» 12 basic guidelines: Campaign against the unacceptable

straw burning

Your campaign may be 'about an issue' but to engage people it will need to have a much more specific 'battlefront'. Choosing that battlefront is a crucial task.

A campaign strongly supported by a tiny part of the population may sustain a vigorous organisation.

It may survive for decades - for as long as its supporters have the energy. But to succeed, most campaigns need to attract much broader support - and to do that, you often need to narrow the focus.

Normally the task is to find the pieces of an issue or concern which are unacceptable to a big enough group of people to get the effect you need. Find out what would motivate them to support your cause - plot your campaign pathway across that concern. In general it is better to campaign against a small part of a big problem, where that part is 99% unacceptable to the public, than to campaign against say half of the overall problem, where that is only unacceptable to 1% of the population.

In the early 1980s I was Countryside Campaigner at Friends of the Earth. Our mandate was to run a wide-ranging campaign to protect habitats and wildlife from agricultural intensification. Hedges were being ripped up, ancient meadows ploughed, pesticides sprayed ever more intensively - but the prevailing assumption among press and public was still that building development was the real threat to countryside and farming was necessary and benign. Even a reporter from the environmentally 'sensitive' Guardian newspaper asked me "well don't you want to eat ?"

We had quite widespread support but our case was too diffuse and too complex. There was no obvious national sign of damage - each hedge or field was different. We needed something simply unacceptable to prick the bubble of farming's 'Dan Archer' image. I consulted the files and FoE's local groups network. It was either slurry (animal waste) or strawburning. I went for strawburning.

We published a report on technical alternatives, called for a ban and set up a hotline and reports network. That summer was hot and windy. Strawburning caused even more tragedies and environmental disasters than normal, and this time the anger of farmer's wives whose paintwork was ruined, doctors whose hospitals were shut by smoke, people whose garden hedges were incinerated and even the police who had to pick up the pieces after smoke caused lethal road accidents, were all channelled into one simple media-friendly story. And whereas up to then FoE had gone for trimming and hedging of slightly stronger controls, this time we just said ban-it. Subsequently straw-burning was banned but just as important, it raised questions about the whole direction of agricultural intensification, and opened the way for other campaigns.

Look at your issue. It will be full of shades of grey like an aerial photograph of a city. Zoom in on your chosen areas. Blow it up like a photo until there is just black and white - that is what to communicate. Go to that point to make your case, to make you change.