2020 PFIG Recipient Jacob Wartel
Journal Entry #1
My internship this summer is with the Metro DC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. It is a membership-based organization with roughly 2500 dues-payers. It does work surrounding elections, tenants, protests, and political education. When I started as intern, a new steering committee had just been elected, meaning they were developing portfolios of which sections of the chapter they were responsible for. Attending this meeting where they discussed this set a good precedent for understanding how the chapter works, and how work has to be delegated.
Work for the chapter that I’ve been doing is roughly divided into internal and external work. For the week leading up to a local DC election, I spent hours making phone calls for a chapter endorsed candidate. The goal of these calls were two-fold. First to convince people to vote for our candidate, and second to convince them to get an absentee ballot and mail it in before the deadline. Having a conversation about local issues, and elections isn’t nearly as straight forward as it may seem. People have entirely different perspectives on how the incumbent was doing, and had a variety of questions about both issues, and the mechanics of the election.
COVID-19 has meant that a lot of the work in the chapter is now done remotely. Regular meetings as well as “business meetings,” where the chapter decides on the work it wants to do and how to do that work are all online. Political education events are online as well. This has meant a much larger amount of work coordinating digital access to resources like zoom, slack, and social media posts than in non-Covid times
Journal Entry #2
As I’ve gotten more time to work on my internship, I’ve developed crucial technical skills. Two of the big programs I’ve been using are Action Network and Spoke. Action Network is a tool that allows you to create events, forms, and track data. A huge part of running an organization is data management, especially with over 5000 people involved. I was surprised with the level of technical work needed to maintain the Action Network, which includes updating and uploading new lists, as well as creating parameters to target specific members. One of the big challenges I’ve faced is how to most effectively target people with emails, texts, and actions. If you over email and text them then they will opt-out and no longer be in the Action Network system.
One of the tools I’ve been working on has been Spoke, a texting service that allows more rapid texting of people for an event. My co-worker has been instrumental in helping me learn the technical aspects of the system that allow me to be an administrator and not just a texter. The backend of the system is an important aspect. You can customize responses and greetings which is valuable because often you are having volunteers send texts and answer questions. As an organization you want there to be cut-out responses to common answers.
I’ve also been helping interview organizers around the country to do a write-up for one of the housing-justice projects that we engage in. This meant I interview 3 people including organizers and tenants about the work they were doing in a public housing facility. I’ve written up an article on this that will go to use for the rest of the organization to learn about the project and take lessons away. I wasn’t sure what to expect in my conversations and there was a challenge figuring out how to get the interviewees to give a broad picture of the work they were doing. However, I found that as my conversations went on they were more willing to discuss their work.
Journal Entry #3
After a long time, my work helping set up a new member mobilizer program is largely completed. It was a complicated process in order to determine our new members, create a secure way to handle the data, and develop roles that were reasonable for volunteers to do. However, I learned that delegation is the most essential tool for a large project like this. Because the goal was to create an entirely new structure, I needed to break up what it looked like into parts, and determine what parts could be give to a single person, rather than let everything rest on one volunteer.
As my internship has come closer to ending I’ve focused on a number of new tasks necessary to help improve the organization in the long term. I’m working to train volunteers on how to do the work I’ve been doing for the last two months, so that it’s still done efficiently even after I leave. MDC DSA is a largely volunteer organization. This has its benefits, namely that people take ownership of the organization and really become passionate in their efforts to grow it, but it also has drawbacks. People need to find the necessary time in order to have phone calls, do check-ups, or engage in technical work. Part of my job is working with a bunch of the volunteers to give them discrete things that they will start doing regularly. A full-time employees has the ability to do a lot of maintenance and administrative work, but in order for this to be done by volunteers, I’ve needed to find quite a few new people.