I know we’re the seven-second attention span generation so I’m going to challenge you to stick around to the end. Ripped straight from Laurie Antonin’s LinkedIn profile, she’s a digital campaigner, strategist, organizer and disruptor.
She’s been building the roadmaps to empower activists and now she’s switching to GPS-mode to help all of us navigate safely to our destination. Laurie has a knack for breaking through barriers with her storytelling abilities.
But in order to talk about breaking through in organizing — first, we need to break it down.
“My mission is to show we don’t have to be typecast.”
Laurie, who is a Black Caribbean Canadian, says it again to make sure we hear the message loud and clear: “Why can’t someone like me take up this space? I did it.”
Laurie is leading national digital campaigns for the largest labour organization in Canada.
Every superhero has a great origin story
“From a really early age I knew [my siblings and I] were different, we stood out. I remember my mom would just always praise our Blackness. She’d say it didn’t matter what people thought about us and that we are meant to be loud and stand out. I think that’s something that stuck with us.”
Laurie says her mom grew up on a farm in Haiti — where she’d hear planes fly over the house — and imagine one day she’d be on those planes. And surely enough that day came.
“I thought it was so interesting because she couldn’t imagine where those planes were heading, she just knew she had to be there. She strived to seek out the unknown, and fight for better, maybe that’s why I operate in a similar way.”
Things got ugly, then they got better
“My life changed when I got involved with the union and became a steward at the job I was holding down at a boutique hotel.”
She said things got really ugly at one point at her job, they wanted to cut out an entire department.
“I simply refused to have those people lose their jobs, so we refused until they locked us out,” she said. “We had the weight of all the workers and their families on our backs. I remember making sure everyone was on the same page about how to strategize and vote in a direction that would show the employer that we were ready to stay out there as long as was needed.”
While they weren’t able to get everything they wanted, they secured compensation that wasn’t previously on the table.
“Looking back, I love the work we did because if we hadn’t organized — it would’ve been a different outcome.”
Like they usually do, Laurie’s employers caught on to her organizing and mobilizing skills — and started cutting her hours.
Fortunately, her union had her back and sent her straight to their national office.
Leading Nation-wide change
It didn’t take long for Laurie to find a campaign to get behind. Mental health would be the first big campaign she ran in 2012, talking to workers across the country, at a time when digital organizing was just starting to be a thing.
“We were doing fun things like getting people to send tweets and text other people — not knowing that was going to be something that became more automated now,” Laurie said.
In 2014, Laurie also ran a campaign to get more young people involved in their union. She put a committee of young workers together and had held an event around it. She said more than 3,000 young people participated across the country.
Finally, Laurie landed at the Canadian Labour Congress. She was the national representative for the anti-racism and human rights department.
“They were expecting me to just do policy,” she laughs at the memory. “But I was like hold on a second, let’s get CLC on the map! Let’s do something different.”
So she got work making sure every single email was in the database of people who were doing human rights work in unions around the country.
“At a time when we weren’t as sophisticated as where things are right now, we said let’s throw the largest human rights conference you’ve ever seen. Let’s do things differently.”
Laurie says in order to help people understand why they should care about human rights they created a virtual experience. In 2016, Laurie’s team brought people into the world of a refugee that moved people to tears.
“We used visuals and video to really tell a story that connected — people cried — but then we would say this is why we do this work. Sign up to get more information from us,” Laurie said.
“I want to challenge what doesn’t exist to bring something more to people.”
She said if you want people to take action you have to take them to a place where they can connect with the problem and see themselves in the solution. You also need to surprise — or ‘wow’ — people and give them something they wouldn’t expect.
Digital movement and meeting people where they’re at
“It’s the only way you can get people’s attention,” Laurie said. “The more I started to do this work — bringing people on a journey — the more digital tools made more sense.”
“If you’re trying to build a movement or bring people from one place to another — whether that’s physically or emotionally — you have to be able to tap into where they are at any point of their day.”
Even before the pandemic, more people are becoming more insular, they’re focused on the day-to-day, just trying to balance all their responsibilities. What they end up missing is that it’s actually their own civic action that can change the world they live in.
“Create an experience that meets them where they are and gets them out of their day-to-day lives.”
“The pandemic forced us to slow down for a second and tune into the moments that were presenting itself at-hand. We saw racial injustice come to light, frontline workers working in uncertainty, racial tensions — it was a moment for us to slow down and see what kind of world we’re living in and the effects it had on individuals.
She said technology and digital engagement found its home in bringing those issues to the surface, forcing people to educate themselves and think of ways to get involved. Many people understand the power of coming together — there’s an energy there — during the pandemic people were offered tools to have an impact.
Celebrating the successes
“I’m always in the hustle — the moments where we’re pushing, testing, trying something new, going back, making it better, fighting for people to see our vision — it’s a constant hustle.”
“Success happens all the time but we need to stop and see what kind of changes we won.“
“Always change up the way you do your strategy, your outreach, never keep it the same. If people know what to expect, don’t expect them to do something different if you do it differently.”
For those of you who scrolled through to the end a pro-tip from Laurie: Always get phone numbers and never stop talking to them.