A new kind of digital campaigning

Blog Post

It’s been a little over a month since college campuses across the country began closing to limit the spread of COVID-19. With all the challenges we’re facing these days, students’ enduring commitment to social change gives me hope.

Here’s how the Student PIRGs have made the transition to a fully digital organizing and training model, with some of our results, best practices, and highlights from a month after beginning social distancing to help flatten the curve.

Virtual actions by student leadersIn the face of the crisis, our students decided to focus on three major efforts: protecting public health by expanding the nation’s capacity for testing, slowing the spread by launching the #PledgeToStayHome social media campaign, and helping campus communities affected by the crisis by sharing resources for students as well as receiving donations for local response efforts.

This spring, 27 organizers and hundreds of students are stepping up to get involved and help their communities in more ways than ever.

  • We’re still running more than 100 campaigns, but were able to shift much of our energy to our coronavirus response project, which has seen 1,500 students take action, generated 26 printed letters to the editor, and 75 student leaders signing on to our call for more testing.
  • Combined, students activated their peers to generate more than 3,800 grassroots actions on all of our campaigns over the last month.

And we’re focused on doing deeper organizing of the students we’re working with. Even though the landscape has completely changed, our core model and mission still work if we successfully translate it to a virtual world. We’ve tried close to 100 discrete experiments, some large but most small, to update our model.

In the end, while we have fallen short on some of the more obvious tactics (field actions, in-person mass recruitment, etc.) we found that we can still inspire and motivate our student base to not only take action as volunteers but also commit to deeper involvement as interns, as coordinators, and as campaign leaders. The most exciting part of this is that we now will use the results from our tests to augment and build upon our tried and true organizing model going forward. Here are some numbers that show that.

  • 160 students coordinated an event or campaign action over the last month vs. 101 last year (a 58% increase).
  • We’ve hired 149 interns vs. just 33 last year (a 351% increase).
    Student volunteers talked to 1,292 of their peers over the phone vs. 1,084 last year.
  • 939 students attended campus chapter leadership meetings over the last month vs. 899 last year.
  • We’re still adjusting our recruitment model to figure out the best ways to recruit new students virtually. We’ve had 730 student volunteers in the past 30 days vs. 919 last year.

I couldn’t be more proud of how resilient and amazing our student leaders and staff are in the wake of this crisis. We’ll keep you posted with updates about our work and plans moving forward. In the meantime, I hope you and your loved ones are staying safe.

Dan Xie
Political Director
Student PIRGs

We know we are entering uncharted waters as our communities transition to remote classes and take measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But we also know our generation has the energy and innovation to keep up the work for a better world. We may be inside, but we’re #InsideTogether. Learn more about our work to ensure that our government has a coordinated, strategic response to safeguard the public’s health, protect consumers from emerging dangers and ensure people can still participate fully in our democracy.