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These baby boomers are learning social media to mobilize voters

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Updated November 06, 2018 07:30 AM EST

Editor's note: This story was originally published Sept. 20. We're bringing it back today as part of our midterm elections coverage.

DETROIT (Circa) — One by one, doors opened along the long hallway of Detroit's Cobo Center, and a sea of pink emptied into the corridor. Young women with pink-tinted hair and “The future is female” tote bags joined young men with cool tats swaggering down the hall in pink T-shirts and cutoff shorts. From the middle of the crowd, a blonde woman in a blue and coral floral button-up talked with some friends about social media.

“What is 'boomerang?'” asked her friend sarcastically, and Tammi laughed loudly.

“Boom-what?” replied Tammi.

“Is that a genuine question?” came an inquiry from nearby, a short-haired millennial grinning at the group of older women. "Do you want me to tell you?"

“Oh, no!” Tammi laughed again.

Tammi was one of about 100 women over the age of 50 attending Planned Parenthood’s grassroots organizing training in Detroit this past July. The event, called Power of Pink, attracted over 3,000 activists from around the nation to attend speeches from leaders in the women’s movement and workshops in organizing.

Tammi (right) and Jody listen as a Planned Parenthood Action Fund staffer leads a workshop on Digital tools for political organizing at the "Power of Pink" conference in Detroit in July.

Tammi and her friend Jodi, both from New Jersey, joined the waves of millennials in workshop rooms and gathering halls in order to learn more tools they could take home with them - including social media.

Neither are strangers to social media, but in the constantly changing digital landscape neither feels like they’re doing all they can.

“I’d give myself a solid B-minus in social media,” said Jody, to more laughter from Tammi.

On Saturday, both women meandered into the Digital 101 workshop. Sitting at the front table in the slowly filling room, they struck up a conversation with Elizabeth Desantiago, their 20-year-old tablemate from Southern California.

Soon, Desantiago was showing the duo how to make quick graphics for use on social media using a free app called "Canva."

"See, we were right to come to this one!" Tammi exclaimed, lauding their decision to choose the digital workshop.

Elizabeth Desantiago (far left) laughs with Jody (center) and Tammi (right) during the Digital 101 workshop

Tammi and Jodi are part of a nationwide trend of women who felt called into action after the result of the 2016 election. In the days after the election, for example, the National Organization for Women (NOW) received so many volunteer inquiries that their website crashed.

"When I found out [Hillary Clinton lost], I said I'm going back to bed. And I threw my duvet cover over me and I stayed two weeks," reminisced Tammi. Until the 2016 election, she explained, her most important extracurricular activities were "the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale and the InStyle magazine coming straight to my front door."

"I never watched the news, I was just living in a bubble," Tammi exclaimed. "Now, I don't have time to go to the Nordstrom sale!"

A lot of women like Tammi and Jodi found their place with Planned Parenthood. The day after the 2016 election, Planned Parenthood received around 40 times the average number of donations, and some chapters -- like Planned Parenthood South Atlantic -- saw the number of volunteer applications increase into the hundreds in the immediate aftermath of Trump's win.

"I was completely shocked that that Donald Trump won," Jodi added. "We were asleep at the wheel... I feel ashamed of it, and so I feel like it's really a responsibility on a daily basis to do this work to make the world a better place for everyone."

Tammi laughs with another friend during a break at the Power of Pink conference

The two women took on supporting roles in the 2017 New Jersey gubernatorial election, helping with Planned Parenthood Action Fund's efforts to get Phil Murphy elected. Once Murphy won, they turned their focus to 2018, raising money for congressional candidate Andy Kim. Tammi was soon manager of a private Facebook page with over 18,000 members, which she harnessed to great success to raise money for Kim, and she also became the Planned Parenthood liaison for New Jersey.

To Planned Parenthood Action Fund's director of organizing and training, Yasmin Radjy, Tammi is a great example of what she tries to tell everyone she talks to:

"Organizing is ultimately about deeply understanding humans," explained Radjy, "and the academic credentials that someone has don't necessarily equip them."

"Online is an extension of our real life communities," she continued. "And we need to speak to people in the ways that are most accessible to them there."

If there's one thing Jodi and Tammi are good at, it's real life community.

"We like to use social media to get people to events," explained Jodi.

View of Canada from the window of Detroit's Cabo conference center, where the Planned Parenthood convention was held.

The women are effectively using a combination of tried-and-true interpersonal campaigning skills and social media's ability to broadcast and make large-scale calls to action to organize.

"I've always been a person of persuasion that's like, 'Come on let's have a party, lets do this!' And giving them a purpose with my voice, and you get that hook," explains Tammi, who admits she'd still rather just use an old-school phone bank. But, she says, "Facebook is great for like dates events. It's amplifying them out."

At the end of the conference, as volunteers picked up wayward fliers and attendees rushed to snag giant pink cardboard signs plastered with their state name, Tammi and Yasmin spotted each other in the great hall.

Yasmin (left) and Tammi talk about digital organizing.

Smiling and hugging, they got talking about organizing and technology.

"Your generation brings all the skills -- the mad skills," said Tammi. "And we bring the wisdom."

"I also think you all bring the skills," Yasmin disagreed. "I think you're right in terms of 'Here's the latest tech tool, and here's the data on how this script might work,' but... connecting and telling a story, that's really intuitive to my mom, to my mom's friends, to folks like you."

As the hall emptied, Tammi nodded and Yasmin continued.

"I think sometimes we get so precise in the skills we've learned or the big data sets we look through that we forget this stuff isn't actually that complicated, and you guys are way better at it than we are."

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