Transitioning to virtual activism: tips for effective and engaging online meetings

By: Sara Goldschmidt, Youth & Student Program Manager, AIUSA

In the era of COVID-19, so many aspects of our lives are going virtual. Nationwide, schools have moved to online teaching and learning, we’re socializing with video-based knitting clubs and birthday celebrations, and entertaining ourselves by touring national parks online and listening to concerts via live stream. Our human rights activism is evolving as well, as we figure out how to continue to take action as a grassroots human rights movement in the time of social distancing.

Amnesty International USA has over 600 chapters across the country. Local and student groups meet regularly to plan, strategize, and organize for human rights. They educate their communities about human rights abuses, advocate for systemic policy change, and carry out actions and events to protect and defend human rights. To protect our communities and “flatten the curve,” we all must practice social distancing in the physical sense — but this doesn’t mean we can’t keep organizing!

In the first of our series on Organizing for human rights in a global pandemic, we provided tips for getting started. These include practicing self care, engaging in community care, and exploring creative organizing initiatives that don’t involve being together in person. To plan these initiatives, the first step is to establish online meetings that bring your group together. Here are some tips for running effective and engaging online meetings.

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1. Determine how you will communicate as a group.

None of us were expecting a global pandemic to interrupt our school year, employment, and Amnesty meetings, so our groups may not yet have the technology needed to communicate virtually. Depending on the size and technological preferences for your groups, set up an email list, Facebook group, WhatsApp group, group text, Slack channel, text tree, or other platform for getting reconnected now that you aren’t having regular meetings. Ask members of your group to help by adding names, emails and phone numbers into a shared document.

2. Check in to see how members of your group are doing.

Many people are facing a lot of uncertainty right now, and may not have time, headspace, or emotional capacity to continue their activism right now, and many others are eager to get back to activism work. Check in with members of your group to see how they’re doing. They may need a couple weeks off and be ready again soon, or may be sitting at home bored and eager to help you set up your virtual meetings.

3. Set up a virtual meeting to connect with your group.

Now that you have folks’ contact information and know how your team is doing, set up a time to gather! Your standard meeting time may not work anymore, so use a scheduling tool such as Doodle or When2Meet to assess availability. Once you have a time selected, confirm the date and time with everyone. Make a note to send reminders ahead of the meeting.

We recommend using Zoom for online meetings. The free version is easily accessible and allows for 40-minute meetings. If you’re an AIUSA member, request a Zoom line to use for your group. There are also phone-in options for those that can’t join by computer (although they won’t be able to see anything shared during the call, so video is ideal).

4. Get ready for your meeting!

Preparing for a virtual meeting is a lot like having an in person meeting: you should have an agenda and purpose for the meeting, share facilitation so that the same person isn’t speaking all the time, welcome new people so they feel included, and support active engagement from all group members. However, working behind a video camera has its limitations, and there are strategies you’ll want to employ to engage to create opportunities for everyone to engage throughout the call.

AIUSA’s Youth Collective has tips on working as a virtual team, which is how 99% of their work is carried out. As a fully remote 12-person team, they hold bi-monthly video calls to stay connected and on track, using a slide deck to keep people focused and facilitate collaboration. It works as an agenda, engagement tool, and note-taking tool. We asked Casey, Lora and Olivia for tips on using a slide deck to facilitate an interactive meeting, which they’ve outlined in this quick video.

Make a copy of the slides used in the video and use them as a template for your group.

5. Tips

Converting to virtual meetings may take a little getting used to, but once you’ve transitioned to virtual platforms and get used to running effective and engaging online meetings, it will allow your group to continue to carry out human rights education and activism. Here are some final tips and tricks:

  • Prep your tech in advance — make sure you’ve downloaded Zoom, the sound and video are working, and that everyone has the Zoom link and access to the slide deck.
  • Offer a “pre-meeting tech check in” before the call starts to troubleshoot any issues.
  • If possible, ask everyone to join by video. This allows for a greater sense of connectedness and they’ll likely focus more on the meeting if they can see each other.

Contact your staff organizer if you need any support — we’re here to help! You can reach us at fieldorganizingteam@aiusa.org.

See all parts of our digital activism series:

Organizing for human rights in the time of a global pandemic

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