When I first started campaigning there was no Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram … no Internet. Good organizing happened around your kitchen table, in cafes and by phone. I still remember when we figured out how to broadcast fax to multiple numbers from the Friends of Clayoquot Sound office in my friend Val’s living room. It was revolutionary and saved us hours standing over the fax machine. Today in organizing it is easier to get the word out and quicker to engage hundreds if not thousands of people. I worry though that the art of self-directed issue-based campaigning is dying out with the flood of information and connection we now have.
All too often we get to our desks in the morning, turn on our computers, and follow the flow of the news. Read this article, react to that article, post this article. Maybe you hear of a meeting taking place to discuss the issues you’re following in the news … You attend that meeting and perhaps write a blog post on your opinion of that particular issue.
Good campaigning is about driving the conversation, it’s about creating a dialogue that can lead to a specific outcome."
Occasionally you participate in organizing a rally or drafting a report. In my experience, today the majority of people who think of themselves as organizers and issue campaigners do some version of this pattern every day. The bottom line is that we are becoming issue experts but not campaigners. We are “issue swimming” instead of driving change. Responding instead of creating.
Following an issue, knowing it inside out, participating in a conversation about the issue is simply not campaigning. Good campaigning is about driving the conversation, it’s about creating a dialogue that can lead to a specific outcome. Good campaigning means outlining a strategy that is anchored in events and key moments that you create, that engage decision makers and force a response.
Events are the stuff of politics and news. They drive change and conversation – reports, panels, marches, rallies, direct actions, debates, legal action. Events set the pace and give you a foothold for planning. You must make the world respond to you. Making change means doing something, it’s not just about getting the information out and explaining your opinions. Your opinions are not necessarily news but coming out of Neil Young’s mouth they are; if you are swinging off a building they are; if you can show 100 scientists or 10,000 people share your opinion … you can make it news.
Good campaigning is about creating a strategy, charting a critical pathway. It is about setting long-term goals and then shorter term objectives that you will meet because of your activities. The key to a good strategy is marrying your knowledge of an issue, your goals and your capacity/resources to create a plan that moves an issue forward (creates dialogue, engages decision makers and ensures outcomes that change the status of the issue). In a good strategy you find a point of leverage that can crack open the issue. That point of leverage is what you build your campaign around. You don’t build your campaign around issue analysis. This is a common mistake. You analyse your issue and the power dynamics in order to understand where your point of leverage is that can create a vehicle for coalition building and debate.
The bottom line is we need to go back to planning and organizing rather than just responding. If we want to make change we need to make real things happen – not just make arguments.