Why «The protest movement is failing…»

In a recent arcticle – «The protest movement is failing: it’s fighting the same old battles with the same poor results» – in The Guardian Deborah Doane is asking the question «Does Campaigning fail?» and summarizes her hypothesis with the sentence «Activists’ tendency to turn every issue into a fight against government or big business won’t create long term change.»

While her analysis of the «key reasons why campaigning is failing» is very precise in terms of strategic mistakes, failures and errors, it is at the same time as wrong as one can only imagine.

As an analogy her statement can be compared to a football trainer saying after a lost game: «Sports is a failure». And then he goes on lamenting about the mistakes his crew made during this last game. In the context of the game his analysis can be as perfect as Deborah’s analysis is within the context of protest movements. As long as she limits her definition of Campaigning to the mobilization of masses of people. But in an overall view, where football so much more than just this one game and is just one of many types of sports, one cannot say that the analysis is adequate to sports in general.

This is the mistake that Deborah makes and like her so many others. Campaigning is more than just mass mobilization.

In the eighties and nineties when I worked for Greenpeace, I learned a more comprehensive approach. Every campaign push, as we called campaigns with a short-term deadline, was embedded in an overall strategy and followed up by other campaign push which had been planned and prepared in advance. And mass mobilization was always just one element in a spectrum of other strategic tools which themselves were not limited to anything, neither to communications nor would they today be limited to digital marketing, Social Media or anything else. Every tool, approach, method, idea that would help was welcome. We never limited us in the spectrum of instruments that can bring about change.

For example Deborah writes about the Brent Spar campaign push as being a failure:

In the mid-90s, Shell’s sinking of the Brent Spar was seen as a transformative event in the life of the company, a shift away from doing harm, to being a responsible corporate citizen. Today, Shell is drilling for oil in the arctic. The company didn’t embed values to move away from fossil fuels, and so reverted to type. Rosie Walford, a sustainability leadership coach, refers to this as a “thin yes”. It’s a yes without meaning, without belief.

Debora’s analysis would be perfect, if a transformation of the company would have been our strategic goal. But having been part of the international strategic planning team I know what the overall strategic goal was: certain lobbying achievements during the Environmental Ministers Conference of the North Sea Border States. The conference took place in Denmark just after the Brent Spar campaign push was successfully ended. Every day we were campaigning against the sinking of the Brent Spar we hoped that Shell would continue just one more day (but, of course, give the sinking up just in time). That one more day would bring us closer to victory during the conference. And we won, not only did we stop the Brent Spar sinking but we also achieved every goal we wanted during the conference.

Had we wanted to transform Shell, then Deborah would be right. And here comes the real issue. Good and professional Campaigning within an overall strategy would have followed the Brent Spar campaign push up by an internal campaign. We would have worked with our internal allies, which we had within Shell at that time, and encouraged them to change the company from the inside. In other words: a limitation to protests – or in a more abstract view – a limitation to a certain spectrum of possible tools would have failed.

Campaigning is the art of being able to pull out all the stops and mobilize people in order to achieve a goal.
© Peter Metzinger

If that is the definition of Campaigning it becomes obvious that it isn’t Campaigning which is failing in the case of protest movements but a limited – or wrong – understanding of this methodology, which is at the same time away of thinking.

Campaigning in my definition can offer so much more, imagine the possibilities.

It is therefore that I called my Campaigning firm, No. 1 for Campaigning in Switzerland, «business campaigning GmbH». Without limitation in the spectrum of possible tools, Campaigning can be applied in any case where change is needed or wanted. During the last almost 18 years we have worked not only for NGOs but even more often for companies, from small start-ups to international corporations, for industry associations and government institutions. Whoever faces a seeming impossible mission or needs to bring about change and doesn’t know how to achieve it, can – and should – turn to Campaigning as a way of thinking that will make it easier to find the right solution for the right problem.

Utilization unlimited.

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