The recent American Election was fascinating to watch from the perspective of a political organizer. Among other things we heard how the Obama campaign had canvassers talking to people in hair salons. As people waited, while their nails were being done, or hair clipped and curled, canvassers were engaging women in conversations about politics.
Campaigning has historically been media-driven and talks at people with messages. Polling and focus groups have refined the messages to be more powerful and directed towards specific parts of the population, but it is a message delivered at people. Their message is on the TV, in the newspaper, on the radio, on a billboard – there is no interaction.
Organizers, like in the Obama campaign, did something different and it is the future of organizing.
How does the future of organizing relate to global warming? Why should we even care when our world is heating as the climate changes rapidly. Let’s not forget that poverty is multiplying daily, and millions are dying of diseases. Our information-rich world fills us with images and tells us stories that form a depressing narrative. We begin to lose hope.
But there is hope? Hope for a better world?
Like Obama’s organizers in hair salons, people are organizing around progressive values. It is inspiring and effectively effecting change. In 2003 people in Guelph, Ontario woke up to see their progressive City Council swept out by what appeared to be a well funded, pro-Wall Mart and urban-sprawl led city council. In this election fewer progressive people had gotten out to vote, and voter turnout was at an all-time low. Citizens were shocked and spent months reacting to City Council’s policy changes. They signed countless petitions, they rallied, they spoke out and City Council continued without noticing.
In 2005 a citizen’s group called the Guelph Civic League (GCL) was formed. Initially they also reacted and joined in with petitions and presentations to City Council. But they realized it was not making a difference.
The GCL brought together 50 progressive community-minded people from across Guelph and they began to identify what values they had in common. They began to fundraise and build a community with fun events (lots of music and dancing). They found others who shared their values at their events and through surveys they were doing in the mail, and on the door steps, in coffee shops and at farmers markets. They went to where people are and created a dialogue that ultimately got people excited.
They started people talking, dreaming and organizing. They communicated with people and not at them. They built relationships that helped people find common ground, helped people communicate with each other, understand and resolve conflict, and most importantly build solutions.
In Guelph on election night in 2006 the tension in the air was thick. Rumors had floated around town of polling stations with long line ups. A new City Council was elected. Thousands of people had gotten out to vote because of the Guelph Civic League’s work. Right now, the new City Council is hard at work restoring the composting and recycling systems that had been dismantled. They are working to focus growth that works for local citizens and not simply become a bedroom community of Toronto.
Many new organizations have formed in southern Ontario that have been inspired by the Guelph Civic League (www.guelphcivicleague.ca). In Saanich, BC the Saanich Civic League (firstname.lastname@example.org ) reached out to identify the community values that they share just like the Guelph Civic League.
Change happens because we make it. The future of organizing, that will build the world we desire, will be shaped by the relationships that we build in our communities. The good news is that we really can change the path our world is on and that work begins in your home town.
It is easy to catch ourselves thinking about global warming as something that happens elsewhere (arctic glaciers melting, big oil companies, etc) but the response to global warming happens in our local communities.
The people in Guelph Ontario show us that effective campaigning can have real impacts on global warming. Their example also reminds us that campaigns need to talk with people in their homes, in the market, and where they gather. As we move outside of our perceived ideological differences and into the values that build community we find ourselves knocking on our neighbours’ doors talking about solutions together.
We can provide leadership, solutions and action to protect our world.
Norman Gludovatz is a campaign consultant and he is a partner in the Vancouver-based firm Tactical Outcomes. Tactical Outcomes is a full service social marketing & public relations firm that targets your audience, communicates your cause, and mobilizes your supporters. We help our clients create progressive change in people’s beliefs, habits and actions, and we believe in the causes we promote because they improve the quality of our lives.