Learning patterns/How to campaign on a political issue
What problem does this solve?
Sometimes national and international governments design policies that are counter productive to the Wikimedia movement. Where this happens it is entirely within the remit of the movement, and chapters, to work to get policies changed. However, this can be time consuming, difficult and be met with equally passionate opposition from groups in favour of certain policy positions. This is especially true in the realm of copyright and intellectual property. How can the Wikimedia movement effectively mobilise support from supporters, fellow traveller organisations and policy makers to turn around potentially negative policy proposals? In spring and summer 2015 the European Parliament was presented with an amendment to the Reda copyright reform proposals which would have potentially removed freedom of panorama (FoP) by introducing a non-commercial exception. This is the example used in this learning pattern.
What is the solution?
1. Understand the policy
This may sound obvious but this is the first step. You must get a handle on what the proposal will do and how it will affect the Wikimedia movement's mission. Without taking the (often, a long) time to read the policy, take notes and gather understanding you will be unable to articulate the problem clearly and quickly. In this case, the removal of freedom of panorama would have potentially led to tens of thousands of images being removed from Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia and created an enormous amount of work for volunteers. It would have been very damaging not only to Wikimedia but also to free knowledge more generally.
2. Identify how other groups and individuals might be affected and have examples
3. Build a coalition
The more volunteers and organisations you can get to act on your campaign the more effective it becomes. There are many other organisations which support free and open knowledge and the rights of internet users to share content. Speak to them, find out about their position on the issue and if they are in agreement with the Wikimedia movement, work with them. In the case of FoP, several European chapters worked together in way that the Free Knowledge Advocacy Group EU was designed for. Each chapter was able to mobilise local, non-Wikimedia groups, too. Wikimedia UK was able to bring into the campaign organisations interested in the rights of photographers, architects, the PR industry, digital rights campaigners and journalists, all of who came together to sign a joint statement on the legislation. This statement was published in the national media and shared with UK-based MEPs.
4. Volunteers, volunteers, volunteers
This could easily be the first point of any Wikimedia learning pattern but it really is important. Reach out to volunteers that are interested in the issue at hand and involve them. Never underestimate the power of volunteers to make things happen. In particular, two volunteers took an active, leading and significant role in this work in the UK and without them the campaign would not have been anywhere near as successful.
5. Don't give up easily and accept there will be opposition
Be tenacious. Policy matters because it can often have unintended consequences. Most politicians go into politics because they want to make the world a better place. It is a tough job and often we expect our elected representatives to be experts in everything. This is not realistic. In my experience MEPs in particular are always happy to have subject matter experts discuss policy matters with them because they offer perspectives and knowledge that they may not have. But understand that opponents will be doing the same, so be clear and compelling, rather than confrontational and dramatic. It's a lengthy process, too. At one point in the FoP campaign we thought we had everything sorted, only for a late amendment from elsewhere almost derail our work, so don't be complacent and don't take your eye off the prize.
Things to consider
If you campaign too loudly, too frequently, this can have diminishing returns because people will stop paying attention – your campaigning will become background noise. Pick your issues carefully and only push heavily where there is a clear and definite need. Campaigning can be exhausting and draining, too – especially when coupled with other areas of work that still require attention. Make time for other things when you can. And don't forget to thank those policy makers who help you. They are more likely to support you in future if they feel valued, and those relationships are important.
When to use
When a national or international policy is proposed that could cause real damage to the goals of the Wikimedia movement.