Three talks at the Grassroots 2012 conference

Three talks at the Grassroots 2012 conference

Date: 1 June 2012

I went along to the TUC organised “Grassroots” conference on Saturday 26th May at Congress House, Great Russell Street, just off the Tottenham Court Road. The wonderfully sunny weather set the positive mood for the conference: on arrival, conference attendees were not only treated to an array of stalls from a number of progressive organisations and campaigning groups, but the particularly impressive “Save our Placards” exhibition organised by students of Goldsmiths University. 

Placards exhibition

Part of the ‘Save our Placards’ exhibition

The conference was composed of three themes, firstly, how trade unions and progressive groups can campaign effectively, secondly, how membership organisations can be built constructively, and thirdly, how we communicate and reach out to the community. Each theme was addressed by three speakers discussing their take on the topic at hand.

Given the fact that the conference was hosted by the TUC, there was a marked contrast between some of the speakers coming from a union perspective, and some of the newer campaign groups which have much less traditional structures. These differences, however, made for an enriching and diverse exchange of ideas. 

Friends of the Earth: How to avoid wasting your time campaigning

Neil Kingsnorth from Friends of the Earth began the first theme of successful campaigning, entitled “how to avoid wasting your time campaigning.” He began his talk by situating Friends of the Earth within a broader environmental movement, arguing that whilst movements need campaigns, campaigns also need movements. Just campaigning on single issues can make you lose sight of the bigger picture – you may be winning lots of battles, but perhaps you’re losing the war. A really important thing to bear in mind as an activist.

UK Feminista: Mobilising from the margins: lessons from the feminist movement

Fiona Ranford from UK Feminista, gave a talk entitled “Mobilising from the margins: lessons from the feminist movement”. It was particularly refreshing in that she pointed out that dwindling membership of unions and NGOs doesn’t necessarily mean any decline in activism at all. She stated that we have to understand how activism has to function in the current socio-economic neoliberal context, and where the means of production has been to some degree democratised (via Facebook, twitter, et al). This means that activists are no longer dependent on traditional structures to share information and to be able to function. Building successful campaigns requires providing appropriate support and infrastructure to groups that they actually find useful. 

UK Feminista is part of a movement which can radically critique the system from a gender perspective, and I’m heartened by the fact that the feminist movement in the UK appears to be thriving so much.

False Economy: Beyond the Echo Chamber

Clifford Singer of False Economy gave a talk entitled “Beyond the Echo Chamber”. During this talk he revealed some highly interesting statistics drawn from the British Social Attitudes surveys, demonstrating how we have much to be cheerful about – attitudes to wealth distribution have remained the same for twenty years – but also have much cause for concern – with respect to attitudes regarding benefits and creeping scepticism towards climate change for example. Take a look at this for a start: 

How then might we turn the tide of public opinion, which is where we need to begin? For a start, Clifford’s response is to poke fun at the powerful by using their own slogans and imagery against them. This is demonstrated to great effect by the satirisation of the 2010 Conservative ad campaign on Clifford’s website

False Economy provides a much needed antidote to misinformation about the financial crisis and spurious arguments made in support of cuts to public services. Long may it continue!

All in all the Grassroots Conference was a success, providing inspiring and motivating talks on how to campaign better.