In 2020, Americans collectively witnessed the power of relational organizing. Organizers practiced relational organizing long before this critical year, but this tactic was the linchpin in successful organizing operations for Democratic candidates and progressive movements in the past year.
There are studies on the efficacy of relational organizing, but what better way to understand its value than to look at successful efforts? Here are five impressive examples of relational organizing from 2020:
In one of the most pivotal and awe-inspiring examples of relational organizing in 2020, Georgia delivered a Democratic win in both the presidential and Senate elections. For years, organizations like the New Georgia Project invested in relational organizing by focusing on building relationships and power within their own communities. These efforts made a monumental difference in voter registration: the number of Black registered voters increased by about 130,000 from 2016 to 2020. During the 2020 presidential election, Georgia delivered a Democratic win for the first time in nearly 30 years. A few months later, Georgian voters mobilized again to successfully elect two Democratic Senators in the highly competitive runoff elections.
In the summer of 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement made national headlines as public outrage came to a head over the senseless murder of Black individuals like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many more. Black Lives Matter activists had been organizing for years, but their established relational organizing programs allowed organizers to mobilize quickly in 2020. Particularly after the death of George Floyd, supporters rapidly started both online and offline conversations with those in their personal network about the reality of racialized violence in America. This resulted in millions of people protesting worldwide in a powerful show of solidarity.
In one of the most exciting examples of relational organizing, Mauree Turner became the first elected Muslim and nonbinary representative in the Oklahoma Legislature. To combat the challenges of campaigning during the COVID-19 pandemic, Turner’s campaign leveraged relational organizing via friend-to-friend texting. Efforts to meet people where they are paid off — Turner won their primary by 250 votes and the general election with 71% of votes.
Gen Z made a splash during the 2020 elections by flexing the power of relational organizing. In one impressive feat of mobilization, young Markey supporters helped deliver a win for Senator Ed Markey during the Democratic primary for Massachusetts Senate seat by texting and calling their friends. They also took social media by storm, sharing posts and memes with friends and their social feed. This generation of socially savvy voters effectively increased support for the incumbent, and the results revealed a victory for Senator Markey over Representative Joe Kennedy III.
Voter mobilization in 2020 was successful due to combined efforts by both campaigns and advocacy groups. One of the prime case studies of relational organizing as a tactic to boost voter mobilization was the campaign of Michigan Liberation, a network of individuals and organizations aiming to end the criminalization of Black families and communities of color. Michigan Liberation used various tactics like relational organizing and peer-to-peer contact to increase voter registration. Ultimately, they delivered 800,000 mail-in votes for the state primary. Their success was a prime example of the major impact of community organizing and action.
The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed the organizing tactics that campaigns and advocacy groups used, but organizers still prevailed. The 2020 election saw the highest voter turnout of the 21st century, and Americans came together to protest crucial issues like racial injustice. These examples of relational organizing are a testament to the strength of personal networks in activating change. As relational organizing becomes more widespread, organizers can expect to see even greater progress in the future.