Volunteering in a Digital World

Volunteering in a Digital World
by Shannon Clawson

On Friday, March 13, 2020, I took one last look at my office and made sure there wasn’t anything else I needed to bring home. With an MPH and a social network full of infectious disease epidemiologists, I knew I wouldn’t be coming back to my office for at least 2 months, rather than the 2 weeks that everyone was talking about. Satisfied that I had everything packed in my car, I turned off the lights, locked my door, and walked off into the great unknown of organizing during a global pandemic.

Those first few weeks were difficult. As I looked at the data coming in and the patchwork response happening on a national and local level, I knew things would get much worse before it got better. Checking in with volunteers and interns, I could see the mental, emotional and financial toll the crisis was taking on them. As I struggled to find the best way to help, I realized what I needed to do was what I had been doing all along: my job. With the help of volunteer leaders, we quickly compiled a list of mutual aid resources to put on the Georgia Equality Website. Using Facebook Live, we organized a weekly check in called the Lonely Cocktails Club where we talked about self-care, the census, long-distance relationships, and pending SCOTUS decisions. We deployed a survey asking what our members needed from us. And that survey told us overwhelmingly that what our community need was what we’ve been doing all along: Advocating for LGBT rights, both within and without the COVID-19 response.

With that in mind, we decided to continue our volunteer program through online platforms, and we have been blown away by the response. In the past two months, volunteers from all over the state have showed up to do the work. We have had over 219 volunteers attend our weekly volunteer nights. We have mailed 109 absentee applications to those who requested it. We have sent 110,847 texts and made over 1,000 phone calls to remind our supporters about the Census. We have trained 134 volunteers on leadership skills for advocacy. And we have reached 240 Georgians outside of the Georgia Equality network using our new Relational Organizing Model.

The Georgia Equality Volunteers have stepped up to the challenge of COVID-19. We are gaining attention with dozens of national partners because of our volunteer engagement. Some of you have expressed gratitude for having something to do, but I am the one that is grateful. Without volunteers, our staff would just be a few angry queers yelling into the winds of oppression. But with the power and commitment of our volunteers, we are making real change in Georgia. We are pressuring the City of Atlanta to care for the most vulnerable in our community. We are protecting every citizen’s right to vote. We are ensuring that we count, every last one of us. No matter what comes our way, our volunteers have taught me that we will rise to meet it. I often say that this is not the first time the LGBT community has faced a crisis. Our very existence was threatened on a daily basis, long before COVID-19 made its way into our communities. But we are still here. We will always be here. And we will never stop doing the work.