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Building constituencies

Written By: - Date published: 12:31 pm, September 24th, 2009 - 5 comments
Categories: activism, greens, labour - Tags:

On Tuesday, both Sue Kedgley and Sue Moroney tabled petitions in Parliament with over 15,000 signatures, on food standards in schools and pay equity respectively.

That’s an incredible achievement. Most petitions get a few hundred, maybe a thousand signatures. Generally, not a lot of organising energy goes into getting signatures for them because, frankly, they have little practical effect (they are referred to a select committee, who has a quick read and that’s it). So, the fact that community feeling was so strong on these issues that each petition got 15,000 signatures speak volumes. No wonder there was huge applause from the Left when the petitions were tabled.

Issues like these are a great way for the Left, particularly Labour, to rebuild its links with the community and activate the support base.

Another great example is Darren Fenton’s Fair Deal in Hard Times campaign for her Redundancy Protection Bill. They’ve brought a whole range of groups together over the issue and offered people ways to get involved separately from any group, including a petition and 100,000 postcards to John Key. The campaign is mobilising a community across New Zealand that cares about redundancy protection with Labour as a focal point. It shows people that Labour is in touch and cares about the things they do, and provides a basis for future activism and support for leftwing issues.

Phil Twyford’s ‘Not Yours to sell’ supercity campaign and Maryan Street’s adult education campaign are other examples of Labour being a focal point for a community that opposes the Government’s policy on a particular issue.

For a lot of people, it takes one issue that affects them personally to get them interested in politics, Labour can take the opportunity to build a relationship with them over that issue, then extend it to more general support. I think Labour’s MPs are starting to get it. They are starting to see issues as opportunities to build these communities of interest, and build those contact lists for future issues. Maybe that’s why they got such extraordinary numbers on those two petitions this week – the realisation that the community created by the petition is more valuable than the petition itself.

Every issue is a chance to mobilise people and, by doing so, come to see the parties of the Left as being on their side and working with them. Using petitions, websites, email lists, they are finding a way to communicate directly with the public. They can bypass the media with its sound-bites and style over substance coverage and actually have a two way conversation.

Vitally, they have to be sure to retain the network they build with each campaign. A lot of effort goes into building up these communities and once built they’re simple to maintain. Keep talking to those people, keep the email lists. It’s about building a series of networks of common interest, where people are encouraged to participate and make their opinions heard, with Labour in the centre as a hub, a focal point for opposition to the government, not dictating but rather empowering. This is the route back into government for the Left.

5 comments on “Building constituencies ”

  1. I’ve been amazed by the response to Fenton’s petition, and to Metiria Turei’s one on mining in conservation parks. People who normally aren’t interested in politics will sign them the moment they see them. Though the support doesn’t usually translate into giving their email addresses to a political party.

    I agree that these campaigns are an important taxtic for the left. They highlight policy differences which were covered up in the rush to the centre. They connect with issues people care deeply about. The network-building aspect is just icing on the cake.

  2. The Baron 2

    What about the same petitions that Labour ignored during its previous nine years? Like the 32,000 signatures tabled in 2004 in support of universal student allowances… which didn’t appear in policy until the desperate times of the last election?

    Oh yes, Labour cares now, but shat all over students on that one, didn’t they. I remember that, and I think a few others do too. Labour listens now, but “other priorities” will come back once they win!

    • Daveo 2.1

      That’s why it’s important that Labour understands it’s that kind of behaviour that lost them support in the last election.

      You’re not going to reconnect with voters by driving the lower north island around in a bus, and you’re not going to connect by just waving petitions around.

      Labour needs to understand that it’s in its interests to keep in touch with the communities it’s engaging with on these issues and to accept that it’s a two-way relationship.

      That’ll require a real shift in the way Labour operates. I’m not convinced they’re there yet but the examples highlighted in this post suggests that at least some of them get it.

  3. Tigger 3

    Labour better hurry up and build that support – I cannot take any more of Donkey! He had this to say about meeting Obama…
    “He came up, I was sitting at my table and he came over and said `look it was great to see you, fantastic to have a chat on the phone, (I) look forward to seeing a lot more of you’.”

    Honestly, he sounds like a tweenie who just had a chance encounter with the male star from Twilight! I cannot respect a PM who gets all man-crushy and googly eyes whenever he meets leaders from other countries…

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