Citizen Action Monitor

Bold gutsy action planning tips: Pt 1 of 4 – How to attract more members to your team

Video — Toronto artist and organizer Dave Meslin will dazzle you with his innovative ideas

No 809 Posted by fw, July 17, 2013

“How do we reach beyond the people we usually attract? One [way] is to be really fun with marketing. People get a lot of messages every day thrown at us through advertising, billboards, ads on TV. And if you want to break through the clutter I think we need to use the same tactics that a lot of those advertisers use, which means using colour, images, fun ideas, etc. And I’ll give you a few examples projects I’ve worked on.”Dave Meslin

This is Part 1 of a 4-part series featuring Toronto-based artist and organizer Dave Meslin (‘Mez’). This series is drawn from his January, 2012 presentation at Mayfield’s Five Good Ideas event. Dave’s five good ideas included: Reach beyond the usual suspects; Empower your membership; Give the media what they want; Embrace Deep Democracy; and Advocate for democratic renewal.

Here’s a couple of heads up to watch for — First, Dave tends to number his points but the numbers are sometimes out of sequence, leaving one wondering, “Did I miss something?” So, don’t fret over his numbers. Second, Dave talks about the media in this section but it’s in the context of how to engage people who are not already active participants in social change. His major piece on the media comes in Part 3.

Part 1 focuses on Dave’s first good idea — How non-profit organizations can engage more people in the social change process — education, outreach, advocacy and mobilizing. He explains how to create interesting, effective messages that help shift public opinion and policy.

To watch Dave’s presentation on the Mayfield website, click on the following linked title. Better yet, watch an embedded video of the 29-minute video below, which includes my transcript with added hyperlinks to significant websites Dave refers to in the video.

Note that the transcript for this, Part 1 of the series, ends at about the 9:35-minute mark of the 29-minute video.

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

TRANSCRIPT (to the 9:35-minute mark)

It’s an honour to be part of this amazing series. And let me just take a moment to say how great the Five Good Ideas series is. I always find it ironic that while we often stereotype the private sector as being fiercely competitive, perhaps back-stabbing, and the non-profit sector as being very collaborative and working together, sometimes I feel like it’s quite the opposite. That the private sector has national think tanks, collaborative advocacy at all levels, trade shows, price fixing – lots of examples of working closely together. Whereas in the non-profit sector sometimes we’re too busy working on our own things, and sometimes competing over the same grants and not working together. And I just want to congratulate and thank Maytree for organizing events like this where everyone comes together to share ideas.

I also want to thank whoever named this series ‘Five Good Ideas’ because it’s actually not a very strong adjective. If it had been called Five Extraordinary Ideas or Five Terrific Ideas, I’d be very nervous today about meeting your expectations. But if all you need are Five Good Ideas I can probably pull that off. So let’s give it a shot.

The topic is “Five Good Ideas About Campaigning for Social Change”, which is something I’ve been trying to do for ten or fifteen years with varying degrees of success, and I’ll try and share some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

The first good idea is to Reach Beyond the Usual Suspects. And I use that word even though it’s often used in a negative way against us, almost is a derogatory way. When we had the large turnout at the budget consultations half a year ago some of the councillors at [Toronto] City Hall said, “We don’t need to listen to these folks. They’re just the usual suspects.

And that wasn’t true. I spoke to a lot of people there who had never been to City Hall before. They weren’t bused down by the unions. They weren’t paid by the unions. They were people that cared about the city. And I defended those people and wrote a blog post against that idea of “the usual suspects”.

At the same time, I think we should acknowledge that there are kind of “usual suspects”. There is a small group of people in Toronto that are hyper-engaged. Many of us – you’re probably all part of that group if you’re here. And any time there’s an event at OISE [Ontario Institute for Studies in Education] or U of T or anywhere there’s an activist scene, we recognize a lot of faces. You know who the first three or four people will be at the mike for the Q and A. And if you want to have successful movements how do you get beyond those numbers?

I was talking on the CBC a week after that meeting about the usual suspects thing, and about civic engagement, and about an exhibit I have up called “The Fourth Wall” about making City Hall more accessible. And the person who was interviewing me said, “Dave do we really need to be talking about how to make City Hall more accessible? We’ve seen amazing growth in participation. Just two weeks ago we had 300 people at City Hall deputing on the budget. This is amazing.”

And I said, “Really. Have we set the bar that low?” Three hundred people in a city of two and a half million is a sign of high engagement when twenty or thirty thousand will fill a stadium for a pop concert? I mean 300 people fill bingo halls every night. It’s really not that exciting folks. We need to be aiming much higher. So we need to really reframe what we consider to be successful in terms of numbers. And it really needs reaching beyond the people we usually attract.

How do we do that? So here’s a few quick ideas.

One is to be really fun with marketing. People get a lot of messages every day thrown at us through advertising, billboards, ads on TV. And if you want to break through the clutter I think we need to use the same tactics that a lot of those advertisers use, which means using colour, images, fun ideas, etc. And I’ll give you a few examples projects I’ve worked on.

This [DVD] is a City Idol project, which is now a documentary film. It was essentially a series of speech nights where people showed up and gave speeches about how they would make City Hall better. It’s like American Idol, but you’re competing with ideas instead of songs. If we had called this “Speech Night” no one would have signed up to run, no one would have signed up to watch, no one would have made a documentary about it. Just by the branding and the logo, we had 70 candidates on stage, 600 people in the audience, because we spent as much time thinking about the branding and marketing as we did on the project itself.

Another one is the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. This is a campaign for voting reform. We found out how to use an acronym that spells RaBIT, Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto, which allows us to have beer coasters and buttons with little rabbits on them. And I don’t think many people would wear a button for a voting reform that didn’t look as cute as this little bunny. Cell phone companies use bunnies to sell their cell phones so why shouldn’t use bunnies to sell voting reform? And if I made bunnies that just said “Voting Reform Now!” with a fist in the air, I know 20 people who would wear them. That’s not enough for social change. Right? If you want to break beyond that you need to have cute bunnies.

Here’s a third one. This is called Windfest. It’s an annual kite festival I organize. Why does a political geek organize a kite festival you might ask? Because it’s a great way to promote wind energy. And if you organize a rally to promote green wind energy, who will show up? People who already like wind energy. But if you organize a kite festival that’s all about wind, and if people who show up are exposed to Bullfrog Power and the Toronto Renewable Energy Coop (TREC) and other stuff, and there’s information booths about green energy, then you’re kind of taking a Trojan Horse approach where you’re sneaking them in with something… I mean everyone likes kites, and then you link it back to wind energy. But again, if I had a rally about wind energy the usual suspects would show up, we’d have a lot of fun but we’d be achieving nothing in terms of getting beyond the usual suspects.

So that’s fun marketing, breaking through the clutter.

Second is jargon. We often have an insider language. And the thing about insider language is you don’t know it’s insider language because you’re talking to other people who use the same language. Every sector, every fad, every hobby has insider language. And that’s okay except for our work. If you’re really into baseball and you’re talking with other people who are into baseball and you talk about ‘RBIs’ and ‘ERAs’ and things like ‘change-up’, ‘chatter’, ‘chopper’, ‘chase’ and ‘cheese’ – which are all baseball terms – that’s okay. Someone walking by wouldn’t know what you are talking about. Who cares? You don’t need them to like baseball. But if we want people to like what we’re doing, our work is all about reaching out, we’re not just trying to talk to each other about our insider language, we’re trying to convince others, we can’t use insider language.

I was on Josh Matlow’s radio show two weeks ago and used the term ‘peewick’ live on radio. I was like, “Hey Shelley, remember that peewick meeting?” And then Josh interrupted and said that stands for “public works and infrastructure”. Of course. It was so silly of me to use the word ‘peewick’. You can’t use that kind of insider language. ‘Exec’, it’s not an ‘exec’ meeting, it’s an ‘executive’ committee meeting. How many people here have said the word ‘eday’? Or ‘eday minus 7’? It’s not ‘eday minus 7’; it’s ‘a week before the election’. Or the struggle against ‘neoliberalism’. Most people don’t talk that way, folks. So why don’t you just say ‘working together to create a more humane society’, which anyone will understand and will probably like it and say, “Oh, I can do that.” People…I mean a lot of us spend our whole days and nights thinking about politics. Most people have very busy lives and we want them to fit it in to that one or two hours of extra time. And no one’s going to say, “Hey honey, I’ll be back in two hours. I’m just going to go join the struggle against neoliberalism.”

And here’s another example which some people might not like, but the term ‘brother and sister’… Every time I’m in a room full of union folks, and at the podium they say “Welcome brothers and sisters” — all I’m thinking of is that person who is there for the first time trying to check out… “Okay I’m going to find out. I’ve been unionized for twenty years. I’ve never gone to a meeting. What are these union folk all about?” And they walk in and they’re like oh, “It’s kind of like a cult. It’s weird.” People don’t talk that way, ‘brother and sister’, unless you’re a brother and sister or a very close friend. So I think we need to think about that person in the room who isn’t part of a scene. We want them to come back and stay.

The fourth is media. Media interviews are good for a whole bunch of reasons to get any exposure in the media. But the main thing that’s good about it is that you’re reaching people you’ll never reach any other way. People who don’t come to your meetings, don’t come to your events. And the tougher the interview the better the opportunity is.

I was at Havergal [Toronto girls’ school] two months ago doing a whole bunch of workshops on social change, and we were doing media training. And we were doing the easy interview and the hard interview. So the easy interview for bike lanes would be

Here’s Sarah Smith. She has a great project to bring new bike lanes to Toronto to make the city greener and safer. Tell us about your project Sarah.

And the hard interview is – Sarah Smith is part of a small group with people who want to slow down traffic by taking away car lanes and put in an infrastructure that we can’t afford and that no one is going to use in the winter. Sarah, tell us about your project.

You need to practice both of those. But it’s the second interview where you’re really going to make a difference because chances are that first easy interview it’s not just the interviewer who likes what you’re doing, chances are that people listening are already supporters. You want to get… you want to do interviews with people who don’t agree with you so their listeners might be persuaded to move over.


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

Dave Meslin Artist and organizer — Dave Meslin (‘Mez’) is a Toronto-based artist and organizer, with a focus on public space issues, cycling infrastructure, voting reform, transpartisan advocacy and democratic renewal. Dave is active on many issues, some of which include: organizing Reclaim the Streets, coordinating Toronto’s Car Free Day programming, founding the Toronto Public Space Committee, co-founding Spacing Magazine, creating the WhoRunsThisTown project, producing City Idol, founding the Toronto Cyclists Union, starting Dandyhorse Magazine, launching Better Ballots, organizing WindFest, creating the Ranked Ballot Initiative and recently curating the Fourth Wall exhibit about transforming local politics in Toronto.

In November 2010, Dave co-edited Local Motion: The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto (Coach House Books). Some of his favorite projects to date include the Downtown De-fence Project, the Professional Guest and the Pee-Wee Herman Picture Show, which featured members of Toronto’s indie rock community coming together to raise funds and awareness about bicycle advocacy in the city. When he’s not deeply immersed in urban politics or electoral reform, Dave tours with The Hidden Cameras (a “gay folk church music” band). Future projects he’s considering include a transit riders’ union, a bike store, a reality TV show, and maybe another book.

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: