Bold gutsy action planning tips: Pt 4 of 4 – How to advocate for voting reform and democracy renewal

No 812 Posted by fw, July 17, 2013

In Part 3, Give the Media What They Want, Dave offered three tips on how to exploit what is potentially your group’s most powerful tool – the media. Dave’s tips:  1) see journalists as colleagues helping to get your story out; 2) how to make a small group seem bigger than it is; and 3) be fearless, gutsy and creative to give the media a dynamite story. To illustrate point three, Dave related three stories – The John Street Count, The Smog Hike and The Pee Wee Herman Picture Show.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Meslin gives very short shrift (about 86 seconds) to his number 4 of his talk entitled, “Embrace Deep Democracy.” It’s too short to merit a post so I’m skipping it entirely. Anyone who wants to listen to what he has to say on this topic can simply skip forward on the video to the start point at about the 20:02-minute mark.

In this post, my Part 4 in my series (number 5 in Meslin’s address), Dave urges activists to always be advocating for democratic reforms so more people can be heard and so we can quicken the pace of social change. He explores three main ideas: 1) why the 2011 federal election failed to give us the results we voted for; 2) why proportional representation is better; and 3) how a system of runoff voting using ranked ballots in municipal elections would ensure the “winner” had a “real” majority and didn’t simply slip through because of vote splitting among competing candidates. As well, runoff voting would ensure more people could run, thus increasing diversity on city council.

Personally speaking, I found Dave’s arguments for an Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) electoral system using Ranked Ballots wanting. Even allowing for the time constraints under which he was operating in his video presentation, his website promoting IRV/Ranked Ballot Initiative is equally short on details. It, too, fails to mention the complexity of IRV, its many variations, the complications of the voting process, ballot design, and ballot counting options. And he neglected to acknowledge the disadvantages as well as advantages of IRV. Dave appears to have let his unbridled enthusiasn for IRV interfere with his obligation to readers to ensure they are responsibly and fully informed. No doubt a sound case can be made for IRV, but Dave has yet to make it. For a more comprehensive treatment of IRV, see Wikipedia’s entry, Instant-runoff voting. I confess I found the Wiki piece overwhelming and can appreciate why Dave opted to keep his account simple.

As an aside, Dave’s attempt to draw analogies between the “market share” of small political parties and market share of small businesses was, in his words, “kind of sloppy” and his point was somewhat muddled.

To watch Dave’s presentation on the Mayfield website, the venue for his lecture, click on the following linked title. Better yet, watch an embedded video of Dave’s 29-minute video below, which includes my transcript with text highlighting of key sections.

Note that the transcript for my Part 4 (Dave’s number 5) starts at about the 21:32-minute mark and continues to the end of the video.

Five Good Ideas: Campaigning for Social Change, Dave Meslin, Maytree, January 17, 2012

TRANSCRIPT (Start at the 21:32-minute mark)

Dave’s Number 5 – Voting Reform and Democratic Renewal. I’m a full-on geek. One of the things I’m really geeky about is voting reform and democratic renewal. We’re very focused usually on who is running for office, who is in office, and what their policies are. I think sometimes we need to take a step back and look at how the system works. We have a great opportunity now because we’re probably not going to have any elections for about three years, maybe less, maybe more.

We’ve got a period of time now where we have three elections within a twelve month period, and we’re going to have a break now. Let’s look at how the system actually works. I’ll give you a few quick examples of why this is important.

If we have democratic systems that don’t give us the results we vote for it makes the rest of our advocacy almost meaningless. People campaigned throughout the whole last federal election trying to convince people to be left of centre, right of centre, in the centre. And in the end most Canadians rejected the Conservatives. The advocacy worked! Everyone who tried to convince people to vote left or centre-left won. They won the election. Amazing! Except that Harper has the majority. Including ten seats in Torontohalf of the seats in Toronto went to the Harper Conservatives, even though most people in every single one of those ridings voted for the other parties. In fact, the Harper Conservatives won most of those seats because the NDP vote went really high. Toronto shifted way to the left in those Scarborough and Etobicoke, North York ridings. And they ate into the Liberal vote. The biggest percent shift in those ridings wasn’t the Tories going up, it was the NDP going up.

So why don’t we fix that system? Two quick ideas here.

First is called proportional representation. And PR is used in most democracies all across the world. All these new democracies emerging from the Arab Spring, none of them are looking at Canada as an example of how to run their democracy. In fact, when they came up with their short list of which options to look at I doubt it [Canada] was even on that. It’s not even a democratic system really. It’s a joke. It doesn’t work. Our elections are almost random. So proportional representation would ensure that every party gets the proportion of seats that they got with their vote. And the reason that this is really important is that the role of small parties isn’t necessary to form power.

In the private sector, small businesses play a huge role in shifting the marketplace by stealing a bit of the market share. So if a small store fifteen years ago, like Earthroots (sic) starts selling a lot of recycled paper then the big companies like Staples have to say “Okay we’re losing a little bit of market share. People want recycled paper let’s get recycled paper.” Those small stores impact the whole market place. Earthroots (sic) will never…sorry, Grassroots will never become a massive supplier. But stores like that affect it because of the market share. If they steal one percent of the market share, that’s a lot of money.

The Green Party has stolen from five to ten percent of the market share. People are voting green. The thing is it’s not translating into dollars so that market signal isn’t being sent. The other parties can essentially ignore the Green Party because even though people are buying that paper it’s not actually taking revenue off of the… Do you understand the metaphor? It’s kind of sloppy. Our system, the free market, works very well in allowing small businesses to shift the market place. We need that to happen in our democracy as well.

And the other thing I want to mention quickly is instant runoff voting using ranked ballots. It’s not a proportional system but it’s for local politics at the city level and I think it would transform our democracy in tons of ways. We all know what’s happening right now at city hall. There’s good reasons for us to look at fixing our system. It would do a few things. Just give me one minute to wrap this up.

Number one, we hear a lot about how city councillors are in for life. Once you’re elected you’re a councillor for life because of name recognition. It’s not true, absolutely not true. Half of [Toronto] city council won their seats with less than fifty percent. Half of those are incumbents. So we’re talking twenty-five percent of city council were in office before, and most of their constituents said “We don’t want you back.” Ten city councillors.

It’s a complete myth that these folks are winning on name recognition. They all got their seats back – those ten – because the opposition vote was split. So if I’m a city councillor with only thirty percent support, seventy percent hate my guts, I’m in big trouble. If you run against me (points to a person in the audience) you’ll get seventy. But if you run against me, and you run against me, and you do, and you do, and you do, and you do, I’m okay. You guys will split the seventy. You all got ten, fifteen, twenty-one, and I win with thirty.

Runoff voting makes sure that people actually have a majority, which means more turnover. We can never increase diversity on city council unless we increase turnover, because most of them are white men. We know that.

The other thing that it does is that it makes campaigning more positive. In a runoff race, if I’m running against this table, under the current system I would benefit by just trashing them. Digging up dirt, saying bad things – “We don’t want women.” Whatever I could find that separates me from you and negatively criticize you because I want people to not like you and like me. And that’s why we have so much negative campaigning.

In a runoff race, that’s a really bad strategy. I’ll win in a runoff by making sure that your supporters like me. So if you drop off first, your supporters will come to me. I can’t trash you. So it would raise the level of debate, the positivity. It would ensure that we have more turnover, which is more diversity.

And one more last thing. It also ensures that more people can run. Because again, under the current system, because of vote splitting, if me and Rudna are running against each other and the real issue of the day is long hair versus kind of short hair, if someone else wants to come into the race who has short hair – let’s say you want to run (point to person in the audience) the short hair people are going to say, “You shouldn’t run. You’ll split the vote. It’s a big mistake. Don’t run.” And I’ve seen this happen in every ward. It’s usually young people. It’s usually women. It’s often women of colour. And they’re stepping aside for someone who has better connections than they do, who’s related to a politician, who’s worked for a politician. And that’s what’s keeping diversity out of city council. People are being told not even to run. And we can never measure that through data and statistics because we don’t know. They’re not even on the ballot.

I’m a little over time. I’m just going to wrap up by saying…by summarizing the five –

  1. Be creative to recruit new energy beyond those who are already engaged
  2. Give your membership the tools they need to be advocates themselves
  3. Transform your view of the media into a symbiotic collaboration
  4. Embrace other opinions and be willing to change your own
  5. Always be advocating for democratic reforms so more people can be heard and so we can quicken the pace of social change.

Thank you.

END OF PART 4 – END OF THIS SERIES

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I claim no ownership of such materials. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.

Bold gutsy action planning tips: Pt 3 of 4 – How to give the media what they want

No 811 Posted by fw, July 17, 2013

“We often go into media outreach thinking: How do I get them to cover me? As if they’re offering us something and they’re doing us a huge favour by covering our work. It’s important to realize it’s symbiotic and we have as much to give them as they do to us. So without the media our campaigns won’t go very far. Without anything to write about newspapers don’t go very far. They need you. They’re thinking about how much they need you as we think about how much we need them.”Dave Meslin

In Part 2, Dave explained why empowering your team members is crucial. He shared three creative ways to supercharge your team: one, micro-mobilize them so that their actions are targetted; two, fight celebrification so your members don’t feel left out; and three, break down big goals into smaller winnable goals to build a track record of accomplishments for your team.

In Part 3, Give the Media What They Want, Dave presents tips on how to exploit what is potentially your group’s most powerful ally – the media. Dave’s tips: One, it’s imperative to see journalists as colleagues helping to get your story out; two, for small groups to succeed they must make their groups seem bigger than they are; three, be fearless, gutsy and creative to give the media a dynamite story they can’t resist. To illustrate point three, Dave tells three stories – The John Street Count, The Smog Hike and The Pee Wee Herman Picture Show.

To watch Dave’s presentation on the Mayfield website, the venue for his lecture, click on the following linked title. Better yet, watch an embedded video of Dave’s 29-minute video below, which includes my transcript with text highlighting of key sections.

Note that the transcript for Part 3 starts at about the 13:22-minute mark and ends at about the 20:01-minute mark.

Five Good Ideas: Campaigning for Social Change, Dave Meslin, Maytree, January 17, 2012.

TRANSCRIPT (Start at the 13:22-minute mark)

Number 3 – Give the media what they want. The media is such a powerful tool for us. Imagine how much it costs to pay for an ad on the front page of the newspaper. None of us will ever be able to afford that. But, if you can get a journalist to like what you’re doing and they put your story on the front page of the paper, you’ve just reached tens or hundreds of thousands of people for free. So the media is worth so much money to us and so much exposure, and relates back to that first topic of getting beyond the usual suspects.

So, how do you do that? A few quick tips.

One is to realize that it’s a symbiotic relationship. We often go into media outreach thinking: How do I get them to cover me? As if they’re offering us something and they’re doing us a huge favour by covering our work. It’s important to realize it’s symbiotic and we have as much to give them as they do to us. So without the media our campaigns won’t go very far. Without anything to write about newspapers don’t go very far. They need you. They’re thinking about how much they need you as we think about how much we need them.

But also, they want you. Right? A lot of people go into journalism because they really care about the issues. No one goes into journalism to get rich. These are people who care about the same issues you do. And, in fact, they might even care about them more than you do. They might be sitting around really wanting to write an article about an issue but they can’t do it until they have someone to write about because that’s journalism. You’re not supposed to just make up your own stories unless you’re a columnist. So you’re actually helping them to be a collaborative activist. Some of them are literally waiting for you to send out the press release so they can write the story that they’ve be dying to write anyways. So it’s not about convincing them to write the story; it’s about helping them, providing then the tools that they need. See them as colleagues, as collaborators.

And a few more quick tips here.

If you have a very small grassroots group, spend a bit of time to make your group seem bigger than it is. Because a journalist isn’t supposed to write about groups that don’t really exist. I ran the Toronto Public Space Committee, which wasn’t a real group – we had no money, no staff, no office. I just made up the name and made a website which was $20 a year for hosting. But because I had a nice business card and a few flyers that looked professional, they felt comfortable saying, “Dave Meslin, Coordinator of the Toronto Public Space Committee.”

If you aren’t part of some group, they can’t quote you. These days they quote people who tweet for some reason, which is really weird. But other than that they can’t quote you just because you say something interesting. Make up a fake group if you don’t have one. If you have a small grassroots group, make something slick so it looks like there’s an office with staff behind you.

Be fearless and gutsy. I was doing some work last year about the John Street environmental assessment. There were a few different proposals about how to recreate John Street. And the one that they wanted to do didn’t have bike lanes and I felt there was room for bike lanes. So I looked at the staff report, and I looked at the modal breakdown of who’s using John Street. And it said only two percent of the traffic was cyclists. I didn’t believe it. I thought their numbers were wrong. In fact I was absolutely sure they hadn’t gone out and counted at all. I could have sent out a press release saying “I challenge the city’s numbers.” I could have done a blog post. Instead, I organized volunteers through Facebook: “Who wants to come out and do a traffic count?” And I bought traffic counters. I announced that we were doing it publicly, and the media acme and took photos and wrote articles about these young activists who on their own were volunteering to do traffic counts because the city wasn’t doing the job well. And we found out that 32 percent of the traffic at certain times during the day was cycling.

If you’re creative with press events — like I said before, they’re dying to cover your work. You have to give them something interesting. A press release on its own won’t do it. A press conference that looks like this won’t do it. This isn’t a photo anyone is going to put in the paper. They need something visual. I’ll give you two quick examples

The Toronto Environmental Alliance asked me three years ago, “Mez, how can we get the number 1700 in the newspaper?” That’s how many people die from smog related illnesses every year – 1700. We want to get the word out. How do we do it? What we ended up coming up with was a smog hike where we would make posters of silhouettes with a little blank kind of thought bubble where people would write in personal messages about how they’ve been affected by smog or smog illness in their life or people they love. That went out through schools. We collected 1700 personal messages. We installed them at the foot of Yonge Street as an art exhibit hanging from strings. It was beautiful, kind of like a laundry line. And we got a lot of print media out of that. And they hung there for hours.

Then we went on a smog hike. We put one poster on each utility pole, each pole representing one death. And we marched north on a smog hike until we ran out of 1700 posters, which took us into Vaughn or Markham, whatever it is, up there at Yonge. It took us two or three days. The media loved it. We had the front page of one of the transit dailies. We had two or three articles in the [Toronto] Star. And the number 1700 was really out there. But if we had just done a press conference or a rally or a protest I don’t think we would have had any coverage because it wasn’t even news. I mean that’s the same number as it was three years ago. This isn’t new data. But we were able to do something creative that put it back in the news.

When we launched the Toronto Cyclists Union we wanted to get lots of members. The idea was to have a funded, membership-based organization with paid staff. So we launched it two and a half years ago. No one knew who we were. We had zero brand recognition because we didn’t exist yet. And what I did for the launch was to organize a big event called the Pee Wee Picture… It was a play on the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I guess the Pee Wee Herman Picture Show. It was a live shadow cast of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. It’s a movie about how someone steals his bike and you have to find his bike. And the people we got to act in this thing were like Indie pop stars from Broken Social Scene and other bands. We did it at the Bloor Cinema. We sold out two shows. That’s about 1500 people. And we had the front cover of Eye Weekly because we were combining cycling, environment and music. We were giving the media exactly what they wanted. I like bikes. They can’t put it on the cover unless someone gives them a reason to. And we gave them the reason to. And we got the cover story. So here’s a brand new nonprofit, no members, their first week, on the front cover of Eye magazine. And now we have over a thousand paid members and an office and two staff.

END OF PART 3 (At about the 20:01-minute mark)

~ Watch for more posts to follow from Dave’s Five Good Ideas presentation ~

 FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I claim no ownership of such materials. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.

 

Bold gutsy action planning tips: Pt 2 of 4 – How to empower your team members

No 810 Posted by fw, July 17, 2013

“They [Toronto Cyclists Union] have on their website: ‘Join the bike union so we can advocate on your behalf.’ I think that’s the wrong approach. It’s much more powerful to get them to advocate on their own behalf. To give them the tools they need. Like giving them more information, so, you know, the counter arguments, the counter, counter arguments.”Dave Meslin

Part 1 of this 4-part series, featuring Toronto-based artist and organizer Dave Meslin (‘Mez’), focused on how non-profit organizations can engage more people in the social change process.

In Part 2, Dave explains why empowering your team members is crucial to success. He shares three creative ways to supercharge your team: one, micro-mobilize them so that their actions and messages are targetted; two, fight celebrification so your members don’t feel left out; and three, break down big goals into smaller winnable goals to build a track record of accomplishments for your team.

To watch Dave’s presentation on the Mayfield website, the venue for his lecture, click on the following linked title. Better yet, watch an embedded video of Dave’s 29-minute video below, which includes my transcript with text highlighting of key sections.

Note that the transcript for this, Part 2 of the series, starts at about the 9:35-minute mark and ends at about the 13:21-minute mark.

Five Good Ideas: Campaigning for Social Change, Dave Meslin, Maytree, January 17, 2012

TRANSCRIPT (Start at the 9:35-minute mark)

Okay, number 2 — Empower Your Membership. We sometimes view our supporters primarily as a financial resource because we want their membership dues and it is the most sustainable type of funding, not from a foundation but from your own constituency. Having funding allows you to hire staff and pay rent. Often we see it as advocating on their behalf. Have you seen this from groups that I’ve founded like the Toronto Cyclists Union? They have on their website: “Join the bike union so we can advocate on your behalf.” I think that’s the wrong approach. It’s much more powerful to get them to advocate on their own behalf. To give them the tools they need. Like giving them more information, so, you know, the counter arguments, the counter, counter arguments. But, also, the ability to know who to phone and when and how. And the advantage of this is that there’s way more of them than us. So your policy advocacy director – you have one – if you have two thousand members, don’t you want them all advocating?

The thing is we don’t want to just mass-mobilize them, we want to micro-mobilize them. Which means they’re advocating to their local councillor or their local MP or their local MPP in their riding or ward. If you get five hundred people out to a rally, great. I mean that’s nice. There’s lots of good reasons to do that. That’s not necessarily going to sway any politician. But if you get fifty people to actually phone the politicians, and if you’re targeting the wards or ridings where you know you need to switch votes, that’s very valuable. But that means that you have a database that can sort your membership by ward. So you can send a targeted message that doesn’t just say “They’re threatening to close libraries. Phone the mayor and tell him not to close libraries.” Your message should say: “The library in your neighbourhood, three blocks away from your house is under threat. Phone your councillor. This is her name. This is her phone number. This is her executive assistant. This is his name. Phone him today.” That’s a much more effective way than getting even two thousand people out to a rally. It’s the micro-mobilizing using targetted, ward-specific messages.

Another quick thing here is to fight celebrification of the non-profit sector. The media and even ourselves sometimes we want to figure out who the heroes are. We put people on pedestals. And we have to fight that because it disempowers everyone else who’s involved. And I find that when the media contacts me to talk about a project I’m working on they want the story to be about me. They try and do a photo of me and write about me. And I push back a lot. I can’t change the story sometime but I can change the photo. I’ll refuse to do solo photos sometimes, and I’ll say no — “If you want a photo, you’ve got to take a photo of my team.”

And the reasons that’s important — because it gives credit to the people who are doing a lot of the work. But more importantly if someone looks in the newspaper and sees a photo of a group of people who are doing amazing work, they might imagine themselves in the photo. How do I join this group? I can easily see my face in this group. If they see a photo of me, how do they fit in? They might think, oh great, I’m glad Dave’s doing that great work. Good for him. And they’ll go to the next page. So always try and get group photos. And counter… it’s partially laziness, and there are other factors, but the media is always trying to make it about the one hero. You gotta fight back against that.

And one more quick thing here — If you’re fighting really big issues that have big goals – like reducing poverty or saving the environment – make sure you also break it down into very small winnable goals. That empowers your membership. Because people want to know and feel that their energy is actually contributing to something tangible. And it’s very hard to measure if you’re ever winning against those big goals. The small, winnable and relevant goals are really important.

So that was empowering your membership.

END OF PART 2 (At about the 13:21-minute mark)

~ Watch for more posts to follow from Dave’s Five Good Ideas presentation ~

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I claim no ownership of such materials. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing.