Proposal: Take Back NC Unconference to kickstart the grassroots

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for liberals and progressives.

The state legislature has been out of control on a host of issues - you're probably feeling angry and shellshocked after the Republican attacks on voting rights and their passage of laws that would expand dark money in North Carolina politics and allow candidates and groups to run political ads with no accountability.

The Republicans have gone far beyond enacting a conservative agenda. They have enacted a coup that has destroyed democracy in our state and handed over control of your money, your public officials, the well being of your family, your economic future and even your basic rights under the US Constitution to Art Pope, the Koch Brothers, extremist religious groups, the NRA, and a handful of business interests around the state.

In the Weekend Woundup thread here at BlueNC, several people have bandied about ideas for what to do next. The legislature is polling negative with NC voters - even Republicans - and the public is angry. Very angry.

Several groups are working to fight Republicans in the legislature. The NAACP has had remarkable success with Moral Mondays. The League of Women Voters has come out strongly against restrictions on our basic voting rights. Progress NC and Democracy NC are organizing and getting the word out on the extremism in the legislature.

You can attend Moral Mondays or volunteer for an existing organization or get involved with the NC Democratic Party. What else can you do?

While all these groups are doing great work, they're only one piece of what can happen to bring a popular uprising to fruition here in North Carolina.

Before the Republican Coup that tossed our state back in time fifty years and delivered the keys to the statehouse and government offices to big monied special interests, religious bigots and racists, the Old North State was known as a national hub for innovation, entrepreneurship, and creativity.

Much of that energy has been put on the back burner as all of us have tried to digest how the Republicans are reshaping the state and the impacts it might have on our business, career, our families, or even our basic rights and safety.

We need to get back on track on the job at hand - exposing the lies from the Pope machine in Raleigh and taking back our government.

We are energized. We're angry. We have ideas. We want action. Let's put all that together into an unstoppable force.

I would propose that liberals and progressives organize a series of Take Back NC Unconferences.

What is an unconference, you might ask? If you've been a part of the higher ed or technology community, you've probably been to one.

The idea is simple. Organizers book a space with multiple rooms and give attendees a theme to work with. On the day of the conference, attendees show up and there's a large whiteboard schedule in the lobby. Anyone can post an idea for a session on the schedule. At some, attendees propose sessions in an online wiki and arrange the schedule themselves.

It sounds crazy and disorganized, but it works. What happens at these things is that people show up with an idea for something they want to do. Others attend sessions to offer ideas, start to flesh out ideas, and make connections to move forward.

Perhaps you've got an idea for a way to make information about dark money donors or political influence easier for the public to understand. Maybe you've got ideas for how to organize apathetic voters in your area or ways to reach specific communities or groups of people to get out the vote. You might have ideas on better ways to organize phone banks for the election or web and video campaigns that would make the issues clearer.

If you don't have ideas, you can offer your skills - everything from programming to web design to public relations and community organizing or fundraising. You can offer your passion and help.

If you like an idea and can offer your time, you can go away from the event with a group of people with a concrete goal and something you can do before election day.

It's going to take more than the Democratic Party and the organizations we have now. Small groups can work together on small scale efforts that support what these groups are doing and reach areas of the state and groups of voters beyond their reach.

As far as I know, an unconference has never been tried to "kickstart" grassroots political work with this kind of scale or focus. It's quite unlike the "Occupy" model - it's really the kind of thing used to bring together entrepreneurs for start-ups or "kickstarting" new research collaborations at universities. Why not get people with a passion for doing something together with people who have new ideas on what can done?

A single unconference isn't going to make a big difference - we really need at least three in different areas of the state (the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte) and enough time before each event is scheduled to advertise and recruit energetic people to attend from different regions of the state. There should be a strong focus on ideas for doing things - not political cheerleading - and bringing your ideas and what you want to do back to your local community or to existing groups that can use what you have to offer.

To get the conversation going, here's some links to more info on unconferences and how they work.

What do you think?

How to prepare to attend an unconference

How to run an unconference

How to run a great unconference session

Notes on organizing an unconference

CityCamp NC - Organizing an unconference for a transparent city government



Anything called "un-something" is cool in my book. Unconference. Uncampaign. It's all good.

Are you aware of any virtual versions ... where online, text, conference calling, etc., is the backbone ... instead of in-person?

Haven't had a chance to follow and read all the links. Will do tomorrow.

Thanks for thinking outside the box. More please.

Skype and Google Hangouts

Skype and Google Hangouts make it fairly easy to do virtual sessions, but it can be really hard for the people skyped in to be heard, unless they're hooked up to a projector screen and speaker. (It can also be hard for them to hear.) Another problem is that some computers don't like having a lot of video calls at the same time, so that's another issue to be aware of, if this is a consideration. Both Skype and Google have audio-only options.

Just a suggestion...

But there are a lot of people who live east of US1 and west of I-77. I know the post said "at least three," but there is enough anger for at least 10. So let's add Boone, Asheville, Rockingham, Elizabeth City, New Bern, Wilmington, Murphy, and Manteo to the three big cities. I know, Murphy to Manteo might be corny, but it might just be the trick to demonstrate that progressives are people-centric, rather than Raleigh and Charlotte centric.


The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

At least three

Notice I said "at least" three.

Doing such an event first in the three major metro areas would get a model set up for running it effectively. I'm more familiar with the mountain areas of the state - there would probably need to be one that would be centered in Boone or maybe Wilkes to attract people from Ashe, Wautauga, Wilkes and the Yadkin area. A separate event for Asheville would attract people from the southwest mountain areas.

Boone and Asheville are quite a drive from each other. They don't look that far apart on the map, but the roads up there make the drive longer than you'd think.

Each event needs to be targeted to a region, rather than a specific city, I think, to get a "tipping point" of enough people to get a good mix of ideas and volunteers.

The problem I saw with the "Occuply" style movement is that were hyper-local - you've got all these little groups in each city that they were just too focused and insular. And they were really targeted more on protests.

The event I'm proposing would be focused specifically on engaging with voters, voter registration and turnout, documenting candidates and donations, organizing, fundraising and the like - it wouldn't be the place to go if you're wanting to do another version of Moral Mondays.

I don't see it replacing what the NCDP, NC Progress, the NAACP and other groups are already doing, but small "working groups" that can supplement what they do or coordinate with them as needed.

Sort of entrepreneurial approach to direct grassroots action.

It's also a stark contrast with the way Republican Tea Bagger or extremist religious political organizing is done - that's very "top down", with groups like Civitas or the National Organization for Marriage acting as a "hub" for getting people in areas to do very specific things or get out a specific message. The NC Voter Integrity Project is a good example - it's not a grassroots organization as much as it's an off-shoot of one of Pope's organizations and probably paid for by him - or Tea Bagger groups that have had organizers "seeded" or trained by someone else to stir things up in a local community.