c) Activism and social change
Nine steps to changing the world
This paper formed the basis of a workshop on activism presented to the annual Tasmanian youth DENIM conference in Ulverstone on September 2nd, 2006.
1. Identify your issue
- there are a thousand injustices in the world vying for attention. Choose one to campaign on which can be a metaphor for, and a pathway to, broader change, rather than trying to change everyone at once and changing nothing.
2. Research your issue
- you need to have all the basic facts and relevant research about your issue at your finger tips, as well as being familiar with and prepared to rebut the arguments put forward by opponents of change. However, be careful not to load your advocacy down with too many facts and figures. One stat or study per point is more than enough.
3. Work with like-minded people
- small groups of like-minded people can create greater change than individuals working alone or large groups in which divisions emerge over strategy and goals. At key moments it can be important to draw on the support of large numbers of people but generally strength comes from cohesiveness not size.
4. Lobby decision-makers
- decision-makers from school principals and city mayors through to company CEOs and politicians are most often the people who can change the laws or policies that activists are concerned about so activists often wrongly lobby these decision-makers before they do anything else. This is a mistake because decision-makers rarely do anything unless they are forced to by their constituentsí opinion. Hence the next four steps.
5. Form alliances
- itís vital to find allies across different community groups, professional organisations and government agencies because if decision-makers and the general public hear your message from a variety of different sources it will have greater impact. But beware of relying on others to do your advocacy for you, and of becoming too deeply involved with larger organisations in the hope that they will effect the change you want.
6. Consider litigation
- seek legal advice about possible court action you can take to achieve your goal. Remember there are international as well as local courts you can appeal to. Such appeals are important not only to overturn unreformed laws and policies but as a way to attract media attention to, and educate the public about, the importance of reform.
7. Educate the community
- face-to-face contact with people uncertain about or ignorant of your issue is the most important thing you do. Decision-makers act when they hear an ordinary constituent expressing concern about your issue. Community education has a particularly profound impact in close-knit communities like Tasmania, but it can be hard to access community, church, professional, sporting and service organisations unless their members are already talking about your issue, which is where media comes in.
8. Advocate through the media
- success in changing community attitudes to your issue, and in turn changing laws and policy, depends in large part on having a consistent and compelling media presence. Hereís some advice about working with the media.
Writing media releases
These must be short, concise, and written as you would expect them to appear. Donít try to fit everything in or nothing will come across. Hang your message off an action. Itís not enough to believe something, you have to do something.
Attracting media attention
Personify your issue, both by having people directly affected by your issue willing to speak out, and by having one main spokesperson who the media grows familiar with and confident in. You can also associate your message with an imaginative and colourful non-violent action, and/or invite high-profile figures concerned about your cause to become more familiar with the people/animals/trees concerned.
Doing an interview
Always know beforehand what you want to get across, and donít let your interviewerís questions get in the way. Never show over-excitement, anger, irritation, boredom, or weariness because broadcast exaggerates these qualities and they get in the way of the message. Never by discouraged by a mistake because you can always make another opportunity - itís the long term impression that counts. In a live interview donít be daunted by thoughts of your audience, focus on the interviewer instead. In a pre-recorded interview take as long as you like and if youíve made an embarrassing slip that could be edited to make you look silly, without pausing say something very rude so the sound bite is unusable.
Media representatives will encourage you to say and do things you may not be comfortable with including making sensational, inflammatory or unsubstantiated claims, playing the victim, denouncing people who may be natural allies, or speaking out on issues of the day that are not related to yours. You can say "no" to all these without jeopardising the coverage your issue can receive.
Stay "on message". This means always delivering the same message but in new and interesting ways (as opposed to delivering a plethora of different messages in the same, boring old way).
9. Stay sane
- people in the public eye come under immense pressure, especially if they are identified with a controversial issue and/or are seen as effectively making change. Members of the group directly affected by an activistís issue will have high expectations of that activist and be disappointed in equal proportion if these expectations arenít met. Other members of the public expect activists to be concerned about their issues and to solve their problems. Partners of activists often feel "activist widow syndrome". And of course, thereís no money in social change. For all these reasons itís important to draw boundaries around your involvement and enforce them as passionately as you campaign for a better world.
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