New Organizing Institute turmoil a “crushing blow” for the liberal tech establishment

February 11, 2015

The New Organizing Institute has long been a pillar of the Left’s strength in leveraging technology to target voters, but this week it’s a poster child for dysfunctional leadership. From Buzzfeed:

“The New Organizing Institute, a progressive grassroots outfit responsible for training many of the Democratic Party’s digital organizers, has to be rebuilt from the ground up after a mass exodus of senior staff and employees Tuesday.

Frustrations over fundraising and the management style of Executive Director Ethan Roeder, the former top data guru for President Obama’s presidential campaigns, led senior staffers to quit and several employees to follow them out the door after the nonprofit’s board of directors refused to fire Roeder at the staff’s request.

“It’s a potentially crushing blow for the lefty group best known for its well-attended annual RootsCamp “unconference” that has become a focal point for progressive politics.

“One source said the tumult left NOI with four full time staffers, including Roeder…”

RootsHQ is an unabashed fan of what NOI has done within progressive politics, so while it’s easy to take some partisan glee in these recent woes, the larger question about the role of organizations dedicated to teaching political operatives how to leverage data and digital is concerning.

As Buzzfeed points out:

“Former employees, partners, and progressive observers of NOI said it was well known that the institute was running out of money, in part due to a drying up of institutional donors and in part due to … a shift away from digital grassroots organizing as the “hot, new thing” in Democratic politics (emphasis added).”

One observer speculated that this could be the result of digital techniques becoming so mainstream that there’s not really a need to teach operatives online advocacy specifically. I’ve shared this view in looking at the role of digital agencies.

My question is: if digital grassroots organizing is not hot, then what is? What is the current focus of progressive activities, and will Republicans be pulled into a chase to catch up there as well, or will GOP tech chart its own course as the conservative tech world becomes ever more robust?

As much as I find NOI’s impact frustrating, I have to tip my hat to their work. They found a way to openly educate operatives and introduce new ideas to an industry that thrives on insider knowledge. I’m just grateful that their current troubles come at a perfect time in the 2016 cycle.

Maybe they’ll just sit this one out…

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