NEW YORK -- Several hundred labor organizers, community organizers and progressive technologists gathered here Dec. 6 for the Organizing 2.0 Conference at the City University of New York's Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.
The conference, sponsored by the Center for Working Families, Netroots Nation blogging network, Change to Win union federation, Communication Workers of America local 1180 and other groups, discussed the implications of "online organizing" for progressive struggles and aimed to share practical experiences using technology between grassroots organizers.
In the opening plenary, Nation magazine's Netroots Movement correspondent Ari Melber discussed lessons for grassroots organizing from Barack Obama's landmark use of new technology is his successful presidential campaign.
"The Obama campaign spoke to a cultural moment," said Melber, describing the campaign's ability to tap into online services like Facebook, Black Planet and in particular YouTube. Melber said Obama's ability to circumvent traditional media and speak directly to the voters is a key lesson for progressive organizers.
In workshops varying in topics from "Online tactics for Albany & City Hall" to "Advancing new media work at your old school union" and "How do plan for your website redesign," tech experts, union staff and other activists shared skills and experiences, and discussed how to harness cell phones, email, the internet and more to advance progressive causes, win elections and raise funds.
"For a long time unions have maintained one-way communication with members and supporters," said Mariya Strauss, workshop presenter and Media Coordinator of the International labor Communications Association, a professional organization of union newspapers and communicators. "Now many are turning to social networks and the web." People's World is an associate member of ILCA.
While acknowledging the real challenges of the "digital divide," the unequal access to new technologies in working-class communities and communities of color, presenters and participants alike saw embracing new technology as key to organizing victories today and in the future.
A presentation of online efforts by the Service Employees International Union highlighted an internal poll that reported 85 percent of their members check email at least once a week. As one participant noted, "the future is now."
"I am in awe of what you are collectively trying to figure out," said Dan Cantor, executive director of New York's Working Families Party. "Building mass membership politics and organizations using technology."
Many workshop proceedings will be available in the future form the conference website.