Change at the Grassroots
– How to Attract Government Attention
Written by Sara Magdalena Goldberger
Being heard and enacting social reform is not just a problem under authoritarian regimes. Even in democracies, where newspapers have been filled with headlines on people crying out for change, we see little development or legislative change.
The Occupy Movement saw thousands of people protest the international capitalist system, camping in sub-zero temperatures for months on end; while thousands of students in the UK took to the streets to protest against rising tuition fees and its effects on social mobility. From Syrian citizens to Sri Lanka’s Tamils, from American activists to China’s Tibetan monks, people in every corner of the world are crying out for help.
The only two examples (I can think of) where the grassroots managed was the Pirate movement against the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement, ACTA, that got voted down in the European Parliament, and the tragic desperation of Tarek al-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi that led to the Arab Spring.
With little relative change, it begs the question, is anyone listening? What about us ‘little people’? Also, do we want it? Because while it is enticing with the image of David vs. Goliath, the fact is that some of the changes that happened through grassroot protests can be considered as revolutions through violence.
Here are a couple of points which will help you achieve attention of governments and help you lobby your case. In short, persistence and preparation are key.
1. Provide an Alternative
As with any protest, the way to gain traction with governments, at any level of society, is to come up with an alternative solution. Don’t blame, instead offer directions that have several options.
2. Put Yourself in “their” Shoes
By acknowledging their side of the matter, you will develop better arguments for change. It doesn't mean you will have to agree with their point of view but by recognising that there are two sides of the story, you have already taken a large step towards achieving change.
3. Understand Your Change
Sounds obvious but the more you know about the history of why you want change, the better prepared you will be.
4. Learn Your Counterpart
Learn about who you will put your argument to. Learn their name, their title, position in society, their view on certain issues, their personal history, and their stance on the topic you wish to discuss. By learning to identify with them on a more human level, your counterpart will be more sympathetic to listening to you and your movement.
5. Treat Them Like People
It is easy to demonise our opponents, but remember that they became elected government representatives for a reason that may be more personal to them than you think. Prepare to alleviate their fears of change and try to align your cause with their vision to help both parties see eye-to-eye.
6. Slowly Does It
If you want to achieve legislative change with your grassroot actions, understand that all parliamentary systems are time consuming and lengthy. Be patient and make plans to take your action in a step-by-step motion rather than expecting for everything to fall into place. Remember, the ACTA work was active for close to five years before the vote took place. Persist and be patient.