Launching Practice Makes Progress

Hi, I'm Jill Raney.  I'm an organizer.  I organize on the Internet, and I organize by teaching others to organize.

Today I'm launching Practice Makes Progress, a new company that specializes in teaching progressive organizers to apply the Internet as best we can to create a more just society.

I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia.  My family got a home internet connection in 1995 and I fell in love.  When I was in the 10th grade, I taught myself HTML so I could build a fan website about my favorite TV show, Daria.  As a teenager I loved feminism, computers, and musicals, and I couldn't wait to go to college and expand my horizons.

In college I threw myself into campus activism, and in my third year at UVA I had the tremendous opportunity to be the lead organizer for Take Back the Night.  I learned how to organize -- how to set goals and select strategic tactics, how to build a community of activists, how to run a meaningful event that attracts hundreds of attendees.  I also built the website, as I'd done for several campus activist groups by that time.

And I learned what it means to organize out of trauma.  Progressive organizers seek to create a more just society because the society we're living in hurts people.  We organize in order to soothe and stop the harms caused by deeply unjust systems.  We fight injustices done to us and our communities, and when we win, we make life a little easier for millions of people.

I declared a minor in Computer Science to match my major in Studies in Women and Gender.  I worked as a teaching assistant for CS 101, where I volunteered to manage the 8 am lab section.  My students could count on me to keep them awake as well as coding correctly.  In the end, though, I was too busy with my many activist commitments to complete the CS minor.  The siren call of Silicon Valley couldn't compete with the stronger draw of progressive politics.

After graduating in 2006 I took a Greyhound bus from Charlottesville, VA to Washington, DC, where I've put down deep roots.  I landed a job that would change my life, organizing with Servicemembers Legal Defense Network to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell".  The only organizer on staff, I was charged with building a national movement to repeal the unjust law.  I developed a national network of activists online and in the field.  My email subscribers climbed the ladder of engagement to represent SLDN at Pride festivals in dozens of cities, growing our network of servicemembers and activists by thousands.

I moved on to NARAL Pro-Choice America where I managed the state affiliates' email programs.  I spent the 2008 cycle coaching affiliate staff in email campaign best practices, editing and setting up emails, advising on list-building campaigns, and electing a pro-choice president.  I learned how to make connections over the phone with organizers swamped with the day-to-day of building activist networks and guide them in developing strong online campaign plans.  I learned how to honor my colleagues' expertise on the ground as I advised from afar.

I took a brief break from politics after the 2008 cycle and I worked as a test prep instructor specializing in undergrad and MBA entrance exams.  High schoolers don't want to spend their Saturday mornings learning 5-syllable words.  Future MBAs aren't excited to master probability formulas.  Gaining my students' trust and excitement was a tall order, and it was unparalleled training in public speaking.

The warm embrace of the labor movement brought me back to working in politics: I've spent the past 5 years at SEIU.  I founded the digital team's infrastructure development program, where I coached local union staff through all manner of digital strategy challenges.  In 2012 I developed a series of bootcamp trainings for SEIU local and campaign staff in digital organizing.  I brought together union organizers, communicators, and members to think holistically about how service workers use digital tools and design programs that reflect the realities of our challenging union organizing environment.

I took the Internet with me to SEIU's government relations team, where I integrated digital organizing tactics with lobbying and field advocacy.  I trained union members to lobby for comprehensive immigration reform, including training events simultaneously interpreted in English and Spanish.  I had the once-in-a-lifetime honor of connecting Members of Congress with striking fast food workers.  I learned that speaking truth to the highest levels of power requires not only moral certainty and tactical prowess but also strategic campaign planning that thinks concretely months and years down the road.

Throughout my decade of experience organizing online and offline in labor, LGBT, and feminist advocacy, training others to organize is the heartbeat that moves my work.  The progressive movement needs a well-trained, well-paid, well-supported, ever-growing cohort of digital organizers who reflect America's emerging majority.  Today I launch Practice Makes Progress in an effort to meet these needs.

In every workplace in my career, I've been active in building community among staff, I've volunteered heavily for workplace inclusivity programs, and I've been a proud union leader and advocate for organizers as workers.  Now that I'm a boss I'm mindful especially of doing justice in managing staff and contractors.

When we rely on volunteer labor for crucial projects, we reinforce the privilege of those who can afford to work for free, and we devalue the work.  Practice Makes Progress pays competitive rates for all our trainers, coaches, and curriculum advisors, who we recruit from the wide pool of talented organizers currently running cutting-edge campaigns.  It's the right thing to do as a matter of justice for working people, and it produces excellent trainings.

Are you ready to roll up your sleeves with me?  Join the Practice Makes Progress community by signing up for our email list.  Check out our first training, Email Campaign Master Class, coming up on April 21-22 in Washington, DC.  I've saved a seat for you: come learn, coach, train, and grow.

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