With intentional and friendly onboarding, groups can bring in new participants and grow an organization’s capacity. In this episode we explore tactics for onboarding with labor organizer RV, and hear from organizers with Kickstarter United, Outlive Them, and Brooklyn Eviction Defense about their onboarding processes.
RV is an organizer with OPEIU (Office and Professional Employees International Union) and Tech Workers Local 1010. Follow them on twitter @active_witness.
Cait and RV both were previously part of Kickstarter United. Learn more about their union campaign via the Kickstarter Oral History Podcast.
Sharona is a member of Outlive NYC, an all-city coalition of anti-fascist Jews and allies. Hear more from Sharona in our episode on Anti-fascism, Defend Your Community. Follow Outlive Them on Twitter @outlivethemnyc.
Zara is an organizer with Brooklyn Eviction Defense. To get involved in BED, fill out this form and you’ll be invited to the next orientation. Zara is also part of Both/And, a collective of anti-oppression educators, trainers, organizers, researchers, and artists offering training, coaching, and consulting services.
For more on security culture and staying safe while organizing, check out Margaret Killjoy’s podcast Live Like the World is Dying, “S1E24 - Philip on Security Culture”
Amy: Hi, this Amy, the producer of Rebel Steps. Before we jump into today’s episode we had a couple things to share with you.
First, we wanted to share a podcast we think RebelSteps listeners might enjoy.
AirGo is a Chicago-based podcast featuring humanizing convos with artists, organizers, thinkers, writers from the Chicago area and beyond. They’re creating a living archive of the people and communities forging a liberatory future for their communities, cities, and world. In particular, we think RebelSteps listeners might enjoy the interviews they’ve done with Angela Davis and Mariame Kaba and their entire series on Abolition. Plus, they share DJ mixes, reading lists, local music playlists, and other ways to get engaged. Just type in A-I-R-G-O wherever you get your podcasts, or check out airgoradio.com.
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Liz: Welcome to Rebel Steps! I’m your host, Liz.
With intentional and friendly onboarding, groups can bring in new participants and grow an organization’s capacity. In 2020, we saw a huge influx of participants during the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor protests. And we saw an influx in 2016 after Trump’s election. Before that, there were upticks in participation around Occupy Wall Street and during anti-war demonstrations. Adding new folks to our movements is part of the heartbeat of the movement, so it’s crucial to consider how best to invite people into our movements, no matter what sort of work we’re doing.
In addition to it just being a fact of life for any organizer or group, there are some other important reasons to prioritize good onboarding practices:
First, we need new people. For our groups and movements to fully realize their potential, we’re going to need some help from new participants. If a group isn’t growing, it’s probably shrinking as people get tangled in other parts of their life or burnout or move on.
Secondly, some people want to act and don’t know how to: And, since we need new people, we can’t afford to turn away new participants. Somewhere in your community, there are people who know something’s wrong with our society and maybe just need an invitation to act. Having specific ways to plug into your organization can help make taking that first step a little easier for people around you.
Lastly, onboarding is fundamental to good culture: Good onboarding activates people to support the work that’s already going on. Bringing in new people means that longtime organizers can potentially experience less burn out because there are people available to pick up tasks when they need a break. Intentional onboarding also bolsters democratic processes. New folks are better able to fully participate in decision making when they have the history and purpose of the group fully accessible.
So let’s talk about onboarding.
Tactics for Onboarding
RV: My name is RV Dougherty, I use they/them pronouns. I am a community organizer based in Queens in Astoria. My day job is as a tech organizer with Office and professional Employees International Union, aka OPEIU. And I host a radio show and like to go on Twitter for fun and do weird art stuff.
As a union organizer, RV has a lot of experience reaching out to new people, and they have experience guiding new unions through the tricky task of talking to new people. Before we chatted about the nuts and bolts of onboarding, I asked RV how they got involved with labor organizing.
RV: I’ve been like community organizing for about 10 years. And before that was doing like general activism, going into protests, getting tired of going to protests, feeling really alienated. And then I started student organizing, that was really grounded in relationships. That really like helps me feel really connected to the work I was doing and totally changed my relationship to activism, and actually made me an organizer. I’ve worked on a whole bunch of issues. I’ve done advocacy for survivors. I’ve organized with queer and faith based communities. And then most recently have done a lot of racial justice work specifically with the abolitionist community here in New York City. I avoided labor organizing for the longest time, because I would go to trainings that were overwhelmingly attended by labor people who just talked about people as though they were numbers. And like, yes, data is important in campaigns. But I know for myself, what brought me to organizing was people. And then when I started working at Kickstarter, people I cared about started talking about whether or not we should form a union there. And I got really excited about the opportunity to kind of bring my own approach to organizing and build a union there.
RV kicked off our conversation by describing why onboarding is so crucial and by sharing a framework for thinking about onboarding.
RV: My favorite thing about organizing is that everyone can do it. It’s just about taking the skills, resources and energy that you have and channeling them towards our shared theory of change. You don’t need a college degree, you don’t need to have read Marx, you just need to show up and participate with integrity. If you’ve never organized before, though, getting involved can feel like a big leap. You have to learn all the acronyms. You have to figure out why people keep snapping or knocking their fists or twinkling their fingers in meetings, you have to figure out how decisions get made and why. And onboarding helps to set the context right. It answers questions: Who are we? Why are we here? And how are we going to win? So for example, in a union campaign: Who are we? We’re a community of coworkers. Why are we here? To form a union and secure a legally binding contract. And how are we going to win? We’re going to talk to our colleagues and build support for our union. And so onboarding helps to set this context and helps people actually locate themselves within the effort. It lets people know what the norms are for participation and helps them answer the questions. Now what? Or How can I help? Generally as organizers, our goal is to build leader-full collectives, we want everyone to feel like they can show up and participate and have a say and how we shape that space. And onboarding is really important to that.
Keeping those questions in mind, who are we, why are we here, how are we going to win, is a great way to build a strong onboarding process. But answering those questions is just the beginning.
Ladder of Engagement
RV suggests conceptualizing onboarding as a ladder. They call this the ladder of engagement.
RV: If you picture a ladder, right, it’s got rungs, and you climb higher and higher on the ladder. When we think about a ladder of engagement within organizing, we’re thinking about, okay, someone’s going to take a first step with us. And then we want to think about how do we get them to take a second step? How do we help them level up their skills, and build the muscle so that they can become a leader within our organizing efforts? And so thinking about a ladder of engagement is really helping people kind of answer these questions of like, okay, so maybe I’m going to have a one on one. And then after the one on one, someone’s going to ask me to come to a meeting, and then I’m going to go to the meeting, and I’m going to maybe meet some people, and then what do we want them to do next? And what do we want them to do next? If we think about like the cycle of a movement, there’ll be something that happens, like a trigger moment, that gets people are inspired to take action, maybe they show up to a protest, maybe they sign a letter, maybe they go to a meeting, they do something with their anger, or their outrage or their excitement. And typically, people fail at what comes next, they fail to bring that person into the space, the ladder of engagement is an answer to that.
It might sound a little confusing or even overwhelming to chart out a course or at least some options for how people can get engaged. RV recommends figuring out what’s already worked, and building a ladder from there.
RV: One of my favorite questions to ask people, as we think about building out an engagement ladder, is asking individuals like, well, how did you get here? Like everyone ended up in our space for one reason or another. Maybe someone invited them to a meeting, maybe they saw a flyer. Once we can kind of understand, okay, what was the first point that got you here, then well, what happened that made you feel comfortable speaking in meetings, or what made you feel like you could take on more leadership so that we can kind of understand how someone’s skills leveled up. And then we want to think about how we can replicate that for as many people as possible, we want to scale people up and build their muscle as an organizer. But you don’t just jump in and like plan a 200 person action. That organizer started somewhere, they started small, they learned and then they gain their confidence. And we want to help people really build that muscle, knowing that a lot of folks are coming in from a place of never having done this before. And never having thought about collective action in this way, never having thought about shared democracy or participatory action or non hierarchy. We have to give people kind of a place to start and then grow from there.
Like RV mentioned, some of your ladder of engagement may be planned step by step, but it may also leave openings for people to join in different ways. In some cases the ladder of engagement will be formal, and in other cases it will be less structured.
RV: It can be really laid out right where like you do this thing, then you do this thing, then you do this thing, which is what we did within the Kickstarter campaign. It’s what I’ve seen in some really structured organizing spaces. But there are also ways in which it can happen more organically, where you’re helping people get to the point where they can self-direct where they’re going to go. Maybe they get enough context. Someone goes, “Okay, so you kind of understand what we’re doing here. What do you want to do? What are your skills? What’s your passion? What capacity do you have?” And then that person can go, “Oh, well, I really like communication, can I help get the message out,” or “I’m really good at graphic design. And I hate talking to people” and really helping people kind of build their own ladder.
As RV described, a ladder of engagement will include a menu of different ways to learn about the organization and take the next step toward joining. A common, and effective, first rung on the ladder is an orientation.
RV: Orientations are essential. But it’s really important to think about what context you’re in and what it means to get oriented. Like if someone’s showing up for a day of action versus like joining a longer term effort, the ways in which you orient them are really different. It might just be someone speaking at the top of your day of action, saying, “Well, why are we all here? And how do our actions fit into like our overall theory of change?” Whereas if someone’s joining a longer effort, you’re answering those same questions, but in a much more detailed way, because you want to extend their participation with planning and orientation. You kinda want to ask yourself, What does someone need to know in order to participate. And maybe that’s they need to know the decision making process, they need to know our values or our shared principles. Maybe they need to know what to expect about structure. How to meetings work? Are there committees? But then you want to ask people why they’re interested. And what they want to contribute. The key to a successful orientation is just giving people the tools to succeed, right? We want to be as transparent as possible without overwhelming them with too much information. If someone’s brand new, you want to share all the information in ways that are exciting, and reminding them that like, their participation is important. And here’s all the things you need to know to come and help make decisions to understand why we’re all here together, to navigate a meeting to find the committee want or create the committee that you think we need without scaring them off. Like you don’t want to run a two hour orientation, you want to run like a 30 minute to an hour long orientation. That way people can get the information that they need and not feel overwhelmed and feel empowered as they walk away.
If you’re not sure what to include in your orientation, one place to start is with your own stories.
RV: During orientation, it’s important for organizers who have been around to share their own stories. How did you get there? Why was it important to you? Like what act? What did it actually look like for you to come into that room? I didn’t just show up one day and be perceivably in charge, like no. I showed up in a room, I asked a bunch of questions. And then we did the next thing together. I came into the room with just as much uncertainty as the rest of you. I’m a labor organizer who was so skeptical of the labor movement. But I had transformative experiences that helped me understand, okay, this is the theory of change here. This is how I participate here. And this is why it’s aligned with my values. Each of us has our own trajectory as to how we got in that room. If you go into an organizing meeting, and you see the person facilitating, and the three people who always talk because they’ve been around the block, and they know all of the acronyms, that looks a lot like traditional power, if you’re not familiar with how those people got there, and don’t have a clear understanding of like how you too, can take up that much space in the room.
Orientations also need to include a clear direction for the next step. After orientation, should the new comrade come to a meeting? Should they expect a follow up from an organizer? Make sure that the next steps are clearly laid out.
Another way to help participants plug in is by doing something like the buddy system. Assigning new people a friend in the organization is a great way to make sure new people don’t fall through the cracks and it ensures new folks always know who they can go to with questions.
RV: I love the buddy system, it’s really important to form relationships early on when you join a new group, because without relationships, you’ve got to be incredibly committed to a cause and very extroverted to show up to a meeting for the first time, and then come back, and then come back again. If you don’t have relationships with anyone in the room, that can be really scary. In fact, I think in many situations, if someone’s coming back just because of ideology, just because they care about the cause that isn’t necessarily going to help them build trust, so that y’all can take action and fight for change together. So I think that when we use the buddy system, we’re able to actually ground our organizing in relationships. Having a buddy when you’re new to an effort is a really great way to like get tapped in to the network of relationships that make up an organizing group. There’s one campaign that I’m working with that does an excellent job of this. So with their process, any new supporter who comes to an orientation gets paired up with a buddy afterwards, then they have a one on one. And that new person walks away with one more familiar face, which makes it easier for them to show up to meetings or ask dumb questions. Like instead of having to post it in the big group chat, they can like DMm their buddy and be like, “Hey, I noticed this. What’s going on?” or “Wait, where was that document again?” Like it becomes so much easier when you just have a person you can ask because we’re all people, right? Like being a human around other people is anxiety inducing. And we want to make this as easy for people as possible.
I really like this system. It does require more time and attention than just running general events. But building relationships is a key part of any organizing effort. So it’s worth it even if it’s challenging! Here are some RV’s tips on implementing a buddy system.
RV: It’s important for anyone who’s like a tried and true member of the organization to know what their expectation is when they’re going to go be somebody’s buddy, right? It’s not just like, “Susie can handle it.” Susie is not even in the meeting. You don’t know what you’re signing Susie up for. She’s not gonna do a good job of shepherding this new person into the organization. So setting a clear standard letting people know what the expectation is and creating space for folks to like, report back and talk about “Oh, like I tried to reach out to my buddy. They know ever got back to me. Can the person who brought them in like check in with them?” Really just having some rigorous practice around keeping track of everybody, right? Because like if someone falls off the face of the planet, and we never hear back from them, it’s important for us to like pay attention to that, right? throughout all of our organizing we’re learning as we go. And all of those little pieces of information help us know, okay, this is working or this isn’t working. And why did this person fall off the ladder? Like how do we get them back.
Orientations and the buddy system are two ways to kick off your ladder of engagement. But they are by no means the end of the list. Later in this episode you’ll hear from some organizers with more specific ideas. Other rungs on the ladder might be scheduling recurring training so everyone in the organization can grow their skills. Or inviting new participants to social events like picnics or happy hours (COVID safe, online, or outside of course). As always, your particular community and group will have specific needs, so don’t be afraid to get creative and tailor tactics to fit your goals.
While we all need to be inviting new people into our movements, we can’t forget that infiltration is a real risk. That might look like police or FBI informants entering a group to disrupt their organizing or anti-union employees trying to gather information on unionization efforts for management. I asked RV about balancing security with openness.
RV: So I think when it comes to security, you You’re always having to do this balancing effort, right? I think a lot of our organizing efforts are trying to work in ways that are more transparent, we can see how power is flowing, how decisions are being made. And it’s really hard to balance that while also being secure, keeping your information safe, not leaking people’s private information or like your strategic plan. There are a couple of ways to think about it. For example, if you’re using a traditional ladder of engagement, you can say, “Okay, there’s certain kinds of information we only share with people who are taking on certain roles, or who are only at certain levels of leadership within the organization.” You can kind of think creatively about like how people can level into that. There’s opportunity to gatekeep in ways that are not useful here. And just saying like, “Oh, you have to go to 40 meetings in order to get this information” and like that might be a little too secure, not even secure. At that point, I would call it gatekeepy. If we talk about a union campaign, for example, “in order to see the data that we have, on the progress of our campaign, you have to have come to meetings, we have to know that you’re a yes vote. And you have to be specifically working on this aspect of the work.” I think it’s also really important to analyze what you lose when you’re keeping information secure. I think it’s really important at every step to ask, “Okay, what are we gaining when we make this security choice? And what are we losing?” Once you’ve determined that this is our security protocol, it’s really important to be transparent about: number one, what is that security protocol? Number two, how did you arrive at that security protocol? And number three, asking people like, “Well, what do you need to feel safe here?” Like we think we’ve got it covered. But with new people coming in security protocols might need to change. Within a union campaign, for example, you’ve brought a newly underrepresented group into your effort, like what do they need to feel safe? Or if there’s new scrutiny at work, How do you need to adjust your security protocols? Or if there are people being targeted for pro union sentiment, again, like what needs to adjust so that people can feel safe? Establishing clear security protocol, and then being aware of when they need to change is really important.
While groups may not be able to be transparent with all their information, they can be transparent about why security protocols have been set up. And that can go a long way to demystifying the way an organization is working and inviting new people to get involved.
RV: It really comes down to trust, right? Like, the only way that you create that trust is if you’re transparent about why things are happening. And as long as I understand why something is happening. I don’t need to see all of the information. I’m okay if that working group over there wants to plan a specific aspect of our strategy or if they want to plan a direct action, and they’re not going to tell me all of the details in case they’re intercepted. And all I need to do is show up but I know these people. I know they’ve got a plan. I know that like if one of us gets arrested or whatever, like I trust them. So I know they’ve got it. Like it’s a whole different world of like, “I don’t need to know everything as long as you’ve told me why I don’t need to know everything. And I know that you’ve got me because we’re in relationship with one another.”
The bottom line is, there’s nothing wrong with having closed parts of your organization. Maybe you need to be involved for a certain period of time before joining things like media working groups or other sensitive groups. If you’re new, try to be patient with the group’s norms around this. Being too open can be dangerous for the entire group.
Culture and Values
One more thing to think about as you onboard people is communicating your group’s values. Onboarding isn’t just about hosting events or sending emails. It’s also about how and why you do those things.
RV: When you’re onboarding, part of that, right, is helping someone understand the structure. So like, what should they expect in a meeting? Or how do people communicate with one another? What are your security protocols? And as you’re developing each of those things, those should all be infused with your culture, right? Like, the whole reason that you have a security protocol is because you value people’s safety and security. The whole reason that like maybe at the end of your meeting, “we do affirmations,” that is embedding your values of we celebrate people’s contributions here into all of the aspects of your work. And so when someone then gets to experience it, and have it explained to them, it becomes rather apparent, this is our culture. This is how we work together. The whole point of creating healthy organizing culture, right is that we are prefiguring like what the world to come, we’ll look like. As organizers, not only are we building for the far future, but we’re trying to act like it is right now. If we’re like trying to create an anti-racist future, we need to embody anti-racism right now if we’re trying to create a feminist future, or if we’re trying to like fight for trans liberation, and like all of the radical possibilities that come with that we need to embody that right now in how we work with one another. Every time that someone is exposed to your organizing effort, they should be able to feel the culture, it should be palpable. You want to like set the tone from the top and make sure that it is reflected in everything that you do.
Every group and situation will call for a different onboarding process. To give you some ideas of how this might look in practice, I interviewed three different organizers from three different organizations about their onboarding practices.
Cait: Kickstarter United
Cait: Hi, my name is Cait. I used they/them pronouns. And I was part of Kickstarter united.
First I talked with Cait about being onboarded to Kickstarter United. Kickstarter United recently made headlines when it became the first union in the tech industry. What they remember most is how welcoming and inviting the organizers were at their first meeting.
Cait: There was a studio around the corner from Kickstarter that one of our co-workers owned, and people were already just being very warm about even just walking over to the actual studio where the meeting was being held. And I remember I walked in, and a bunch of people just let out emphatic “Yeahs!”, a few people clapped. And I was just like, “Oh, wow.” It was a very warm, welcoming, and you kind of felt like you were part of this like small but mighty community, which was really cool.
Kickstarter United would walk people through an orientation at their first meeting.
Cait: They showed me this deck that sort of just talked about Kickstarter United, talked about unionizing, you know, talked about some things around inoculation. But they made sure that it was very inviting, and just room for us to sort of laugh, which I think is necessary. You know, when you’re talking about something that can be really scary, such as unionization where a lot of misconceptions exist.
After that, new participants joined the main meeting and started participating in decisions and discussions.
Cait: After you went through this pretty brief orientation, you were there and you were a part of it and you were participating in the conversations. The group demoed how the “fist of five” system worked, which was how Kickstarter united went about making decisions, and then you were in it. You were part of the real conversations.
Often the next step in Kickstarter’s engagement ladder was to join a working group. The existing organizers invited Cait to join the comms working group at their first meeting.
Cait: There were a couple things that I was interested in in terms of comms, and I had questioned those things in the meeting. One of my co-workers very gracefully was like, “Cool, if you’re interested in comms, you should join the comms working group and maybe you could help us sort of run point on something like this,” which was just like a great segue to get me involved right out of the get go, and just kind of see how everything worked.
Sharona: Outlive Them
Sharona: My name is Sharona. I’m an anti-fascist Jew, living and organizing on Lenape Land in so-called New York City with a group called Outlive Them NYC.
You may remember Sharona from the episode on self-defense. When I asked her about onboarding, she said that, like everything else, Outlive Them’s onboarding process has changed a lot since the pandemic began. She started by explaining the process prior to the pandemic.
Sharona: In the pre COVID times, folks would meet at events, at actions that we were hosting, and actions that we were attending but not hosting. They would find us by our fliers or banners, or a meeting point that was made public and chat with members. If it seemed like someone was interested in staying in touch, in getting involved in a working group or affinity group, or if they wanted to share some pretty important or critical information about far-right organizing in New York City, we would continue our conversation digitally and get folks looped into a working group or affinity group that was most closely affiliated with the type of work they want to be doing. For example, maybe that’s popular education or creating educational content about anti-semitism, anti-fascism and abolition. Maybe they’re an artist or a graphic designer, and they want to be involved in creating visual propaganda. Pretty much everybody sees it as part of their job as a member of the organization to create a welcoming atmosphere to new folks and to help them find their groove in the kind of work that they want to be doing.
During the pandemic, all that recruiting has shifted online. So Outlive Them’s onboarding process has had to evolve.
Sharona: Things are different, of course, during COVID. And nowadays, folks are mostly reaching out via email or social media. And because of that, there’s a small Working Group that formed, which is just an onboarding working group. And those are members who feel confident and competent and excited to talk to new folks about their personal and political background, about their interests, about the important experiences that brought them to where they currently are in their political activity or in their organizing life. And the folks in this working group will take that communication, ideally off of social media or take it to signal or maybe even meet up if their neighbors and chat more about Outlive Them and what we do and the kind of community we’re trying to create with one another, to be a sustainable organization. And find out and you know, gauge, try to get a sense of whether they want to become more involved, whether they might become a member.
Like many groups, including the unions that RV and Cait discussed, Outlive Them has to balance security concerns with the desire to be welcome and open. To strike that balance, they invite new participants to organize with them as “supporters” for 3 months before becoming full members.
Sharona: It’s definitely a balancing act between wanting to build as broad and as massive base as possible, as well as the security of your comrades, of your communities, of some sensitive information that you’re perhaps working with, and being cognizant of real threats such as infiltration, and you know, intentional disruption from bad actors. So for this reason, when folks first get involved in OLT (Outlive Them), we just call that being a supporter. The difference between a supporter and a member in OLT is that members are invited to vote in the membership-wide decision making process, which is consensus based. And supporters fully organize with working groups and affinity groups, participate in group conversations, digital communications, will come to (in COVID times) a digital kind of social event. And the idea is that after about three months of collaboration and communication and organizing together, the core members of OLT will usually invite or decide not to invite someone to become a member. And that’s based on how folks work together, how if folks felt like there were issues or conflicts that couldn’t be addressed or other serious concerns, safety concerns.
That process goes both ways: organizers can see if the new participant can organize while respecting the group’s agreements and culture, and new participants can explore if this is a good group for them without fully committing.
Sharona: The world around us is challenging enough. And then when you intentionally make the decision to dive into a collective effort to confront the far right and expose yourself to really crummy, disparaging, harmful content on the regular, you want to make sure that the people that you’re organizing with are folks who are willing to grow their communication skills and be part of a culture of consent and take security practices seriously. Yeah, it’s important for people to have some time to work together to see if, if they do work well together when the stakes are as high as they are right now.
Lastly, Outlive Them strives to be flexible and evolve as the work progresses.
Sharona: The one thing that I think that has changed since 2018 to now, as we’ve grown and shifted and implemented a structure and gotten more of a clear vision about what kind of work we want to be doing locally, regionally, and in the international struggle against fascism, is that when folks are joining the org, they’re not joining a stagnant or static organizational culture. It’s something that is informed and influenced by people who come, people who leave, people who leave their mark, people who come and suddenly have a bright idea or a brilliant suggestion, or there’s some conflict somewhere, and, but when that conflict gets resolved, it changes part of the culture in any number of facets. But that’s something that stands out to me is being aware that the culture of the organization that folks are being onboarded to is informed by the people who are attracted to the work that you’re doing.
Zara: Brooklyn Eviction Defense
Zara: My name is Zara Cadoux and I’m an organizer in Brooklyn Eviction Defense, I use she/her pronouns and I’m white. And I started up with Brooklyn Eviction Defense, also known as BED in September,
Brooklyn Eviction Defense, aka BED, is a coalition of organizations and individuals in solidarity with tenants facing eviction, harassment, and housing insecurity. The organization supports tenants by connecting them with legal resources, organizing stoop watches, and more.
BED has a couple unique challenges. First, it’s a very new organization, and second, it’s really looking to get the word out as broadly as possible.
Zara: When I came to the organization, there actually wasn’t an onboarding process yet. And that was one of the reasons why I joined the onboarding working group. So when I joined, it was sort of I got added to a listserv and just started attending meetings. Again, when I joined, the organization was maybe a month old or so. So everyone was still sort of building out all of these different processes. I’m newer to Brooklyn, I’ve been here about a year and a half. And I wanted to be involved in local organizing, I was really having trouble entering groups. So thinking about building an onboarding process that really welcomed people in and welcome people into the work was something that I felt really passionately about. We’ve come a really long way in just a few months really building out like what does an onboarding process look like? Building the onboarding process is something that we are doing right now and doing a lot of experimentation. We are trying to get as many folks as possible involved in our network, while also recognizing we want to make sure that the people who do join are welcomed in, people can find a place. And BED is a really new organization. We were founded over the summer by folks from lots of different tenant unions who came together and said, we really need a larger network to defend against evictions, when waves of evictions come when moratoriums end.
Because BED wants to get as many people involved as possible, onboarding begins with lots of outreach!
Zara: So I’m really excited that a lot of folks in our recent orientation said that they found out about it through flyers. So I want to shout out our outreach working group because they’ve been working really hard to put flyers up in bodegas and on posts and do wheat pasting. And a lot of people are actually hearing about us through that, which is amazing. We also advertise through Twitter and through Instagram, which is also driving a lot of people to us and into the network. And the way that we approach outreach is really that we don’t make a distinction between folks who want to organize and folks who might need an eviction defense. We’re all tenants we all recognize that we could be organizing against an eviction defense one day and need one ourselves the other day.
As folks reach out, they’ll be directed to one of BED’s orientations. These orientations include time to connect with other new participants, some history of tenant organizing, and information about next steps.
Zara: Some of the things that we have started to do is run biweekly orientations that anyone can join. And that’s on zoom. Our orientation has to pack a lot into an hour. We really tried to ground folks in what is bringing you to this group, maybe what do you already know or what are you hoping to gain. And we’ll try to do breakout rooms so that people can actually meet each other. Again, thinking about it for building relationships. If we’re building coalitions of tenants, then folks need to actually speak during orientation and we didn’t want to have it be all presentation style. After we’ve had people have a chance to get to know each other. We do a light historical overview, really framing that eviction defense is not new. We also really try to ground folks into what is our ideology, what is our point of view. That includes talking about evictions as violence, and that a lot of things that happened before, during and after an eviction are very, very violent. So after we’ve done some grounding, and what is our ideology, we move into what is an eviction defense? What are all the different ways that can look. What are some of the things you might get asked to do? And then finally, we move into how do we operate? When you enter our organization, what are some of the things that you’ll see, what are some of the groups that you can be a part of, the conversations that we’re welcoming folks into. And really, that we are a leaderless group. And then finally ending with questions and with a chance for folks to go back into their breakout rooms and sort of take in this massive amount of information that we have offered and have a chat about what they might want to plug into so that we’re starting planting that seed like how do you want to get involved? What are the things that really spoke to you? What are the things you did not understand? What are the things you want to know more about? And then just really emphasizing to people that we want them to feel welcome, that we want to bring them into the work. That is something that we really tried to infuse into orientation is like welcome, like welcome, please join us.
After orientation, the onboarding working group will reach out and make sure new participants were able to plug in.
Zara: Once you have joined our orientation, learn a little bit more about us, then we invite folks to get involved through the slack. They get invited to the slack. And then one of our members does an individual follow up to make sure that folks are able to plug in. Did you find a working group that suits you? Are you having problems using Slack? I had never used slack before. So that was very new to me. And it’s can be really, really overwhelming. We don’t want that to be a barrier. And finally, we’re starting to do social distance meet and greets. So that folks actually get to see each other in person. It can be very hard to do a rapid response, especially if there’s a very like elevated or dangerous situation. And we don’t know each other. So that’s one of the things that I’m working groups also trying to solve around right now. So that’s our process right now, sort of an overview of the process, really trying to balance you know, trying to get as many folks involved and recognizing that we’re going to need critical mass to defend multiple evictions for multiple evictions at the same time, while also making sure that we’re building relationships as we go and folks aren’t just being added to a platform and then have no engagement.
This episode outlined a few things you can do day to day and week to week in your organization to welcome and onboard new people.
I wanted to end with two long term types of onboarding.
The first is archiving your work. Keeping track of meeting notes going back several months, putting together lists of past events, and documenting what worked and what didn’t are great ways to ensure that new participants have the information they need to jump in.
The second is political education. Unfortunately, there aren’t shortcuts when it comes to developing ourselves politically. So having reading groups and political education sessions where people can struggle through news ideas together and develop themselves is really key to keeping new participants engaged and growing.
Lastly, as longtime listeners of the show probably know, this whole podcast is our attempt to make it a little easier to get involved. Don’t hesitate to send episodes to your new comrades. We hope that the podcast is one more tool for onboarding new folks into social movements.
I hope this episode leaves you ready to welcome in new folks. Though 2020 may have been exceptional in many ways, I hope we’ll continue to see our movements grow in the coming months. And, regardless of what comes next, our movements should make inviting new people a priority. We’ll need mass movements to create real change.
You’ve been listening to Rebel Steps. I’m your host, Liz.
Believe in yourself, trust one another, and get organized.
This episode was written, edited, and produced by Amy and myself. Music for this episode was kindly gifted to us by Ellen Siberian Tigeter and also includes some songs that I created. Special thanks to our interviewees, RV, Cait, Sharona, and Zara. For more resources, check out the show notes for this episode on rebelsteps.com.
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