On January 31st, the social web erupted with status updates, images, and more in response to the Associated Press report that the Susan G. Komen Foundation had decided to de-fund breast health screenings at Planned Parenthood affiliates. Long-time supporters of both Komen and Planned Parenthood jumped into action. Many Komen supporters expressed anger that an organization positioned to make such positive impact would allow for political influence and would make a decision that appeared to be going against the mission of serving women (especially low income women served by PP affiliates).
I knew it was hitting many more people than the average news story when I saw tweets, facebook posts, and other online comments coming from people in my community and network that I rarely see participating online. And just as quickly as people responded with outrage against Komen, the conversation changed to be about the women who would continue to need support and the services that help them. Breast Cancer has impacted my family, like many others, and I grew up participating in Komen’s Race for the Cure in Portland every year with my mom. Komen’s announcement changed people’s minds and it didn’t matter that they later said PP affiliate could apply for funding (whether or not they are granted will be seen then) because the “break up” was final for many.
Jumping into action, Allison Fine, Beth Kanter, Stephanie Rudat, Lisa Colton, and Lucy Bernholz starting moving beyond the updates and long conversation threads and towards a collective call to action. You can read the summary of how the free agent community came together to self-organize and create a public action as well as a full report of the lessons learned and reflections on the #TakeBackThePink campaign in this public google doc.
10 Lessons from Community-Driven Organizing
After the #TakeBackThePink twitter campaign during the Super Bowl, Beth prompted all of us to share lessons and reflections in a google doc to be captured and shared. Here are the lessons we pulled out as a group:
- We could not plan for an event like this, however as individuals who are unencumbered by organizational rules or policies, and that we have our own large networks of people to bring to an effort, and that we are comfortable working in a dynamic, flat, environment, we reacted very quickly and nimbly to events as they unfolded and provided avenues for action for other people angry at Komen. A core group of the organizers are fluent with a variety of social media platforms including Twitter, Pinterest (a fun opportunity to take it out for a social change spin, thought Beth!) and Facebook, plus Stephanie’s graphic design expertise. As one participant recalls, “There was an immediate sense of relatedness amongst the group conjoined by leaders. We all saw something in the uproar and possibility for ourselves and those we care about.”
- #takebackthepink was a particularly resonant phrase with our group because it represented the opportunity to begin to separate Komen from the color pink. As Lucy would tweet later, “Pink is a color not an org.” A fundamental part of our effort was to reestablish the primacy of women’s health over the branding concerns of a single organization. We believe we created an opportunity for a large number of people to participate in this process, and the momentum to continue the discussion moving forward.
- There were two moments of tension during the week between a centralized approach and a network approach. The first time, the effort split in two; with one group focused on fundraising and another on advocacy and awareness. The second, a faction chose to opt out of the Super Bowl effort. Both times it was brought up that it was no longer about recouping money to PP (as that was already achieved in the first 48 hours) but was about redirecting people’s emotional responses, keeping people connected to causes and organizations even if they weren’t Komen, and demonstrating the importance of knowing what the orgs do that you support.
- There was a flow of people in and out of the effort depending on their interest and availability. A public thread rather than the private email thread would have been more in keeping with our interest in and value of transparency. We chose the email vehicle believing that the element of surprise would be important to our efforts. It turned out not to be the case.
- Finding the messaging middle ground in a fast changing environment was very challenging. Take Back the Pink was seen by some as Komen bashing and by others as “too nice.” We did our best to find a positive place for Super Bowl Sunday: there are a lot of organizations and way to support breast health, here are options in addition to Komen. It was harder to communicate than, “Screw Komen, fund Planned Parenthood” and it’s unclear how successful we were in explaining the shift and making the message clear.
- We could have done a better job of looking for other hashtags in real-time and piggy-backed on them in order to weave together different conversations.
- We developed and shone a spotlight on nonprofits and transparency, an unusual element to a discussion of pro-choice and women’s health issues.
- Defining success in a very fluid situation was also very challenging. If fifty people retweeted with our hashtag was that success? Five hundred people? Five thousand people? An interesting model to use for comparison is Occupy Wall Street. Rather than using numeric outputs as goals, perhaps our effort, simply being and spreading, was successful. We are still wrestling with this question, although perhaps one answer is that if a single person learned about a new resource or organization that was success. Having the single largest media event of the year on the immediate horizon made for a great leverage point.
- It would have been great to have advocacy organizations sign on as participants and partners in this event, however, when we did bump up against organizations they were unable to move fast enough with their approval processes to fully participate. This will continue to hamper the ability of organizations to work with “free agents” like us who need to meet an opportunity like this with speed, agility and a lack of concern for traditional message controls. Perhaps organizations can more fully participate in the next phase of development of the Facebook page.
- This group is open to continuing the Facebook page and the conversation about general breast health and the array of organizations and resources available to women. Clearly, there is a void in the digital space for being a resource to those who want to learn, contribute, volunteer, receive services but don’t know of all of the options or how to vet. Our capacity is stretched, though, we all participated in this effort as volunteers.
Observations & Reflections
Additionally, I want to pull out a few things I keep reflecting back on from the campaign and the organizing process that I think are influential to how we plan for and execute actions as community members and how we support them as organizations.
How do you evaluate and recognize “critical mass” of a free agent community? As Allison points out in her reflection post, after she created the Causes campaign and witnessed the response, she knew there was enough interest and people to do something bigger. But how did she know? How does your organization evaluate, on the fly in real-time, what critical mass is around a piece of news, an issue, a campaign, or even just an idea? How do you then say “this is it” and move to the next stage? In this case, I think critical mass was established by having more than just two or three, but actually five, six, even seven or eight people willing to jump in to help – and help by organizing and thinking and planning, not just sharing the message or plan once it was created. For organizations working on evaluating critical mass in real-time, it may be different as you would also factor in staff capacity to support the organizers from the community.
In a crisis, there are two versions of reaction: one against the perpetrator (in this case it was Komen, “how could they?”), the other in support of the victims (PP at first, and then quickly women in general). It is hard to switch the focus of a campaign after it is launched, so it’s important that you frame the story, your calls to action, and the actions themselves consistently. It was discussed openly and repeatedly on email chains and Facebook threads whether the focus was against Komen or in support of PP or even in support of women’s health. It was agreed every time that the focus was really on women’s health and redirecting people’s outrage, emotion, and attention so that instead of giving up on Komen and all breast cancer or women’s health issues, people would continue to participate, donate, and support organizations working on these issues. That’s why the resources on the TakeBackThePink wiki point to nonprofit and donor directories so people can research all the organizations working on breast cancer and women’s health, for example.
To organize and operate nimbly, you need to leave a crumb trail for others to join and follow you. This is incredibly important. It was necessary that the group collaborating on email and across multiple comment threads on Facebook create a cohesive place to refer new people when they jumped in, and a place for people to follow if they had to jump out. To the lesson above about the flow of participants in and out of the group, creating some central places to point people would support the people consistently reaching out to engage people as well as those who did not want to be involved but wanted to share the plans with others. To that end, I helped quickly create a shared google doc so that the messaging, calls to action, and other important links could be docked and shared easily. I also created a customized bit.ly link for the google doc so that sharing the information and inviting people to participate would be easy to do. Furthermore, it wasn’t just the google doc of messaging and information that was helpful, but that in the doc and on Beth’s wiki we provided direct links to the Twitter search for #takebackthepink and places to engage like the Facebook page, Allison’s Causes space, and Deanna’s Tumblr. Creating shortcuts like this by aggregating all the related links or resources together helped both the “main organizers” and all those coming in and out of the thread.
What do you think?
What other lessons or observations do you have from this campaign or others? What have you tried or experimented with? Would love to learn from you!