that, they stood up the network in less time than the average startup. They have a lot to teach us about how to organize talent in the pursuit of grand challenges.
— Tim O’Reilly
It was our job to set up structures and tools to not only help grow the movement but also to enable Bernie’s supporters to avoid many of the pitfalls that can sabotage Internet-coordinated movements. Which is mainly that Internet-based campaigns tend to fail to achieve their objectives when they can’t leverage the full capacity of all the people who raise their hands and say, “I want to be involved.” It’s one thing to crowdsource funding for movement organizing. It’s another thing to crowdsource the organizing itself and have valuable work get done at scale by tens of thousands of committed volunteers.
If you ask me, the most innovative thing to talk about here is the way we’re setting volunteers up to make commitments to each other instead of to paid staff, in ways that ensure follow-through on hard, scary things like hosting phone banks and leading canvasses—and all the tools and techniques that allow for all this to scale massively. Decoupling paid staff from the organizing process allows virtually unlimited scaling in a movement like this because of the vast ocean of volunteers to draw from.
The grassroots are better qualified to run electoral campaigns than Democratic party operatives. They just need to be given the tools, the data, the offices, and the structure to succeed.
This is not a radical idea. It’s simply how we were supposed to use our democracy. It’s what some of the first American revolutionaries told us we should do: have another revolution every time things got this out of whack. Lucky for us, they gave us a democracy. As rigged as our elections are right now, there’s no better way to take back our country than to rally the people and win strong majorities in elections. Let’s do it!
Zack Exley is a member of the Brand New Congress working group. Zack served as a senior advisor to the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and an architect of the campaign’s national, volunteer-driven grassroots campaign. A geek of the Commodore Vic20 generation, Zack was an early pioneer of Internet politics, organizing, and fundraising and had been dreaming of a campaign like Bernie’s for a very long time. While trying to figure out how to use all these tools and tactics to elect not just a new president but a whole new Congress, Zack works as a consultant to global NGOs, companies, and campaigns. Previously, with global IT consultancy ThoughtWorks, he led field organizing software projects for Obama’s 2008 general election campaign and for social movements around the world, and he served as Wikipedia’s chief community officer and chief revenue officer during the Wikimedia Foundation’s growth from 20 to 200 employees.
Zack first made waves on the Internet when George W. Bush called him a “garbage man” in 1998 while trying to shut down Zack’s site, GWBush.com, the Web’s first campaign parody. He organized the first flash mobs in 2000 with simultaneous protests in hundreds of cities around the Bush v. Gore election crisis. He became MoveOn.org’s first organizing director for its campaign to prevent the war in Iraq and led the first “online primary” in 2003. As an early advisor to the Dean campaign, he helped transfer MoveOn’s early fundraising and organizing discoveries into presidential politics, before serving as John Kerry’s director of online fundraising and communications in the general election, where he raised more than $100 million online for the nominee.
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