A Crash Course in the World of Economic Campaigning, UK Style

Robin Hood tax campaigners outside the TreasuryLondon      I was curious about what’s happening in organizing in the United Kingdom, so the ace organizers for ACORN in London, Jonny Butcher and Lee Baker, made a cold call to the New Economic Foundation, and, more specifically, George Woods, whose title is a senior campaigns organizer who helps coordinate their organizers network, known as NEON, the New Economics Organizing Network. All of which led to a fascinating couple of hours with a dozen energetic folks somewhere on the continuum between activists, organizers, and campaigners, which in fact seems to be a recognized and well regarded job classification within the progressive movement in the UK.

The New Economics Foundation itself was quite an impressive operation, calling itself a “think-and-do tank” with the current slogan “economics as if people and the planet really mattered.” With 50 staff in a warren of open offices in a wonderful old building that I think I heard had been a former bus barn, it was a bustle of activity. As a footnote to the red hot London real estate market, they were about to decamp from the space and cash out their building because developers were going to be able to add three more stories on their footprint for high-end residential units, while they moved a couple of hundred yards away, shrewdly arbitraging the “old” economics for the new economics.

Most of the session was spent largely in questions and answers about ACORN and how we worked, but putting two and two on some of the groups and their campaigns later, we clearly could have spent hours trying to get a grip on how many of these campaigners saw reordering the world’s financial system through public pressure around the world. Their collective motto might have been, “take on no small targets!”

There were organizers there from the Robin Hood Tax campaign which aims to get a half-percent tax on all matter of financial activity and sees such a tax as a way to fund what they call development work around poverty, domestically and internationally. A fairly young campaign, they got a huge amount of traction from as many as 1000 economists joining their call and some movement by the European Union, though unless I misread their information, Bill Gates and his gang did a report on the matter with less enthusiasm, and some of the momentum has waned and been directed against their right-on, redistribution notion. Another campaign of long standing was the Jubilee Debt Cancellation effort, centered on the biblical notion of “jubilee” or pardon and forgiveness, and a critical effort in pushing for reduction of debt, onerous and often poorly and corruptly negotiated, to developing countries. The TEAR Fund supported disaster relief and development in countries around the world with 46,000 donors in the UK, which was an impressive base of support!

Two younger student based groups were there. One was People or Planet, largely coming right out of the universities, and calling itself the “largest student network in Britain campaigning to end world poverty, defend human rights and protect the environment “ and before anyone might discount students, their track record was meaty. Rethinking Economics, seemed more post-graduate, and aimed to do what their name flatly states, rewire economics as a more useful social and political tool.

You get the idea, it was a brain expansion exercise, trying to link an understanding of our work on the streets, organizing low and moderate income families around the world, family by family, block by block, community by community, often beginning on very specific and immediate issues, with much of their work which is done through social media, websites, internet petitions, media, and mobilizations trying to build support and pressure on the larger economic horizons 30,000 feet above our ground level.

I’m not sure I understood it all, but I found it encouraging to see such an energetic, well-funded community of “allied trades” for the kind of membership, ground and workplace-based organizing ACORN practices. I walked into the evening feeling there was a lot of good stout kindling to spark a heckuva fire!