The Women’s March, Indivisible and Standing Rock: How to convert the energy and enthusiasm of the moment into long-lasting progressive power

Written by: Brian Young

Date: May 18, 2017

It was just a week before the Women’s March, and we faced a problem at the Action Network.

The map on our distributed events tool, the organizing home for the marches worldwide, was in danger of hitting the daily limit of map loads on our Google API, which would cause problems when people searched for their event. We knew this limit existed, of course, but it hadn’t even occurred to us that we would reach it — we hadn’t come close before.

Our team worked with staff at Google to quickly re-engineer the backend to handle the increased traffic, and it’s a good thing we did. As the day for the marches approached, we blew past that original limit by 20 percent, then 50 percent, eventually doubling the traffic as millions of people searched for marches around the world, each organized independently by hundreds of grassroots activists and first-time organizers. As we watched the numbers grow, we were telling everyone who would listen that the marches were going to be far, far bigger than anyone thought.

It was an early indication of what we’ve all seen this year: Incredible grassroots energy being channeled into new activism. New activists are using the Action Network toolset to organize, bolstering existing progressive groups and creating brand new ones – including Action Network partners like the Women’s March and Indivisible – and translating that energy into lasting power for the progressive movement.

Five years in the making, the Action Network is built on a not-for-profit, user-driven development model. Groups including United We Dream, AFL-CIO, Student PIRGs and Daily Kos use Action Network for mass emailing, petitions, event campaigns and fundraising.

We developed these tools as a not-for-profit so we could focus on one mission: to build progressive power. We developed the tools in collaborative partnership with our partners, giving the movement a direct say in how the technology develops.

Key to our philosophy is creating tools that are open enough to allow for independent action, but structured enough to turn that action into long-term power. That way, new activists and organizers can join in on their terms, while connecting them into a broader movement.

You can see this philosophy at work in the development of the Women’s March. Yordanos Eyoel, a spokesperson for the Women’s March described a key benefit of Action Network to The Hill:

“On Facebook you have individual events. There is really no connected network. I think [Facebook is] a great way to get a message out, but I think when you’re trying to facilitate a network approach, Action Network enables you to do that.”

The Action Network enabled the Women’s March organizers at the grassroots level to create and own their events, and, by capturing all of that data, it created a powerful base to build on. It also enabled them to collect detailed metrics for greater accountability down to the local level than ever before, allowing organizers to see which activists are most effective in their communities – and worth extra attention to develop.

The Women’s March organizers took that opportunity and have expanded their operation significantly, driving tens of thousands of activists to thousands of local Huddles. These small, local events have introduced thousands of new local organizers to the movement in communities around the country, creating opportunities for local grassroots activists to get together to strategize and plan follow up actions – all within the broader framework of the Women’s March organization.

Another recent example comes from the Standing Rock Sioux, who used the free version of Action Network to build a campaign in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. What began as a couple dozen local activists surged to a national movement around the #NoDAPL cause, and today the Standing Rock Sioux have raised over $2 million in sustaining funding and are now a full Action Network partner.

The Women’s March, Indivisible, the Standing Rock Sioux and the dozens of other organizations that have sprung up from the progressive grassroots in the last few months alone hint at the broader, sustained resistance to the Trump agenda that will be needed over the next four years. They also serve as proof of concept for Action Network’s not-for-profit, user-driven development model. 

This is our moment to harness the energy and enthusiasm within our movement to build long-lasting progressive power to win in 2018 and beyond.

Imagine the possibilities if we can empower progressive organizations by putting the Action Network tools into the hands of thousands of new activists nationwide and creating new coalitions to achieve unprecedented scale and impact.
To do that, we’re excited to announce that Action Network is partnering with NCRP to give members access to the Action Network toolset. Through this new partnership, NCRP members will have the opportunity to harness their supporters and point them to direct actions, collaborate with each other seamlessly and expand their digital organizing reach to create positive change.

If you’re a member interested in taking advantage of this partnership, click here. To learn more about Action Network, click here.

Brian Young is executive director of the Action Network. Follow @TheActionNet and @NCRP on Twitter.

Photo by John Duffy. Used under Creative Commons license.