A Kink in my Neck, Sir!
Ring Ring Ring = Blip Blip Blip
Getting lots of people to pick up the phone and call key decision makers about your issue of concern is a time-honored method of citizen action. In terms of impact, a call is rumored to be worth about the same as a personal letter faxed or mailed, and beats out an email every time. But what makes an issue-call stand out from all the other calls received during a given time period? Volume. As with virtually all forms of activism, more is better. But don’t expect a definite result from an issue call-in. It’s all about filling up corporate and political radar screens with multiple blips identifying your issue.
Dialing for Change in BC’s Sacred Headwaters
A great example of a high volume call-in recently wrapped up. From Friday November 21 to Friday Nov 28, people from all over BC and Alberta called the offices of BC Premier Gordon Campbell and Shell Canada President Brian Straub asking them to keep oil and gas development out of BC’s Sacred Headwaters. There was even an ad in the Calgary Herald to kick it off.
The call was a coordinated action involving the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, Wildsight, Northwest Watch, the Council of Canadians, Dogwood Initiative, and droves of the groups’ supporters and contacts.
On the first morning of the call-in I phoned the Premier’s number to add my voice, and asked whether the Premier’s office was keeping track of the number of calls they were getting on the topic. “Oh yes, we keeptrack,” said the receptionist politely. “We’ve had a few calls todayabout it…”
A few calls? That sounded like disappointing volume…
Dogwood launches our newly minted website, complete with a dedicated action page for the call. We spread the word to our supporters in an email.
Day 7 + 3
Curious as to how it all went down, the Monday after the action ended I called the Premier’s Office again and asked for a final tally of calls.
“Who is this?” the receptionist responds.
I explain I work for Dogwood, one of the groups that asked its supporters to call.
“I wouldn’t be able to give you an accurate number,” she says.
I ask why, wasn’t she keeping a tally?
“I have a kink in my neck sir!” she says tersely. “If you were to say that hundreds and hundreds of people called, that would be accurate.”
She went on to say that her entire Friday was taken up with handling the calls, that many people had to leave a message because the phones were tied up, and that they continued to come in all through the next week.
The receptionist never did give me a total; so I filed a Freedom of Information request for it – once I have it I will post it to the FOI section on Dogwood’s website.
Unfortunately, there are almost always buffer people between you and decision makers when you’re taking any kind of action, and these are the people first inconvenienced. The mission of call-ins isn’t to cause neck problems for aides, so I think I’ll send her some flowers. That being said, neck problems are definitely a sign that your action is working!
Shell Wants the Calls to Go Away
Reports also came in indicating that Shell had started directing callers to the Company’s customer service department to avoid talking to them; the callers would then just get an automated message saying that the department is only open 8am-8pm … e.g. even if it was only 1:00pm at the time.
In other words, the call-in was a success: radar screens lit up with Sacred Headwaters blips.
One of the crucial questions in any action is: from the pool of people you contacted, how many actually chose to take part?
Dogwood asked people to participate solely by sending out an email to a portion of our supporter list. Of those people, 20% opened the email, but only about 8% ‘click-throughed’ to the dedicated action page on the website. The action page included a form where people could record their call. Doing so was additional effort of course, and only about 4% of the people who landed on the page did so.
These percentages seem low, but consider the amount of emails people get on a daily basis and it’s actually quite impressive. Would you open, click, and call?
What Can You Do Today?
A trio of groups have launched a website dedicated to sending mass amounts of emails to various decision makers to prompt them to live up to their commitments to protect BC’s world-renowned Great Bear Rainforest. You can send an email, join the Facebook group, or submit your own soul-bearing photo 🙂
The main site is www.savethegreatbear.org
The satisfACTION sub-blog is about activism in British Columbia – themethods, theories, and stories of how people are working together formore perfect communities . Ever felt a need to change things, but don’tknow where to start? I’ll showcase opportunities for personallysatisfying and meaningful actions. Read the intro to the blog here.