Meet 5 Organizations Going Online to Drive National Change

09/27/2017 10:30 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2017

How the evolving digital landscape is changing the way political organizations interact with citizens, and how you can get involved.

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Post-election efforts to mobilize voters should not come as a surprise to anyone. However, what may be surprising are the tactics of doing so.

Since Election Day, a handful of organizations have successfully put energy towards building an online presence in order to get citizens to take action. As voters, especially younger voters, spend more time online, these organizations are leveraging the benefits of the online world to make tangible change. Their objectives? To flip local elections, increase candidate transparency, and provide actionable opportunities to anyone who wants to get involved.

There’s no question that the internet connects us like never before. And while recent years have showed us how the internet can affect reality, the true extent of its impact may yet to be seen.

Take a look at how the following 5 organizations are harnessing digital capabilities to drive political change on a national level.

1) Swing Left

Website: swingleft.org

Twitter: @swingleft

How did Swing Left start?

Swing Left began as a collaboration between friends -- regular citizens who saw the results of the November 2016 election and realized they couldn’t sit on the sidelines any longer.

Our three founding members are Ethan Todras-Whitehill, a writer and teacher, Joshua Krafchin, a marketer and entrepreneur, and Miriam Stone, a brand strategist. They reached out to a few of their closest friends, who brought in their close friends, to build a tool that helps everyone find their nearest congressional Swing District and connect with volunteer opportunities to help flip the House blue in the 2018 midterms. Swing Left launched on January 19, the day before Trump’s inauguration and more than 200,000 people signed up in the first three days alone.

Can you give an overview of the organization’s mission? What challenge are you trying to solve?

Swing Left has one singular goal: to take back the House in the 2018 midterm elections.

We’re laser-focused on flipping at least 24 House seats, which is what it will take to win Democratic control of the House and to put a check on the Trump and GOP agenda. The good news is that we’ve seen flips that big in nearly a third of all House elections, and given how unpopular the Republican agenda is — particularly when it comes to taking away our healthcare and cutting taxes for the ultra-wealthy — we are confident it can happen. But, it’s going to take a lot of people pitching in and working together.

We’re focusing efforts on supporting Democratic candidates in 64 Swing Districts across the country — places where the last election was won by a thin margin and where votes will count the most. Swing Left is building 2018 campaigns-in-waiting in two ways: by recruiting and training an army of volunteers, and by raising a pot of money for the eventual Democratic nominee in each District.

What role does the internet play in mobilizing and getting others involved?

It’s been an incredible tool. The internet allows us to build, and mobilize, a community of hundreds of thousands of passionate volunteers from all across the country and from all walks of life. We believe there is something powerful in the idea of individuals personally connecting with each other and rallying to support specific, local Swing Districts. For two-thirds of volunteers, their closest Swing District is within driving distance. Congressional districts, in particular, often don’t match how we think about our local geography. So when you see who your Swing District neighbors are, you realize there’s a community of people like you who are ready to help, and that this is a movement.

Where do you see these online capabilities going in the future?

We've also been using the power of the internet to leverage some really new and innovative tools for campaigning that haven't been used before at this scale — particularly in midterm Congressional elections. For instance, we've developed a District Leaderboard that helps our volunteers get a little friendly competition going to see who can register the most voters and raise the most money for candidates.

But the biggest thing the Internet can do is simple — it gives us an immediate place to go to for action when we’re shocked by the headlines we see. After the House voted to take away our healthcare, we raised $1.3 million to defeat 35 Republicans from swing districts who voted for it. That’s an incredible example of online grassroots political organizing at work.

What makes Swing Left unique?

We’re a mostly volunteer-driven initiative that is giving a platform for engagement and activism for people who traditionally don't get involved in Congressional elections because they live in solid red or blue districts. And we have a very unique and singular mission which is focused on flipping the House in 2018.

What types of opportunities does Swing Left offer for those who want to get involved?

We’re more than 300,000 strong now and many Swing Left volunteers are first-time campaigners, so we're matching them with professional organizers and seasoned volunteers who are teaching them how to register people to vote, how to phonebank and how to run a canvass. It’s great to see so many new people show up to this work and help each other build power and community and it’s great to see so many long-time volunteers show new folks the ropes.

Do you have any tips for people who are feeling motivated and want to make a difference?

You can find your nearest swing district at swingleft.org. And one of the best things you can do to stay active and make a difference is bring a friend with you to an organizing meeting or a canvass. They can help you keep your plans and, honestly, it’s just more fun to go to meetings and knock on doors with a buddy.

Swing Left has one singular goal: to take back the House in the 2018 midterm elections.

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2) flippable

Website: flippable.org

How did flippable start?

My co-founders and I met in the final months of the Hillary campaign in Ohio. We came up with the idea over a drink on November 9, as we were trying to understand our new reality and figure out what to do next.

When we peeled back the onion to understand how we'd gotten here — to a place of GOP control over all national bodies — we zeroed in on state legislatures. Over the past 8 years, we hadn't just lost the Presidency, House, and Senate; Democrats had lost over 900 state legislative seats. Why does this matter so much? Because states control national elections — they draw Congressional district lines and pass laws on voting rights. They can pave the way for progressive policies at the national level — as Massachusetts did, with its blueprint for the Affordable Care Act. Or they can take us backwards, as North Carolina has with HB2, its transgender “bathroom bill.”

States are where leaders are born, from Adam Schiff to Maxine Waters to Barack Obama. And compared to House and Senate races, state races are cheap. It soon became a no-brainer to us: we needed to flip the states.

What was special about our November 9 conversation was the combination of skills and experiences the three of us could bring to the problem. Chris was a veteran campaigner with a love of state politics; Joseph was a data scientist and engineer; and I had advised nonprofits and philanthropists on social impact measurement. We were excited to use our skills to create a product — and community — focused on a smart, strategic approach to progressive politics.

Can you give an overview of the organization’s mission? What challenge are you trying to solve?

Our mission is to restore balance in our democracy by flipping state governments from red to blue. Over the past decade, the GOP has used its power over state governments to gerrymander districts and suppress the vote. We need to reverse that trend — through investing in strategic state chambers and seats.

We're trying to solve two main challenges. First, we're trying to build a movement of voters, volunteers, and donors who know and care about state elections. Through smart and fresh digital campaigning, we help people understand the critical role of state elections in the progressive movement.

We also need to focus our resources on the states and seats that are most flippable. It will be hard to out-raise Republicans, so we need to be extra targeted about how we deploy resources. We're building a model to predict how competitive — or flippable — every state seat is, and then giving progressives simple opportunities to contribute to those races any way they can.

So far, we've built our first "flippability" model, reached 10M people a month, and raised half a million dollars for flippable candidates. We're excited to see how our priority candidates do this fall in Florida, Washington, and Virginia.

What role does the internet play in mobilizing and getting others involved?

The internet is an amazing tool for raising awareness. We have primarily engaged in digital campaigning and awareness-building, and it's been incredible to see people in California get excited about our candidates in Virginia — as well as to use the internet to bring people together. When we were a brand new organization in December last year, we filled a living room in Columbus, Ohio with people who were desperate to get involved in any way they could. Now, we can fill auditoriums with people who feel both motivated and empowered to help campaigns.

Where do you see these online capabilities going in the future?

The resistance has used the internet to engage, educate, and organize people. We've been able to mobilize mass-scale action to organize marches, protest ACA repeal, and fundraise for high-potential candidates. We've also continued to innovate when traditional tactics start to get stale. (For example, we've avoided traditional email marketing tactics, which involve emails with 5 donate buttons sent to you multiple times a week -- opting instead for a more content-rich, informational approach).

Looking ahead, we have to find ways to sustain the momentum — to turn a moment into a movement. I've been impressed with how organizations like Indivisible have helped bring people together both on- and off-line. I'd love to see organizations help "bridge" divides between new activists and seasoned ones and groups on different parts of the political spectrum. In the wake of an election that was inarguably shaped by social media platforms, I'm also curious to see what tech companies like Facebook will do to help open our minds and protect our democracy, rather than keep us in echo chambers and spread misinformation.

What makes flippable unique?

We focus on state races because of their pivotal role in influencing national politics. We emphasize data and information, so that our community's time and money can be spent as effectively as possible. And, though we support capital-D Democrats, we do so in service of small-d democracy: voting rights, fair district lines, and voters who choose their politicians rather than the other way around.

What types of opportunities does flippable offer for those who want to get involved?

We work with campaigns to recruit volunteers; we offer opportunities to support candidates financially; and we host (virtual and in-person) events so that our community can meet each other and learn more about state politics. But really the sky is the limit. Our resources and recommendations have helped individuals and groups across the country pinpoint whom to support and find their own ways to help — through house parties and fundraisers, using social media to encourage their friends to vote, even working with the campaigns directly to offer graphic design, programming, videography, and other skills to candidates. The outpouring of energy has been incredible.

Do you have any tips for people who are feeling motivated and want to make a difference?

Democrats have lost a lot of ground over the past few years. We'll need to win hundreds of local races even just to get to a point where the rules of our national elections are fair!

To play the long game, we need to pace ourselves. We first need to invest in ourselves and our ability to make a difference. This might mean getting smart — doing research on state races by visiting our site or others. It might mean volunteering for a local school board or city council campaign so that you can learn how campaigns work and be an asset to others down the line. It might mean having those uncomfortable conversations across the dinner table to help a friend or relative understand why local politics are so important.

We also need to take care of ourselves. We need to pause and celebrate wins, like the multiple state seats Democrats have flipped this year, even in deep-red states like Oklahoma. And we should recognize that it's not a marathon, not a sprint — but a relay. It will take all of us to flip the script on the GOP's power.

So far, we've built our first "flippability" model, reached 10M people a month, and raised half a million dollars for flippable candidates.

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3) VoteRunLead

Twitter: @VoteRunlead

How did VoteRunLead start?

VoteRunLead launched as an independent organization in September of 2014. VoteRunLead was the lead program within The White House Project from 2004-2011.

Can you give an overview of the organization’s mission? What challenge are you trying to solve?

VoteRunLead is the training powerhouse for women looking to run for political office — just as they are. Our goal is to train a diverse pool of women to unleash their political power, run for office and transform American democracy. With a focus on elections taking place now through 2020, we are conducting #RunAsYouAre campaign trainings for thousands of women across the country who want to level up their leadership.

Our country is in urgent need of a more inclusive leadership and transparent government. We are at a time in our history when an unprecedented amount of women are looking to build independent political power and make impactful change. There are 500,000 elected positions in the U.S. and VoteRunLead is all about moving women’s representation from 20% to 50%.

What role does the internet play in mobilizing and getting others involved?

VoteRunLead is making significant investments in innovative tools and technology to connect with women across the country, while continuing to organize women in person with powerful shared experiences. We are wrapping up a ten-city tour, culminating in our upcoming 3-day training being held this November 17-19 in Minneapolis with the VoteRunLead #RunAsYouAre National Training. Our 60+ online resources are able to put campaign support and political experts within reach -- regardless of where our trainees live.

Where do you see these online capabilities going in the future?

In addition to our in-person trainings and online peer network, VoteRunLead is working to develop a self-guided (course) for women seeking to run for political office and modify it as needed in real time.

For the larger communities, we would like to see more avenues for online crowdsourcing for campaign funding. And, ideally, voting would be more accessible for those in rural areas through Skype and a proxy. Expanding efforts to make sure their voices are heard, would force adequate political representation from those areas and more attention to their concerns.

What makes VoteRunLead unique?

VoteRunLead’s campaign trainings are practical, actionable, nonpartisan and individualized. We are deeply invested in training women from diverse communities of race, religion and income levels. We train women how to run for office with an aim to transform the system, not just represent it.

What types of opportunities does VoteRunLead offer for those who want to get involved?

In addition to VoteRunLead’s in-person and online trainings, alums are connected with a vast network of women from across the country who seek political office, online resource library of campaign tools access to to political experts and opportunities to become campaign trainers themselves.

Do you have any tips for people who are feeling motivated and want to make a difference?

If you are a highly-motivated woman seeking to run for political office, VoteRunLead wants to train you on how to run a solid campaign and win. Don’t wait, and don't hesitate. Run as the leader you already are -- VoteRunLead will show you how at voterunlead.org.

VoteRunLead is the training powerhouse for women looking to run for political office -- just as they are. Our goal is to train a diverse pool of women to unleash their political power, run for office and transform American democracy.

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4) Town Hall Project

How did Town Hall Project start?

Our founder Jimmy Dahman conceived of Town Hall Project in January 2017 after realizing how important congressional town halls would be in making sure this new White House and Congress were held accountable to voters' real needs and how surprisingly difficult it was to find basic information about our lawmakers' public schedules.

Jimmy recruited a handful of fellow activists and began building a volunteer team to research events and post to a simple Google spreadsheet. When the doc went public on January 30, we were overwhelmed with traffic and social media attention and realized we needed to build a real website and more robust operation. Eight months later we have a small but talented team, a great website with powerful activism tools being used across the country, and a strategically expanding mission to promote citizen engagement and hold lawmakers accountable.

Can you give an overview of the organization’s mission? What challenge are you trying to solve?

Town Hall Project's core mission is to promote citizen engagement with lawmakers to make our democratic institutions stronger and more responsive to the real needs of voters. Our primary task is simply making it easy to find existing opportunities to interact with members of Congress at free, publicly held town hall events. Additionally, we have taken an active role in calling out members who do not hold public events and celebrating members who set a strong example of accessibility.

We also facilitate the organization of grassroots events like "Empty Chair" town halls and "Adopt-a-District" town halls and are continually looking for new ways to encourage both citizens and elected officials to have greater direct interaction. We feel strongly that this mission can serve a short-term good by giving people tactics to organize in opposition to ACA repeal and other damaging legislation, as well as to rally support to defend DACA and other vital civil rights issues but also serves a vital long-term good of building a culture of accessibility.

What role does the internet play in mobilizing and getting others involved?

Town Hall Project's core tool is our website, so the internet is absolutely vital to our mission and strategy. Our website is designed to make it as easy as possible to find events with members of Congress near you. Subscribers to our email list receive automatic updates about upcoming events. And we communicate with our tens of thousands of social media followers regularly about town hall highlights, pending legislation, and other important pressing issues.

Where do you see these online capabilities going in the future?

We plan to continue to debut new user experiences and online tools to make it even easier for users to find and organize around events. We also plan to expand our coverage of events to a greater number of elected and other public officials. Lastly, we hope to continue to build greater integration with partner organizations to empower them to organize around town hall and other events from our research.

What makes Town Hall Project unique?

We are the only public, free comprehensive resource of events with members of Congress. There are many great organizations who champion government transparency and accessibility, but we feel our voice calling for greater opportunity for citizen engagement with lawmakers is especially strong and needed at this time.

What types of opportunities does Town Hall Project offer for those who want to get involved?

We are always looking for dedicated research volunteers willing to give a handful of hours each week to help us make sure our event information is as up-to-date as possible. We also often need additional web development support as we embark on larger development projects. We also love to work with grassroots groups across the country who are organizing around town hall or other events. And for those who don't have time to volunteer, we welcome event tips submitted by the public at any time at townhallproject.com/#submit

Do you have any tips for people who are feeling motivated and want to make a difference?

Lasting change starts at the local level. Find individuals and grassroots groups who are organizing in your community and join them. Engage with not just your member of Congress but your state legislator, county council members, and other local officials. So many politically minded Americans don't even know the names of their local officials, much less take the time to engage with them. You will be surprised how powerful a difference you can make, and the support of others working with you side-by-side will be invaluable as we build long-term change together.

Town Hall Project's core mission is to promote citizen engagement with lawmakers to make our democratic institutions stronger and more responsive to the real needs of voters. Our primary task is simply making it easy to find existing opportunities to interact with members of Congress at free, publicly held town hall events.

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5) MobilizeAmerica

How did MobilizeAmerica start?

  • MobilizeAmerica was founded in early 2017 in response to and alongside the incredible explosion of activist energy that accompanied the inauguration of our current President
  • Democrats are at a significant disadvantage in state capitols across the country, Congress and the White House. This decisive control allows Republicans to pass regressive policies and unfairly draw district lines in their favor
  • MobilizeAmerica is designed to enable ordinary people to take impactful action on behalf of candidates who need help

Can you give an overview of the organization’s mission? What challenge are you trying to solve?

  • Democrats have an important story to tell and life saving policies to enact. We’re the party that puts people first
  • We need to elect a new generation of leaders who will fight for a strong economy, defend healthcare, protect the universal right to vote and stand up for the rights of all Americans — regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or country of origin
  • The most powerful way to elect Democrats at every level is by empowering ordinary people to talk directly to voters, encouraging them to support great candidates
  • MobilizeAmerica makes conversations with voters easier and more impactful than ever

What role does the internet play in mobilizing and getting others involved?

  • The internet is changing everything about the way we communicate, organize and consume information
  • People can assemble within online communities at a scale that’s never been possible prior
  • Friends can maintain wider networks and reach out to influence one another from coast to coast, in an instant
  • Talking to voters in-person is still the most impactful tool in political organizing. The internet makes it easier than ever to find voters to talk to, identify possible volunteers and start the conversation online.
  • Today, it’s easier than ever to contact voters remotely through virtual phone banks and text banks

Where do you see these online capabilities going in the future?

  • Digital organizing is rapidly changing, and we’re working with some pioneers in cutting-edge technology to contact voters in new ways
  • Social media is increasingly being used to reach voters in addition to SMS and other social organizing tools
  • Advanced marketing tactics, artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning are changing the face of every industry and will impact politics as well

What makes MobilizeAmerica unique?

  • Our platform provides critical infrastructure designed for this unique political moment
  • We've partnered with over 40 national and grassroots groups with combined memberships in the millions, the Democratic Party of Virginia and the DNC
  • We’re working closely with entertainers and influencers including Funny or Die and Arcade Fire’s Will Butler to make organizing accessible, impactful, and fun
  • Our team includes a unique mix of people with experience in business, government, software engineering and political organizing

What types of opportunities does MobilizeAmerica offer for those who want to get involved?

  • Our mobile app and event scheduling platform allow anyone to find high impact campaign events near them, and allows hard working candidates to know help is coming.

Do you have any tips for people who are feeling motivated and want to make a difference?

  • We are all stronger when we stand together
  • Our democracy gives people the voice to change their leaders and their government. Anyone – no matter who you are, or where you are can make a big difference in critical elections
  • Virginia is a key battleground state with a hotly contested election for Governor and many close elections in the House of Delegates. Great candidates need your help
  • People can get involved by texting MOBILIZE to 48421, visiting our website or downloading our mobile app
  • We'll help you make a difference, starting today
We need to elect a new generation of leaders who will fight for a strong economy, defend healthcare, protect the universal right to vote and stand up for the rights of all Americans — regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or country of origin.

Are you ready to get involved?

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