activist notes


6.4 Resources

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6.4 Resources

6.4.1 Know-how

6.4.1.1 Knowing how municipal politics work

6.4.1.2 Activist political and organizational experience

6.4.1.3 Learning municipal political and organizational process

6.4.2 Connections

6.4.2.1 Other community organizations

6.4.2.2 City staff

6.4.3 Work and work time

6.4.4 The internet

6.4.5 Materials

6.4 Resources

Building a campaign requires resources. Resources are knowhow, connections, access to the municipal process (maybe among your connections) and above all work time, work time and work time.           

6.4.1 Knowhow 

It’s hard even to list adequately the kind of knowledge people who have been active in community organizing have of what works, what doesn’t work, how the municipality operates, who’s going to be on your side, who’s going to be opposed, how to relate to the media, and so on. There’s a storehouse here of experience and connection. Talk over coffee, casual meetings, having a drink together – connecting and talking about troubling issues and how they might be addressed in a municipal setting is invaluable. The storehouse can be opened.

                        6.4.1.1 Knowing how municipal politics work: Again, talking to people ‘in the know’ is an obvious resource. But collecting press clippings and watching the television broadcasts of municipal Council meetings – not the most thrilling TV you’ve ever watched, but if you watch regularly you’ll see staff making presentations, and Councillors discussing; you’ll learn how Councillors line up and what kinds of issues are raised; you’ll begin to get some idea of what’s involved for staff.  There are also obvious resources: the municipality’s legal basis – charter or status as a corporation – will be on the internet. Any specific policy, by-law, etc will also be available on the internet. Making a file of press clippings or downloads from the internet will give you a further sense of how Councillors line up as well as the kinds of public response and the expressions of interest groups who may present your campaign issues with opposition.

                        6.4.1.2 Activist political and organizational experience: When in comes to developing organization with political objectives at any level, the experience of people who’ve already been involved in such activities is invaluable. Connect with them, involve them if you can, ask them questions, learn (you don’t have to agree with everything, but you can learn).

6.4.1.3 Learning municipal political and organizational process: The more you can learn about municipal political process, the better your objectives, policy drafts and plans for monitoring implementation can be designed. You can find out how a council decision is actually made, including how staff are involved in preparation and presentation; what forms (documents) does it take when it goes from council to staff for implementation, and what happens when staff take over and start translating it staff practices. You may find it helpful to put newsprint up on the wall, start making a map and keeping track of the process.

             6.4.2 Connections

Existing connections are an important source of support, of learning what you need to know, and of keeping in touch with what’s going on during the campaign. Any group that comes together around a shared concern or issue is a storehouse of connectedness. It might be worthwhile sitting down together as a group and having everyone pitch in with the ways in which they’re connected in the community – people involved may be members of faith groups, unions, a variety of organizations in addition to what brings you together. Or individuals may have friends or associates on the job. There may be associations of lawyers or law students who work for free around social justice issues. Using a brainstorming technique to locate community and other resources can yield a bigger payoff in terms of potential sources of experience and local political knowledge than you might think. And then there are the informal connections. Just ask: you’re likely to find that directly or indirectly someone you connect with knows a municipal Councillor, knows a member of municipal staff, knows how things get done, or knows someone who knows someone. If you’ve started a campaign as a student in a university setting, tapping into these kinds of local resources of experience and connection of community organizations will be important in extending your change project beyond the university.                               

6.4.2.1 Councillors

Connections with Councillors are obviously central. In the fair trade story, the municipal electorate had elected a progressive group (COPE – see box p.10) to a majority in Council. Some of the key members of this group already had connections and had general commitments to the kinds of concerns represented by local union organization.  

Councillors aren’t sorted, at least not explicitly, on the bases of political parties in all municipalities, but they are likely to be aligned with different interests in the municipality. Councillors aligned with developers’ interests aren’t likely to support social justice issues; similarly, Councillors oriented primarily to social justice will be more supportive. There may always be some Councillors who don’t line up in a simple way on one side or the other, so it may be important to pay attention to the interests that they do represent.

Councillors, of course, generally want to be re-elected. Whatever their political leanings, their interests will always be shaped by that concern. Hence in designing objectives, keep in mind that the way you frame the issue may make a difference, one way or the other, to how a particular Councillor’s going to look if he or she votes for or against it.                         

6.4.2.2 Other community organizations

As stressed earlier, activists in your local community have resources of experience and connections that are invaluable. Later we talk about coalitions, but even if you are not working with other organizations, you can draw on your connections to expand your own. Other community organizations may give support by sending emails out to members supporting the issues you’re concerned with or encourage members to send messages to Councillors, and so on.

Important too are not-for-profit or voluntary organizations that operate at the national or international levels. These can be sources of information about what’s going on elsewhere as in The Vancouver campaign when the Maquila Solidarity Network connections in Toronto drew attention to where the firemen’s coats had been made. They will also have resources of skills and experience; they may too be willing to connect with their members by email or post your campaign contact information, etc. on their websites. Or suppose a municipality takes on the exclusive use of fair traded coffee, as the City of Vancouver has. How is a municipality going to guarantee to its citizens that the product has actually been produced and marketed according to fair trading principles? Well, there are national and international NGOs that provide the certification that entitles a particular brand of coffee to describe itself as fair trade coffee. They do the checking that municipalities, let alone independent coffee shops, just could not afford to do. So check out possible allies at national and international levels on the web!                       

6.4.2.3 City staff

Connections with staff can be very useful for informing your organization about municipal procedures, potential problems, appropriate wording for proposals, and so on. Sometimes you can get advance notice of initiatives that are to be brought before Council that might be prejudicial to your campaign objectives. More importantly, you can learn from city staff more about how things work, how to find the right language (this matters more than you might think) and what’s practicable at the implementation stage.

Non-managerial staff may be represented by unions. If so, connections with unions may be valuable in relation to social justice issues. Among other possibilities, they can be a potential source of pressure on municipal managers.

          6.4.3 Work and work time

Making change from below is work, takes time, energy, thought, discussion, mobilization, and skills.

Consider your work resources. Campaigns can curl up and die if they try to go beyond the capacities of an organization to mobilize enough people’s time, energy, and commitment. Not-for-profit organizations at the national or international level have paid staff. So do unions and faith groups. Of course, this doesn’t mean that their time is freely available but where campaign objectives are in accord with those of the organization, staff may be able to put in work time on specific aspects of the campaign. Coalitions (see below) are important in mobilizing the work time resources of the paid staff of organizations involved as well as the work time of volunteers. Some faith groups, for example the Society of Friends (‘Quakers’), that don’t have much in the way of paid staff, have established histories of organizing the voluntary work time of members in relation to social justice issues or issues of peace. And looking at the stories of successful campaigns suggests that university students are often important, particularly in the early groundwork days. Of course, students don’t have endless free time from their studies, but their time is often more flexible and they’re less likely to have family commitments to meet.

Think of the campaign itself as a process of mobilizing citizen support plus contributions of work time from volunteers.  Recognizing this volunteer work time as a significant resource means also recognizing that volunteer work needs active support and organization. As a campaign progresses, recruiting volunteers and keeping them involved should be seen as a specific function for campaign organizers. Work like putting up posters to spread the word of a demonstration or operating a website and keeping it up-to-date is very time consuming, but doesn’t require specialized activist experience. And you may also find, among volunteers, specialized skills and knowledge, particularly now that many volunteers are retired people with extensive background skills and experience of all kinds.

6.4.4 The internet

The internet is an obvious means of getting the word out, connecting with people at little cost, notifying people of meetings and demonstrations, getting large numbers of people to send messages supporting your objectives to electoral officials (simplest way to do this is to chain, that is, send a message out of whatever list you have asking each to send the message on to their connections).  Websites, blogs, and so on can be useful. But even widespread internet support doesn’t necessarily work. The 1995 campaign of the Liverpool Dockers in the UK was very successful in getting the support of dock workers all over the world (see box) as well as widespread support of all kinds, but it was not successful. The Liverpool Dockers campaign was not an instance of municipal campaigning, but useful as an early example of deploying the internet to mobilize support. The Liverpool dockers’ experience suggests that an internet campaign may of itself be successful, but may not be focussed in a way that pressures those with the capacity to respond with making the kind of changes being campaigned for.

[Activist Note: The Communications’ Department Secretary of the International Transportworkers Federation (ITF) wrote as follows of the use of internet to mobilize support:

The supporters of the recently concluded Liverpool Dockers dispute deserve to be remembered in the history books for their pioneering work in using the internet. Despite the fact that the dockworkers didn’t have official backing from their national trade union and so were technically prevented from addressing other transport unions, their innovative use of the technology allowed them to go over the heads of their official groups and appeal directly to groups of sympathetic workers all over the world. Both in their use of e-mail and the World Wide Web, the Liverpudlians demonstrated to all of us how it can be done.

Significantly, the initial use of the technology was supported by individuals who had access to the internet and passed messages on to workers who didn’t have access. Successful industrial disputes are not only fought by the workers but also by the broader community. The role of the dockworkers supporters in this dispute was critical.Practically, there was a lot of international solidarity action in support of this dispute and the use of the internet must be recorded as one of the major reasons why this happened. (http://www.labournet.net/docks2/9806/scwu.htm quoted by Carter et al. p. 298)

Despite widespread international support including work stoppages in a number of major ports in Japan on the the Pacific West coast, the involvement of celebrities, and the support of workers and trade unions on a worldwide scale, after some twenty months of local picketing and other activism, Liverpool dockers’ the unofficial strike folded.]

What is read by individuals on their computers doesn’t necessarily add up to public pressure but mobiliizing email may be useful in influencing elected representatives, particularly in putting pressure on those who are wavering.  It is important, however, in email campaigns to make sure that it’s clear that those emailing Councillors are electors. 

6.4.5 Materials

Material things like access to printing, copying, facilities, meeting places, and so on are critical.

[Activist Note: In the successful Detroit ‘living wage’ campaign, the Detroit area labor council donated staff time, office space, and funds to produce 300,000 pieces of literature. (Luce, p. 40)] 

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY is crucial — sources of funds, doing fund-raising if necessary, and sometimes established community and other not-for-profit organizations can help with funds. Unions and faith groups may be able to provide funds as well as, as in the Detroit living wage campaign, help in raising funds. For some kinds of campaigns, local organizations representing small business people such as the Optimists or Rotary Clubs may be a source of funding support, particularly in smaller cities. Brainstorm with other members of your coalition (see below) to identify connections that might be sources of funding. There are also small businesses like Strategic Communications (in Toronto and Vancouver) that do fund-raising and other campaign work for progressive organizations for a fee.


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