Part of a Bigger Picture - HeadCount

On Friday, I had the chance to contribute to the IMPACT: Conference on Service, Advocacy, and Social Action (www.changingthepresent.org/campusconference2008). The conference, held at Northeastern University, was supported by many great sponsors and a worthy planning committee. The IMPACT conference was a mainstay of activism for 24 years, and when it looked like sponsorship was about to dry up in 2007, groups from many different campuses and organizations took action to make sure the legacy of the conference would live on. The event is, at its core, a truly community-driven achievement.

With over 800 registered attendees, the IMPACT Conference is historically the largest convening in the country of campus community members involved in service, activism, politics, advocacy, and other socially responsible work across philosophical and ideological lines.

It was not only very humbling and inspirational to be among all these socially mindful folks, many of whom were there during their college spring break, but very constructive as well.

Sitting on my panel were: moderator Karlo Marcelo- CIRCLE (www.CivicYouth.org) research associate and HeadCount Advisory Board member, Maya Enista- CEO of Mobilize.org, and Mike Connery- editor of FutureMajority.com, author of the book YOUTH TO POWER, and himself a HeadCount Advisory Board member.

Now, much like this blog post, this was essentially my first time presenting in a forum. Not only that, but the conference participants had PAID to be a part of this. I certainly did not want to let them down, and at the same time wanted to make sure I was doing right by HeadCount and myself. I knew I had a lot to contribute, but would I be able to do so effectively?

Over the week leading up to the conference, I poked around with HeadCounters who had done this type of thing before, bothered Karlo for info and tips (thanks dude), and, in general, agonized over this little block of 3 hours I had coming up.

Karlo, Maya, Mike, and I had the pleasure of contributing to the Get Out the Vote (GOTV) forum. Participants had a variety of choices during the "Friday Forums" portion of the conference, and I was in awe at how many fellow young people found the GOTV forum to be the one for them.

Eventually, participants would break into groups to discuss different obstacles and strategies of their potential GOTV campaign. Some gathered to discuss GOTV campaigns exclusively on campuses. That was their interest. Other groups focused on GOTV campaigns for often ignored groups of voters, and another group discussed national or state-based GOTV campaigns.

First though, the panelists tried to put a bit of perspective on GOTV campaigns in general. We tried to impart our experiences from the field, and as organizers, so that the conference attendees could come up with the best campaign possible without having to tackle many of the obstacles we already have.

Then, when the participants broke into their focus groups, the four panelists would rotate through the different groups- offering advice or answering questions that came up during group discussion. Afterward, groups had the chance to share their ideas with the rest of the forum and we were able to do a bit of brainstorming as well as a Q&A with the panelists.

Once we had broken into the groups, the pressure of sitting in the front of the room was over. It was amazing how many issues and questions raised by the groups have been dealt with by HeadCount in the past. I was happy to be able to share some suggestions and otherwise learn from them!

Some ideas can't help but stick with you after something like that. Key ideas that many GOTV groups are faced with include knowing the community you want to target, mutual recognition within that community, incentives for volunteers, and networking through your community and beyond. The enthusiasm of the participants was second-to-none. The lively rate at which all of our ideas were shared, and at which email addresses were exchanged, was uplifting.

In addition to being on-the-look-out for other people like them who can contribute unique talents or services, as non-profits or small do-it-yourself campaigns, the common theme of course, is making the most of what you have and what is already available to you.

I hope to address these different ideas in future posts. For now, I will leave you with my impression of the conference and the perspective it gave to me.

Between now and then, I ask that you reflect on these concepts and make as many comments as you like about them, or any other ideas, here on the blog. After all, discussion is the catalyst that leads us to the answers we need. Others have "been there, done that" (a concept which came full circle for me after drawing on HeadCounters for general "panel" advice and parlaying that into advice for the conference attendees).

And while we always hope to explore new ground and come up with new & better solutions, there is no end to what we can learn from others. This became evident to me as I began to feel comfortable in front of the room, and at the conference as a whole- as a part of a bigger picture.