Protest in the media (again)

The British media seems to have re-awakened an interest in protesting. Last week the Guardian had a go at listing the 10 best protests in history.

While the BBC World Service has been airing ‘Marching into History’ which is described as;

For hundreds of years the protest march has been a means of voicing passionate concerns.
Whether protesting at injustice, challenging inequalities, fighting for better conditions or showing solidarity for fellow workers – demonstrating has been a way of focusing public anger.
While some mass demonstrations have ended in victory, others have led to retreat, defeat and sometimes tragedy. Defying the authorities can be a dangerous business.
In this two-part documentary, Michael Goldfarb examines the protest march as a force for change

The first part is available to listen to here, while the second part will be broadcast on Wednesday 24th November at 09.05 GMT.

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Protecting the right to campaign

Whatever campaigning tactics you or your organisation use, we should be grateful we live in a country where free speech is protected and the right to campaign upheld.

That’s why campaigners of all styles and viewpoints should be concerned about the erosion of campaigning space, much of which happened under the last government.

This film made by campaigners from People and Planet shows what happens when they recently tried to collect petitions in a busy Birmingham shopping centre, while the accompany post details a number of recent examples where activists have been asked to ‘move on’ for campaigning in public spaces owned by private companies (often shopping centres or other similar spaces in towns and cities).

The  government has plans to introduce a Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill into parliament in the coming months and I’ve argued before that this bill should remove some of the worst bits of legislation the reduce campaigning space in London and around the UK, but we need to do more.

I’d strongly encourage you to add your name to the petition that 38degrees are running which wants to “Reclaim the right to campaign” and asks you to “support the right to protest in areas which are freely open to the public but which are privately owned, such as the walkways of shopping centres.”

You and your organisation may never plan to make use of the opportunity, but we should stand alongside other campaigning organisations who do to ensure that we keep the maximum possible opportunities to exercise the opportunity to campaign in the UK.

How are new MPs adjusting to campaign tactics?

Parliament rose for the summer recess this week, and it’s been interesting to see how the new (and some returning MPs) have responded to all the campaigning actions that they’ve been on the receiving end of.

Exhibit A is an Early Day Motion (EDM) from the new Conservative MP for Weaver Vale, Graham Evans, who ironically used an EDM to criticise the effectiveness of them. Evan’s argues that;

this House regrets the continuing decline in importance of Early Day Motions which have become a campaign tool for external organisations; notes the role of public affairs professionals in drafting Early Day Motions and encouraging members of the organisations they represent to send pro forma emails and postcards to hon. Members; further notes the huge volume of correspondence that this generates and the consequent office and postage costs incurred; believes that the organisations involved derive little benefit from Early Day Motions, which very rarely have any influence on policy;

Only 22 MPs signed onto it although many of them are from the new intake of Conservative MPs, which might signal a disinterest in using them as a tool to register their support for an issue in the future.

Many campaigners have long discussed the effectiveness of EDMs, described by some MPs, who refuse to sign onto them viewing them as a form of ‘parliamentary graffiti’, but others see them as a useful way of demonstrating support for an issue, and a way of giving MPs a specific action to take to demonstrate support for an issue. ConservativeHome has more on the EDM and a counter one from another Conservative MP, plus an interesting case study of how an EDM started a campaign to keep the General Election Night Special, although this came as a result of a campaign that was initiated and of particular interest to MPs.

Exhbit B is this recent report in Third Sector magazine from a Media Trust event at which Charles Walker MP, a backbench Conservative MP commented that ‘Charities often write to MPs asking us to write to ministers to express their disquiet. They assume their concerns must be our concerns. That’s almost bullying, to be honest. Lots of the lobbying MPs are subjected to is blunt and cackhanded’

Going on to say that some charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Support and a local hospice charity in his constituency, were very good at communicating with him. Inviting him to events they are holding locally and saying “It’s almost impossible for an MP to turn down an invitation from a charity that is doing good work in his or her constituency.”

It’s too early to tell if the new batch of MPs are going to be more or less receptive to popular campaigning, but these two examples should perhaps challenge campaigning organisatons to think afresh about the tactics and approaches that are going to use to influence the new (and old) intake.

Twitter – here to stay

So, after a very long summer break I’m back…one of my first blogs back in February was about twitter I asked if it was going to catch on.

I was cautiously optimistic, I wanted it to work, but was wary that it could go the way of other social media phenomena. Well what a 6 months Twitter has had. The numbers of people using it are still growing, and it’s not hyperbole to say that it’s changed the face of campaigning.

Changing Policy – Lots has been written about the role of twitter in mobilising people, but last week was perhaps a high-water mark for twitter.

On Monday, we had the Trafigura story exploding on twitter, within hours of the Guardian publishing a cryptic article on its website about an injunction we saw people starting to tweet what the parliamentary question was.  Before long the story was leading on the mainstream news, and a scandal that was only going to get noticed by a few who had been following the  story was everywhere, a very public PR disaster! Liam from louder.org.uk has a good post on this.

Then on Friday, we saw twitter mobilise a record 22,000 people to complain to the Press Complaints Commission about an article in the Daily Mail on the death of Stephen Gatley.

Before that we had the organisation BeThatChange organising a day of action which saw thousands of people trying to get Gordon Brown to go to COP, the response was that Ed Miliband put up a poll on his Ed’s Pledge website asking people to vote for their political priority ahead of Copenhagen.  A few days later, and Gordon Brown announced he was going to COP.

No doubt there are many other examples that one could point to over the last few months, ILovetheNHS for example. Two thoughts about what these examples have in common, an immediacy within moments someone has picked up on the story, and in hours they’ve reached a tipping point that forces the target to respond. Secondly, few of these campaigns have been initiated by organisations but instead twitter has put the ability to mobilise in the hands of people with lots of followers on twitter.  Some more agile movements may have been able to pick up on them (for example 38degrees around Trafigura), but twitter is helping to put mobilising power to those with virtual networks.

Engaging with policy makers – Today, two people I know got responses from @EdMilibandMP to their questions/comment and I’ve seen an interesting discussion with @SadiqKhan about an announcement he was making on parking. So what? Well unlike most communications with ministers/MPs, the chances are those policy makers have actually responded themselves, Twitter has cut out the comms department, the secretary and allowed people to share what they’re thinking directly with those holding the red box. No doubt this phenomena will come to an end when the number of followers becomes overwhelming, but for the time its a great opportunity to take advantage of.

Two others useful things;
– Back in the summer the people who matter in Whitehall issued these guidelines about how government department should be using twitter, while they were ridiculed for being too long, they’re the best set of guidelines I’ve found if you need to persuade senior management in your organisation to understand and use twitter.
– I’ve been experimenting with act.ly as a way of getting supporters to use twitter to show their support for a campaign, initial experience is good.

Gurkha justice

Joanna Lumley has been successful in her campaign to guarantee that all former Ghurkha solders are allowed the right to settle in the UK if they wish. Its a campaign that has seen the government make a dramatic U-turn and for days dominated the news headlines. But what are some of the elements that made the campaign a success.

The right person to front the campaign – Lumley has also proven herself to be an effective political operator holding impromptu press conferences and using her profile to secure meetings with politicians from all parties to drive the case. As this profile in the Observer explained it was not only asking the actress who most people recognised and liked helped to give a face to the campaign,  but also the personal link that Lumley had with the issue. Her father was a major in the Army who lead a troop of Ghurkha solders, and it meant that she was able to speak from a position of integrity, and appeared to be prepared to invest a huge amount of her personal capital in leading the campaign rather than simply providing a face for a media opportunity before moving onto her next engagement.

Framing the issue correctly – At the heart of this campaign this was a immigration issue, normally something that plays badly with most of the media, but the campaign framed the arguments in clear moral terms, these people had fought for our country with honour. The right thing, the British thing to do was to let those who wanted to come to the UK, the Ghurka Justice website talks ‘a debt of honour’. The campaign picked great examples of heroic soldiers and meant that the press found it hard to do anything but ‘back the boys’. It wrong footed the government who thought that the immigration argument would prevail by proving that a stronger narrative existed.

Involvement of national newspapers -Both The Sun and The Mirror ran a petition in support of the campaign. Collecting tens of thousands of names and demonstrating broad public support for the issue, and showed that while newspapers might be loosing influence when they back an issue they make it hard for the government to ignore.

Building slowly – Although it’s made headlines in the last few weeks, this is a campaign that has been working hard in parliament for over a year building support, both amongst the opposition parties who got the issue to be debated in parliament, but also amongst backbench Labour MPs. Much of this work has happened quietly, but it meant that when the issue came to be debated many had considered the arguments and were prepared to vote against the whip.

Good timing – Undoubtedly luck has played a part in this campaign. The issue was debated at a bad time for the government that had been rocked after a number of potential defeats and PR disasters. It meant the opposition parties saw they could further wound the government and show that they had a better sense of what the mood of the country was.

When campaigning meets art

Nice campaign tactic from Campaign Against Arms Trade

Stand up in Trafalgar Square
There has been a lot of publicity for the Antony Gormley “living sculpture” on the fourth (missing) plinth in Trafalgar Square . This is a great opportunity for an anti-arms trade campaigner to stand up beside the military “heroes” already there (even if only for an hour). Why not register online at http://www.oneandother.co.uk/ if you are chosen let us know so we can support you in your hour of glory.

Great campaign stunts

If the hype is to be believed Ben Southall has ‘the best job in the world’. He’s the winner of a recent competition run by the Tourism Queensland to find a new caretaker for Hamilton Island off the coast of Australia. The Guardian points out that the publicity that the island has got also makes the competition a inspired PR stunt generating millions of pounds of publicity.

The competition has made it into a list of the top 50 PR stunts in the world , but a look at the list shows that you don’t need to have a big budget or be a global brand as a number of civil society campaigns also make the list including;

WWF’s Earth Hour – the annual event that sees millions of people around the world turn of non-essential lights for an hour.
The Peanut Protest – student Mark McGowan pushes a peanut with his nose to Downing Street to protest about student debt.
Fathers4Justice – with its headline grabbing if controversial stunts.

Evidence that a well thought out PR stunt delivered at the right moment can have as much impact as a million pound campaign from a well know brand.