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The gal-dem guide to launching a successful lobbying campaign

How To is a gal-dem series dedicated to demystifying practical steps involved in community activism.

04 Jan

The current moment demands change. And most of us have probably daydreamed about delivering it at some point or other; whether it’s helming a successful community campaign to get the council to plant more trees, or lobbying against draconian new immigration laws

But how does one turn an idealistic notion into a robust campaign? As part of gal-dem’s How To series, we spoke to the founders of anti-air pollution campaign Choked Up and Manchester organisation Kids of Colour, which ran a successful campaign to keep police out of local schools, to find out more about launching a campaign in your local community, finding a team and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. 

How do I get going?

First, you’ll need to have a rough idea of the goal you’re heading towards. Begin with brainstorming. Choked Up, a campaign raising awareness of the disproportionate impact of air pollution on people of colour, began their journey with the engine of 2020: Zoom. 

“We had loads of Zoom calls”, says Destiny Boka Batesa, co-founder of Choked Up, “discussing what our overall goal is [a new Clean Air Act], how we were going to put ourselves in the public sphere, [by ‘hijacking’ road signs] and types of allies [i.e other campaigners, MPs, friends] we could make.” 

After two months of working out Choked Up’s campaign goals, their strategy and on-the-ground action, the group began to create content for social media before their launch coinciding with Clean Air Day in June 2020. 

For Kids of Colour founder Roxy Legane, beginning a campaign involves starting from “the recognition that there is a need in the community”.

“You have to be working with people and projects where you have those ears on the ground and understanding of what’s going on,” she continues, advising that you need to be open to finding out there isn’t actually a problem. 

Starting in early 2019, Kids of Colour spent 18 months hearing stories from people experiencing policing in schools. In February 2020, the group submitted a Freedom of Information request (which can take up to three months to be answered) to get a better grasp of plans to introduce police in schools across the community. 

The following month, Kids of Colour and Northern Police Monitoring Project held an open meeting for the public to join if they wanted to be part of the campaign, explore the issue at hand and collectively decide next actions – involving writing to key stakeholders, such as Mayor Andy Burnham. This “exposed moments we needed to work to [such as the return to school],” says Roxy. It wasn’t necessarily an idea, she continues – it was fundamentally “observing a need, people being harmed and being reactive”.

You need a team around you – but how do you find them?

Campaigning can’t be done alone, and teamwork is crucial. 

“(The campaign) was strengthened by the reputations of both community projects,” says Roxy, and “building a campaign with the infrastructure of two reputable organisations (Kids of Colour and the Northern Police Monitoring Project) was key to drawing in great people”.

No Police in Schools built upon existing infrastructure and years of community work. But that  isn’t always possible if you’re starting out alone, Roxy points to the importance of being open to bringing in different voices and different expertise. Would-be campaigners should look “outwards to what community organisations already exist, so you can be supported, or support them, or see what gaps there are”. 

In Choked Up’s case, reaching out to other campaigns – predominantly via social media at first – and organising events enabled them to form direct connections. This drew the attention of others who could pass on information about their campaign to others in positions of authority.

Ultimately, your team isn’t limited to the people within your campaign. Through researching other organisations, events, building contacts with other campaigners – gaining what co-founder of Choked Up Anjali Raman-Middleton calls “relational power” – you can build networks to rely for help, the exchange of ideas and support throughout.

How do I divvy up roles?

With a campaign run by a small group of people – such as Choked Up – your internal organisation is likely to evolve, as opposed to remaining a rigid structure. 

“We never had a fixed conversation when we talked about specific roles we wanted people to occupy,” says Anjali. Each organiser has access to a shared email inbox, and if there’s something in the inbox that interests an organiser, they’re able to tag it with their name and do the corresponding work. “Look to where the expertise is within your campaign and [play] it,” says Roxy.

How important is the name? How do you go about finding one?

“In the age of social media, your name has to be something that catches on,” says Roxy.

Your campaign name will often be its first introduction to the world – especially if cited by the press – so it’s also worth thinking about length, connotations and context. 

“Before we started writing down names, we were brainstorming what we wanted to convey – we wanted to convey that we can’t breathe; that we’re dying from air pollution,” says Anjali from Choked Up.

A little overanalysis can be useful at this stage. “We had moments where we thought about ‘Police Free Schools’,” says Roxy, “but does that sound like we want to ‘police’ free schools?!” Some people still say ‘No Police in Schools’ is “off-putting”, she adds, “but we mitigate that by releasing more information on our campaign title in FAQs”. 

Simple, memorable names are most effective, like ‘Insulate Britain’, whose entire raison d’etre is contained within two words that are easy to recall and Google. 

How much time do you dedicate to your campaign?

First and foremost, “it’s important to be upfront – no-one wants to be pushing people over the limit,” says Roxy. Being honest about your capacity shapes how much time you’ll be able to dedicate to the campaign.

“At one point, we drew out a visual timeline of where we wanted to get to and set out the steps that would be needed along the way,” she recalls, using the timeline to delegate tasks. While commitment is the backbone of campaigning, “it’s also [about] being really flexible,” she adds, “knowing that there will be peaks and troughs of time requirements”. 

Choked Up uses spreadsheets to document finances, media opportunities and contact details, and check in with each other via a weekly Zoom meeting. But crucially, things don’t always go to plan. When organising road signs, some of the co-founders turned to working three hours a day alongside school for a few months. “I wouldn’t recommend doing that!” Anjali laughs.  

Where do you find partnerships and funding?

When you’re a new campaigner, “it may be slightly harder to find partnerships (to receive funding),” says Destiny, “and I think that it boils down to a question of trust – ensuring that those who claim to want to help you aren’t exploiting you in any way”. 

Choked Up was borne out of the Advocacy Academy, which provided initial funding for their campaign (amounting to several hundred pounds), as well as advice on partnerships and learning how to invoice. But through speaking at on-the-ground events and growing social media presence, the campaign is now funded by generous donations, paid opportunities and through collaborations with organisations such as the Environmental Defence Fund Europe and Purpose, who approached Choked Up to support their Mayor for Clean Air campaign.

“It’s important to define small things that may seem irrelevant at the time”, adds Nyeleti Brauer-Maxaeia, the third co-founder of Choked Up, “like exactly who can get credited for that work or photos”. This helps prevent any misunderstanding and potential exploitation of either party. She says collaborations “have helped Choked Up build respectability as a campaign, because now others can vouch for their trust in us”.

“It all comes down to making sure you have an interesting message and strong voice,” says Anjali. The networks and relationships you build with people are key in positioning your campaign to be of interest and getting into rooms with other similar organisations who may be able to help with funding.  

On the other hand, campaigns with a more ‘controversial’ message may find funding harder. 

“We’re running a campaign that is not going to be able to access much funding due to its goal (removing police from schools),” says Roxy, “so volunteers have been key – and building an environment in which people still feel cared for and rewarded, despite us being under-resourced”.

The campaign, by nature of being under the umbrella of Kids of Colour and the Northern Police Monitoring Project, was able to draw funds from both groups. Grants such as the Critical Social Policy Fund (which funded the No Police in Schools campaign’s flyers and billboard action) can be shared among organising networks. “It’s important to make sure the money isn’t coming from anywhere that contradicts your campaign values (e.g. in our case, from the police),” Roxy emphasises. 

What ‘mistake’ taught you the most about how to run a campaign?

“Don’t underestimate the additional time things may take,” says Roxy. With the No Police in School’s Decriminalise the Classroom report, “thinking ahead to who is going to put the hours in to proofread the work”, and being prepared for that stage of the process is key. “It’s also about “reminding yourself that even though you may well practised in something [such as report writing], it’s still exhausting when you are trying to do it alongside other commitments and responsibilities,” she adds.

“You don’t have to say ‘yes’ to everything all the time,” says Destiny. When they began campaigning, “I would jump onto every single media opportunity possible because all publicity is good publicity, right?” they tell gal-dem. “But sometimes it can feel taxing to not allow yourself a break – before I’m a campaigner, I’m a teen first,” they continue. 

The importance of making sure you have good relationships with other organisations was something Choked Up initially underestimated. “People forget that campaigning cannot be done alone,” says Anjali. “A victory for one of you is a victory for all of you”.