Roger James: How to get fighting fit to make the world a better place

We can re-energise society and politics and direct change to help build a greener, fairer, peaceful and a more sustainable world


Stuff happens – well in 2011 it did, change was really happening. As ‘Newsnight’ journalist Paul Mason said: “It’s all kicking off”.

We had the ‘Arab Spring’, UK riots, big ‘anti-cuts’ marches, Eurozone Crises, phone hacking and economic meltdown.  Politicians often appeared to be at the mercy of events, rather than effectively guiding them. Natural disasters, compounded by human action, were prominent. The worst drought in 60 years gripped more than 10 million people and led to the death of thousands of people and millions of animals in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

Japan’s deadly tsunami on March 11 killed 15,500 people, caused the meltdowns of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, and led to 160,000 people fleeing the area or being moved away. In July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the last 300 months had all been above average temperature and that the 13 warmest years had all occurred in the 15 years since 1997. A fact not assisted by the Global climate talks at the end of the year only agreeing ‘a deal to do a deal’.

However positive change was also clear. The world has seen record investments in renewable energy which have grown 32% in 2010, reaching a record $211bn since 2004. One great story was that more than $100m had been raised, mostly by Latin American countries, to temporarily leave in the ground the estimated 900m barrels of oil believed to be below the Yasuni national park in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Debate on equality and tax has have arisen as the economic crisis continued to bite. The world-wide growth of the ‘Occupy’ movement and global support for the Robin Hood Tax are illustrations of the creativity in this new political space.

Agencies such as Oxfam working in major humanitarian crises such as Haiti, Pakistan, Somali and, most recently, the Philippines are having to work hard in this climate but  people continue to  show  generosity. The East Africa Crisis Appeal raised £72m to provide aid to nine million people in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, while Red Nose Day raised a huge  £108,436,227.

Aid is working and there are successes to cheer. There are now more kids in school while vaccinations and improved health has seen child mortality figures falling.  Although beset with challenges, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti and Burma have infant mortality rates that are lower than any country achieved in 1900.

In the UK, 2012, a leap year, promises to be eventful despite the fact there is no Glastonbury!  This being the New Year I want to look at some resolutions we might adopt and some ways to get campaigning fit.

The fourth annual Big Lunch offers a great opportunity to link with our communities. This will fall on the same weekend as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Sport will be big, with the Olympics promising to be the greatest show on Earth and the Paralympics the most inspiring. These offer some campaigning opportunities. The Playfair 2012 campaign wants the organisers of the London Olympics and companies to aim for gold and ensure that workers producing sportswear and goods with the Olympic logo have their rights respected.

Oxfam will be continuing its GROW campaign, and we have much to do – one billion people still go to bed hungry. We are pressing for policy action on climate, the growing problem of land-grabbing, we need to support small farms to grow more food and finally funds are needed to support these programmes.

These can come from a mixture of economic growth, targeted taxes and government support via well delivered Aid. We need to continue to press to ensure that the UK finally achieves the UN Aid target of  0.7% of GNI by 2013 and that this is enshrined in legislation.

One key moment in 2012 when the world comes together to discuss  key sustainability and poverty issues is Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012.  This year is also vital to campaigners fighting to control the arms trade ,as  we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a robust International Arms Trade Treaty as negotiations conclude at the UN in 2012.

Finally, to take action you need to get ‘campaigning fit’, fortunately there are some great coaches and training programmes out there. How to win Campaigns by Chris Rose is a great resource on grass roots activist campaigns. Chris also has a useful website on Campaign Strategy.

The Campaigning Handbook  by Mark Latimer is a excellent and very broad overview of campaigning aimed at anyone working for social change as is the The Good Campaigns Guide by Tess Kingham and Jim Coe.

There are lots of online resources – some good ones are the battlefront, Campaign Central , Explain that stuff  or 365. The best site about online campaigning is Fairsay. There are lots of training courses and resources from organisation like the Media Trust NCVO, The Sheila McKechnie Foundation or BOND.

If you want to understand how Parliament works or learn the best approaches, Parliament itself has a good site. Building a social movement around your campaign is a key factor, in my view some of the most successful grassroots movements in recent times are Transition and Fairtrade. They can teach us much about sustainable movement building.

There are a couple of events coming up which you can attend and help build up those campaigning ‘muscles’. One is People Power 2012 on Tuesday, March 6 looking at lessons learned from the recent and not-so-recent past.  The excellent Directory of Social Change who also run a host of training programmes, run their  annual Charity Fair in June.

So, if you are now toned up and ready to go, let’s see what we can ‘kick off’ in 2012, We can re-energise society and politics and  direct change to help build a greener, fairer, peaceful and a more sustainable world!

Roger James is a campaigner for Oxfam South West in Bristol

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