Using Facebook to Give a Voice to the People
by Jessica Ellison Thomas & Chantal Chandler, @ActionMetroEast

Numerous articles of late have focused on the urgent need to promote civic engagement in an effort to, as alarmist as it may sound, save democracy.  At the same time, activist fatigue is on the rise.  As one news event after another steals the spotlight, those who are trying to stay educated and motivated are finding more reasons to drop out than lean in.  Social media is certainly one tool we can use to support motivation, but one-way messaging can never build true engagement on its own.  Volunteers (and voters) expect opportunities to make meaningful contributions and they really want, and perhaps now need, some of those opportunities to come easily.

As organizing members of our grassroots organization, Action Metro East (AME), we have been committed to finding more ways to capture and channel the energy within our membership. Most importantly, we want to ensure that we move people to the polls.  Creating an opportunity which supported meaningful contribution, inspired information seeking, and gave membership power over which candidates our organization would support sounded a lot like a caucus, so we launched one of own – and we made it digital.

AME’s digital caucus launched during a meet and greet event to which all candidates in consideration for endorsement had the opportunity to meet our members and garner support.  Bringing candidates and membership together built the engagement needed to keep our three-day online event thriving, and it was the first step in giving our membership a direct line of communication with candidates. Invitations to the private Facebook event which housed the caucus were sent to all members during the meet and greet.

Within the event, caucus threads were established for each race, and both candidates and members were prompted to share their opinions and support via comments, photos, and short videos, creating another opportunity for members’ voices to be heard. These threads of conversation proved to be even more interesting than the votes themselves. AME members and candidates alike were given the opportunity to share ideas, ask questions, and challenge each other. These discussions provided tremendous insight into voters’ opinions and represented the thoughts of those engaged at varying levels of political involvement. Sharing one’s opinion on social media is a common, comfortable practice for many and caucus participants didn’t hold back.  Utilizing a digital caucus allowed AME to support two-way, transparent digital interaction. Similar practices by the party could provide an abundance of useful information while keeping it focused and contained in a single source.

Voting was accomplished using a secret ballot created in Google forms, and our membership was able to change their vote until the caucus closed.  Voters were encouraged to vote outside of their own district if they felt informed enough to do so, but also had the option to abstain from voting in any race. Caucus managers vetted votes to confirm AME membership, removed duplicate ballots and ensured final percentages accurately reflected votes cast.

As we move forward into the primary election, we are giving our AME membership a third opportunity to make their voices heard. By providing them with resources and tools, we are supporting their efforts to get out the vote and encouraging them to do so on behalf of those candidates the group endorsed. As leaders of a grassroots organization, it is imperative that we provide an outlet for our members to continue to be heard and assure them that they are shaping our democracy through their actions.

Our caucus served as the kick-off and we envisioned and we are seeing the results of that effort reflected in a groundswell of new volunteers committed to seeing record participation in the March primary.