Betterplace Amplifies the Power of Students Organizing Against Gun Violence

Eastern Washington is gun country. So when high school students in Spokane reacted to the massacre at Parkland, Florida, by organizing their own March For Our Lives, the reaction of many residents was vitriolic. “Ignorant minds” “teeny-bopper idiots” and “absolutely ridiculous” were the most polite insults launched at them, the vast majority were not fit to reprint here.

All the more impressive than the March 24 rally turned out to be one of the largest demonstrations in recent years. Armed with little more than passion, determination, the know-how of a few local activists and some useful software, high school students from eight high schools managed to mobilize 5000 people to Spokane’s Riverfront Park for a march through downtown.

The students deserve all the credit. Ellary Lockwood had the organization skills of an activist twice her age. Caroline Avery thrilled the crowd with a speech worthy of a candidate for president. And Devon Maxfield ran one of the most sophisticated social media campaigns we’ve seen in some time.

But one wise decision the group took early on was to adopt Betterplace. As Caroline put it, “my favourite thing about Betterplace is how accessible it is — you just tell people to sign up for it [to see] everything that we need them to do and they pick a task they like.” The mobile app helped them crowdsource the organization of the march by listing opportunities to help that ranged from making signs to distributing flyers to engaging counterprotestors peacefully.

In fact, Betterplace mobilized 59 volunteers, more than half of the people that pitched in to run the march.

Ellary also notes that “the donations really helped us out.” The students were able to raise more than $4000 for the march using Betterplace, covering more than half the costs of the march.

That’s how it helped the organizers. We asked Devon why she thought the users responded so well to Betterplace. By making it so easy, she said, “it allows people to take part in civil action in their communities whereas they probably wouldn’t take part otherwise.”

These youth refused to be cowed by the hostility of grown-ups in their community (see student Cory Leavitt’s replies on Facebook for proof!). They set their mind to the task, mobilized dozens of their peers, and pulled off what many thought impossible in such a red part of Washington state. Armed with this kind of passion, some persistence and a tool like Betterplace, there’s no limit on what these students can accomplish.

Ben Rowswell