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How to be a progressive in a strange new world: Lessons from the ECDA Bootcamp in Prague

a photo of the ECDA Digital Organizing Bootcamp audience
ECDA Digital Organizing Bootcamp, Prague | Photos by: Petr Vrabec

Hungarian, Latvian, German, Ukrainian, Polish, Brazilian, Finnish, Belgian, Spanish, American, Ethiopian, Italian, British, and Dutch –– these were just some of the nationalities present during last week’s Digital Organizing Bootcamp, organized by the European Center for Digital Action (ECDA) in Prague. During a time when the far-right seems considerably better than progressive parties at forging international bonds and cooperation, this coming together of progressives from organizations all over Europe was organized as a much-needed antidote to the looming feeling that the left is fighting an uphill battle. Three days of inspiring talks, optimism-increasing field examples, challenging audience questions, and many conversations over Czech beer later, that feeling, for most present, had turned into a budding sense of hope.

Stories were being shared –– for instance from Poland: LGBTQI-activist Bart Staszewski received a huge round of applause after showing his audience a video in which a presenter on the formerly homophobic Polish public television apologized to him on live television. Another one, from Latvia: activist Marta Kraujina made the whole room go quiet by relating the story of when her organization placed shoes in a public street, to commemorate women who have lost their lives to domestic violence. A girl showed up at the end of that day, just as they were about to clean up, to contribute the shoes of her mother.

Participants of the bootcamp learned about alarming developments around disinformation and internationally coördinated groups of commenters –– but they also received the training that will help them navigate this Strange New World. “I thought I was an expert,” nonprofit consultant Seth Piper joked, after three days of workshops and talks. “But honestly, I have learned so much here. This has been like Christmas for me.” Some surprising takeaways: 1. Fundraising is not about collecting money, it’s about creating an easy way for people to get involved in your movement. 2. Influencers can be important for your cause, even if they have only a hundred followers. And 3. Sometimes the way to get people to vote is by means of a perfectly-timed Star Wars reference.

a photo of speaker Mary Hernandez at the ECDA Digital Organizing Bootcamp
Mary Hernandez | ECDA Digital Organizing Bootcamp, Prague

Digital campaign consultant Clare O’Donaghue-Velikíc and TikTok expert Mary Hernandez, meanwhile, teamed up to convince even the most skeptical, head-shaking activists in the audience of the feasibility of creating three TikTok posts a day for their respective

organizations. O’Donaghue-Velikíc and Hernandez made it clear that the platform has officially outgrown its initial stages of make-up tutorials, cat videos, and Gen Z choreography. More than half of the TikTok users in their own country (Ireland) are now above the age of thirty; digital organizers ignore this platform at their own detriment. The most important takeaway from their TikTok workshop was this: don’t try to look professional ––– aim for authenticity. Selfie-camera trumps press team.

A theme that kept coming back throughout the entire bootcamp, was touched on by ECDA Co-director Mar Garcia during her final remarks: make sure that you control your own community. Meaning: don’t just rely on existing digital spaces such as social media –– make sure you invite your community into your own digital space, build your own database and lasting relationships. In Garcia’s own words: don’t invite people to your friend’s house, invite them to your own house. Which is not to say that it isn’t important to meet people where they’re at: Ari Rabin-Havt, Bernie Sander’s deputy campaign manager, talked about the importance of doing just that –– leveraging popular culture to get people engaged in the first place. But he, too, emphasized the importance of building meaningful, real, long-term relationships with your supporters next.

a photo of a group session at the ECDA Digital Organizing Bootcamp
ECDA Digital Organizing Bootcamp, Prague

Another thing Rabin-Havt emphasized was this: the far-right doesn’t see the Atlantic Ocean as a barrier –– and neither should progressives, if you’d ask him. “We are all fighting the same fights,” he said, trying to impress on his audience the need for international cooperation on the left. Hearing the similarities in the stories shared by bootcamp participants from all over Europe, Rabin-Havt’s words seemed to ring true in Prague. The participants of this bootcamp traveled to Czechia from different countries, all with their own political climates, histories, and specific complexities, but the fights they fight are ultimately about protecting the same set of values –– and the challenges they face in 2024 are borne out of the same disoriënting, global, digital world.

Would you like to find out how digital organizing can transform your organization? Get in touch:


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