ONE – Using a petition in a campaign
How is a petition useful in a campaign? A petition can be:
- A way to spark important and necessary conversations about the environment in your community or network focused on one issue;
- A simple action for anyone, no matter how old or young, urban or rural, to join together and show support;
- A way to build and nurture a community of supporters; you can email the petition signers at any time, to organise and collaborate as needed;
- A way to show, and effectively channel, the public support that already exists to address the issue to the decision makers;
- A way to engage with local political processes. By delivering the petition to your local Council for example, you’ll put the issue on the agenda, and have a chance to speak to the issues;
- A way to start conversations with local community leaders, politicians, businesses, personalities, academics, creatives – people who may influence the public conversation.
Your petition is targeting a decision maker – it could be a CEO, the Council, a Board, the Government, House of Representatives. This is the person, entity or organisation, you will hand the petition to.
The petition has a sharp, specific, single ‘ask’, within a campaign that may have other objectives. If we look forward into the future, this may be one campaign among many making a difference for positive systemic change around the way we re-align our economy and society to be in good relationship with the environment.
How many signatures do I need?
Often people will see a big 100,000 petition reported in the media, and assume that’s how change happens – but more often, a small petition of 1000 people who care about the issue can make a bigger difference. It all depends on the issue, need, barriers and how you then coordinate those 1000 people.
Gather wider support and count signatures, but think also about how you can use a list of say, 1000 people who really care about your issue – what information do they need? What action will make a difference at times during the campaign? How do they see themselves and the effect of them taking action? How will we collectively step towards solutions?
Make a plan
To create the change we want to see, we need to upset the comfortable status quo, and stir things up to be able to negotiate a different outcome from the way we’re tracking. By making a plan we can plot a possible course which is always adaptable to changing circumstances, to build collective social power over time, to be used at the right time.
Hang on, what is a campaign anyway – is a petition not a campaign?
- Daniel Hunter summarises here what separates a campaign from a one off tactic, and how to build your own people-power: Campaigning for Social Change: beyond just protesting for it!
A realistic plan is one we all believe can succeed, including our supporters. It could be a list of steps you’ll need to reach your goal. A plan will mark clear targets within a time frame, and give measures to judge progress. It can then be used as a guide to judge next steps, how to choose tactics, and how to communicate with our supporters and allies about the steps along the way.
A great plan on its own won’t win a campaign, but it can become a map to refer to as we chart our course.
- Our friends at ActionStation created a useful guide and tools to start thinking about a campaign plan
Gather a team
As you start building a supporter base, one thing will help make a campaign effective, and fun. That is, to bring together like-minded people with some capacity, are mostly reliable, and may have useful skills, passion, or both. Having more than one head on a question is handy, and we’re stronger together.
You may know people to turn to already, or they could join once everything is up and running. They may sign the petition and wonder how to do more. Look for people who will help, take on tasks, or contribute specific skills, for example:
- ‘People-people’, those who love chatting to everyone and anyone, at the local market or gym
- Email and web communication, writing, putting things in words
- Graphic design, putting things in images
- Social media whiz
- Research, policy
- Cooks are always a valuable asset in any team!
- Think about what else would be useful for your campaign
A good consideration before jumping into action is to reach out to any person or group working towards the same goal. They could be perfect allies, or have their own ideas about strategy and appreciate your checking in first.
Local iwi, mana whenua are naturally interested in issues to do with local place, the whenua (land), awa (river) and maunga (mountain). Reach out to find out their position, and start a relationship that will last.
Think of who would have an interest in the outcome of your campaign. There are online and offline communities who are already networked; for example church groups or unions. There are groups with strong interests in certain issues. Who is connected to specific demographics (such as disabled people, aged or youth) who could inform the campaign from all our perspectives?
TWO – Drafting my petition
Set a goal
The first step is to think of a goal that is achievable and specific. Rather than calling on the government to ‘Combat climate change’, pick a concrete outcome that will help take a step towards that end goal – for example, making public transport free, or having the local council phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. This is our ‘ask’.
It could be local, and an issue you have experience of. It could be an issue that just your community is facing. It could be time specific, with an approaching deadline that means we have to act soon.
Choose a decision maker
Who has the most power to deliver the changes we’re asking for and address the petition to them. Is it your local council, a business CEO, or maybe you need a change in policy by a government minister? Who is the person or organisation you will deliver the petition to? This is your target.
Drafting your petition
Once we have the ‘ask’ and the ‘target’ we have the basics of a sharp, effective campaign. Drafting your petition text will then make it easy for supporters to understand and share.
Image: We live in a visual culture and the image on the petition can be an immediate indication for people to click to find out more. Can you find an image that represents the story of the campaign. Ideally, it’s people focused (we love seeing other people) and represents the positive outcome, as much as the immediate problem. Add a caption for those of us with low visibility.
The ask: What are we asking the decision maker to do when we sign your petition? This is the specific action we are asking them to take.
Why it’s important: This is a field where you can add more context and describe the situation for supporters. Imagine talking to your aunty in Levin, who is sympathetic but may not have heard of the issue before. What will bring her to care about this enough to join you in action?
In a few words can you spell out the vision? Describe the problem, and the barrier to our vision. Why is it important, and why is it urgent now? How will Aotearoa be different once we’ve won this together? You can include links to articles or research about the issue at the bottom. By adding a url you can have an image or video sit on the petition page.
Setting up your petition
Once you know what you want it to say, you’re ready to set it up on Greenpeace Community!
The website will prompt you to add the title, target, ask and reason. After it’s been moderated by the Greenpeace crew you’ll be able to add an image, and finetune it as you need.
While it doesn’t have extra features include the ability to add emojis, images, video or GIFs on the petition page. Follow this link for more technical information to do this.
THREE – Grow your campaign
Share your petition
To start with, the people you know are the best place to start to share your campaign. Share with your networks and say why this issue is important for you.
Once people have started signing you can then use the email supporters function to ask them to share the petition themselves. This way we can spread the word to other people’s networks, with the people who have already taken action with you.
Brainstorm the groups or organisations who are already active in this area. Ask them directly if they will share the petition with their audiences.
If you have a social media account for the campaign, ask people to sign or share the petition each time you post content.
When organising offline events take a printed off petition from and sign up people on the spot.
As a rule, petitions grow when supporters share them. If people aren’t sharing it then consider any reasons for why that is. There may be barriers in how easily people are able to talk about the issue. Or they may not realise the urgency and need a deadline for motivation!
Recognise the efforts of your supporters! Thank everyone for sharing and post any photos of supporters getting active in the campaign to reflect back to them that they are part of an active movement.
We can think of the tactics available to us as being ready to use in our toolbox. We can open the toolbox whenever needed and choose the tactic that is best suited for the requirements – appropriate to the need at different times in your campaign.
A campaign may be urgent and over within a week – the petition captures the energy of people, focuses attention on the solution and is delivered into the hands of the decision maker in time for it to have an impact on their actions.
In a campaign lasting over a longer time we can think about building a campaign brick by brick, raising the public temperature each time. Think about how supporters can get involved in the tactics you choose each time. A ‘low bar’ tactic is an easy action anyone can take, such as signing the petition. Crafting a personal email to the Mayor is easy for some, but needs more motivation for others. ‘High bar’ tactics will be things like attending a protest or taking part in a direct action. Save these for the big moments, when it’s time to go all in!
Here’s a brainstorm of some common tactics that can be adapted for any campaign:
- Petition gathering at local event or market
- Supporter letters to editor
- Facebook live recording
- Webinar, podcast
- Opinion piece in local media
- Flyer drops
- Meetings with local elected representatives
- Rally outside a corporate target
- Banner drops
- Direct action, such as ‘lock ons’ or occupations
- Petition delivery
- Emails from supporters to the Mayor
- Voter guide, based on candidate positions
- Public meetings
- Election events to get out the vote
The toolbox helps build the house, and each tool has its use. You won’t need every tool, and you may end up using just a handful that work. If you’re part of a team or group of friends, discuss choices to check your shared understanding of the priorities, potential for impact, your capacity and good timing. Your choice of tactics have to relate to a dynamic world – they interact with outside events, connect with real people, and adapt as needed.
Consider the ‘social capital’ you grow over time with supporters and the public. Your tactics and engagement with people builds trust to be able to demand more from them. There are times to save that social capital, and times to spend it!
Communicating a campaign for change
During the campaign you’ll want to motivate people to support, invite supporters to take action, promote events, share updates, and generally just be communicative! There may be people in your team who can take on different tasks, such as taking photos, or talking with the media. Or there may be supporters with skills who want to do more to help. Whether it’s photos, emails, or social media posts, consider how to use the same content across different platforms.
- Read more: Communicating a campaign for change
Tips on gaining media
You may already have good awareness of the local media scene. You can do some analysis if not, and dig a bit more into where people go to get their local news. Is it the local paper, or the neighbourhood social media groups? Which paper has the biggest readership? Who are the local radio personalities?
You can use the Greenpeace Community platform to organise online or offline events. Once the event page is set up, everyone who has signed the petition will be invited, and you can communicate to attendees through the event page directly.
What kind of event are you hosting? Is it a public meeting; a fundraiser, an education webinar? What kind of action do you want attendees to take? How do you want them to feel afterwards?
You may be hosting a movie night in your home, and it doesn’t require much preparation. But when organising a bigger event, think about:
- Clear roles for each helper
- Health and safety – the bigger the event the more important this becomes
- Communicate with speakers – double check they have the correct details
- If you’re using any technology have a practice run beforehand so you know it all works
- Create and share a run sheet with when things will happen so everyone has a shared understanding of what’s going on
- Review the practical things that may slip between roles – who’s bringing the lights? Where will people park their vehicles?
- Is our event accessible? Consider the experience for people who may have low vision or use a wheelchair. Check out: How to make your social justice event accessible
Once all the details are covered – what could make this event more awesome? Is someone a whiz at decorations who could help? Do you know a great facilitator who would make the audience feel special?
Think about making time for a debrief afterwards, gather any feedback on what went well, or what could have been better. Thank everyone involved!
A protest, rally or a march
A protest type event is similar to any other, but you may need to talk first about getting permission for the location, or any potential risks to the attendees and how you will mitigate them. You may need different helper roles, such as marshalls for a march to help guide people.
- Legal considerations for organising a protest, Community Law
Lobbying decision makers and influencers
Lobbying is the targeting, meeting, talking with, and influencing of elected representatives.
Corporates know how to lobby. We don’t have the money to hire lobbyists, but committed engagement from voters and community members can be just as effective, and has integrity.
Whether you’re campaign is targeting a local councillor, an MP, a Government minister, or a policy maker behind the scenes, some ways to lobby could be:
- Start finding out more about the elected representative and where they stand on environmental issues.
- Go along to watch a Council meeting and find out how their processes work (every council will do things differently). Check the agendas of upcoming meetings to see if there is anything relevant you’d like to follow.
- Once candidates have announced they’re running for election, ask them for a meeting. Go along with a friend, ask questions to find out what they already know, and if they have a position on your issue. Ask them to take a public position if they haven’t already.
- Present the petition to target – at the least it can be a way to get a meeting to talk to the issue, ask questions, and gauge where they stand and what barriers still exist to get the outcome you seek.
- Go to public meetings and ask a question – will the speakers support your issue?
- Ask all the petition signers to email the target or elected representatives with a question you provide, and say it will affect their behaviour or vote.
Is it the first time you’ve met your elected representative? Victor is an ActionStation volunteer who went along to meet his local MP about justice issues, check out what he learned here.
FOUR – Deliver the petition
A delivery event is also a good chance to reach out again to supporters to ask for their help, to reach out to the media, and to meet the decision maker.
Use the petition delivery as a chance to build excitement and push one last time for more signatures; ask supporters to help by sharing the petition; look to attract media; make sure to get great images for the campaign; and bring supporters and allies together for a great event.
- Read more: Tips on planning a petition delivery
FIVE – What’s next?
Next steps for your campaign
Depending on who you delivered the petition to, you may need to wait for a response, or move to a new phase. It may be time to escalate the campaign and consider tactics that will push the public to take sides.
Your online petition may have been delivered, but the supporter list remains, and supporters will be keen to hear about the next phase of the campaign.
- Follow up with the decision maker: If they are on your side then follow up to make sure they act. When they do, let everyone know about your success, and thank supporters.
- You may be invited to speak to Council; or to Select Committee. Use this as an opportunity to invite supporters for content, for example personal stories. Speak to the elected representatives on behalf of the people who signed your petition.
- If the decision maker ignores you, or refuses to make the changes you’re asking for, it means planning a next step, or a new phase. Can you identify the barriers? What kind of pressure will move the barrier, or influence the decision maker? Go back to your supporters, tell them what’s happened and ask them to take action again as needed, or another commitment. You could even ask them for input on the direction to take.