Sunday, 5 December 2010

How to be an activist

was the title of a workshop I once ran for a group of people with disabilities. The intention was to teach them the basics of speaking up for themselves. One of them, who is also a regular reader of this blog, left me an e-mail and suggested that I put up some of the information for people who want to join in the campaign against library closures in the UK but are not sure how to go about it.
If you already think you know what you are doing then go away and do it. If you think I am wrong then tell me - so that everyone else can learn.

Successful activists are very well informed people. They have a lot of information at their fingertips. They use it. They know where to find more information and they keep themselves informed.

Information costs time to gather. Ask yourself what is more important to you - the football match or the issue, the television programme or the meeting you might need to attend? If the football match or the television programme is more important then do not bother to read any further. Ask yourself, what am I prepared to give up to achieve my goal? Yes, you will have to give up something.

Information is not the same thing as an opinion. Information is knowing that your local library is under threat of closure because it is on the agenda for discussion at a council meeting. Opinion is believing that it should not be closed.

By gathering information you will know who to contact. Contact is very important. (We will get to networking in a moment.) Contact is what makes it possible to be heard.

Now, ask yourself. What's the problem? (Yes, I know you think you know that but you need to define it precisely so that you can start to talk about it.)
Who is in charge of the problem? - or where can you find out? Is there a local representative?
Is there an organisation? How are they handling it? Has the issue been in the media? How was it reported?
This is the beginning of the networking process. Networking takes place both inside and outside groups. Networking is about getting and giving information. Networking is about listening as well as talking. Networking is about being ahead on the facts and having the advantage.
With respect to the library issue specifically, ask yourself "Who runs the local library?" They are your primary target, especially any locally elected officials who hold the purse strings. I know it is tempting to blame the Prime Minister. Do not. He is actually not directly responsible. Find out who can actually do something about the problem at the local level. Target them.

There are two more things I will cover briefly today.

MONEY. (1) Do not be tempted to give money to protest groups.
(2)Use the money you might have donated to write your own protest letters.
(3) Do not spend more money than you can afford - there is a world of difference between a book of stamps and bankruptcy.
(4) While not spending more than you can afford are you also prepared to go without to get what you want?

(1) Not all means of protest are equally effective
(2) The LEAST EFFECTIVE means of protest are rallies and demonstrations. They are also the most expensive.
(3) The MOST EFFECTIVE means of protest is the old fashioned "snail mail" letter.
(4) Somewhere in between - and can be used to advantage - faxes, telephone calls and e-mails.

Right, enough for today. Tomorrow we will tackle the letter writing business - and the rules thereof.


Anonymous said...

But, if you get on the telly because of a demonstration, then everyone knows there is a problem. Isn't that a 'good thing'?

Rachel Fenton said...

Ah, now I understand - like Alice going down the rabbit hole...This is all very interesting! There is much that needs a good letter writing about it and with phone/email/twitter etc people are losing the skills of good letter writing. Great advice in these posts, Cat!

catdownunder said...

Oh, so you did get here! Alice down the rabbit hole indeed!