Reflecting on Roots Camp: Activism in Motion
Marshele Bryant and Ibby Han
January 7, 2019
Members of NETWORK’s Grassroots Mobilization and Communications teams recently attended RootsCamp, an “un-conference” for organizers, political campaign workers, and progressive activists.
NETWORK wanted to highlight the work of other emerging justice-seekers in activist spheres, and asked a few community members to reflect on their Roots Camp experiences.
Marshele Bryant, Statewide Campus Organizer at Virginia Student Power Network:
This was my first time attending Roots Camp and it was unlike any conference I’ve attended before. It is billed as an “un-conference,” allowing attendees to shape and guide the agenda from start to finish. There were more structured trainings that focused on lobbying and preparing to run for office but there were many more that pitched and picked up by other folks attending the conference. The toughest part of Roots Camp was deciding which sessions to attend! It was exciting to be surrounded by so many folks doing similar work but it was also a relief. There were sessions that catered to specific issues organizers face within the progressive sphere as well as strategy sessions for battling some of the biggest external challenges we as progressive organizers face.
One of the first sessions I attended was a frank discussion about how white supremacy and racism is a problem even in the most progressive spaces. A friend from Michigan Student Power attended a session dedicated to self-care, an important but often neglected aspect of our work. One session I attended had a few folks who worked on the Stacey Abrams campaign. Another session was led by folks from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s digital team for her campaign. It’s one thing to watch inspiring candidates build progressive, grassroots campaigns that eventually capture national attention. It’s another to meet and engage with the folks who built and sustained those campaigns. Whether the campaigns they joined were successful or not, there was a hopeful energy that enveloped the conference.
I left Baltimore and returned to Chesapeake, Virginia with a renewed passion and pride for the work the Virginia Student Power Network has done and continues to do. Meeting with people who worked on some of the biggest campaigns of the election cycle caused me to reflect on what VSPN has achieved. With a staff of two people, we managed a cohort of 25 Vote Fellows who registered over 780 Virginians to vote and engaged thousands more in GOTV efforts. We realized the importance of integrating electoral work with the issue-based organizing that has driven our organization since its inception. And I can only look forward to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in 2019.
Ibby Han, Statewide Campus Organizer at Virginia Student Power Network:
This was my first time attending RootsCamp! Everywhere I went, I ran into a friend from a different corner of the movement world. It was a mingling of over 1,000 folks from political campaigns, grassroots organizing, and the tech world. The first session I attended was an open conversation on how white progressives tend to replicate systems of oppression in their organizations and campaigns. We had a great discussion centered on lived experiences and frustration felt by people of color working in majority white progressive spaces. The weekend offered many other opportunities: I hosted my own workshop, attended talks by Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar and Deepa Iyer, and built relationships with other AAPI organizers from across the country.
As a part of the Student Power Networks crew, we came with a unique perspective. Not only were we some of the youngest people there, we also shared our experimental model of youth-led year-round organizing that integrates electoral work, issue-based grassroots organizing, and policy work, all on a statewide level. RootsCamp was a great place to connect and reconnect across many movements and strategies.
As the 116th Congress kicks off, Roots Camp was the perfect place to channel progressives’ excitement and plan out strategies for the future, especially with regard to dismantling systemic racism and white supremacy in political and organizing spheres. We have hope for this new session of Congress, especially with so many Roots Camp activists leading the charge nationwide.