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Joined up thinking for the Irish Left
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A new Constitutional Settlement for Northern Ireland: Queries from International Law Mon Oct 20, 2014 10:27 | Aoife O'Donoghue
Why Budget 2015 must be that last of its kind Fri Oct 17, 2014 08:36 | Liam Thornton
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Starting a Campaign
There are a lot of people out there who are not satisfied with the way things are and want to do something about it. This short guide provides an overview on starting your own campaign and some issues and decisions faced along the way.
IntroductionThe most important thing you can have is enthusiasm. For without that it will be hard to find the energy to drive the whole thing forward.
The next step is to consider the type of campaign you want to have and what are your goals, how big is the task and do you have enough information? There are so many different campaigns in different areas and they can all have a wide range of goals and ways of achieving them. Even the range of subjects can be vast from education campaigns, to social justice, environmental, wildlife, ecosystems, rivers, landfills, toxic waste, food additives, health & hospitals, politics, community issues, poverty, unemployment, housing, crime, vandalism and so on.
So lets suppose you are right at the start. What then? The first thing is to find out if anyone else wants to join you. The more people you have the more the work you can get done and the more people you can reach. Is your issue a local, regional, national or international one? Does anyone know about your plight? The next thing to consider is who are the people you want to reach. Its probably both the public and key people in government or some organisation. If your issue is local how are you going to reach out to those around you? This probably depends on whether it is a local or rural setting.
Probably one of the more important attributes you need is to keep an open mind and be willing to learn along the way. You may think you know all the issues around your given area or that you have thought of all the angles but you will find that it can be a continual learning experience. A common experience is that people come away from campaigns with a totally different perspective on how the political establishment and media structure work and realize how little they understood it or realized how it really works.
At the BeginningWell the key part of any campaign is getting the issue out there. First off, there is no real fixed way to do things. You can do what you like really. Perhaps you might start by writing letters to the appropiate person, group or organisation that you have the issue with? In some particular cases that might be a good start, but if you are fighting for world peace, then letters to government leaders are going to be a waste of time. It is perfectly reasonable to try and do multiple things at the same time. So you could be writing articles for local newspapers, doing interviews, creating your website and organising protests etc if neccessary Overall the following rules of thumb apply.
Creating a LeafletYou don't have to be an IT guru, literary genius or marketing expert to do up a leaflet. They are easy to do. Just start typing in your Word processor. Most people should have access to one nowdays and if not, your local library should have the facility.
Decide what it is your leaflet is going to be about. Is it to call an meeting to setup your campaign? Or is it just raising general awareness? The trick is the way you present the information but make sure it is all there. You should have a catchy title or at least one that gives some strong indication as to what you are about. If it is a meeting, then say it is a public meeting and free. State the time and place and give directions even basic ones. If there are any speakers then list them. Give an idea of how long the meeting is, what you hope to achieve. Provide contact details (phone number) and email address and website if you have these setup. Then if you have space try and fit in a short paragraph somewhere, maybe on the other side of the page giving a brief summary of the campaign
Organising MeetingsThis involves finding somewhere to hold it. Its not as easy as you think as there are often few suitable venues. It is at this point that you begin to realize that lack of a proper democracy because ideally every community or suburban local area should have some kind of hall or meeting place to enable public meetings or other forms of local politcal activity like assemblies for the area. Getting back to the topic, once you find a place, then you need to book it, find out if they charge for the room and even whether they will let you hold your meeting because many an establishment have certain political leanings and will be none too keen to host your venue. Occasionally, you may find somewhere free which is the ideal. In general it is best to avoid holding meetings in a pub unless they have a specific private room. As always a day or two before your meeting you should confirm the venue with the place to be sure it is still available.
It is worth pointing out that the less political something is the more likely people will turn up to a public meeting and the more political the less likely they will. It seems that most people instinctively steer away from all things political whether that is for a good reason or not is another question. So if you are campaigning to get the local waste ground converted to a football field, you will probably get a great turnout but if it to object to allowing troops through Shannon on their way to Iraq, don't expect to fill the room or even the front row.
Creating Your WebsiteIf you are not in any way technical, then seek some voluntary help from somebody who knows a bit about setting up websites. The general rule though is keep it simple. That way it will be easy to maintain. There is no point getting someone to do a website for you that is overly complicated, a nightmare to change and leaves you totally dependent on them. Whatever your skill level you should make an effort to learn the basics because it can go a long way to understanding what a website can do and can't do and it will help clear the fog of uncertainity.
To setup a website you need to create at least one webpage and then find a website to place it on. You may want to get your own website address also. The best advice though is probably to mock up a page and load into your web-browser and see what it looks like. Then maybe you can worry about where to actually put it on the internet
You should treat your website just like any other piece of media. It is just another tool. You need to integrate it with all the other parts of your campaign. So just as your contact details consists of your phone and email address, so too does it consist of your website address. Think of it as a place to put your own press releases, news, events, background information and anything else. Don't be afraid to put loads of information online. The more the better.
Creating the website is not enough on its own. You need people to find it, go there and stay there and read your stuff. You don't want to be like one of those YouTube video pages that has 6 hits in 10 months. The hard work is actually getting traffic to your site. At all times you have got to remember that there are 100s of millions of other websites, so why would anyone know of the existence of yours and less care to even visit it. So you have got to treat it like a marketing campaign. You have got to get your message out there (i.e. your website address) and then make it interesting enough that people stay there (instead clicking right off it) and to keep coming back to it.
Doing MediaIn this day and age, having a website and doing stuff on the Internet (e.g. facebook etc), is seen more and more as doing media. But there is still the old fashioned stuff too. Doing media includes sending out press releases, doing up flyers/leaflets, posters, giving interviews on local or even national radio and possibly doing video too. Even protesting is a form of media, because unless you are doing some form of direct action to block something or whatever, then protesting is at the end of the day simply a form of media.
Without fail, many a person new to campaigning / activism figure that if we just write to the media and let them know what is happening with our issue then we're sorted. It is usually after they have gone to the trouble multiple times to send such letters and press releases to all of the local and national newspapers and similiar outlets and they get totally ignored that the penny begins to drop. The mainstream media are not interested. They are not there for the little people. They are there to promote and propangandize for the main sources of power and wealth in society. There can be exceptions to this and in general if you persist, you will get some openings with local media who are usually looking around for material to fill up their pages, but you should be aware they can be very sensitive to certain topics. While it might be a success to finally get some article in a local newspaper, it is still only local at the end of the day, but it is far better than nothing. That is when you begin to understand the power that capitalists have by owning a national newspaper.
Learning along the Way: Research and EducationThere is always a lot to learn and you should always be prepared to keep an open mind and be attentive to all aspects of your campaign to make it more effective and to consider all the factors that to help make it a success. Lets suppose you are campaigning against contaminated water in your area. So what do you need to know. You should find out about sources of contamination whether biological or chemical or both. Is there human waste or say pig slurry getting into the water supply? Or are there dangerous chemicals leaking into the ground? Is their a dump nearby? If the council say the water was tested and is okay, then find out what tests were done, what are the permitted levels for different things. What are safe levels or unsafe? What were the results and when were they made and when? Was the testing done independently. If so by whom? Maybe investigate it more to see if they are linked to vested interests? Find out what are the symptoms from drinking contaminated water? Or find out about other areas that had similar problems. How easy is it to clean up? How long does it take and cost?
Then for the other aspects, think about how to get people interested. How do you pitch your message. Why would people be not interested? Who do they trust? Would they trust you and your message? How do you get your message out? Where or what is the most effective place or method to do this? Would knowledge or awareness of the same problems in other areas help convince people to act and believe they can do something? Is your campaign perceived as predominately Left, Right, central. What are you aiming for? How are your opponents fighting back? What methods are they using? Usually the will try to divide a campaign, smear it and cast doubt over your information. Think about how to deal with these things and see them coming in advance. Raise awareness of these tactics.
As you can see the above is going to be pretty common to all sorts of campaigns but there will be plenty of different areas for you to think about to keep you occupied.
Handling FinancesMoney is important but you shouldn't get hung up on it because you can get a lot done without it through your own and other people's efforts. The most important thing to avoid is for your campaign to be spending most of its time fundraising. Some of the typical expenses go on paying for hire of meeting rooms, printing leaflets and possibly websites histing, transport, fines. If you are organising protests somewhere, you will have transport costs such as bus hire and this money usually has to be paid upfront before you get any back from the people travelling. Fines are mentioned because if you are being a real nuance to the State or Corporate power, some of your campaigners may end up in the courts for protesting and various trumped up petty charges and there is nothing better the State likes than imposing fines because these are an effective way of draining the life from your campaign while you get diverted on fundraising to pay someones fine. This happened quite a bit during the anti-war protests especially around Shannon airport.
The deadilest relationship to get into is where you get into a relationship with the State whereby they are contributing significantly to your funding. Once that happens, they are pulling the strings and self censorship silently kicks in. The same and more so goes if you happen to be crazy enough to accept corporate donations of any kind. There is a huge amount of co-opting done by corporations of various campaigns and organisations. Its the kiss of death.
It almost goes without saying that if you get entangled with the legal side of things, then your costs will soar and it is best steering away from this area.
Going the Legal RouteSome campaigns decide to go the legal route and challenge whatever it is through the courts. The problem with this route is that it is costly and pretty much high stakes. And if you win, quite often the State will either just ignore you or simply change the law and thereby close off that challenge for the future.
The law is really only there for rich people and companies to settle their differences and to act as a facade to the democratic process. Whilst it is true there have been victories through the courts, in most cases these are for issues that don't really challenge or threaten to change the fundamental order of things. Unfortunately many people put great store my the legal process but on political issues at least, the judges always know which way the wind is blowing and almost without exception act in the interests of the State and corporate power. There are endless examples of this, if you take the time to follow it up.
Recent examples of legal type campaigns are the Carrickmines Campaign that seeked to prvent the State destroying the archelogical site at Carrickmines
that was in the way of the last part of the M50 motorway. The campaigners one and then the State changed the law and ignored them anyhow. It actually
set the disaster for the M3 motorway through Tara because the legal route there proved to be totally futile. Another example of the legal route was
some years back the case whereby a woman sued the State to have her autustic child educated. She won, but we still see lip service paid to the issue and
in these times of austerity from bailouts, any gains are likely to be completely undone.
Links to related material
Recommended LiteratureThis is just a very general list of publications that might be of interest. Most of them have websites with some of the articles online.