This campaign needs more respect.

In a Guardian interview this week, Greenpeace UK’s head of communications says that kindness should be an essential criteria for anyone wanting a senior job there. And increasingly campaigners place importance on how we work as well as the things we do. Some organisations even recruit based on candidates’ emotional capabilities as much as their campaigning experience.

People’s working style obviously drives results. Whilst some organisations have to function with committed, lone-wolf campaigners, most prominent campaigning groups rely on well-functioning teams. Working together helps drive creativity and test ideas. The best campaigns I’ve worked on have been those planned collaboratively and executed using the honed expertise of a broad church of staff – media officers, digital aficionados, mobilisers etc.

Clearly teams work better when people are open and co-operative. Having someone obstructive onboard can grind everything to a halt and take all the fun out of campaigning.

But as the nature of campaigning changes there’s an even greater need to be more open and inclusive. When I started life as a campaigner at Greenpeace, the organisation unashamedly operated a ‘top-down’ model. Campaigners were king and handed down edicts to minions and supporters. It reflected our campaign strategies which saw political change coming from the top too.

But in today’s age of movement building and open-source campaigning, thankfully, that’s being turned on its head.

Increasingly conversations are happening in campaigning organisations about how to involve supporters in, not just the delivery of campaigns, but their development too. That’s a huge shift. It comes from a recognition that lasting change won’t be created by an elite band of campaigners but through a much more organic shift. On climate change especially, twenty years of failure of the top-down approach is leading to radical rethinks.

In my view the grassroots movement has also seen a shift. As a student I visited one of the iconic protest camps of the 90’s anti-roads movement. I remember being chastised by a self-appointed leader for incorrectly peeling a carrot. It was a serious knock to my confidence. My fear of heights stopped me from performing most of the central functions of the camp. I thought I’d found my place in the camp kitchen.

Of course big egos still exist in grassroots groups (just as they do in the big orgs). But the adoption of consensus decision-making and an increased culture of respect are helping to dilute them.

It’s likely that the lines between formal campaign groups and the movements they engage with may become increasingly blurred. Or at least the old hierarchies will become less obvious. For professional campaigners like me, that means being inclusive and respectful may become as important campaigning assets as good strategy and comms.

Cover photo: Phlebotomy Tech

Emily Armistead

Emily Armistead is a campaigns consultant currently based in Auckland, New Zealand. She blogs about campaigning for the environment, development and human rights.

One thought on “This campaign needs more respect.

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