What I learnt from Progress 2015 (and what all advocates should heed)

More than 1000 advocates, communicators and entrepreneurs came together at Progress 2015 in Melbourne late last week.

They were there to learn how they can communicate better to their donors and supporters, new ways to galvanise support, and the best way to influence policy.

Here are the five main points I came away with.

Preach to the converted

Activists are often told to stop preaching to the converted in order to widen their support base. But Anat Shenker-Osorio says that you do need to preach to the choir in order for them to become advocates for the message. If they believe in the message, they’ll sell it for you and in turn expand the choir.

Find friendly foes

But it’s also worth keeping an open mind for new allies As we learnt from the campaign against fracking in NSW and the unlikely alliance with Alan Jones, friends can be found in unexpected places. Caterina Giorgi, Director of Policy and Research at FARE says politicians from all sides will listen to you – you just need to find those who are sympathetic to your cause. So don’t be blinkered – be creative and you soon might have some invaluable advocates.

Use hope not fear

We often think the most shocking statistics, the terrifying language, and the doomsday scenarios will cut through and reach our intended audience. Shenker-Osorio argues fear often has the opposite effect; that if people are presented with fear they will recoil from it. Take climate change. As Anat says, “If the world is going to end, I’m shooting up heroin. I’m not coming to your march”. She suggests reframing the debate to offer hope.

Raise your head up

Organisations are the first to admit they should, and could, work more effectively together. In a panel discussion on the Fate of the Fair Go, Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie and ACTU CEO Ged Kearney said that by working together, the social services organisations were able to fight down some of what they claim were the unfair elements of the Coalition’s 2014 budget. They both lamented how organisations are often too intent on their own work that they forget to see the bigger picture.

Social media really is a game-changer

This might seem obvious but social media is a key to campaigns – particularly those with limited resources. In a panel discussion of case-studies of Indigenous power, social media emerged as a pivotal part of two successful campaigns based in isolated regions – stopping the gas hub in James Price Point and the nuclear waste dump in Muckaty Station. Dr Anne Poelina, a Traditional Custodian from the Kimberley region, spoke passionately about the role of social media in many Indigenous movements including #sosblackAustralia.


Journalists should not reveal

I remember three things from one of my journalism tutors at uni – only babies are due, never sign a petition, and never tell anyone who you vote for.

It’s the latter rule I thought of in the lead up and on the day of this year’s federal election.

Some of my friends who work in the media were freely sharing their views on social media and actively encouraging others not to vote for a particular party.

I don’t write political news stories anymore so it probably doesn’t matter too much who knows how I vote but I always have that tutor’s voice in the back of my head.

In a recent issue of InsideStory, Dennis Altman argued political commentators should declare their positions.

While I agree with his point that some sections of the Murdoch press discarded any pretence of balanced reporting, I don’t believe we should abandon working towards fair and bias-free journalism.

We should be rallying against biased coverage – or at least trying to ensure there is enough media diversity so these voices are just one of many.

Why should we know the political leanings of Karl Stefanovic, Leigh Sales, Sandra Sully, or David Speers? Surely its better they remain impartial with the viewer none the wiser about whom they voted for at the ballet box.

Do we really want to end up like the American media where news anchors are required to declare their ‘side’ and be forever be held accountable?

By making their allegiances (if they even have them) public, this becomes the issue rather than the one they’re trying to report.

What do you think? Should political commentators reveal who they vote for?