We want to help you build power and community during the pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, digital skills are critical to activism and community-building. In the early months of the pandemic, we received questions from people all over the world about digital campaigning to drive social change. It was an honour to support you! This project is now closed but we hope that the resources below will be helpful for you as you explore tactics and strategies in the world of digital campaigning.
If you’re trying to make change or organize your community during COVID-19, you might benefit from bringing your questions to a progressive digital campaigner who can help you develop a strategy, choose your platforms, and get your idea off the ground!
Fill out the form below and we will get back to you with advice and tips! We can help you:
Use digital tools, like petitions, to demand positive social change from institutional decision-makers
Select social media platforms to share your story and reach new audiences
Build an inclusive online community and holding virtual events during a pandemic
Skill up on basic graphic design, website creation, blog writing, video editing, planning live streams, holding webinars, or podcast production.
We are no longer taking new questions.
We hope that the responses we shared below with people across the world who wrote to us from March – June 2020 will be helpful for you as well.
Practicing Diversity Equity & Inclusion
First and foremost, value racialized folks and center typically marginalized voices. This requires intentional conversation. Receiving feedback. Compensating emotional labour and tactical advice.
We also have so much work to to in terms of making our work accessible. We must provide captions and transcripts for video content, livestreams and webinars. For live meetings, Google Meet and its live captioning feature is a good start, so is Zoom’s integration via Google Slides that allows for live, auto generated captions. We must provide Image Descriptions and alternative texts for those who are visually impaired.
In general, many organizations are more interested in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at a superficial level (producing social media content or hiring more brown people) but not actually tackling systemic white supremacy within the organization: how it plays out in decision making and strategic planning. If racism is in the DNA of the organization you have to go deeper.
Our colleague Daniel Hunter has written a really excellent e-book with guidelines for leading online meetings and events — check it out here.
Online Spaces for Peer-to-Peer Communication: It might be that your organizing base needs more than just a call to stay connected to each other. You can consider creating an online community for peer to peer communication among organizers in your base (on discord, slack, or Facebook groups).
Virtual Art Build: David Solnit, 350’s Arts Organizer in the Bay Area in the US, has created a really brilliant guide for virtual art builds. It’s really picked up over the last few weeks and we’ve seen many anti-pipeline organizers use this tactic. This is a great way to engage people of all ages in a creative while at the same time fighting feelings of isolation. Check out the toolkit here.
MobLab’s reflections: check outthese excellent ideas compiled by our friends at MobLab about organizing and campaigning during the pandemic. Start the conversation about a just recovery: At a global-level, 350 has started the conversation around a just recovery from the pandemic. We are focusing on lifting up 5 core principles for a just recovery. We know that corporate interests are already pushing for mass bailouts and widespread austerity. That’s why we need our movements to band together and define what a justice-centered recovery that protects people and the planet can look like.
Anticipating climate disasters compounding with the pandemic: This week, our friends in the Pacific Islands had no choice but to contend with the harsh realities of the climate and coronavirus crises at once when Cyclone Harold made its landfall. This raises the questions of how we anticipate and prepare for climate disasters hitting during the pandemic. The biggest challenge is contending with the fact that communities, which are the building block of disaster response, must practice physical distancing during the pandemic. 350 Pacific shared some really insightful reflections around Cyclone Harold. You can read them here.
Engaging with our communities when we can’t talk face-to-face
Acknowledge the crisis: First and foremost, don’t move forward with simply moving your offline campaign plan to an online space without recognizing that we are in the middle of a crisis that is weighing heavily on most people we organize with. My colleague, Daniel Hunter, has written a great e-book about thinking through folks’ experiences as you lead groups online in the middle of a pandemic. Check it out here.
Social Listening: We recommend conducting some sort of exercise that allows you to listen to your base and understand what your people are looking for in this moment. This could be as easy as sending out a survey. Or, it could involve holding webinars or mass meetings to invite people to share their political concerns in light of the global pandemic.
Online Meeting Tools: We have put together some templates for basic engagement strategies for online meetings — these are especially useful for larger calls with a broad organizing network. This Google slides deck template includes tools like creating a digital circle, spectrograms, and digital post it notes. Something that might also be worthwhile to note is that Zoom meetings have a break out group option and the Zoom webinar has a polling tool built in. Some of our colleagues are offering 1-1 coaching on leading online groups, if this might be of interest to you, you can sign up here. Online Spaces for Peer-to-Peer Communication: It might be that your organizing base needs more than just a call to stay connected to each other. You can consider creating an online community for peer to peer communication among organizers in your base (on discord, slack, or Facebook groups). The Sunrise Movement’s People’s Dialer is also an excellent way to get in touch with your community’s needs in a moment like this. I know that Get Thru has excellent P2P texting rates to support organizing during the pandemic.
This platform guide was pulled from our Just Recovery Digital Teach-ins Wesbite Google Meets: This platform is great because it doesn’t have a call time limit, is free, and uses real-time captions. This platform also uses the same protections that Google uses to secure your information and safeguard your privacy to make it difficult for uninvited guests to drop in and get access to your information. Google Meets also has an excellent auto-captioning feature that ensures participants with hearing impairments can follow along. One drawback is this platform can only support up to 250 participants.
GoToMeeting: This is another free platform that functions similarly to Zoom, although it doesn’t have as smooth a connection and user experience. It is a more secure option than Zoom, and allows you to set up additional security measures like password protection.
Zoom: A free, multi-functional platform that allows you to schedule your call and provides a toll-free number or online video conference link once people register. Another great feature with the registration page is once people register, they get the option to add it to their digital calendars to set a reminder for themselves. Zoom allows you to record the call to share with participants after, and to run polls for your participants. It also integrates with Google Slides, which allows you to auto-generate captions. One drawback with the free version of Zoom is there is a 40 minute call-time limit, so if you anticipate needing more time for your meeting, we recommend choosing an alternative platform. The free version of Zoom has also recently come under fire for not encrypting free video calls so they can share data with law enforcement.
Jitsi: This platform is a free, open-source and secure video conferencing platform that is user friendly. Best of all, it has no limit on the number of participants that can join or the duration of call, and the participant does not have to create an account to join. It has gotten rave reviews by privacy experts for being a secure, developer-friendly platform. One drawback to Jitsi is it doesn’t allow you to schedule the meeting in advance to generate a link.
The video conferencing tools we suggest here have the ability to record meetings, so test out hosting a call and finding the recording function. Once the call is done, you can upload that to an online drive and share it with meeting participants.
These tools also allow you to share your screen, so that you can show slides while your call is happening. When you share your screen, all of your participants who are joining by video can see what you are sharing. Try these functions out beforehand so you can run the call with ease.
How do we break out of our bubbles and reach people of different backgrounds?
Relationship-building: The most important thing here is building relationships with local groups and community members that are already working with the folks you are trying to reach — this can include faith communities, unions etc.. Many of these groups are currently focused on mutual aid work to support vulnerable community members so a great start could be supporting and amplifying their response work. And getting in touch to understand their needs in this moment.
2. Multi-lingual content: Producing translated materials — it is ideal to pay translators for their labour but grassroots groups don’t always have a ton of resources to do this. It is possible to activate volunteer networks of translators over slack, group chats, or social media forums.
3. Diversifying platforms: Our final recommendation would be to diversify the platforms you’re using to communicate your messages. Whatsapp is a very popular platform amongst immigrant communities that isn’t always a part of traditional NGO digital strategies. Here’s a great guide to using Whatsapp for campaigning and community building by Blueprints for Change. It might also be important to recognize that there are still many people out there without access to internet or phones. That’s why outreach to multilingual media outlets is important as well. Print outlets might be cutting down their operations right now but I think radio and TV outlets may still be active.
Developing graphics and visual content
Tips for making graphics: We recommend keeping it simple, visual and to the point. Try to put as little text as possible on your graphic, and only highlight the key message. All other details you can always put with the accompanying text you will share alongside your graphic. We recommend adding a hashtag or weblink people should visit (i.e. #StopTheSpread) or whatever makes sense in your community that you have seen used actively. Try to use a compelling image or cartoon vector that is the centre of your graphic information. The platform Canva has some great templates they have made for graphic information specifically to do with Covid-19 you can find here. (Please note you need to create a Canva account to see these templates, and they offer a free subscription too). You can also find some compelling images that are Creative Commons (free to use) on Flickr here. Also make sure you make your graphic information custom to which social media platform you want to share it to. For Instagram, it is best to the size 1080 x 1080, and Facebook keep the size 1200 x 630. You can find guidelines for other platforms easily on the internet.
If you share the graphic information on Instagram and Twitter, make sure to use appropriate hashtags with your post so it reaches a wide audience, such as #Covid19, #StopTheSpread, or other hashtags that are popular in your community.
We also recommend making a distribution plan for getting your graphic information to the audience you want to see. In this case, reach out to local groups who work and are connected with youth and share the graphic information and text you want them to share on their social medias to help your graphic information get out there! You can also tag these local groups if you know their social media information.
There are quite a few online and free audio editing tools out there! If you are wanting to trim the audio clip, and have a Mac, the reinstalled application QuickTime can easily trim audio files. Once you launch the application, simply go under “Edit” and “Trim” and select the part you want to keep, and it will trim the rest for you. If you don’t have a Mac, and also want to improve the audio quality, we recommend Audacity, which is a free, open source, and cross platform service that allows you to both trim your audio and also improve the quality. Other tools we recommend are Hya-wave. If you are looking for a place to upload your audio clip, we recommend Soundcloud, which is simple and allows you to share the audio file on various platforms very easily.
Online training in low-bandwidth contexts
My top advice when organizing online is to ‘go where the people are’. In my community that means Facebook messenger. In your community, if your trainees are already using Whatsapp regularly for communicating with friends and family, it makes sense to engage them there for their training, as well!
Switching to another technology can come with significant challenges (as you’ve found with google hangouts!), and the distractions from their Whatsapp will always be there in the background anyway.
So – I’ll first offer a few tips below for using Whatsapp well. I would encourage you to try these first, before looking to make a ‘switch’ to a different tool – I offer a few ideas for what other tools could be at the end.
Here is a video I found with 6 tips for using Whatsapp to facilitate online learning: https://youtu.be/N0Qe51_4n9k?t=43
The tip about creating a ‘group’ just for yourself, and then setting up a broadcast group to share that content to, seemed really useful. You could create a lot of messages and content for a lesson in advance (like text-message instructions, audio recordings, or short videos), line them up in your personal group, and then at a pre-arranged time when your class is all online for an hour at the same time, send them out.
For low-bandwidth situations, my strong advice would be to rely on text-and-audio-only tools, rather than anything with live video (like google hangouts or zoom). One of the features I love most about Whatsapp is its voice-messaging feature. Giving your trainees tasks to share voice-recordings with you back and forth could be really engaging for you both: and if you do this in private, 1-1 chats, trainees might feel more confident than sharing voice-recordings in a group. If someone does a task really well, or shares a great idea 1-1, you could ask them if you can share their recording with the broadcast group.
If you need to use video, then short, pre-recorded videos – with as low resolution as possible – are best, so that people can load the videos on their own time. You shouldn’t assume that people will be able to watch them ‘live’.
Another tool I like is AnswerGarden.Ch – it’s a very simple tool for posing questions to a group and getting (anonymous) answers from everyone in real-time.
If you feel that you do need to get your group together by voice at the same time, you could useZoom.us video-conferencing, but disable video for all participants, so that it is just an audio-only call. Zoom has tended to be more stable in my experience than other conference-call technology (I find Google Hangouts to be quite glitchy), however I would recommend that you test this with just 1 or 2 enthusiastic participants first, and get very familiar with the technology as a ‘host’, before introducing it to your whole training group in a large session
Followup email with further information:
I wanted to pass this on from a colleague in South Africa, in case it inspires you. You might want to look up the Children’s Radio Foundation!
“One story I heard this week is from a group in South Africa, the Children’s Radio Foundation: they held a “WhatsApp webinar”, where they put everyone who had signed up into a WhatsApp group where only admins could post. (ie, a ‘broadcast group’)
They had a script, timing and all their content prepped, and proceeded to present it as a ‘webinar’ through WhatsApp chat. Every now and then they changed the group settings so anyone could post to the group, for introductions and question time, and then changed it back to admin only, to avoid spam. (For questions, the admins could use the WhatsApp reply function to directly reply to people.)
They used a bunch of prepared-earlier images, good gifs, etc and controlled the flow of the convo well: e.g. when sending a video through, the next message only came 3 minutes later, giving attendees time to watch the whole video.
They also used some survey links to take quick ‘temperature checks’ that people could click onto, when they wanted feedback and didn’t want to open the group up to a flood of comments.
I’ve never seen it before, so can’t get a sense of success from just this one, but it looked like there was good participation going on. Because it’s a youth org, they sent all the participants 1GB of data beforehand, to make sure everyone could participate. The webinar was planned for 2 hours, but it looks like it’s going on longer. I’m not sure yet if they’ll shut the group down entirely after it, or keep it going.”body here
What’s digital campaigning?
In order to increase their impact and grow their reach, movements for social justice and environmental protection are increasingly deploying digital strategies to build political power, grow movements, and overcome geographic barriers. Digital organizing can include the use of digital tactics to move institutional decision-makers, social media storytelling, people’s journalism, and the creation of online communities. Our fights for justice are as important as ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, but our activism must adapt to the new landscape. That’s why many grassroots groups and non-profits are moving their work online and shifting their organizing to a digital space.
Here are some excellent examples of justice-centered digital campaigns during the COVID-19 crisis:
Mutual Aid Organizing:Across the country, hundreds of online communities are sprouting up to connect people requesting and offering support.
The People’s Bail Out: Organizations such as the Leap are filling the gaps in mainstream media reporting through people’s journalism to educate the public about a justice-centered response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Income Support for All Migrants:The Migrant Rights Network is using a “flood the phone lines” digital tactic to demand that federal cabinet ministers put in place income supports for all migrants during the pandemic.
Cancel Rent: Groups such as Leadnow are engaging in social media storytelling to build the case for a rent and mortgage moratorium to support the hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their jobs during the current economic downturn.
Who are we?
350.org is a campaigning organization that has long invested in digital organizing as an important part of our work to build a global movement for climate justice. We are campaigners on the 350 Canada team, with many years of digital organizing experience, and we want to lend our knowledge to support your organizing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve set up online communities to build up an unstoppable youth movement in support of a Green New Deal, we use digital tactics to fight climate-wrecking fossil fuel projects, we practice people’s journalism to put a human face to climate impacts, and we use social media storytelling to shine a light on people power. We’ve facilitated many workshops on digital organizing and one of us even teaches a college course on digital campaigning!
Please note this photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are currently socially distancing in 7 different cities!