(Yes the title of this blog is a little bit of a joke, you’re probably thinking ‘who remembers freshers week let alone learns lessons!) - Lesson one – every opportunity is a chance to learn a lesson!
Freshers… I’m sure that word makes many of you reading this blog feel a teeny bit old. But alas, it’s that time of year again, when a fresh crop of university students are welcomed across the threshold. The great thing about freshers week is that it presents you with limitless opportunities to meet new people, to join new groups and learn new things.
As a newly preened second year at the University of Hull, I got involved in the activities being held by our students union to welcome the new students.
A few days into freshers week and already suffering from the dreaded freshers flu, I volunteered to help out at our societies fair. Having joined our unions’ Environmental and Ethical Committee last year, I was looking forward to speaking to students, old and new, about our plans for the year ahead. The aim of the day was to identify a few student led campaigns; so we asked students to write on our white board about issues that mattered to them. (see picture right).
Lesson 2 – Spend more time speaking to ‘wedge in the middle’
It was interesting how differently students approached the question ‘What should the E&E committee focus on this year’ , some students quickly scribbled down a few thoughts, as if they’d just been waiting for an opportunity to pen their ideas whilst others needed a bit of persuasion.
The fascinating thing that I noticed throughout the day was that, as each hour passed I was witnessing a small replica of our society right there, inside our packed little marquee. Each student that I spoke to represented a different corner of our society, and further emphasised the issues we face as a youth climate movement. I met people who had lost faith in the fight against climate change thinking that they could have no influence, those that didn’t know much but wished they knew more and those that just seemed unphased by it all. I often found myself thinking about our spectrum of allies , each student belonged to a wedge in that spectrum and as I placed each one of them in my mind the pattern that was developing wasn’t surprising. Many of them belonged to that ‘wedge in the middle’ those groups of people who care but just don’t know how or what to get involved in. As campaigners we tend to surround ourselves with like minded people (our active allies) and spend a lot of time shouting at people who disagree with us (our active opposition). However if we spent a little more time providing those that are waiting for an opportunity to get active and provided them with the tools to do so then we would have a stronger and more cohesive movement.
Lesson two – Be flexible in your advocacy
Lesson three -Get to know your audience and then tailor your message to the individual.
One thing I’ve learnt over the years, and probably the handiest tip I could give you is to be flexible in the way you approach issues like climate change.
Throughout the day we had many people say ‘I just can’t think of anything’ or ‘All my ideas are already written on there’.
It’s times like this you just have to stop looking at the bigger picture, and make what you’re saying relevant to the person you’re speaking to. You cannot expect to ‘word vomit’ a bunch of statistics and get people engaged and excited. You have to alter your language, your angle and content depending on who you’re speaking to.
Asking a member of the Come Dine With Me Society, about food, and what they did with their uneaten food lead to her brilliant idea of a food waste management campaign for the union restaurants and food outlets.
That is the key to successful mobilizing, and something I learnt whilst working for an unnamed telecommunications company. Find out a little bit more about your target audience and then gear your message to that individual.
I got involved in campaigning on climate change because of my love for people. It was the devastating effect that climate change was having on people that made me passionate about the fight against climate change. So by nature I love talking to people and finding out about what they are passionate about.
It’s during my idle chit chat that I often stumbled across the most interesting and relevant topics of conversation. I spent some time speaking to the President of the Pokemon Society (!!!) our conversation skimmed several topics one of which was a general discussion about politics which lead to a rant about jobs and youth unemployment levels in Hull. It was at this point that I mentioned ‘green jobs’ and before I could finish my sentence, his eyes lit up and he went on to tell me that he thought green jobs were a fantastic idea, and couldn’t quite understand why the UK hadn’t invested in them more!
So for him jobs was the passion, green jobs became the campaign. For another student, law was the passion, human rights and climate change became the campaign. Gardening was the passion for another , permaculture became the campaign. It’s small connections like these that can lead to the mobilization of so many young people!
Lesson 4 -Realise that green causes can stem further than renewable energy and carbon reduction.
Seems a little bit silly saying this, but I think we all sometimes forget that we can’t all be fighting the big fight and chasing ministers down corridors at the UN. I sometimes see people, and admittedly sometimes too, roll my eyes at recycling and litter picking campaigns BUT we all started there. My first bit of green activism was a recycling campaign, and look where I am now. Plus imagine if everyone backed that somewhat naff recycling/litter campaign, the effects would be pretty great. So let’s all leave our patronising glares at home….
After telling one new student about the committee she said those fatal words ‘I don’t know what to write’! A moment later she saw the word ‘Fair Trade’ on the whiteboard and casually told me about her year abroad and how she worked at a fair trade farm in Africa As I talked to her a little more, I found out that she wasn’t actually happy with the fair trade farm as it currently stands. She said ‘It’s better but still not good enough’, which led her to say ‘I think we should try to make Fair Trade Fairer!’. In a space of 5 or so minutes, she went from not knowing, to realizing that she was already passionate about an environmental and ethical issue. After all, ethical farming, adaptation etc play a big role in Climate Change.
Lesson 5 – Unfortunately just because they don’t agree with you doesn’t make them
So yes, wouldn’t it be a lovely to think that everyone who disagreed with our point of view was in some way intellectually challenged or was simply mistaken? Very often I sooth my anger after long and tiring debates with just that.
However it was whilst taking a break at the freshers fair to look around the different stalls that I allowed myself to eavesdrop into the many different conversations that were taking place,it was then that I noticed something.
There were many conversations taking place that were very quickly turning into debates and even sometimes heated arguments with one party trying to convince the other of something and vice versa. Neither recognising that a 2 minute debate wasn’t
going to change the long standing views of the other. It was this reflection that made me appreciate the journeys people make to form their opinions. It’s only when we appreciate that more often than not that peoples opinions are well thought out rather than mere whims that we will eventually come to an understanding.
It was with this new found perspective that I returned to our stall and came across someone peering at our board. After a few questions, I quickly came to the realisation that he was a self proclaimed climate sceptic who cited Lord Monckton in his conversation with me. Usually I would have either cried with anger or just smiled and refused to further discuss the topic with him. But it was my new found respect for the journey people make to come to their opinions that allowed me to give him a chance. Admittedly he shocked me with his knowledge of the subject and his critiques of certain evidence, and although I completely disagreed with his conclusions, it was hard to claim that he was somewhat intellectually inferior to myself. It was through this conversation of mutual respect that we found middle ground. He may not have been 100% sure of the science, but he was an ardent supporter of green issues and taking care of the planet.
My conversation with him could have gone two ways, and I’m sure you’ll agree that this conclusion was a lot more productive and beneficial.
Lesson 6 – Speak to people!
All my lessons some way or another relate to speaking to people. It’s only through conversation that we can reach a consensus. Just make sure that your having a conversation and that your not just shoving ideas down peoples throats. Not matter how good your intentions are, your most likely just pushing that person away.
Till next time,