Seven reasons why I’m falling in love with grassroots campaigning
A little while ago, as attentive readers (and I know we have some!) might recall, I was chatting to my co-convener, who also edits the fairervotesedinburgh blog, about how I didn’t really know what a grassroots campaign should feel like, because I’d never been in one before. I don’t think I’m any nearer a definition, but I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Yes! to Fairer Votes is a very good example, and am also starting to notice how much I love the way it feels. In keeping with the season, now seems the time to admit that grassroots campaigning has stolen my heart, and to offer some reasons why.
I decided to use bullet points instead of numbers, because they are in no particular order or, to put it another way, it was far too difficult for me to rank them according to preference…
- Inspirational people: it’s not in the job description (and I suppose grassroots campaigns don’t have them), but we only seem to get volunteers who can do the job in hand brilliantly, with minimum fuss and maximum commitment – even when we’re not sure quite what it’s going to involve or how it will turn out. I’ve never taken part in anything without feeling privileged to work with these folk.
- Diverse people: we have members of very different ages and backgrounds who say Yes to AV for all kinds of reasons, and this makes for some fascinating conversations beyond the subject of electoral reform. No-one is afraid to talk about current political issues (among many other things) and almost all of the time, people will respect and listen to each other’s views as a matter of course, which I thought might not be very easy with the wide range of party affiliations we have on board. I really needn’t have worried.
- How we connect: mainly thanks to the Internet, it’s easy to be in touch with other groups like ours around the UK, to hear about what they are doing and how the campaign is going for them, to support each other and to share ideas. I have had some very emotional moments concerning banner making. First came the pride in knowing that (as has been pointed out here before) our banners aren’t made in a sweat shop somewhere – either we make them ourselves, or Fairer Votes activists like ourselves in another part of the country make them specially for us. But what was most exciting and moving was to read work-in-progress reports on Twitter as an “Edinburgh says yes!” banner was actually being created. A member of our group collected it after a training course in London and delivered it to the next meeting, and we were quite delighted to see the finished product. We all want to put it to the best use possible around the city, because of its story as much as its message.
- Imaginative and fun events: I enjoy the things we’re doing all the more because of the creative ideas people come up with and the way these evolve as we go along. If it hadn’t been pouring with rain in Edinburgh for the campaign launch event on November 6th (decidedly not the weather for a traditional bonfire), the big purple YES! wouldn’t have made such an impact on the city centre and we‘d never have had the chance to invent the alternative chants we did. And if I hadn’t had so much fun getting soaked in democracy, maybe I wouldn’t have become so impatient to take to the streets again just as soon as possible!
- The unexpected ways we see and are seen: I have always worn my heart on my sleeve where electoral reform is concerned, so others expect me to have something to do with Yes! to fairer votes, but this kind of campaigning still sometimes prompts unexpected behaviour. People who think they know me well have expressed astonishment at a few utterances they would have filed under “things I’m least likely to say” (most notably,”We have to make a decision now,” “let’s get up at 8.30 am on a Sunday and talk to a video camera” and “I’m going to talk to a local politician [of views that contrast starkly with mine].”) I’m also getting to see things differently myself, often in stranger ways than realising that a politician from another party might be persuaded to say yes! Yesterday I found myself wondering why television coverage of the Six Nations concentrates so much on what’s happening on the pitch. Surely we should get more shots of the supporters who might be displaying the Yes! speech bubbles we’d just been distributing to them on the road to Murrayfield?
- Entertainment value: there is plenty of humour in the situations that arise and even more in the things people say. I have even started to collect purple quotations. Some of them come from planning meetings, such as this explanation of why the parks department wasn’t particularly keen on helping us arrange a purple bonfire: “To be fair to them, it’s a bit of a big ask: ‘Hi, we’re a bunch of activists, we’d like to set fire to your park.’” Then there are the bizarre responses from passersby when we are street stalling:
Campaigner: “Do you care about democracy, madam?”
Madam: “Yes, but I also have to feed my child.”
- Finally and most importantly (I know I said there was no particular order, but this is the exception to prove the rule!) is sharing enthusiasm for the cause – all the time I feel very aware of how we are campaigning for something that means a great deal to everyone involved; very appreciative of working with likeminded people. All of us are passionate about democracy, and for obvious reasons, nobody loves first past the post. We are exactly the right people to introduce voters convincingly to a new system that allows us to follow our hearts.