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Campaigning during coronavirus: DNC takes organizing on line

NBC got an exclusive look at virtual training sessions that the party hopes will reach thousands.
DNC Chairman Tom Perez.
DNC Chairman Tom Perez.Alexander Drago / Reuters

WASHINGTON — Brittany Arp, 21, is back at her parent's house, unexpectedly home from college because of the coronavirus, and recruiting her friends to get on Zoom…to learn how to organize for Democrats.

"I've been trying to reach out to all of my friends, like, 'I know you're sitting at home not doing anything, so why don't you join me?'"

Arp is one of more than 4,000 people who have signed up for training sessions hosted by organizers from the Democratic National Committee, chaired by Tom Perez, as they try to keep voters engaged with the 2020 election.

Typically, these voter outreach efforts include door-knocking, phone banking and person to person contact — the kind of activities now forbidden by federal and local officials as they work to curb the spread of coronavirus throughout the country. And while cable news is focused on the impacts of the virus and the needs of medical personnel, politicos are all too aware that there's a presidential election still very much on the horizon.

That means recalibrating get-out-the-vote strategies and going where voters are now: on their screens and online.

Democratic party officials in battleground states like Florida and Wisconsin announced a shift in recent days to digital-only organizing in light of COVID-19. And fundraising efforts for both Democrats and Republicans have been taken virtual as well in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the DNC's online training sessions, hosted on Zoom, are for anyone who wants to learn more about organizing best practices, with courses offered at the beginner and more advanced levels. NBC News got an exclusive look inside one of these trainings on Sunday, where several hundred people logged in for tips on organizing around certain events or days of action, building communities on social media and creating events — for now, virtually, but eventually in person.

"I know this is a really unprecedented and anxiety-ridden time," one organizer leading the training told attendees during Sunday's roughly hour-long session. "It's very chaotic. But the thing that we have to do is keep going. We have an election to win in November, we have work to do."

Among the best practices given at the training were to get involved in Facebook groups — whether politically explicit or interest/hobby based — as well as to share your own personal story for why you're organizing or moved to action. Attendees were also advised to situate their calls to action around "big moments," such as debates, voter registration deadlines, and, of course, Election Day.

"You know your community better than we ever could," a training leader said, highlighting the need for grassroots engagement in elections up and down the ballot in 2020.

The DNC hopes these thousands of new trainees will be able to take these skills into their own communities — and soon.

Arp, the college junior, is already trying to think of ways to put her skills to the test, repeating the desire that so many Democratic voters have said this primary cycle: they just want to beat President Donald Trump.

"I am fully ready to go and organize and show up for (the Democratic nominee) where ever and whenever they need me," she said — even if that means spending the next few months getting out the vote, virtually.