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
We’ve been working to redefine what it means when a campaign asks a supporter to step up as a leader. Instead of naming folks to lead geographic fiefdoms, we’ve tried to open source our campaign strategy and actually share work that need to be accomplished. That’s everything from answering emails that pour in each day to Berniesanders.com and running volunteer phone banks and canvasses to hosting a debate-watch event or doing the daily uploads of files necessary to keep our volunteer, peer-to-peer texting program operating at full capacity. So in addition to traditional campaign roles offered to volunteers such as precinct captains or election-protection legal observers that you typically only see during GOTV, we have dozens of jobs filled by thousands of people playing a persistent leadership role with others on the campaign. Part of what makes this campaign scale so phenomenally is that the structure we’ve created for volunteers allows someone to be a leader for a day—even a couple hours—or every day for months at a time.
The approaches to using technology to help candidates win presidential campaigns have definitely changed from cycle to cycle. If the media framed the 2012 campaign as being about “big data,” the 2015–2016 Bernie campaign is driven by “big organizing.”
In big organizing, scale is limited only by the appeal of your ideas and not the number of staff the campaign can deploy. Big data is about narrowing down the possibilities and minimizing the work necessary to meet goals at the lowest cost. So in some ways, big data is about the small campaign. In a big organizing model where volunteers manage and grow the volunteer base, we’re building the big campaign. The campaign focuses on sharing strategic goals and the technology necessary to help a massive number of volunteers do the work to achieve those goals. That’s very different from a command-and-control, top-down campaign that allows volunteers to do some basic tasks but always under the supervision of paid staff. This difference is exactly what makes it possible to break free from the limits of incremental change and do big things.
I think we’ve hit the sweet spot where the technology is enabling a lot of people to be highly disruptive and incredibly disciplined at the same time.
Becky Bond served as a senior adviser to the Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign and an architect of the campaign’s national volunteer-driven grassroots campaign. Prior to joining the Bernie Sanders campaign, Becky was an innovator in organizing, politics, and philanthropy as the founder and political director of the CREDO super PAC, which was named by Mother Jones as one “2012’s Least Horrible Super PACs” for helping to defeat five sitting Republican congressmen in an independent campaign to unseat the Tea Party Ten. Becky also built CREDO Action, a community of four million progressive flank activists that organize for change on- and offline.
During the course of her career at CREDO, Becky ran several organizing initiatives of note. She ran CREDO’s campaign to register over one million minority and low-income voters in advance of the 2004 election. In 2010, Becky ran the California statewide ballot initiative campaign “Hell NO on Prop 23” and helped stop Texas oil companies from rolling back the state’s global warming regulations. In 2013, she launched the “Pledge of Resistance,” which recruited nearly 100,000 Americans to pledge to risk arrest in peaceful civil disobedience to stop President Obama from approving the Keystone XL pipeline. As a telecom, CREDO was also a major player in fights to obtain strong FCC net neutrality rules and roll back unconstitutional provisions of the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act. Becky sits on the board of ColorOfChange.org, the nation’s largest online civil rights organization.
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