RootsCamp is an annual conference for organizers sponsored by the New Organizing Institute (NOI) that held its largest gathering in Washington, D.C. over the weekend with about 2,000 attendees, 70% of whom had never previously attended. This RootsCamp is almost double the size of the previous record, 1,100 people in 2010.
The conference is essentially an opportunity for organizers across the country to come together and share tactics and strategy with the aim of enabling progressive organizers across the country to better accomplish their goals, according to Communication Director for NOI, Evan Sutton.
NOI is an organization founded in 2006 by people who had been involved with the 2004 presidential campaign and with MoveOn.org with the aim of sharing the lessons learned in digital organizing from that campaign, particularly when it came to raising money and mobilizing supporters. At the core of NOI and RootsCamp is the theory of engagement organizing, which Sutton described as one in which everyone on a campaign works towards the same goal: mobilizing people to participate in it.
Technology is at the core of what RootsCamp is about, Sutton said, because as a progressive organization, it’s a given that the left may have the edge in people — but not money. And technology allows organizers to mobilize people much more effectively, Sutton said. In particular he highlighted the emergence of a data and analytics-driven approach to organizing allowing organizers to engage people in campaigns more efficiently.
Over the years, he said there’s been a healthy revolving door between NOI and Obama for America (OFA) — although there’s no official relationship between the two, there is what he termed a “symbolic” one. Because NOI/RootsCamp work began in tandem with Obama For America’s work for the 2008 election, the organization was well represented at this year’s conference.
Many of OFA’s 2008 organizers went through NOI’s new media bootcamp in 2006 or 2007, and after the success of that campaign, interest in the NOI’s work grew. The campaign even won the “Campaign of the Year” award, and 10% of attendees listed the campaign as their organization, Sutton said.
“Their organizing philosophy is the same as what we teach,” Sutton explained. “The 2008 cycle created an entire generation of organizers who share a very core philosophy of the way you organize, it’s the same core philosophy that we teach at NOI.”
Thus, the work that RootsCamp and NOI have been doing since 2006 — which dovetailed with the organizing work Obama For America began doing before the 2008 election — has contributed to the emergence of a technologically savvy, well-networked group of professional organizers in the U.S.
Sutton terms this change the “professionalization” of organizers, and said that while it was hard to determine whether there were more organizers than before the 2008 election, the M.O. of professionals in the field has changed in the past few years.
“Professionalization of organizing is really about building and sharing skills, and creating a culture that values the sharing of best practices,” he told Politic365. “That includes teaching people to integrate digital technology, data management, and also building a pipeline for people to learn and grow in organizing.”