As activists are unable to organize as usual, they are using digital methods to expand their bases.

As activists are unable to organize as usual, they are using digital methods to expand their bases.

D.C., Maryland and Virginia have all issued their versions of a stay-at-home order, requiring residents to stay home except for exercise, grocery shopping or medical needs. Social distancing has halted the work of many different organizations.

But it hasn’t stopped activists from doing their work. Local groups are pivoting to online solutions, replacing rallies and protests with digital strikes and online advocacy.

What is digital activism? And how could it change the future of advocacy and social change?

Produced by Richard Cunningham


  • Nathan Moore Member, 350 DC; @Mostly_Moore
  • Catherine Plume Chair, DC Chapter of Sierra Club DC; @SierraDC
  • April Goggans Core Organizer, DC Chapter of Black Lives Matter @DMVBlackLives


  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. I'm broadcasting from home. Welcome. Later in the broadcast urban gardening experts share their tips for putting your green thumb to work. And Ultramarathoner, Mike Wardian explains how he's won his latest ultramarathon by running around his own neighborhood. But first, social distancing orders during the public health crisis have made it harder for activists groups to continue their work. Rallies, seminars and other community activity have all been canceled or postponed.

  • 12:00:36

    KOJO NNAMDIAlthough the streets are empty, activists have not stopped their work. Locally they have moved their fight online, but what does this digital activism look like and could it be the future of advocacy in the region? Joining me now is April Goggans, the Core Organizer of the D.C. Chapter of Black Lives Matter. April Goggans, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:55

    APRIL GOGGANSHi, thanks for having me.

  • 12:00:57

    NNAMDITell us what exactly in your view is digital organizing?

  • 12:01:02

    GOGGANSI think digital organizing now and before COVID was really just a tool of organizing that was done specifically online both to reach a higher number of people, but also to vary the ways in which we share information and connect to each other. I think, yeah.

  • 12:01:22

    NNAMDITell us a little bit about what Black Lives Matter D.C. does.

  • 12:01:28

    GOGGANSRight. So we do rapid response to both intercommunity violence and police violence. We do "Know Your Rights" trainings. We do advocacy work around mass incarceration and decarceration. And we have a cop watch. So -- yeah. Go ahead.

  • 12:01:49

    NNAMDIAll of those things seem to require having people on hand. So when the pandemic hit, did you have any public events planned?

  • 12:01:57

    GOGGANSOh, yeah. Well, we were definitely getting ready to kick off our cop watch in person every week. We just finished training and everything. And usually supporting families after a loss or violence, of course, it takes a lot of like relationship building in person. So, yeah, we definitely have to become creative.

  • 12:02:18

    NNAMDIExplain for us a little bit before the pandemic how did the cop watch work? How was it supposed to work?

  • 12:02:24

    GOGGANSRight. So we would, we had three main target areas that we would be going to and actually walking the streets, communicating with people, sharing information about what people's rights are and at the same time filming the police ensuring that folks' rights were protected. And if they weren't recording those and then connecting with folks after arrest as well as jail support once they had -- if they were kept overnight or if they had hearings in the future.

  • 12:02:55

    NNAMDISo now, how do you have find different ways to do that?

  • 12:02:59

    GOGGANSRight. So a lot of it is strengthening the ways that we communicate with folks and making sure that we are very diligent in getting the information about how people can contact us and specifically how they can plug into the things that we're doing now or to continue plugging into the things they were before. And so actually a lot more communication, because it's really important that right now people are also dealing with a lot more than before just in their personal lives. So a lot of it is -- and even different kind of relationship building that comes from constantly checking in on folks.

  • 12:03:36

    NNAMDISo basically what methods are you using, April Goggans, now to get the message out, what platforms?

  • 12:03:42

    GOGGANSRight. So we're doing a lot of online meetings, which have -- we learned a lot about security and how to keep those secure and helpful.

  • 12:03:53

    NNAMDIYeah, you've probably learned a lot about zoom bombing.

  • 12:03:54

    GOGGANSOh, yes. Absolutely. And kind have tried to move off of that platform. But a lot of it is infusing different ways. I mean, we could all look at the internet and watch screens all day, but really funny different ways to make things interactive. So there's a little bit of political education that we can do with slides and videos. And then, you know, you could still do break out groups using some of these platforms. And so--and it also means finding and connecting with people via phone and then connecting either your bases, your membership list together. Things that you would normally do like networking in person and different events or meetings and really trying different ways to double up our messages with other folks that are doing some of the same work.

  • 12:04:38

    NNAMDINow, it's one to be talking about doing things with other people who are doing the same kind of work, but your work is invariably based in community. So what has your community involvement looked like since the switch to digital organizing?

  • 12:04:54

    GOGGANSRight. So one of the things especially through our D.C. Mutual Aid Network is creating pods. And so we're trying to encourage as many people as possible to create a pod on their blog. And so essentially that's like, you know, a block captain. People have been doing, you know, for a long time. So that we can connect to the people that we live closest to, and then hopefully block by block folks will stay connected. There's a citywide way to do that.

  • 12:05:20

    GOGGANSAnd so that starts at the lowest level as neighborhoods and communities talking about these issues and how to get plugged in. But also checking up on each other and making sure that they're okay. And then once a week there is a national -- I mean, sorry, a citywide call where everybody in all the wards talks about the work that they're doing and how to get plugged in. So it really looks like smaller groups that we get together. We have lots of different chat groups with different groups of people that we just check in with, talk about the issues with on a very personal basis.

  • 12:05:54

    NNAMDISo let's say, for instance, you have a block captain and there is an incident with the police that happens on that particular block where we know that crowds can't gather. But can one individual on that block, say the block captain, go out and actually do a cop watch, while maintaining a safe social distance from the police and whatever is taking place.

  • 12:06:17

    GOGGANSRight. And I think that's always up to the individual discretion. We do -- I personally do, because I know that that doesn't stop. And I've seen at least four or five incidents since the stay away order. The other really important thing is that Metro and Transit Police none of them have PPE on for the most part. And so there's also the risk of increased policing activity that is enforcing the stay-at-home orders then also comes in term with the possibility of infecting more people, because there is not PPE happening. So our cop watch is both, you know, looking at constitutional rights, but also looking at the health and safety of folks in our neighborhood.

  • 12:07:00

    NNAMDIApril Goggans is the Core Organizer of the D.C. Chapter of Black Lives Matter. Joining us now is Catherine Plume, Chair of the D.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club. Catherine Plume, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:07:12

    CATHERINE PLUMEThank you for inviting me.

  • 12:07:14

    NNAMDIAnd Nathan Moore is a Member of 350 D.C. Nathan Moore, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:07:20

    NATHAN MOOREThank you for having me.

  • 12:07:21

    NNAMDIFirst, Nathan, exactly what is 350 D.C.?

  • 12:07:25

    MOORE350 D.C. is a local group of a larger national organization, but we ourselves mostly operate as our own thing. We mostly focus on climate change and preventing the climate catastrophe whether that be through advocacy, actions or supporting other campaigns.

  • 12:07:43

    NNAMDICatherine, April is usually a big month for environmental advocacy groups. What local Earth Day and other events that were canceled due to the pandemic?

  • 12:07:53

    PLUMEWell, obviously a lot of gatherings have been canceled and the Sierra Club joins in with a lot of other organizations doing cleanups around D.C. around the rivers. And that's not going to happen. We're encouraging our members to clean up in their own neighborhoods, keeping a safe distance. But we're also having an online happy hour on Earth Day. And, you know, we've had a couple of our forums online. And, you know, there've been some benefits to that. And it's gone better than we would have thought.

  • 12:08:33

    NNAMDISame question to you, Nathan.

  • 12:08:37

    MOOREYeah. So there are quite a few things going on around the city through various local groups that we are going to help with. There are marches, gatherings and a lot of that stuff had to be either be moved online or canceled entirely for safety reasons, of course. Yeah.

  • 12:08:58

    NNAMDICatherine, environmental advocacy groups have had a long and strong presence online and on social media, but has the pandemic cost you to do anything differently online?

  • 12:09:09

    PLUMEAbsolutely. We have four committees, very vibrant committees with our D.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club focusing on smart growth, clean energy, zero waste and clean water. We usually have those meetings in person at the Sierra Club offices here in D.C., but we've moved those online. And, you know, we thought it was a bit of a switch for us, because we enjoy those in person meetings. But we've also found that we've been able to get even broader participation, because it's easier for people to tune in online versus going down to the offices. So there have been some benefits to this as well. And I can imagine that post pandemic we may continue to have these -- well, we'll get together again in person. But we may continue this online presence as well.

  • 12:10:03

    NNAMDIAre you suggesting that you've found that the online presence can sometimes be more effective than actually trying to bring people together in person?

  • 12:10:12

    PLUMENot necessarily, but I feel that you can reach out to -- you can have a broader participation, because not everybody has the time to go down to the meeting after work. They might have time to tune into an online meeting when they get home. So it can work both ways.

  • 12:10:32

    NNAMDINathan Moore, what methods are D.C.'s 350 Chapter now using to get your message out?

  • 12:10:41

    MOOREWell, it's mostly the same story. Again, we had a bunch of canceled things, town halls for our local endorsed people for D.C.'s City Council. So we've had to switch a lot more to online. For instance, we just had a few town halls with Janeese Lewis George. And while we're not unfamiliar with these types of events doing them online, we did see an increased amount of people, because like they said more people are able to join online whether they had disabilities and couldn't travel around D.C. make it to a meeting. We also have been able to do more engagement with people, because a lot of these platforms do have these breakout groups. More people are able to be heard, because they can make it and overall there's more engagement.

  • 12:11:37

    NNAMDIYou mentioned Janeese Lewis. She is running in Ward 4 to oust the incumbent Councilmember Brandon Todd. We're going to have to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation about how activism and I suspect a lot of political campaigns are going online. But what are the online and digital advocacy campaigns that you're following? Tell us about them. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:20

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with urban gardening experts sharing their tips for putting your green thumb to work. And we'll also be talking with Ultramarathoner Mike Wardian about how he won his latest ultramarathon by running around his own neighborhood. Right now we're talking about activists who have transitioned to doing their activism online. We're talking with Nathan Moore, a Member of 350 D.C. Catherine Plume is the Chair of the D.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club. And April Goggans is the Core Organizer of the D.C. Chapter of Black Lives Matter. April, what are the issues that you're focusing on right now through your digital advocacy?

  • 12:12:55

    GOGGANSRight. And I'm one of four co-organizers, but when I think the biggest, there's two really big things that we're doing. The first is with no new jails D.C., decarcerate D.C. campaign, which right now we're working on getting folks at D.C. jail released. We've been part of the big push to address needs at Hope Village and Fairview and then helping to create like a mutual aid type effort for folks when they do get out.

  • 12:13:27

    GOGGANSAnd the second thing is that the D.C. Mutual Aid Network, in which it's all over the city and every ward where we've got people helping people. And the difference between mutual aid and charity is we believe that charity -- well, this is solidarity instead of charity, right? That we believe that once the community has everything that it needs, we all have everything that we need. But if anybody in our community is lacking anything then that means the community is lacking.

  • 12:13:55

    GOGGANSSo we're really saying like this is a time in which we have to understand that we are all interconnected and that it's going to be us who keeps us safe and that hopefully that all of these will continue far beyond this pandemic and really shift the way that we are in relationship with one another from community to community.

  • 12:14:17

    NNAMDIHere now is Hope in Chestertown, Maryland. Hope you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:14:22

    HOPEHi. Thanks. This is a wonderful conversation. I'm the group leader for Citizens Lobby Chestertown and we're having online meetings for the whole MDON District, which we didn't do before this particular situation where we're all at home. And Citizens Climate Lobby is also doing a virtual earth day with atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe. So people can link in virtually on Saturday April 25th to listen to her. She's an amazing speaker and is a professor in political science in Texas Tech University and is also an Evangelist.

  • 12:15:03


  • 12:15:06

    HOPESo we're working here on the eastern shore, but also nationally to advocate for a price on carbon, which may be a big step we can take before all the little steps we need to take.

  • 12:15:20

    NNAMDIOkay. Well, thank you very much for sharing that with us. Nathan Moore, both the 350 organization and the Sierra Club will be taking part in digital strikes for Earth Day weekend. Earth Day itself is April 22, but can you explain what a digital strike is and when it will be taking place?

  • 12:15:41

    MOOREYeah, so a digital strike means different things for different people and organizations. For some it can be just staying home -- well, we should be staying home. This can be not participating in your stay-at-home classes or stay-at-home jobs. We also encourage people to like take pictures holding up signs and so you can put it in collage. And while this may not be as big as people gathering in the streets. It does help keep that spirit and morale up, which can be very useful for a lot of people.

  • 12:16:10

    NNAMDICatherine Plume, what about the Sierra Club? What do you have planned for Earth Day weekend?

  • 12:16:15

    PLUMEWell, like I mentioned we're having our Earth Day happy hour on April 22. We'll have a WAMU personality join us for that. And we're looking to -- you know, there's some good things that are coming out of these bad times. You know, I know that they're incredibly difficult for a lot of businesses for a lot of individuals. But there's also some good things happening for the environment here. And so we hope that we can talk about some of that and find this balance. You know, pollution levels are down, emissions are down. There are some good things happening. And so we hope that people can kind of talk about those. And think about how -- when this is over how can we come back into a new normal that is perhaps more environmentally friendly for all us.

  • 12:17:15

    NNAMDIHere's Stephanie in Washington D.C. Stephanie, your turn.

  • 12:17:19

    STEPHANIEGreat. Thank you, Kojo. And I really appreciate this show. It's so important right now. I think people are really trying to figure out how to get to some sort of new normal in advocacy. And I was wondering, so we help schedule meetings with advocates and their elected officials. And a lot of those events have been canceled as we all know. So we switched to conference calls. And I was intrigued by the comment that, you know, there's been people more willing to participate, which is what we've found so far. And so I was wondering if your panelists could talk about two questions. One is what do you think about sort of simple conference calls as opposed to online meetings? And perhaps even more important, do you see any hybrid approaches in the future? For example, you know, doing in person meetings, but then also supplementing that with people online.

  • 12:18:07

    NNAMDII'll start with you, April Goggans.

  • 12:18:09

    GOGGANSYeah. Absolutely. I think there are two things. One is as principles in our chapter we always believe that every time we have a meeting we have -- we usually have food. So that's a little different. But we also have interpretation, ESL interpretation. And so one of those things as people are getting to see in our meetings that we will always have someone who does interpretation. So even though it doesn't necessarily change the way -- I mean, I don't know that I knew that we could do it on Zoom before. But it also changes the culture of things that we're doing.

  • 12:18:42

    GOGGANSI do think that with folks who can't come out doing both online and the streaming as well as having people together is really important. I also think this is also highlighting the fact that we need to continually remember that not everybody is online. And so that's we keep talking about building relationships and different ways that we still have to talk to people. Not everybody is online. Not everybody has Zoom. Not everybody is going to learn how to do Zoom.

  • 12:19:10

    GOGGANSSo how do we still connect with people, who are just as important to every conversation that we have who are not online at this time. It's actually a very serious, but also important conversation to be having as well.

  • 12:19:27

    NNAMDISame question to you, Catherine Plume. Do you think this is actually increasing advocate engagement? That's what Stephanie wanted to know. Yes.

  • 12:19:38

    PLUMEYes. Yeah, no. I absolutely agree with April. I mean, there -- and I think that going forward we will look for these hybrid approaches. What I really like about technology now is having that face to face interaction. We just finished our political endorsement event for the upcoming primary on June 2. And it was really interesting, because we were interviewing different candidates. But instead of meeting them face to face in our office we were meeting them virtually. And Councilmember Trayon White was out delivering food in his Ward talking to people while he was doing our interview. You know, Councilmember Robert White's daughter crawled up in his lap at one point. You know, seeing people in their space just brings some more humanity to it all. And it's been a really interesting experiment that we never thought we'd be having.

  • 12:20:41

    NNAMDINathan Moore, same question to you. Do you see this as increasing advocate engagement?

  • 12:20:47

    MOOREYeah, definitely. We've seen more people hop onto our online meetings than our in person meetings as well as re-engagement from older members who haven't come in for a while. Shutdown D.C., a separate organization that 350 often works with has been throwing around having online components to the fiscal meetings even before the pandemic, because it's important that people who may have disabilities, who can't always travel, can't afford to ride the Metro or just don't have the time to get across D.C. to the in person meetings can still have their voice heard.

  • 12:21:24

    MOOREAnd especially right now, while all this craziness is going on, people are rightfully upset. They don't know what to do. They want to get involved in these online meetings, town halls, phone banking, whatever we can provide is a big morale buster, and it also helps people use their voice and will power, and just like anything they have to like push a more positive outcome like direct themselves into what they want to do to improve their lives and hopefully make a better future.

  • 12:22:02

    NNAMDINathan Moore is a Member of 350 D.C. Nathan Moore, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:22:06

    MOOREThank you. Thank you for having me.

  • 12:22:08

    NNAMDICatherine Plume is Chair of the D.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club. Catherine Plume, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:22:13

    PLUMEThank you so much, Kojo.

  • 12:22:15

    NNAMDIAnd April Goggans is the Core Organizer of the D.C. Chapter of Black Lives Matter. April Goggans, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:22:22

    GOGGANSThank you. Appreciate it.

  • 12:22:23

    NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, urban gardening experts share their tips for putting your green thumb to work. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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