Obama-Linked New Organizing Institute Collapses

New Organizing Institute/Flickr
New Organizing Institute/Flickr

Eight senior staffers at the New Organizing Institute (NOI) resigned after an appeal to the board to fire the group’s Executive Director Ethan Roeder, who was Obama’s top data guy during both of his campaigns.

NOI trains digital organizers for the Democrats and there is claim the group will need to be “rebuilt from the ground up after a mass exodus of senior staff and employees…”

Roeder’s management style and issues related to fundraising are said to be behind the “mass exodus.” Several employees reportedly walked out along with the eight senior staffers.

Late Tuesday night it was unclear how many paid employees remain of the 20 or so staff at NOI, and most of the senior team left for good. It’s a potentially crushing blow for the lefty group best known for its well-attended annual RootsCamp “unconference” that has become a focal point for progressive politics. Last year’s Rootscamp featured speeches by top progressives including Elizabeth Warren.

In an interview, NOI co-founder and board chair Judith Freeman said NOI will go on and promised new fundraising streams to dwindling coffers.

The group’s fundraising stream is said to have begun drying up in August, contributing to frustration that led to several senior staff members issuing an ultimatum in a memo to the board of directors.

The events that would eventually lead to the mass exodus began Monday, when senior members of the leadership team gave the board an ultimatum in the form of a memo, according to multiple sources: either Roeder went, or they would. Staff expressed frustration about money woes that have mounted since August, when fundraising streams began to dry up.

That memo led to a chaotic Tuesday. Stories differ as to what exactly happened. Freeman said eight staffers signed the memo, and they were dismissed by the board. A staff source said seven signed the memo, seven more were “let go” and three resigned in protest. Multiple staff said resigning and dismissed staffers were told to turn in their equipment and leave the building immediately, leading to a sense of “shock” within the small progressive outfit.

The net result, as one might expect, is something of a circular firing squad across significant elements of the Left.

Most former employees contacted by BuzzFeed News declined to comment on the record. Roeder and other board members directed requests for comment to Freeman. But in the tight-knit and relatively small world of progressive digital organizing, recriminations and accusations flowed quickly.

In an email to friends shared with BuzzFeed News by a recipient, NOI digital director Eric Ming accused the NOI leadership of endangering organization by sticking with Roeder.

“Decisions have been made that I and others believe to be harmful to this organization in both the present situation and the future. This is both in mission and fiscal future. NOI risks failing in our mission — and failing the movement and community we serve,” he wrote. “As a result of those decisions and leadership’s unwillingness to change course, I — along with a group of my colleagues — have made the difficult choice to leave NOI.”

Ming wrote that he was “heartbroken” by the day’s events. Asked for further comment, Ming told BuzzFeed News in an email, “I think my email is where I’m at right now.”

Shannon Turner, a software developer at NOI, wrote on her blog that she resigned after the senior staff left. She also called the decision “heartbreaking.”

“I resigned because I no longer believe that NOI remains true to its values or mission,” she wrote.