How many times have people told me ‘I’m not really the campaigning type?’ We all carry around stereotypes of certain people, and for many of us, our stereotypical campaigner looks absolutely nothing like us! But let’s look again.
I’ve been involved in dozens of campaigns, at local, national and international level, and I’m constantly struck by how many different skills and personalities are involved in delivering success. Very few are natural placard wavers, at home whipping up the crowds with a loud hailer. So, what skills does campaigning take?
First, collecting robust information, data and evidence. Most local and national campaigns need research and information gathering, to find the facts on the problem and potential solutions. If, for example, you want your local council to do more to promote safe cycling routes, you would be wise to find out things like their transport policy, their infrastructure budget and what they currently spend it on, the local cycle accident rate and air pollution statistics. Successful campaigns need solid facts. Some people just love the challenge of rooting out this information and passing it to others who can use it; but they’d hate to stand on a public platform.
Second, public engagement. As we are increasingly aware, people do not respond to rational facts alone – otherwise the public and governments would have responded seriously to climate change and nature loss decades ago. Individuals and governments need motivating and mobilising. Often they need to build up their own courage to overcome opposition in their circle – their family, church, business, or political party. So, campaigns need good communicators, which means people who can write a concise and motivating article for the local press or neighbourhood Facebook group, address a local community meeting or speak on local radio. Some folk just have that way with words and stories, the gift of the gab; so deploy them for that!
Without organisation, however, the most robust data, logical arguments or brilliant communications are unlikely to deliver success. To take the local transport example again: if you want the council to go for it on sustainable transport networks, you will need to plan. Imagine the researcher in your local group has found out when and where decisions are to be taken. To help get a good decision, your local campaign group will then need to plan a range of connected activities: how you will get your issue onto the council agenda, how you will engage enough councillors to have a chance of swaying the debate when it happens; local events and supportive media coverage timed to encourage the council to decide in your direction etc. This all takes foresight and coordination, as well as adaptability to change the plan fast when the unexpected happens.
Some people naturally think further ahead than others, and see how different components of a project need to connect up. Some of us can’t help ‘making a plan’ for everything. If you are one of those, campaigns need you!
And then there are the vital ‘connectors’ – relationship builders. Why are they so essential? One reason is that there is often opposition to the change you want to see – whether from vested interests, or simply groups of the public that do not yet understand the benefits, but are concerned at the potential costs. One small campaign group alone may not have enough capacity or the diversity of skills to change the hearts and minds they need to. That’s where coalitions come in; and building coalitions takes another set of skills to connect to other potential allies. These include; empathy for the interests and perspectives of people who may be very different from you; relationship building and networking. If you’re someone who loves to get out and meet new people, fascinated by their experience and what makes them tick, you could be a perfect bridge-builder to other groups you could ally with.
That’s not the limit of skills needed either. So many modern campaigns could often use a data cruncher, a tech person, a social media aficionado, a ‘creative’ to plan those eye-grabbing comms or stunts. The list goes on and on. Hence my belief that there is a role for everyone in campaigning, in speaking up for justice, including for nature.
As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, the body of Christ has so many different parts, and none are more important than the other, but must work together to carry out the mission of the Church. So it is with campaigning: there is room for almost everyone.
So, if you are one of the many who know we need to speak up to influence those in power, but didn’t think it was for you, think again. I’ll guarantee God has given you a gift that can be used for this purpose. You just need to find others, with other gifts but a similar passion for change, to get together with and share those gifts to get campaigning. I’ll write about how to do that next time.
This blog was written by A Rocha UK CEO, Andy Atkins for A Rocha UK’s Wild Christian email, February 2022. Andy set up the policy and campaigns department at Tearfund, and then headed the national campaigning organisation, Friend of the Earth, before coming to A Rocha UK.
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Image: ‘Show the Love’ Green Heart crafted by A Rocha UK’s Eco Church Support Officer, Sara Kandiah.