On September 12, we will launch our inaugural semester at New Organizing University – a distance learning program to develop more progressive organizers across the country.
Did you know that learning with people in a virtual classroom could change your life?
Yeah, I didn’t either. But it sure changed mine.
In the summer of 2009 I had the opportunity to study organizing with legendary organizer and Harvard professor Marshall Ganz – all without leaving the cozy comfort and city views of my apartment in Oakland, CA.
I participated in the pilot for a distance learning course in organizing and leadership with Marshall Ganz, one of my organizing heroes and the first person to ask me to stand up and practice leadership in my democracy. I got my feet wet as a volunteer leader and eventually as field staff in President Obama’s 2008 campaign, but this online course was my chance to dive into the theory of organizing in a more structured way.
The coursework was rigorous and completely experiential. Through the online course we were required to engage others and build an organizing campaign that would lead to a measurable outcome. And we did it! By the end of the course, in the wake of Prop 8 in CA, my team and I from the Courage Campaign trained and coached 30 volunteer organizers in 23 counties across California. Those organizers went on to organize Equality Teams, building local campaigns to improve the lives of LGBT folks in their communities and on a federal level, including work helping to get movement on DADT and ENDA. From this experience we began to create new power in our communities and within ourselves – the understanding that we could use this organizing framework and these leadership practices to pull ourselves out of the heartbreak and hopelessness of Prop 8 passing by engaging others to take action with us!
Over the next 2 years, we took the course to scale. Marshall and the teaching teams led 185 global citizens in courses to learn organizing through practice and reflection, and those participants in turn engaged over 50,000 people in their organizing campaigns. These people have already begun to make a difference throughout the world. People like Alfonso, Alma, and Camila, who are organizing a civic engagement campaign for youth in Guatemala, where youth now make up about 80% of their country’s population. Organizers like Rochelle and her leadership team of residents on the Northside of Spartanburg, South Carolina, who are engaging other residents and city officials to increase access to healthy food and recreation in their community.
Not only did we have some awesome outcomes, but as we met each week in synchronous online sessions where we could see and hear one another, we also built a diverse and interdependent learning community that had fun together! As a teaching fellow, I supported the learning and coached the campaigns of 20 of our participants. We built a vibrant section team online, and helped one another develop and grow through the ups and downs of our campaigns. I built relationships with other organizers like Fran in Massachusetts and Nisreen in Jordan, relationships that continue to serve as a source of courage and learning for me in this difficult change work.
That’s why I’m so excited to be heading up the New Organizing University, where we’ll bring our best trainings from top practitioners to organizers across the country and around the world. My experience as a student and leader in distance learning programs allowed me to grow personally and professionally, and I look forward to helping you develop and build new skills to create the change you want to see in the world.
Interested? Want to get a little more info? We're offering Campus Tours, so you can meet the instructors, hear about the courses, and experience our online classrooms for yourself!