Figuring out how to lobby for a climate emergency has been a steep learning curve for many SECA members. Few of us have had much direct experience of working with local councils before. The SECA Steering Group compared notes at a recent meeting to see what we’re learning. Here’s the 10 top tips we came up with. But it would be great to the views from others who’ve been hard at it on the campaigning trail.
  • e-petitions can certainly be successful in getting climate onto the council agenda. This worked well in both Adur and Worthing, and helps demonstrate the breadth of public support in a way that’s hard to ignore. Petitions started by local environment, community or faith groups may be seen as less of a political threat than those from established parties. But petitions need a lot of campaigning legwork to get them off the ground, and to reach the thresholds required to get them debated by councils.
  • Writing personally to council members and meeting up with them individually is also very effective. This is much better than sending standard cut-and-paste campaign emails.
  • Engaging with Council leaders and senior officers helps to build bridges and win trust, and can allay fears about protestors being out to cause trouble.
  • The party that is control of the council tend to be defensive when challenged on climate change, with their first instinct being to reiterate everything they’ve done in the past few years. Giving credit for this, while looking to the future, may be better tactics than just criticising councils for not doing enough.
  • Motions presented by the main opposition party in the Council will generally be seen as a political move, and can prompt an unhelpful tussle over the wording of motions and who’s amendments get passed. Motions tabled by independents and minority parties may fare better because they are not seen as political point scoring.
  • Procedures around how council debates are run can be quite cumbersome, making it hard to reach creative compromises on the day. This puts the onus on good preparation. If parties have the chance to meet beforehand they may be able to thrash out compromise wording that will command support across the chamber.
  • Some councils will allow speakers from the floor at committee meetings, if not full council debates.  Hearing the voices of young people in the chamber can be particularly powerful.  Advice from Fred McCormack is to “keep it away from politics and you tend to take people with you. Highlighting what you have done in your own life and at work shows that you take your responsibilities seriously and so should the council.”
  • Filling the public gallery for debates provides physical evidence of the strength of public feeling and is hard to ignore.
  • Direct action, such as organising a “die-in” outside the council building can be very effective in getting media and public attention. The success of the Extinction Rebellion movement and the growing number of local XR groups is power evidence of this. But there are potential risks of being too confrontational. Finding an ally on the inside of the council who can advise on tactics may help campaigners judge where and when direct action will be most effective.
  • Combining these tactics is more likely to be successful than using one approach on its own.
What do you think? Please email us with your advice on what tactics works best:

Climate campaigners making their voice heard outside West Sussex County Hall

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