Changes at the New Organizing Institute

Last month saw some big news come out of the New Organizing Institute, a major piece of movement infrastructure:

Eight senior staffers at the New Organizing Institute resigned after calling for the firing of President Obama’s 2012 data director. They took much of the rest of the staff with them.

As many of our supporters and past attendees know, Organizing 2.0 has had a close relationship with NOI from the beginning. Our founders attended early trainings for digital organizers at NOI. I was a trainer at a number of trainings. And our annual training conference in New York came about because NOI had never organized a training in New York and had stopped offering any trainings outside of Washington DC. In 2010 we held the local Rootscamp for our state as part of Organizing 2.0, and many of our trainers have also been trained at taught at NOI events.

So this matters. But first, what happened?

The entire senior staff of NOI wrote a letter demanding that the Board of Directors fire Executive Director Ethan Roeder. In the end however, they chose to resign when that demand was not accepted. A number of staffers protested and were fired, or left of their own accord in response. An additional number were laid off because of planned reductions in staff due to budget problems. By the end of the day, only 4 staff were left out of 21.

Since then, the community of progressive digital organizer community has been having two concurrent conversations. The first, to show love and support to the fired staffers by raising money to help them get by financially and help everyone get another job. The second, to help ensure the survival of NOI by raising $76,000 as fast as possible.

When NOI was founded, Netroots Nation was still called YearlyKos. Being a ‘digital director’ was barely a thing. Jobs, skills and talent were very concentrated in the Beltway. Today in contrast, the infrastructure for training is quite fast. Many cities have ongoing classes and trainings in coding, data, graphic design, social media and more, sometimes aimed explicitly at the nonprofit or progressive community. Digital trainings take place every year run by the PCCC, Netroots Nation, Organizing 2.0 and others. Consulting firms, issue verticals, trainings for specific constituencies, trainings offered by unions, capacity building entities and so on run unabated. Beyond that there’s a lot of crossover, where events organizing for one group (nonprofits, fundraisers) include the same kind of training sessions that would fit in an event designed specifically for progressive online organizing.

NOI is going to continue to offer trainings and being an important part of the our progressive infrastructure. And they will continue to operate in a crowded environment where many organizations and vendors have offerings that compete. We propose that going forward, the movement pause and consider a couple questions designed to help us evolve even further:

Who isn’t getting the training they need, at a price they can afford? Local campaign staff and candidates, staff at union locals labor organizations not based in DC, community organizing groups that aren’t part of national networks, grassroots groups that aren’t getting funding from the main backers of community organizing and progressive causes, staff working in local government, and the list goes on and on. In particular, we need training that isn’t restricted – that allows nontraditional attendees to show up and learn digital organizing skills.

Following the dictum that the medium is the message, how can we push harder to change our institutions in line with the logic of the internet? Networking organizing, distributed organizations, flat management, horizontal decision making, rapidly scaling movements and peer based knowledge networks ALL have implications that haven’t quite worked their way through our political and organizational landscape. And in some ways, the traditional training entities haven’t tried very hard to pose that challenge.

What are your questions?