The world can disempower us and progress can be slow to achieve. Currently, over the world, campaigners and activists are reclaiming politics. The people in power too often look, sound and live differently to us.
According to a piece of research done by Ipsos Maori in 2019, only 17% of people surveyed said they trusted politicians. The imbalance of power between politicians and people can often create feelings like disempowerment.
We live in a democratic society and the protest and campaigns give us a lot of our power back. Young people have launched really successful and important campaigns.
"We’re taking matters into our own hands", as Amika George, who successfully got free period products into schools over England, says. "What I’ve learnt is this: anyone - absolutely anyone can be an activist… and today, more than ever, we need people like you to stand up for change."
In campaigning, you can raise awareness or speak up for those who might not have the resources or confidence to speak up themselves.
Here are some suggestions for setting up a successful campaign:
Amika George (photo credit - THE BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION)
Choose Your Cause
- Refine your cause. It can be anything you see that needs change. Narrow and specific is good. For example, improving a local park or changing something in your school.
- Caroline Criado Perez who successfully campaigned to get Jane Austin on an English banknote said: "Choose something you can’t help campaigning on… and keep going till you win."
- Start small - sometimes the injustices in society can feel massive, so it’s okay to focus on one issue which feels manageable. Imagine the problem like a tall building. Chipping away at it brick by brick will slowly dismantle the structure.
- Sometimes the first steps can be the hardest. Begin by mind mapping and discussing what your overall goal is. Make a rough plan of how you think you might be able to achieve this. There are no wrong answers, all suggestions are helpful.
- Amika George said in her Free Period campaign that her journey was "disjointed - sometimes unplanned, sometimes strategic, sometimes chaotic." She says she doesn’t feel she’s the loudest or most confident person in the room. Despite this, she’s led a successful campaign and says it’s because she doesn’t listen to the voice inside her head that’s critical of her.
- Blue sky thinking! Think about the perfect world. What would that world look like? What’s the problem you’re tackling and what will make the problem go away?
- Gina Martin speaks of the three A’s of campaigning:
- Awareness: educating people on the issue and getting it spoken about
- Advocacy: gaining people’s support, and getting a team of allies to support your cause
- Action: taking the awareness and advocacy you’ve building and using it to solve your problem
Start to Build a Team
- Which people, groups or organisations want help you achieve your goal of change? Look at the types of allies who will support you and your campaign (MPs, friends, members of the local community, teachers, local charities etc). There will be people with notability (they’re people who are well known for their work) who would love to support you. Reaching out to them is a great way to get support, as they’ll have helpful people they can introduce you to.
- Think about who you're aiming your campaign to. Who are you trying to get on board, and what exactly are you trying to change/keep the same? Remember, different types of content and parts of the campaign will engage different people.
- Know your own personal strengths, write a list of what your best points are, and what you can add to the team. This might be social media, something creative, marketing, or public speaking etc. But also, be aware of your limitations.
- Work to your strengths in the team. Everyone in a team will have their own role to play, and every person and their role is crucial.
- Once you’ve got your team together, start to plan what strategy you might use. Your plan will probably change over time, but it’s really important to have a guide you can follow.
- A good way to create a plan is to think about what your objective is and work backwards, thinking about the different things that are gonna need to be done to get there. A timeline is a good way to do this.
Gina Martin (photo credit BBC)
Who Supports your Campaign?
- What kind of support do you think you might need? Your campaign will be part of a much bigger picture and there is so much power in working together. By finding your allies you are helping to build up the community or network of like-minded people.
- Roxy, who successfully campaigned with her ‘No Police in Schools’ campaign, said it can be best to look "outwards to what community organisations already exist, so you can be supported, or support them, or see what gaps there are." Her campaign ‘No Police in Schools’ built on years of existing infrastructure, groups and community work.
- Listen: speak to groups, members of the community and friends. They might have really important feedback that can help you move forward.
- Try to keep your supporters and allies in the loop. Think about how often and what information you will update them on as well as any events you might want to invite them to.
- Be open minded to different options and opinions. Not everyone will initially support your campaign, some people will be won over when they see how good it is. Raising awareness is about showing why your campaign is important.
Choosing a Name
- Mind map ideas. Something bold, catchy and simple that says what it is on the tin is often most effective. Like ‘No Police in Schools’; you know what it is about straight away
- If you want to create a logo and you aren’t artistically minded, start simple, with one or two bold, eye-catching colours.
- Coming up with a few hashtags is a good way to spread the message.
Roxy's 'No Police In Schools' Campaign
Spreading the Word
- Social media is really important. There will be many like-minded people on the internet. These people can help add depth, strength and vision to your mission.
- Being confident in your posts allows people to know they’re part of something big and important. Amika encourages using an "empowered, controlled tone." She says channelling negative emotions is important, but, where appropriate, use positive language as it will help others to have positive actions they can focus on.
- You are probably already experts. Your lived experience gives you really valuable insight and perspective on the topic. You and your team can pull from your experience on what does and doesn’t work for you. Make sure you build on your lived experience by listening to the opinions of others, and doing research around the topics and different campaigns to see what has and hasn’t worked in the past. As Gina Martin said "self-education is the single most important thing you can do to challenge society."
- Petitions are a great way to show that your campaign has support, and also remind yourself of all the people who support your cause.
- Being heard: find ways you’re going to communicate. There’re loads of options like a social media campaign, an event, a protest, local newspapers/radio stations or selling merch.
- Social media is a really powerful space to share stories, start or join a conversation, and meet like-minded people. Campaigns like ‘BlackLivesMatter’ and the ‘MeToo’ movement spread like wildfire online and sparked a tidal wave of human stories which empowered others to share their stories. These campaigns show the power of community, and how online conversations can shift so many attitudes offline.
- Gina Martin said that the "human story’ galvanises people like nothing else in campaigns. She points out that people are less interested with seeing infallible characters and more interested in seeing people like us fight for the issues that people like us have to deal with. In her words ‘we want to back people we can trust". This is where your lived experience can be a valuable resource.
- Creating an elevator pitch is helpful. It’s basically the problem in a sentence, with evidence of the problem, why it’s important and how you think you can help added on. This gives space to collect and refine your campaign.
Fight the Stigma
- Fight stigma associated with your campaign. Be yourself and take up space!
- Use the power of inclusion and diverse activism for a collective purpose. It will open up the possibility of the campaign as you will have the input of problems and viewpoints which may have been missed. The best kind of activism creates a safe and empowering space for everybody.
- Always check your privilege. This means acknowledging that certain societal factors may work in your favour and give you benefits. For example, being white, male, able-bodied, straight, neuro-typical, or having ready access to money and other resources. Other people might not have the privileges and instead might have more of the system stacked against them. True inclusivity comes from self-education, listening and being open-minded. Educate those who are unaware or in doubt of their privilege. Or don’t, it’s not your responsibility to do that emotional labour. It’s up to you (:
- Where possible, avoid speaking on behalf of marginalised groups, those who have been hurt by a system are those best equipped to find solutions.
- Recognise your privilege. Check your privilege. Use your privilege for good.
- Amika George who successfully ran the Free Periods campaign accepted her MBE, partly because she wanted to show young people that "your opinions and political actions are just as valid and needed as an older white man who seems to be in Parliament and seems to have a lot more power than you do"
BLM 'Kill the bill' protest (photo credit Alisdare Hickson)
Don’t give up!
- Although sometimes youth voices are elevated and given specific opportunities because they’re young, sometimes youth activists are ridiculed, literally just because they’re young.
- If you do find yourself being treated unfairly whilst campaigning, please reach out to someone you trust to talk. You are the number one priority, so your main responsibility is to look after yourself, not the campaign.
- X Gonzales, who was a key player in the American campaign for stricter gun laws and gun violence prevention, said "I really think that a lot of people can underestimate the power that they have and the influence that they can have. People take for granted that their voice isn’t going to do anything when it really will, because that’s what happened to me."
- It’s okay to say no. Don’t feel pressure to say yes to an opportunity that doesn't feel right. Saying no to the wrong opportunity allows you to say yes when a better opportunity comes along.
- Campaigning can be really draining. Take care of your own well-being during the process. Especially when the campaign is something you feel really strongly about, the challenges and knock-backs can feel personal, even when they’re not. Try to maintain self care throughout, including looking after yourself, and sharing your experiences with your team.
- Most feelings that come up are a normal reaction to being part of a modern work which isn’t working – try to use emotions that come up, like anger, frustration, or guilt in a productive way to push forward your campaign.
- It’s not about throwing yourself into a huge full-blow campaign. Instead, making little changes will make a huge difference. Any act that you put ur effort into is incredibly valuable. Your best work is created when you’re healthy and happy.
- Defining your end goal is a really helpful tool to prevent the work feel like a never-ending thing that you can constantly work on. This end goal can be something like an end date, a certain number of supporters, or an achievement.
- As Gina Martin says in her book; "to make the world a better place, there is one thing you must never let go of: hope."
- Over the past few years there have been some incredible things achieved by campaigning and protest. These include:
- The George Floyd murder sparking the biggest ever global civil rights movement
- The Supreme Court ruling that LGBTQ+ employees must be protected by civil rights employment statues
- Chris Smalls, an ex-Amazon employee founding the Amazon Labour Union which is currently fighting for better treatment for Amazon employees
For every movement or uprising, there has been a person who, like you, has decided that it was time for urgent and compelling change, who hesitated about starting, who started and then stumbled, but fought on"- Amika George
Written by Georgie B
Amika George, Make it Happen: How to be an Activist (HarperCollins Publishers, 2021)
Gina Martin. Be the Change: a Toolkit for the Activist in You (Clays Ltd, 2019)
James Moore, ‘David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg Share the Same Goal But Are Treated Very Differently’ https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/david-attenborough-greta-thunberg-climate-crisis-a-life-on-our-planet-activism-trump-b747212.html
Kimmi Chaddah, ‘The Gal-dem Guide to Launching a Successful Lobbying Campaign’ https://gal-dem.com/how-to-launch-a-campaign/
Reuters, ‘Your Voice Matters, Say Activist X Gonzales’ https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-12-02/your-voice-matters-says-gun-control-activist-x-gonzalez