A few weeks ago, I went along to Netroots UK – North West, a gathering of progressive types with a focus on grassroots online activism.
It was a lot more interesting that I expected. I didn’t have any idea what to expect and it turned out to be a mix of workshops and talks from people who’d run massive online campaign sites and what they’d learnt from them and engaging with their communities.
In many ways, one of the most interesting sessions was hanging out with someone from Pat’s Petition and working with them to suggest ways they could improve their campaign. This wasn’t a subject or audience I usually spend a lot of time thinking about. To give a bit of background, Pat’s Petition is a blind lady who cares for very poorly husband who is asking the government to reconsider its plans on carer cuts.
My first reaction on hearing this was to type it into google and see what came up, which I did there and there in the session and I quickly noticed a few areas for possible improvement of their presence – there seemed to be very little background to it online (even though I could hear from the lady there was a lot involved) so I suggested a video of this lady could be valuable.
Another thought was that a lot of these campaigns seem to promote negative emotions – “STOP the cuts”, “Tax David Cameron/Nick Clegg/the bankers”, but the message here needs to be a lot more focused. A lot of the people who wouldn’t usually sign this petition because they’re unhappy about “benefit scroungers” and cheats sometimes unfairly bundle this group of carers into the same group. Why does that happen? Is it because all carers are bad people? Of course not – it’s probably because most people don’t know someone in Pat’s situation and don’t know about all the good work people like her do.
By placing and emphasis on the good things and hard work she does, and “oh wait, also, she’s blind”, the “and what if this was taken away?” question, will hit home with a greater number of people and more people will sign the petition.
I felt I got a lot out of that session in terms of thinking in ways and about things I usually don’t have to.
I also went to a talk with Loz Kaye and Jim Killock talking about digital rights:
Followed by a question and answer session where it quickly became obvious there were several firm Pirate Party and Open Rights Group supporters.
In the evening, I had an amusing moment when I was introduced to a friend of a friend’s friend, “Tim” – some kind of progressive activist who had recently written a book. He had a copy of his book to hand and I had a glance though it. “Tim Gee” – that rang a bell. It turns out that Tim, his dad and my parents had all played music together a lot when I was little. The last he remembered of me was a curly haired 8 year old standing on a home made raft I’d built on a river in south Manchester. Small world!
I think netroots was a worthwhile event to go if you care about online activism and want to get better at it – I think if there were more events in Manchester I’d go to them.