How to get involved in an activist organization and become a valuable volunteer — starting today

© Courtesy of Aaron Taube   Aaron Taube (left) with other volunteers in 2018 getting ready to canvass for then candidate for Congress Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and former city council candidate and current state senate candidate Jabari Brisport (right). Courtesy of Aaron Taube

By Laura Casado, Business Insider

  • As protests against police brutality continue across the United States, protesters and activists may be considering joining an political organization.
  • Aaron Taube is a freelance marketing writer who joined the Democratic Socialists of America after the 2016 presidential election, and has since worked on electoral campaigns supporting Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders.
  • If you want to get involved in political activism, Taube says to start by going to local meetings, find an issue that you are passionate about, and be open to helping in any way that is needed.
  • Even if you don't have political experience or can only volunteer a few hours a week, Taube says that new volunteers are always welcome and make a big difference.
  • Editor's note: Aaron Taube worked as a reporter at Business Insider from August 2013 to January 2015.

Movements have erupted throughout the US protesting the police brutality and racial profiling that has led to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and innumerable other black Americans. As protesters flock to vigils and marches, many are trying to find ways to become more actively involved in political movements, and work to make real change.

© Courtesy of Aaron Taube   Aaron Taube. Courtesy of Aaron Taube

The day after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, Aaron Taube knew that he wanted and needed to be involved in activism. Taube says he'd become "more of a lefty over time" and although he donated money to Bernie Sanders' primary campaign, he never took the next step to join an activist group.

"It just felt like a very scary time when Trump was elected because, it was like, wow, everything is going to hell. We are sliding into fascism, and the democratic establishment and the system of capitalism as a whole is not really prepared to protect us from that," Taube told Business Insider.

Since joining, he's worked on campaigns for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, and is currently working as the field director for Zohran Mamdani's campaign for New York state assembly.

Here's his advice for how to get started,

Go to local meetings

Taube signed up for several local groups in his neighborhood in Queens, New York. But after going to a few meetings, he was struggling to find a place that felt right. He heard about the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) through friends on Twitter, and the group piqued his interest.

"I just showed up to a meeting, and was excited to see so many other people who also wanted to make a change. There was a good mix of people who were totally new to politics, and then others who were already doing the work.

"I was interested in getting involved with tenant organizing and labor organizing, and organizing around issue-based campaigns. I started asking people what I could do, and found the electoral working group of the DSA where I was a good fit — and wound up doing electoral work."

At the DSA, Taube said, there are small factions called "working groups" that connect members who are called to certain issues — everything from housing, racial justice, eco-socialism, debt and finance to anti-war advocacy.

"To me, one of the exciting things about the DSA is that it's a lot of different people working on a lot of different projects who all support each other, and work to attack the same problems from different angles," Taube said. "We have people who are in the streets right now, protesting against police brutality and systemic racism. And we also support elected officials that have built power through the ballot box, like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and state Senator Julia Salazar."

When you find the right fit, introduce yourself to leadership and other volunteers

"Once you show up to a meeting or a protest, you will find other people who can help plug you in. Going to the first meeting is the hardest because you're going alone and it's scary.

"As someone who struggles with social anxiety, I would make it a challenge to introduce myself to one new person at each meeting," Taube said, which helped him get to know other volunteers more personally.

© Courtesy of Aaron Taube   The author (second from right) marching with fellow volunteers near Union Square in Manhattan on May Day, 2018. Courtesy of Aaron Taube

Be humble about how you can help

"If you're getting involved in politics for the first time, it's important to just ask people how you can help," Taube said. "I first went in with a certain idea of what I wanted to do, thinking 'I have a background as a writer and a journalist, I'll help research and do communications ... ' but ultimately, you need to work where you're needed."

During Alexandria Ocasio Cortez's campaign for Congress in 2018, Taube was one of several DSA members who helped run the then-candidate's canvassing and door knocking operations.

"I had only ever knocked doors a couple of other times, and it was not natural to me at all," Taube said. "But I knew that it was what needed to be done on our team, so I helped do it."

For others interested in electoral work and campaigning for political candidates, Taube says it's important to be open-minded and helpful about what is needed. "A lot of times people come in and say, 'I want to do this, this, and this' or 'I'm a social media expert, etc.' That's great, but the response will often be, 'Could you please knock doors?'"

Know that every volunteer is valuable

Even if you only have a limited amount of time after work or on weekends to organize, Taube says new volunteers are always welcome.

"If you're someone who has only three hours a week that you can spend phone banking, or going to a COVID-19 response strategy meeting, or be in the streets protesting, that's great," Taube said. "If you're just getting your feet wet, it's great to spend a little time doing everything. There's so much work to be done; there will never be a moment when you'd be turned away if you go up to an organizer and say, 'Hey, I have a couple hours this week to help out. Is there anything I can do?'"

If you want to be committed long-term, Taube also advises being intentional about where to invest your time and energy.

"Look for the groups that respect your time, meetings that have an agenda, and leaders who plan actions and next steps."

© Courtesy of Aaron Taube   Taube (front row, second from left) canvassing for Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire in winter 2020 with Zephyr Teachout. Courtesy of Aaron Taube

If you can, make the long-term commitment

"One of the big challenges of electoral politics is that you get all these people together, they work on a campaign that either wins or loses, and then everybody just scatters to the wind.

"When people first get involved in any sort of political engagement, I would encourage them to find an organization that fits with them, and commit to being in that organization, rather supporting a solitary campaign," Taube said.

This way, Taube says, organizations are able to achieve much more because they build up internal infrastructure and institutional expertise that can be transferred to the next campaign. "When we at DSA come back after losing a campaign by 55 votes, like we did in Tiffany Cabán's campaign for Queens County's District Attorney, we can all get together in a room and say, 'What did we learn? What did we do wrong?'"

Commit to life-long learning

For non-black people who want to participate and lend their privilege and allyship to protests happening around the country, Taube says it's key to "take the lead from black people who are leading the protest. Make sure you're not going out on a limb and causing harm or violence to a movement that does not center around you."

Taube said that it's important to continually learn from black leaders and brown organizers — like in DSA's Socialist and Feminist Working Group, which has "reading groups led by women of color, links issues of racism to the patriarchy to capitalism, and teaches how these systems relate to one another."

It's also key to continually read and educate yourself about the issues you advocate for, Taube says. He recommends 'The New Jim Crow," "Before The Storm," "The ABCs of Socialism," and "Socialism... Seriously."

One thing Taube loves about political organizing is the feeling that others are with you in wanting to make a difference.

"Our DSA members are out in the streets protesting. We're also producing political education all over the internet to explain and highlight the sort of violence the police are committing in the streets.

"We're also doing mutual aid work during COVID-19, raising money to help people meet their material needs," Taube said. "If the state fails to provide what's needed, we can take care of each other and keep each other safe."

See more at: Business Insider


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Bloom Magazine: How to get involved in an activist organization and become a valuable volunteer — starting today
How to get involved in an activist organization and become a valuable volunteer — starting today
Bloom Magazine
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