Or, “How to Start a Meetup Group when nobody can actually meet up anywhere because of COVID-19”
This is my submission for the May 2020 Carnival of Aces, on the topic of “Quarantine“.
When I started writing this draft back in early March, it was originally intended to be a challenge for Aces and Aros to find, attend, or start a new local meetup group in time to be in position to hold a local event for the next Ace Week or Aro Spec Week…however, as we all know now, COVID-19 has derailed a lot of offline event plans, and that original challenge is no longer advisable.
However, shelter-in-place requirements don’t have to mean that all local organizing grinds to a halt – it just means that that kind of activities we engage in as local organizers need to shift. Redbeardace has already written about how the silver lining of local groups scrambling to move activities online also means chances to open up those groups to other local constituents who might not otherwise be able to join in.
In this post, I want to extend that conversation to area that don’t even have organized groups yet – but that might have some individuals who are interested in starting one. And so, for you brave pioneers out there who think you might want to start a local meetup, here’s some suggestions for things you can do right now, without even leaving your house!
1. Establish Local Interest
Before actually meeting up, you have to be able to find someone to meet up! And in order to do that, you have to have a way of communicating with people who are potentially interested. Here’s some suggestions for how to get started on that.
Check if there’s anything already started in your area
Before starting from scratch, it’s worth seeing if there are any existing groups in your area, groups within commuting distance that might know some locals, or any past attempts at creating groups – even if these are a little too far, or a little too inactive, or a little too general purpose (like ace inclusive LGBT groups) trying to contact any existing leaders or members can give you a jump start on finding people who might be interested. Places to skim for potential local groups include:
- Aces & Aros US & Canada group list
- Meetup.com Asexual and Aromantic group lists
- AVEN Meetup Mart (requires login)
- Arocalypse Visibility, Articles, and Meetups forum
- AUREA’s Aromantic Resources Page (scroll down to offline resources)
- Asexual Groups (not up to date but may have some groups not on other sites)
- Also, you can just try googling “[Your City Name] Asexual” or “[Nearest Big City] Aromantic”, “[Your State] Aces and Aros” etc.
Establish an initial interest thread
If you find an active group in your area, or a semi-active group that can still be contacted, you may be able to simply contact them to find a community or to see if they are interested in reactivating and branching out a little. However, if you can’t find any, or if there’s little response, it’s time to move on to the next step: putting out a call for interest to try and see who else you might be able to find out there.
Where exactly you post your initial call for interest doesn’t matter too much; as long as it’s editable (so maybe not twitter) and, ideally, viewable without an account (so maybe not facebook or AVEN’s meetup mart) – but don’t worry, you’ll have a chance to reach out to people on those places later. For now, you’ll want to pick your location (blog post, reddit thread, forum thread, tumblr post, etc.) and start a brief post with a few pieces of information:
- A title with your location and call for interest, like “Any Aros interested in making a local community in [City, State/Province, Country if needed]” or “[City] Aces – let’s meetup when shelter-in-place is over!” or even just “Aces or Aros in [metro area] let’s connect!
- A short description describing who you are looking (Aros? Aces? Both? Looking for people in your specific city, anyone in the county, or anyone in the state? Etc.)
- Important: a way for people to reach you even if they don’t have an account (email usually works best for this). For example, if you post on tumblr, only people also on tumblr will be able to reply, so you need to have some kind of alternate means of communication as well. If you don’t want to share your own person email, you can make a new gmail account for temporary use – just remember to check it sometimes!.
Once you have this interest thread, and if you start getting responses, make sure you figure out a way to keep in touch with anyone who responds and send them updates as the next few steps progress, whether it’s via email, additional forum posts, tumblr messages, twitter @’s or DMs, or anything else.
Spread the news in relevant online communities
Once you have at least one call for interest post up, you can also take the link to that post and start reposting it in as many places as you can think of – the aforementioned AVEN and Arocalypse meetup forums, facebook pages, reddit forums, etc. When you repost the link, you can also add a note asking others to signal boost it. Consider also adding a note requesting people respond on the original post, so that you don’t have to track 10 different sets of notifications (although it’s worth checking back on everything eventually just in case).
When posting to someplace like tumblr or twitter that don’t have specific sub-communities or sub-forums, I also recommend both tagging your post (with #asexual or #aromantic etc.) and also maybe @’ing a few major players to ask them to signal boost – to start, try @’ing active, well-known orgs like AVEN/Asexuality.org, The Ace and Aro Advocacy Project (TAAAP), Aces & Aros, AUREA etc. to see if they are willing to help signal boost.
2. Start Some Basic Infrastructure
Once you start to get possible interest, or while you wait to see if you hook any responses, the next step is to start setting up better organization for starting to have personal conversations as well as planning any potential future meetups.
Set up a specific online social space for local sub-group connections
Once you start to get possible interest, or while you wait to see if you hook any responses, the next step is to set up a new, semi-private setting for ongoing communications. Because while things like forum threads or blog posts or tumblr posts can be decent places to get started, they quickly become a mess if you try to have more extended conversations there; plus, you eventually want a smaller, semi-private space where you can talk about specifics like places, names, and addresses that you might not be comfortable posting in more public spaces.
Common platforms for facilitating semi-private local conversations include:
- Closed facebook groups, sometimes paired with a public page
- Discord or Slack Channels
- Meetup.com Discussion Boards
- Google Group Email Lists
The two main characteristics you want in any local group’s online “home base” are 1. some way to at least partially restrict the public visibility of information so that only your members can see most of the activity and 2. A way for all users to talk to each other without needing go-between. This space will allow other local folks to chat and get to know each other, maybe set up some video calls, and eventually start bouncing around ideas for events once it’s safe to start meeting up again.
You can also use conversations in this group to get started on the next phase – making a public facing resource.
Set up a “landing page” with basic information on your group
Once you have interested people and a semi-private space to talk, the next thing you want to do is set up a permanent, static page that houses all the information on your group. You can use this page to continue advertising your group to gather additional members, and to also let people searching for your group how to get in touch (either a link to your private space, or an email address they should contact to request access).
Generally speaking, this page should include:
- A name for your group
- The area your group serves
- Who it’s for (aces? aros? both? any specific age ranges? general community group or campus student group? etc.)
- How to request access to online spaces for your group
- How to contact organizers of the group for questions (ideally email)
- How to follow updates on any future events.
While your interest thread can serve this purpose initially, eventually you will want a more permanent option that won’t get buried as conversations move on. There are several different places where you could potentially host such a page – here are a few common possibilities:
- A wordpress or blogspot website page (free to $$ depending on whether you want your own url)
- A facebook organization page
- A google sites website
- A squarespace or weebly page (costs $$)
- You could even do a tumblr with info on sub-pages (pages, not posts), or even a twitter with pinned posts, if that’s more your style
Once you have this page set up, you can start rounds 2+ of sharing the link on ace and aro online sites to continue to try and reach potential future members. In addition, you can also try reaching out to groups like local campus or city LGBTQ+ centers to ask them to share your new groups info with their local mailing lists.
At this point, with members, basic infrastructure, and a public page to spam, your group is starting to really shape up! From this point on, you’re ready to start planning events (virtual events for now or physical events for the future) – make your dreams a reality!
While you wait for shelter-in-place restrictions to relax, consider generating activity by having weekly text discussion threads (the asexual agenda QOTW and QOTM archive is great discussion topic inspiration), an online happy hour chat, virtual movie nights, online board game nights, etc.
3. Connect with other Organizers and Mentors
Finally, at any point in this process, you should consider also reaching out to connect with other local group organizers for advice and support – there’s no need to go through all this work alone! Things that we as experienced organizers can help you with:
- Discussing the pros and cons of various platforms
- Providing advice based on our own attempts to start local meetups
- Established reach and connections to signal boost announcements to more corners of the ace or aro community
- Sharing paid meetup.com subscriptions
- Providing technical help on how to build webpages, set up discord servers, etc.
- And more!
If you happen to know of any existing ace or aro groups that are somewhat nearby – maybe the next city over or even the next state over – consider reaching out to them especially. These local connections may also be able to give you advice specific to your location and situation, and may already have some connections to people in your area that might be interested in having a more local group (see step 1 for a list of places to look for nearby groups).
Or, in order to connect with other organizers more generally, here are some places to check out:
- The Ace & Aro Community Organizers Facebook Page – send a request on the facebook group page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to join.
- The Ace Organizers International Discord Chat – contact email@example.com for access.
- The Ace Organizers email list – contact firstname.lastname@example.org to request access (I can forward it on to the actual list manager)
- The Ace & Aro Organizer Collaboration Discord Chat (coming soon – email me at email@example.com to be added to the waitlist for updates)
(Note: some of these groups are more orientated towards established organizers than prospective organizers and membership may be on a case-by-case basis, but at a minimum they can help you get in touch with any contacts they may have in your area, if there are any.
Or, if you want to contact yours truly, I’m also happy to chat and give any advice I can or put you in touch with other organizers or groups! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.