It Happened This Way: How UE Pulled Off a Virtual Convention in Five Weeks

November 6, 2021

Holding a successful online convention required a substantial amount of work by UE staff and leaders. As General President Carl Rosen noted at the conclusion of the convention, “Although we had made plans in the spring on how we would do a virtual convention if we needed to, it's one thing to have plans and it's totally another thing to carry them out, as we learned.”

Beginning in March, a core group consisting of Rosen, Secretary-Treasurer Andrew Dinkelaker, Office Manager Joanne Caporoso, UE Auditor Deb Leff, Education Director Kari Thompson and Communications Director Jonathan Kissam reviewed every element of a UE convention, working out how to approximate it as closely as possible in a virtual setting. They consulted with close UE allies including Unifor, National Nurses United, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and the Democratic Socialists of America, as well as UE Local 150, about those organizations’ plans for and experiences with holding virtual conventions.

When the General Executive Board made the decision in August to switch to a virtual convention, there were only five and a half weeks to put that plan into action.

To assist the core group, the union hired former UE Field Organizer Matt Richards, who now co-owns the social-change communications firm Sequal Consulting, to help especially with technical aspects of the convention.

After breaking down the necessary work into discrete roles, Thompson and Richards trained the convention staff on the skills they needed to make the convention run smoothly. Field Organizers Lyndsey O’Day, Anna Rose, Hayden Schortman and Matt Soliz served as “panel wranglers,” bringing delegates up to the webinar “panel” when it was time for them to speak — the Zoom equivalent of people coming on stage or speaking from the microphone. International Rep. Tara McCauley and Field Organizers Samantha Crockett and Maria Alfaro monitored Zoom’s Q&A function, which delegates used to request to speak — the Zoom equivalent of lining up to speak at the microphone.

Research Director Karl Zimmerman and International Rep. Greg Cross were responsible for sharing their screens to display resolutions when they were being read and debated, and International Rep. Zachary Knipe and Field Organizer Amelia Salata-Hartman took responsibility for sharing videos, images, and other convention documents.

International Reps. J Burger and John Thompson monitored the chat to respond to questions, and the tech support line was answered by International Reps. Karen Hardin and Dante Strobino and Field Organizers Marc Baca and John Ocampo. International Rep. Mark Meinster and Education Director Kari Thompson served as “floaters,” filling in as needed.

Rather than requiring delegates to register for multiple Zoom meetings and webinars (and keep track of all the links), Communications Director Jonathan Kissam built a custom web application that automated that process and generated personalized daily emails for every delegate and guest — and responded to glitches in that system in real time during the convention. He also edited convention videos, along with filmmaker Anna Brewer, who did all the heavy lifting on subtitling videos recorded in languages other than English.

In addition to their roles during the main convention sessions, numerous convention staff also provided support as Zoom hosts and co-hosts to convention committees, caucuses and workshops.

To enliven the organizing report, and allow delegates to see and “meet” more of UE’s new members than would have been possible otherwise, field staff created videos about each of UE’s organizing campaigns. Field Organizers Annie Bulger MacDonald, Sean Fulkerson, John Ocampo, Lyndsey O’Day, Anna Rose, and Ben Wilson, and International Reps. J Burger, Tara McCauley, Mark Meinster and Dante Strobino all spent hours recording and in many cases editing these videos, and Ocampo provided the translation for subtitling the Refresco workers’ video, which was in Spanish.

To help members feel comfortable with the Zoom webinar setting and understand how they would be able to participate in the convention, Rosen, Richards and Thompson led six training sessions for members prior to the start of the convention, which were attended by more than 50 convention attendees.

“We said at the start of the week that we wanted to have a real UE convention, not just a show — and it looks like we did,” Rosen said at the end of the week, “and that is thanks to absolutely tremendous work by the staff of this union.”

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