Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lessons Learned: Judy Alexander GMOs in Jefferson County

GMOs in Jefferson County: Home page:

Judy Alexander, Jeffco 522 volunteer, delves deeper into several of the points Cindy Black has on her "Grassroots I-522 Debrief & What’s Next Meeting Summary for Dec. 4th":

vii. Some counties won 522 with little money spent from the Yes on 522 campaign, such as San Juan, Jefferson, Kitsap & Clallam. Look at how they succeeded using education, enlisting support of local food stores, letters to the editor, etc.

My thoughts on the value of the way we educated people, here: I did an immersion approach to the GMO movie series.

We are a county of 30,000 people, and I showed 4 movies over 4 weeks in 4 locations, enlisting the various organizations who provided the venues to not only show the movies, but promote them to their "base":

One was a Unitarian Fellowship, two were Granges, and the 4th was a community center in the rural areas.

The very fact that we enlisted that many organizations to show the movies made the series sort of "stick out like a sore thumb" in people's minds, and it made its way into the public dialog as a result.

Movies had time for post movie discussions, and EACH time, plugs were made to engage people in action steps... sign up sheets were there, a data base was formed from the sign up, campaign materials (buttons, bumper stickers) and follow up organizational meetings happened, gleaning many many active campaign participants from the angst people felt from watching the movies.

It was a matter of "capturing" the motivation on the spot... giving people a place to channel their concerns in an active way. Many times we said "getting active in the 522 or anti GMO efforts is a healthy channel to fend off feelings of powerlessness in the face of corporate power.

Our local Food Coop bought in very early on to providing support for the movie series. They provided handouts and non-GMO Shopping Guides to hand out after the movies. They printed the posters. They funded the poster design fees.

By structuring the film series in all the above ways, it hit the ground running, so to speak, with an appearance of collective support already in place... so many organizations had "bought in" and provided logistical support, it was easy for the public to say "we are buying in, too"....

I opted to show the movie "The World According to Monsanto" as the opening film.

You cannot watch that film without, then, disliking that company and all it represents. The decision to vote against anything Monsanto is behind was an easy next step. The con, here, is that movie is LONG, and it IS DEPRESSING... so rallying the group into collective action becomes necessary if you don't want people to shut down and go home bummed out.

So in sum, the "collective support" nature of how we showed the films is what I am recommending... This, of course, is harder to do in an urban environment.

What didn’t work or needs improving?

i. There were some major differences between the grassroots base and the official Yes on 522 campaign, especially in regards to the messaging. The official campaign wanted to stick to the “Right to Know” message and not discuss safety, health or environmental issues. The grassroots focus was to expand that message and give people a reason why they had a right to know and why labeling is important.

I became aware of this schism that would emerge more clearly later between the official campaign and the grass roots approach in a conversation with Marilyn Chase at the Seed Conference in Seattle.

In retrospect, I should have delved into the differences of approach in a more active way. It may have led to a healthier "peace" and an ability to have synergy rather than discord between the camps.

It was the failure of the professional campaign to effectively engage the grass roots volunteers (and vice versa) that weakened the effect of the campaign off the starting line.

I find that what motivates people who are paid to do a job is MUCH DIFFERENT than what motivates grass roots organizers. From the grass roots you get passion, energy, commitment, enthusiasm, truth and honesty. It seems from paid work you also get commitment, but it comes from a more logical space of analysis to campaign.

I found initial contact with some of the paid staff to be laden with arrogance, non-receptivity to other approaches or motivations, and a sense of really being blocked in an ability to see the value of the grassroots.

This was a tremendous loss for WA state.

In hiring people to run a campaign on an issue like GMOs I would really recommend someone near the top of a paid staff be actually SKILLED in knowing how to effectively interface and channel grass roots volunteerism.

Learning to listen, to value, to recognize that alternative approaches on a campaign can strengthen, not weaken it..

IF people can recognize that this GMO issue IS very complicated, scientifically confusing, and requires a fair amount of education to even feel like one can participate in campaigning.

To this end, I would recommend that ALL paid staff and many grass roots organizers be encouraged to watch many movies, read many articles, and start out their efforts with education... rather than running into the need for it at the eleventh hour.

I would recommend that CO and OR start their educational efforts RIGHT NOW. Education is the best inoculation against the predictable disinformation campaign we all know comes from the bio tech industry.

ii. The official campaign limited the demographics they focused on and treated 522 as a political issue rather than a people issue. They didn’t target seniors or conservatives, and focused on the liberal-base, which many felt was a big mistake.

Food is a unifying issue. We all eat. We all need to be educated about what has happened to our food supply in the last 50 years. Limiting the outreach was a mistake.

iii. Most grassroots volunteers felt the campaign did not support the grassroots efforts enough. One example is the grassroots had to raise their own funds for yard signs, buttons and bumper stickers and was denied funding for these items when requested from the campaign. Other examples include not supporting grassroots organized educational events, movie showings, fundraisers, debates, actions, etc.

I think too much time was spent complaining about the above, and not enough time problem solving. The polarization between the grassroots and the paid campaign sucked up a lot of energy initially that should have been used to move forward.

I fault myself for not having understood in that very first conversation I had with Marilyn Chase that the difference in approach was going to lead to such a schism... We need to learn to appreciate and understand our differences if we are to be a strong and effective campaign. It really is about raising our consciousness to be able to work together, allowing for differences, and strengthening thru partnerships.

iv. Though some thought enough education was done about GMOs, the majority of people felt more education was and is still needed. This is a deep and complicated issue and a 30-second commercial is not going to communicate why people should be concerned about GMOs and our current food system.

I couldn't agree more. See comment above.

v. Campaign had many endorsements, including up to 500,000 labor votes, and didn’t use the labor force to help with the campaign. Many Democratic districts supported 522, but they weren’t organized either. There needs to be more connection to groups who support the cause.

vi. The campaign was difficult to contact and didn’t respond to messages, emails, etc. It was also mentioned the campaign was constricted in their approach and didn’t organized volunteers as they came in, and in some cases alienated volunteers. They could have worked with the grassroots to funnel the volunteers to their region for a variety of campaigning duties, such as more door-to-door canvassing, community meetings, organizing events, etc.

How to use volunteer energy needs to be handled on the front end of crafting a campaign like this one.

Jobs delineated.
Teams envisioned.
Geographic areas taken into account.

The GMO issue will always engage a big base if official campaigns can realize they have to learn how to capitalize on all that energy. And this HAS to go beyond the message of calling for phone bankers. Too many people are not comfortable with phone banking to have that be the one and only use of volunteerism. Again, a missed avenue...

vii. Many felt the campaign ran this like a “candidate” campaign, but this is not a political issue and needs to be handled differently.

viii. Campaign felt the grassroots didn’t stay on message enough and primarily avoided working with us for this reason. They may be looking at options on how to deal with the grassroots and keep us more focused on the campaign message and strategy.

In the case of GMO legislation I think trying to stay on a simple and single "message" is a MISTAKE.

Yes, it is complicated... but education can help with that.

Education, too, about how corporations rely on creating DOUBT, FEAR and UNCERTAINTY in their ads will also set people up to not be so affected by those messages.

There are psychological strategies which, if highlighted, would lose some of their power. I think OR and CO would benefit from seeing the No on 522 ads right now.. and begin getting perspective on how to best combat the kinds of messaging that happened in WA. People seemed to think that all the Power of the Experts was on the No Side of the campaign... and I have to agree...

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