activist notes


6.3 Sharpening objectives

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6.3 Sharpening objectives

6.3 Sharpening objectives

What are you going to campaign for?  It has to be something that can actually be achieved. And it has to be something that will be effective in terms of your overall objectives. The Los Angeles-for- a-living-wage coalition in its early stages had an ingenious solution to concretizing the objectives of its minimum wage campaign. See the Activist Note!

[Activist Note: In developing objectives, the successful Los Angeles campaign for a living wage decided to consult with a west coast grassroots economic literacy organization. With Just Economics, a grassroots economic literacy organization, they devised a curriculum and ran workshops focussed on issues of inequality and wages. The workshop program had two outcomes for the campaign: 1) raising awareness of the issue and the campaign among community members; and 2) in the course of discussion, those involved clarified for themselves and for the campaign just what a real living wage would be. (Luce p. 65)]

Sharpening your objectives is important in focussing the campaign on what can actually be achieved by the governmental level you’re aiming to put pressure on. You may get energy, euphoria, and expanded support with successful popular mobilization, but you may find that the latter doesn’t translate into electoral pressure (see below regarding internet use). At the same time, sharpening objectives should be clearly registered as only a step or piece of larger concerns to be taken up and developed further on.

Developing objectives that aim directly at the capacities of the municipality (or other level of government) to act doesn’t mean retreating before you’ve started. The capacities of a given level of government to act are formally and legally defined. It may be difficult to track them down through the bulk of documentation (city charters, corporation law, etc.), but drawing on the experience of local activists as well as any Councillors or municipal staff members you have contact with, you can ask questions and get a good idea. Working up your objectives also means shaping them so that they can actually be implemented. Calibrating your objectives may be an ongoing process as the campaign develops, particularly if you are successful in establishing dialogue with Councillors or, better, municipal staff.

Finally, it’s good idea to think about how your objectives might be framed so as to offer positive payoff for the municipality. Municipalities have reputations; staff members, particularly managerial staff, have professional reputations tied into the reputation of the municipality.  Are there ways in which your objectives can be framed to tie into the municipality’s reputation? Vancouver’s Ethical Purchasing policy, for example, could be tied into its reputation for sustainability policies.

Note that concretizing objectives does not mean giving up more general principles. But it does mean translating them into recognizable forms that can actually be achieved and implemented at this level. Keep in mind that any institution’s, including any government’s, capacity to act isn’t just a matter of what the individuals who make it up might think or feel. Its capacity to act is formalized; its doings have to be recognizable in a specialized and formalized language; Councillors and staff capacities to act are defined by the official definitions of their positions. The box below shows how purchasing authority is specified for – and restricted to – defined positions. “Calling for bids” is an authorized action, also specified. What the Mayor, Councillors and staff can do has to fit the frame established in the official language. So shaping objectives may also involve translating what you want to happen into terms that can be recognized and taken up as municipal business (see below for more on the importance of the language in which objectives are written).

[Activist Note:

Purchasing Policy

The City of Vancouver‘s contracting policy is set out below. Calling Bidsa. Authority

Apart from the overall authority granted to the City Manager, only the following officials are authorized to call for bids:

The City’s Purchasing Manager may call bids for the purchase of equipment, material, supplies and services for use in City operations;

The General Manager of Engineering Services may call bids for City engineering works and services;

The General Manager of Corporate Services may call bids for construction, alteration, repair and maintenance of City buildings;

The General Manager of the Park Board may call bids for goods and services for use in Park Board operations;

The Director of the Vancouver Public Library may call bids for goods and services for use in Library Board operations.]

It’s also important to be working towards objectives that make sense in terms of how a municipal Council can act and what is the most effective form of action to go after. Municipal councils vary, but in general actions changing present practice can take several forms– bylaw, resolution, policy, and so on. Be aware of what is implied by what you decide to after. For example, a municipal Council may pass a resolution that makes it look good. And campaigners may feel good and look good in the local media. But a resolution may do nothing of itself. A number of Canadian municipalities have passed resolutions supporting ethical purchasing policies, but they are not required to act following the passing of the resolution in Council. So make sure that clarifying your objectives preserves your overall goals as well as building support for future achievements. 


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