Re:act is a weekly newsletter reaching 25,000+ politically engaged recipients. It provides a few important ways to fight back against the Trump administration. And its origin isn’t tied to a well-established grassroots organization or George Soros 🙂 but instead a guy in Chicago who started last November by sending a simple email to a small group of friends. Derek Nelson joined me for Five Questions…
Hunter Walk: re:act was one of the grassroots progressive movements to spring up post Trump election. Can you give us some background on its origin?
Derek Nelson: After the election, I started writing down a list of things I could get done every week to keep myself accountable. At the same time, there was so much energy already out there, and a lot of people asking “what can I do?” So I decided to share my list, and turned it into a newsletter called re:act. The first edition went out to some friends in mid-November, and it took off from there. It’s gone out every week since.
At its most basic, it’s just a weekly e-mail with a few concrete things we can do every week to fight for those who are under attack by the administration’s policies. It’s an attempt to be as specific and actionable as possible in offering ways to be involved: context on what’s happening, who exactly to call or write (and some tips to do so), what organizations to support, who you can thank.
HW: Was there a particular moment where you realized “this is happening” and you decided to double-down on the time and energy you’d devote to growing the effort?
DN: The response was pretty immediate. I wrote the initial draft to my family and friends, sent out a few tweets, and there were thousands of signups before the next morning. For someone without much a following, it was exciting and bewildering and weird.
The second “moment” was in that very first day that Congress reconvened and the House GOP tried to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. People immediately organized a pushback. They lit up the phones. The party leadership had full control over what happened next, so it was easy to be a fatalist and say that they’d never listen and nothing would change. They backed down the next morning. It was a telling moment, and reinforced the effectiveness of this kind of work.
HW: How has social media played a role in re:act’s spread and are there realizations you now have about its [social media’s] nature that were less obvious to you before?
DN: For sure. I wasn’t too active of a social media user before this, so pursuing re:act has opened up all the positives and negatives of that whole world. Field people like me have a grumpy mindset of “nobody gets registered to vote on twitter. Go knock doors.” I’ve learned that’s overly simplistic. I’ve met thousands of inspiring people that I would have never known otherwise (like you, Hunter, awwww), and real things have happened because of it. It’s no substitute for “real” action, but it can be a big organizing tool and driver of “real” action.
HW: Can you measure “success” or ROI on the effort? Do you get feedback from list members and how has that shaped decisions you’ve made with the newsletter?
DN: Looking through the analytics, the best days are when you get to watch hundreds of people clicking on the donation page of the Southern Poverty Law Center, or actions like that. More anecdotally, there are a lot of cool stories to come out of this. I’ve heard from readers who are now running for local office or Congress, who are writing letters to the editor when they never have before, who are building platforms of their own.
Everybody is so generous with their time, ideas, and feedback. People have pointed out more effective organizations to support or numbers to call, and it’s just been a process of always trying to get better.
HW: Do you have ongoing conversations with other “activists” to share tips, best-practices or just blow off steam? How do you sustain the energy?
DN: I only get to work on this in the dead of night, so the hours aren’t as conducive for collaboration as I’d like, but it still happens. It’s great to be able to turn to smart, experienced people like @Celeste_pewter, @katcalvinLA, @editoremilye or the Indivisible folks when there’s a specific question — “is the Department of the Interior really going to go through these comments?” or whatever. There have been a lot of helpful people with hill experience over email too. The other thing I’d note is that while there are a lot of new organizations popping up, so many organizations have been at this for years, and just need more support from all of us.
What keeps the energy up is that the consequences are too great if we don’t. We owe our best effort to all those who could lose their healthcare, be deported, or otherwise discriminated against. Important times.
Thanks Derek. Subscribe to re:act’s weekly email.
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