Back to Resources

Preparing for a Crisis: What the Movement Needs to Know

by Margi Clarke, RoadMap consultant

Many people in the social justice world followed the downfall of ACORN brought on by a combination of fabricated claims, video stings and internal mismanagement. Most of us do not think our organizations are vulnerable to these kinds of attacks. But in fact social justice organizations are confronting them more and more.

For example, state attorney generals are challenging civic engagement groups on their non-profit status. Infiltrators have been caught wearing hidden microphones at workers center membership meetings. Groups working for a living wage have been sued for racketeering for picketing a work place. For other examples, go to this link.

But there are also stories of progressives fighting back and winning. A good example is the bungled attempt by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to cut off funding and isolate Planned Parenthood. Instead, reproductive rights groups were able to reveal the right wing attack and use it as an opportunity to broaden and deepen their support. The key is being prepared.

For the past two years, RoadMap’s Weathering the Storms project (WTS) has been helping organizations and alliances shield themselves from attacks and respond clearly when under assault. Weathering the Storms offers critical tools to help organizations be at the top of their game by being proactive and embedding crisis preparedness practices in a wider eco-system of networked organizations.

In a 2012 survey by RoadMap, 52% of participating groups experienced an opposition attack, and many more were aware of ally groups who had. Most respondents reported not feeling prepared to manage an attack and were eager for guidance, especially on “how to start.”

RoadMap’s WTS team offers three approaches: 1) Improve internal practices to minimize risk; 2) Create a crisis response strategy; and 3) When under attack, mobilize a crisis communications plan to amplify the organization’s mission and build support.

We start with an assessment of risk areas and threat scenarios. We offer recommended best practices that guard the organization and make it more efficient. Our crisis response steps build on existing strategic communications goals to grow support among members, allies and the public during an attack.

The outcome is savvier and more fortified social justice organizations and alliances. For example, Casa de Maryland burst through a decade of surveillance and right-wing accusations to become even stronger advocates of immigrant rights. Jobs with Justice beat back lawsuits and gained stronger board-staff-member alignment to face their opponents even more unified.

In this period when progressives are gaining momentum on campaigns for the $15 minimum wage, heightening visibility around police and racist vigilante violence from NYC to Ferguson, and fighting conservative assaults on immigrant, voting and reproductive rights, social justice advocates can expect increased surveillance, efforts at sabotage and a rise in other politically motivated attacks from their opponents. But they can also be prepared. With the election season upon us, now is a good time for social justice organizations to make crisis prevention part of their everyday practices, and be bold in the face of virulent opposition threats. RoadMap can help.

For more information on Weathering the Storms, contact us at