Adopt an MP

23 Sep

This is cross-posted from Call4.org (I officially adopted Caroline Lucas tonight too! Blog on that soon!)

Since last week’s launch of the UK Youth Climate Coalition’s Adopt an MP campaign, MPs have had more to worry about than just totting up their expenses accurately. For lurking around every corner (or, possibly, just turning up to their advice surgeries) will be a young person (or “adopter”) ready to question them on their commitment to creating a clean energy future.

It’s as simple as it sounds. The aim is to get 650 young people from every constituency in the UK to adopt their local MP and “track” them as they try to make climate change their top priority, whether that’s through writing letters, emails, visiting them in person or more exciting means!

It’s about building relationships

What is most appealing about this campaign is that it doesn’t dehumanise politics, or politicians. It is very much about creating personal and lasting relationships that can affect real change. As the Adopt an MP webpage says – “Like any new relationship it will take time, patience, trust and a little love”. It might sound unrealistic, idealistic or even sentimental. But this campaign takes inspiration from others that have really worked.

Take the Adopt a Negotiator campaign – a TckTckTck initiative which sends young “trackers” from across the globe to follow their countries’ lead negotiators through the UN climate change negotiations. Our UK tracker, Anna Collins, built up such a strong relationship with the lead negotiator Jan Thompson last year, that she was soon sharing coffees and emails on a level that I suspect most NGO and business lobbyists would envy.

A turning point came when Anna wrote to Jan just before the Copenhagen talks:

I want to remind you to think of me when you are negotiating. And remember that each line of text you negotiate, is not just a line of text… but a moment in my life that changes because of the decision you make. Please remember just how much you hold in your hands over the next two weeks. Please remember that beautiful, amazing future I know is possible.”

Jan replied, telling Anna that her email had made her cry (on the bus, no less) and reassuring her that the negotiating team were going to work as hard as they could. It’s easy to forget sometimes that civil servants and politicians are people. Conversely, perhaps it’s hard for them to truly keep in mind the people they serve as they go about their daily business, and that’s why projects like this, based on personal interaction, can be so effective.

Adopt an MP’s launch event, Parliament in the Park, capitalised on this fact. It was an opportunity for MPs and their trackers to sit together on the grass, share tea and cake and talk about a green future. Sounds like one of the more pleasant avenues available to combat climate change…

It’s about making an impact

However, it’s not just about nice chats and tugging at heartstrings. The Australian Youth Climate Coalition did something similar in 2007 – their Adopt-A-Politician campaign. With 2007 being a Federal Election year, AYCC developed a non-partisan campaign to put local and national pressure on politicians to make serious policy commitments on climate change. They used traditional tools such as local organisers in marginal electorates, posters, leaflets and face-to-face meetings, as well as social networks and adverts in cinemas. They got a tremendous amount of press coverage and contributed to the 2007 election being called the “first climate change election”.

As well as making a political impact, campaigns such as these can have a massive effect on the campaigners themselves, empowering them and enabling them to recognise that these seemingly insurmountable problems have ordinary people at the heart of them. Mary, the “adopter” of Pat Glass in North West Durham, wrote:

“I arrive five minutes early for Pat’s surgery to find 3 people already in the waiting room. They are sitting around looking scary and tutting under their breath every time someone says anything. And when I say these people are scary, I mean SCARYI sit down and introduce myself to Pat. I warm to her immediately, and can see that this was a part of the reason she was elected for North West Durham, not just the fact that we are a “Labour safe seat”. We talk about the Adopt an MP programme and about her wanting to get young people more involved in politics (something I am particularly passionate about) and she completely gets on my good side by talking about getting people from less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds into politics. I almost do my happy dance, but for the sake of my dignity I hold it back. I hope to meet with Pat again soon, ask her some questions of my own, get to know her as a person, and as a MP a little better. I’m sure we’ll get on like a house on fire, as long as I learn not to put my foot in my mouth. I’m sure I’ll get there.”

It’s about using what we have

Young people are arguably the only people who could run a campaign such as this – they who have time, technological skills and passion. A great example of this across the pond is the Canadian Citizen Factory site, launched by the youth-led organisation Apathy is Boring, which basically allows people to stalk their MPs. Liz McDowell (Canadian Director of the youth-led Otesha UK) looked up her MP recently in Langley, British Columbia:

“I found all his basic info plus a news feed listing all the times he’s been in the news, voted in parliament, spoken in parliament, joined a committee or tweeted in the past month. Giving this page a quick skim over, I learned that Mark Warawa has recently tweeted about census forms and climate bills, petitioned for more employment insurance and less access to abortion, and been in the news for coming 4th place in a local fast-draw shooting competition (apparently his worst placement in years). This feed is a gold mine.”

Mark Warawa, you have a new stalker. Better watch your back.

File those adoption papers

Want to get involved? Get adopting! You can register to track your MP and download an adoption pack here:http://adoptanmp.ukycc.org/.

It’s not about criticism or praise, but remembering that MPs are humans and supporting them to make a stand and fight to make a difference. In today’s government, they need all the support they can get.

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