We know that you’re busy and that while you’d love to donate more time to progressive advocacy, life gets in the way.
Perhaps micro-advocacy is a way that you can support the cause of progress, without it taking up too much of your time? These actions listed below require minimal time commitment but will still help promote the progressive cause, especially if large numbers of people do this.
One reason micro-advocacy is needed is that those who hate progress are working hard to try to influence people, journalists and members of parliament in the opposite direction.
There are not many people who hate progress, but they tend to be very well funded by a few of the richest people in the country (including some of the richest people on earth). These are the people who are worried about having to share out their wealth, about not being able to drive their souped up cars quickly past your homes and your children’s schools.
You need to practise micro-advocacy because your opponents are repeatedly sending out supposedly common sense messages such as claimg that government is just like an individual and thus “you can’t spend more than you earn“. They do this to try to stop schemes such as the building of new cycle paths, or other schemes that they are opposed to in principle.
Of course affluent countries can afford to have cycle tracks if their politicians wish to have them – and a great deal more than just cycle tracks, but let use that as an example.
Sat down with your phone and got a spare 5 minutes?
• On Twitter? – why not tweet about [housing/public health/schools] to [@an_MP @A_Pudit] and to your followers and others, to raise awareness of the issues and latest evidence?
• Send an email [most journalists have easy to find emails] to someone who writes and is in the public eye on these issues saying how much you really value not just cycling provision, but also public health and the NHS, good state schools and decent housing – and how investing more public funds will promote social inclusion, equality and prosperity.
• point out when someone on the un-progressive side of politics tries to use words such as “Social Justice”, “Fairness” and “Equality” to advance their harmful agenda. These deceptions need to be called out.
Having a tea break, got 10 minutes free?
• Email your MP to tell them how much you value health and equality and would like to see more affordable homes built. You can find their contact details on: [http://www.parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-your-mp/]
• Promote equality’s many benefits to friends and family through word of mouth and social media.
• Have a read of the latest news & blog pages and help promote them by sharing them through your social media pages (make your posts public) or by emailing to friends.
• Beware and point out people who oppose progress using what at first glance appears to be outward-looking language to advocate what they actually know to be the agenda that is parochial, and more suited to those uncomfortable with the wider world.
Twiddling your thumbs for 30 minutes?
• Email your local councillor to tell them how much you value cycling, walking, health and equality and housebuilding and a good education, social services and whatever else you see as vital. Explain how people’s lives can be improved with sustained investment!
• Write to the Letters Editor of your local newspaper and to the editor of your “very local” newspaper [like The Voice in Bristol, or the Oxford Mail], to give your views on local issues – for example to explain why you support progressive politics and how this can improve things for your family, friends and neighbourhood.
• Expose those who are trying to stop things improving. How they try to name policies such as the community charge (really a poll tax), and spare room allowance (in practise a bedroom tax) to make their nastiness appear reasonable.
Waiting around? Got a spare hour on your hands?
• Write to them all! Tell them what you think. Tell them why you want rough sleeping tackled, more affordable homes built, poverty reduced, health services improved. Explain why you hate inequality and how a fairer world for everyone, Scandinavian- style, is within reach – it can be done – in your lifetime, for the lives of your children and (possibly future) grandchildren and for everyone else too.
• Have a look at the latest news on a set of websites you value and share with friends.
• And also look at what those trying to stop things getting better for most people are doing. Look at their websites which show how cunning and determined they can be. They assume you do not do this, but you need to know what you are up against and why your well-directed time and effort is needed. Be kind, be clever – make the world more even and less unequal.
Thank you! – it all helps to raise awareness of the issues. Without it little ever gets better.
An example The Seven Habits of Effective Active Advocates – on transport
1. Effective advocates take the initiative wherever possible to put across the case
Effective advocates are pro-active. For example, after a city-wide cycling event they will write about how great it was and how this shows demand for cycling and the need for more investment and enforcement of safer 20mph speeds. They take every opportunity to make their case, calmly and clearly, and inform, enlighten and inspire the wider public and decision-makers – both in writing and in conversation face-to-face. When it is revealed that the local police are not enforcing 20mph limits, as happened recently in York, they demand that Julia Mulligan, the local Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner, who has publicly confirmed that 20mph can be enforced in the same way to other speed limits, ensures that North Yorkshire Police will honour their promise as they have “confirmed that it will indeed enforce them.”
2. They use social media
Facebook and Twitter offer a great range and a means to connect to hundreds, potentially thousands, of people. A post on Twitter can be seen by 500 people and takes very little time to do. Putting leaflets through letterboxes to reach the same number of people would take 3 hours or so.
In terms of effective reach for the time and effort and cost put in, social media wins hands down. For instance, in Bristol today you can contact @MarvinJRees (Mayor), @mthrel (Cabinet member for transport) and @Kevinslocombe (advisor to Mayor) who are all useful people to influence. There are plenty of others! Though let’s not neglect traditional channels such as leaflets and posters, and print media. And point out that when in (recorded) public meetings the local Police and Crime Commissioner (for instance) when asked ‘How will the residential 20mph limits for West of York be policed ?‘ answered that ‘There are no new resources going into the policing of 20mph limits‘. And when asked ‘Will there be Fixed Penalty notice fines like in Oxford? replied ‘No‘. Ask why are children and other vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists worth less in York than in Oxford?
3. Advocates write to the local papers
Do this because people do still read the letters pages of local newspapers! And not everyone is on Twitter or Facebook. Some people prefer a physical newspaper. The letters pages of local papers are popular and are one useful channel for putting a message out to mainstream readers – reaching 3,000 people a time. Here are the links to many of the papers – why not write a letter?
Even if you don’t live in York you could write one to the local newspaper in York saying that you have heard that the ‘Police Commissioner Julia Mulligan says those who are driving above 20-miles an hour will be punished‘ but asking if this has ever happened? Don’t just leave it to the people of York – they need help. Why not write now?
4. And then write to your hyper-local newspapers too!
Despite the boom in online big-name media, there is still a place and need for very local media. The “Voice” series in Bristol caters for such a need, as does Bishopston News. These are another channel for published letters to the editor, and for suggesting local stories. It all helps for putting the message out.
In York and all other towns and cities, the political parties are a key route to influence. Recently the Green Party in York revealed that on enforcing speed limits ‘frankly, the police are reluctant‘ to do their duty. And that they had the backing of the local Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner when they chose not to enforce the law that is the most effective way to prevent deaths on the roads. Road crashes are most common cause of death of anyone aged between 5 and 24 in the UK.
5. Write to your local politicians and decision-makers. And to your MP.
In Bristol success was won only with great effort. In 2018 the Sun newspaper reported that ‘Introduction of 20mph zones ‘save 16 lives’ in Bristol – with plans to roll out more areas across UK‘. But keeping up support for 20mph at this critical time means contacting and congratulating the Mayor (Marvin Rees), the cabinet member for transport (Mhaira Threlfall) and local councillors (see the Bristol City Council website to find out their details). Politicians need to have their fingers on the pulse of local opinion and in an open and democratic society, people are free to make representations and to give their views.
They won’t always agree or understand, but it at least helps to make them aware of the depth of feeling on an issue. And remember – the organised opposition is doing this! If we don’t make our case, our representatives won’t hear what we have to say and may miss out on knowing about important news reports.
Members of Parliament also want and need to know what’s going on with their constituents and the issues which affect us in our part of the city. They have links to the city council and may have some sway nationally. They need to hear from you!
6. Use evidence and facts, but also put these in a narrative so people can understand better
We all relate more easily to stories than to abstract facts. Our narrative is about how safer speeds make it safer and easier for people to get about by walking and cycling; about how they open up local neighbourhoods for vulnerable people and remove the fear of motor traffic; about how the city can be a better, more prosperous place if we make it people-centred, not car-centred. Think of the story you wish to tell and how it relates to people you live around and our shared humanity.
And remember, unless people care about an issue, they are highly unlikely to pay attention to it, let alone act on it. Caring about something is always a necessary, but not a sufficient, precondition for support and action.
7. Advocates persist and have patience, good humour and goodwill
Here are some tips from a very successful activist in Australia about how to be a happy and funny activist.
Advocacy is not easy! There are rarely any quick wins; it takes time and effort and the road can be rocky. But we must persevere in our quest. “Rome was not built in a day” and our case will not prevail overnight. We need to constantly and steadily make the case, to inform the uninformed and under-informed majority of the people, and to guide and help people.
Think of each letter, each tweet, each Facebook post, each conversation as being one brick which helps to create the eventual building.
If we keep calm and focus on the issue, we will prevail. Let angry opponents have the rage – we have time, and calm common sense and goodwill will ultimately prevail. And talking to people face-to-face, and carefully listening to a person’s point of view, is crucial too of course. After all, what we are calling for is all about improving everyone’s lives, and what better way to inspire people than in person?
Finally – It is never sufficient simply to criticise or otherwise react against the wrong-doers themselves; one must also react against those who, having had the opportunity to react, fail to do so. In his book The Complexity of Co-operation, Robert Axelrod dubbed this kind of secondary sanction a “metanorm“. He showed by simple computer models and examples from history and the press, that unless this kind of second-level sanctioning is deployed, bad goes merrily on its way to worse.
So: no more being polite to people who are polite to tyrants. Or being polite to people who are polite to people who are polite to tyrants – and so on!
As a friend of mine recently wrote to me: Maybe even at this apparently-late stage, the juggernaut of tyrant-friendly rightwing politics, in full career, might suddenly find itself wheel-less?
He was inspired to say this after The Red Hen Restaurant in an act of micro-advocacy refused to serve food to Trump’s publicist. That one tiny action may itself turn out to be far more important than it might have seemed at the time. Indeed, the amount of media coverage it’s provoked suggests as much. This is what the proprietor said, after politely excluding Sarah Huckabee Sanders:
“I have a business, and I want the business to thrive. [But] this feels like the moment in our democracy when people have to make uncomfortable actions and decisions to uphold their morals.”
Go on – send a tweet. Its the least you can do and you never know where it might lead!
The image above is taken from here. Click to fid out why.