Mobile activism

Facilitated by Sean Abajian

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Case Study

Just before Winter Break in December 2011, it was announced that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) school board was planning to eliminate 100% of the Adult Education program for the 2012-13 year. The program, which served 350,000 students, represents only a fraction of those in need of affordable adult education (e.g. ESL, Career Tech Ed, GED and other classes) in the Greater Los Angeles Area.

As teachers, students and community members were determined to fight this decision, one of the looming challenges involved the fact that LAUSD covers over 700 square miles of territory. How could we mobilize our communities across such a vast geographical area to push back against this decision by the school board? Being a Lead Organizer and Digital Strategist for the Save Adult Ed Campaign, I was convinced that technology would need to be a part of the solution and since most adult students and teachers have cell phones, I was particularly interested in finding ways to leverage our existing resources.

By programming a customized bilingual IVR VOIP phone system, I was able to set up a simple three step process whereby people could call in to one central telephone number, identify which language they wanted to proceed in (English or Spanish), what type of school they attended (adult school or occupational center), and which specific school site they were affiliated with (by name). After that, callers were provided with a talking point and transferred to the elected official representing their community's school, so they could explain how important Adult Education is for our communities.

At the same time we rolled out the phone system at the end of January, 2012 we had also created flyers in both English and Spanish which showed the three steps, and provided callers with the code for their school, so that they could get through the menu system even faster (instead of waiting to hear for the name of their school). The flyer also served a dual purpose of advertising the phone system, and many teachers posted flyers in their classrooms, passed out copies to their students who also shared them with their friends and extended networks. Initially I had 15,000 copies of the flyers made and distributed them to teachers and community leaders, asking them to in turn make copies and distribute them to their students and networks.

Because it was such a simple process, it was bilingual, and because people were hungry for a tangible and specific action to take, this part of the campaign was super successful. We initially set up the phone system to be directed to school board members, and half way through the first week they were so overwhelmed with calls, that we began to redirect calls to state legislators, and then also to US Congresspersons and others. By the end of the first month, over 1.25 million seconds of calls were placed. We occupied the phone lines and our message was heard loud a clear. This was an important component of the campaign that eventually made it politically inviable for the local school board to eliminate the Adult Education program. And although it was drastically cut, we did save the program from elimination, and we hope with a change in leadership on the school board and other changes, that we can eventually build the program back to where it was and even larger.