BLOG: Organizing in the era of social distancing

Posted on 24 March, 2020

If you are wondering that people who are in the business of working directly with communities and involved in organizing communities for social justice, would have stopped working in the times of social distancing or work from home, you might be completely wrong.


ACORN Canada has been working with communities in several cities across the country for around 20 years for social and economic justice. Our members are mostly people from low and moderate income communities who are the real drivers for social change. Our organizers go into communities, knock on doors and engage people in conversations on issues that matter to them. Every year we hold about 500 meetings across our 24 chapters - turning out over 5000 people! Our local meetings are great opportunities for members to not only be part of the discussions but also lead the meetings and decide collective strategies to drive change. Many members have emerged as amazing, feisty leaders who champion the cause of thousands of vulnerable people. 


Has any of this changed in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapidly and ever changing situation? 


The answer is no and in fact, the movement continues to grow and gather strength and it must, in these challenging times when there is more need than ever before. In this blog, we present to you how quickly we adapted to the situation and how and what organizations and individuals doing similar work could do to ensure “business continuity” i.e. building power for change!


- We moved all our local power plan meetings to phone meetings. Phone banking has become a useful tool for us. Our organizers, instead of knocking physically on the doors, quickly took to the phones. We were quick to prepare a checklist on how to ensure that people continue to attend monthly meetings, share concerns and build collective strategies. To do this, we developed a checklist of DOs and DONTs! 


- Our demands or call for action evolve with the situation and the governments’ response to it. At the beginning of the crisis, we put out an online action which was pushed out with our allies, leading to more than 4000 signatures. This petition resulted in the Ontario Government issuing an order halting all evictions until further notice and also suspending enforcement of eviction orders. However, as governments at federal and provincial level respond to the ongoing crisis, it is important for us to keep revisiting our demands to ensure that those who are most vulnerable get what they need such as a Rent Break, low or no cost internet, payment freeze on high interest loans such as payday or instalment loans and much more! Click here to see our latest online action urging governments to immedietly intrdouce a Rent Break.


- We are trying our hands on a variety of softwares. We are using Zoom for our calls and trying out a telephone tree software!! We are also training members to use this software to call all our members across the country.


- As the pandemic continues to rise and things change, we are putting out regular briefs on any major announcements that governments are making so that people are sufficiently aware of them and can apply to any benefits that apply to them.


- We are also sending out emails to ensure that seniors and people who need extra care are not left behind. We have set up an ACORN Community Support Network that people can sign up for. Our organizers are ensuring that they are called back and reach all the support they need. 


- The process has been extremely enriching and fulfilling not only for our organizers but also or more so for our members and leaders. Many of our members who were not trained to use digital tools such as Zoom, are now leading these calls as they do in an in-person chapter meeting. 


- Among ACORN staff, we have moved our in person staff meetings to ZOOM Calls where people are sharing regular updates, amazing ideas of online actions and what they are hearing from communities.


Nothing of this has been simple or seamless but the key message is that organizing, in these times, has not stopped and will NOT STOP, in fact it only EVOLVES and GATHERS MORE STRENGTH! We need to be nimble in these times,  have the ability to respond to pressing issues and mobilise people so that governments do the right thing and no one is left behind. 


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