The UK has been under lockdown since March. This has altered the way that activists have been able to campaign. Mass public events stopped and we have had to adapt. Decision makers are still making decisions, sometimes with less scrutiny than usual. Decisions such as whether Birmingham keeps its incinerator or not is being made under a cloud, which make opposing it more difficult than normal.
Since I’ve been furloughed from work, I’ve been able to focus more time on campaigning than I normally would. I’ve still been able to perform my voluntary duties as a director of Birmingham Friends of the Earth, The Real Junk Food Project Birmingham, and the Birmingham Film Co-op. What I’ve been able to do which I’d normally struggle to fit in is to focus on campaigning. Zoom has become central to my campaigning activities. I’ve been watching training sessions and seminars from a whole host of organisations and on varying issues. Examples include me watching a webinar from new Labour party leader Keir Starmer, watching a webinar from Extinction Rebellion about Participative Democracy and the Young Fabians about housing policy. I reckon I’ve watched about ten to fifteen different webinars or seminars on issues that are different to what I would normally focus on. People from all over the country and indeed world have been able to participate in meetings online. My experiences of campaigning prior to lockdown was that you would sit in the same room with the same people time and time again. There is a benefit to this as you become closer as a team and hopefully work better together. On the flip side, the campaign can become insular and excludes people who could bring in other experiences, knowledge and skills. Being at a set place at a set time can be difficult for a person to commit to. Occasionally I might go to another city for a special event, but overall my activities would be limited by geography.
A new norm for campaigning?
With the majority of people being sat at home, they have had more time to attend online events. Events that are not bound by geography. They can be anywhere in the world as long as there is an internet connection. The Participative Democracy event from Extinction Rebellion featured a speaker from Uganda, speaking in Uganda. Opportunities for people to meet from across the world have been normalised. I hope that once Lockdown is over (is it over?) we keep meeting remotely in this way. There is an environmental cost to travelling. Do conferences need to fly people from one side of the world to the other to deliver an hour lecture? Do business managers need to drive 200 miles for a team meeting? Sometimes the answer will be yes, but hopefully we can adapt to need to do it less.
My campaigning activities
My main focus on campaigning during lockdown has been on cycling. Lockdown led to a decrease in traffic and an increase in cycling. Levels of cycling that were unthinkable in Birmingham six months ago happened. I enjoyed the clean air and blogged about it. I also wrote to my Councillors and MP in support of promoting cycling and chased one of my Councillors on twitter when he did not respond. My jaw dropped when Grant Shapps announced that walking and cycling would become a priority and that councils must implement real infrastructure for walking and cycling. I’ve responded to online consultations about Birmingham Emergency Transport plan. Spoiler alert, it is fantastic, please support it. Birmingham City Council have implemented some social distance measures in Kings Heath and Erdington. Erdington is too far visit under current circumstances, but I visited and commented on the Kings Heath measures. A slight improvement was my conclusion. I’ve also fedback on “widen my path,” which is a tool where you can comment on roads that you think are suitable for walking and cycling measures. Until recently I was not active on twitter, but since the start of Lockdown I’ve become very active, by trying to network with fellow campaigners and by annoying decision makers with a barrage of pro cycling material.
I attended Birmingham City Council’s cycling stakeholder group online forum. I’ve not been able to attend one for years as it is usually in the city centre at a time that it is problematic for me to get to. Under lockdown however, I could easily reach the online forum from my kitchen. All that I’ve been learning on the on going situation regarding walking and cycling I’ve been updating to Birmingham Friends of the Earth (BFOE) in our Monday night meetings. BFOE’s Monday night meetings have never been better attended than during Lockdown, in my time at BFOE at least. On one Monday night meeting we had 20 people and some people stay afterwards for a social. Before Lockdown, BFOE encourages a social at the pub after a meeting, but it no longer reliably happens. When I first started volunteering with BFOE, a Monday social after a campaigns meeting would always take place. Being able to campaign from home has made BFOE Monday night meetings more accessible for some people. When Lockdown is fully ended and the Warehouse is open once more, we will probably move back to Monday night campaign meetings in the Warehouse, but we will make sure that it is easy for those who want to campaign remotely from their home and zoom, skype or dial in can do so.
Networking with cycling campaigners
Continuing with the theme of online meetings I’ve been attending a weekly cycle campaigning meeting called #ideaswithbeers where active travel campaigners discuss campaigning in their areas. Campaigners from different cities and regions are represented, from Newcastle to Bournemouth. Each session there are presentations from different campaigners from different cities to share knowledge, skills and experience. Topics have included how to lobby your local council to implied zebra crossings. In each session there is an update as to what has happened during the previous week and any decisions that have been made by the national Government. For me this has been fantastic. I’ve been able to learn so much from campaigners and infrastructure nerds. They’ve shared their tactics, successes and losses, which has been incredibly useful to me. Whilst the #ideawithbeers session can’t continue long term in the current format, I hope that an abridged version will become the norm.
A shift in focus
Over the past couple of weeks my focus has shifted to the Black Lives Matter campaign. The active transport campaigning has stalled due to waiting for Birmingham City Council to provide and update to their walking and cycling plans. Events in America have resparked a protest movement throughout the world. Black Lives Matters to me because, even though I’m not Black, I could easily be the next George Floyd as I’m an ethnic minority. I attended the Black Lives Matter march in Birmingham, which I’ve blogged about. I’ve also donated money to both Birmingham and UK Black Lives Matters campaign groups and started to read “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge. As this campaign develops I will try to be more involved.
Campaigning has evolved during lockdown. My activities may have become more remote in their nature but trying to lobby and persuade decision makers continues. We could potentially learn some valuable lessons about how the campaigning movement can be more inclusive long term by helping people to remote campaign more.