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Needed: New approaches to campaigning…

As a child I was a huge fan of Zelda – I’d play for (my parents would argue waste) hours on my Game Boy, moving Link around the island, trying to unlock the instruments that he needed to wake the Wind Fish.

What’s that got to do with campaigning?

Well with everything that’s been happening over the last year, I’ve been asking what are the new instruments that we need to find as campaigners. I know from my personal experience, that it’s easy to get stuck in using the same tactics over and over again, not least because we become comfortable with the approaches that we know, and end up having our ‘go to’ moves.

But with so much changing around us, is it time, like Link in Zelda, to search for new instruments? Here is my list of 9 new approaches that we could be exploring.

1) Craftivism – an approach that should need no introduction to regular readers of the blog, but the idea of using ‘craft as a tool for gentle activism aimed at influencing long-term change‘ is rightly getting lots of attention. And it works, just a few weeks ago I was able to see Craftivist extrodinare, Sarah Corbett, pick up an SMK Campaign award for the ‘stitch-ins’ she led to call on Marks and Spencer’s to pay the Living Wage.

2) Leaktivism – The opportunity for those on the ‘inside’ to make private information available to the public, to bring it into light – has seen a number of high-profile examples in the last few years, not least the publication of the Panama Papers which has put new energy behind the conversation on tax avoidance. This guide has some really useful suggestions about how organisations can support whistleblowers.

3) Laughtivism – ‘the strategic use of humor and mocking by social nonviolent movements in order to undermine the authority of an opponent, build credibility, break fear and apathy and reach target audiences’. Used by Srdja Popovic and the CANVAS movement in Serbia, but also by the Yes Men. See more in this Ted Talk.

4) Legal Activism – the use of the legal system to bring about change – used brilliantly by Client Earth, a group of activist lawyers who are committed to a healthy planet, who took the government to court and won over its failure to tackle illegal air pollution, and helped to push the debate about the need for action on air quality firmly on the agenda of politicians.

5) Archive activism – I stumbled across the story of Charles Francis, a self-described ‘archive activist’ recently. Francis has used Freedom of Information requests in the US to demonstrate the discrimination faced by homosexual men working for the US Government in the 1950s/60s, and securing pardons and apologies for them. The dedication of using this approach to bring information into the public domain is a powerful reminder of the usefulness of Freedom of Information as a camapign tool.

6) Data Activism – as with archive activism, with so much information and data now available in the public domain, is there opportunities to use this to challenge power structures. While I Quant New York is an amazing site, it does more than just produce neat maps, it’s run by Ben Wellington, who has used open data to highlight issues like the fact that the NY Police Department has been ticketing legally parked cars. What else is out there in open data that can be challenged?

7) Meme activism – I was in a session recently with a group of teachers. It was fascinating, but one thing that they shared stands out. It was that for most of the kids they teach, many of them get their news and information about issues through memes. Memes are powerful ways to spread ideas, but how many of us are using them to communicate our messages? As this post suggests they could be a powerful tool in our arsenal.

8) Shareholder activism – Shareholders can influence a corporation’s behaviour by exercising their rights as owners, so organisations like Share Action use their AGM Army to do just that, and it works. In 2016, ShareAction supported 102 different people to ask 121 questions at 84 AGMs, with many companies then engaging in dialogue around issues.

9) Investigative Journalism – A recent advert for a job at the Greenpeace Investigations unit caught my eye. They’re a team inside a great campaigning organisation, equipped with all the tools and approach of a journalist, but with a mission to support the campaigns the organisation is running. It’s similar to work of the independent Bureau of Investigative Journalists. With the budgets of newspapers being cut, these are new ways of bringing stories into the public domain.

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