ATLANTA—A sort of heat-induced hush settled over the city’s concrete downtown. The morning rain had just stopped, and the sun peeked out occasionally from behind the clouds to bake the sidewalk. Cars and people seemed to move through the streets at half their usual pace, dreamily, through thick layers of humid air. And inside a university building on Luckie Street, 300 college juniors were learning how to listen.
The best practices of effective listening are to offer supportive nods, ask clarifying questions, and paraphrase what the speaker has said, an instructor told the students, who were seated in four rows in a windowless classroom. He played three video clips on a projector and asked the students to consider how they were reacting in real time to what they heard: a few minutes of stand-up from the comedian George Carlin, a recording from an NPR segment on the 2020 presidential election, and an interview with a young white woman from the Rust Belt who said she felt forgotten by the politicians in Washington. He reminded the group to have a “learner,” not a “judger,” mind-set. “Don’t make assumptions,” he explained. “Always wonder, Why?”
The lesson, called “Getting to Know the Community,” is part of a new training program from the Democratic National Committee that teaches young people, mostly people of color, how to be campaign organizers. Called Organizing Corps 2020, the eight-week course is designed to school 1,000 college juniors from seven battleground states across the country. The DNC has high hopes for the student trainees: Come summer 2020, it hopes to put them to work for the eventual Democratic presidential nominee.