Lesson Two: The Personal is Political

Collective Insight & Wisdom

  • Successful campaigns understand how attitudes are shaped.

  • People need to see the relevance of the issue within the context of their own experience.

  • Give voters a glimpse of the kind of nation they could have – leverage that basic human desire to achieve one’s better self.

  • Facts are important, but values and emotions are more persuasive – humanise and connect your goal to the lives of ordinary citizens.

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Ismail Einashe

“Dr Grainne Healy, Co-Chair of Marriage Equality, was brilliant in constantly discussing how values matter, and why social justice campaigns should focus on that. And that too it’s about making a positive case. She said Irish people thought of themselves as kind, inclusive and fair: it’s these values their campaign spoke to.”

Martina Quinn

Veteran journalist Paddy Smyth spoke of how there’s a “truthiness” to scaremongering stories about migrants negatively impacting on hospital and housing waiting lists. Even when voters are presented with facts directly contradicting this, they often choose to overlook them. Tim Dixon of Purpose.Org gave a really insightful presentation, highlighting how attitudes are shaped by identity – and identity is shaped by local and national factors. Therefore, global campaigns have little impact on individual voters. According to Tim, people vote based on what they value and feel, as opposed to the “hard facts” presented to them. Case in point: the recent Brexit vote! One of the key points made by Tim was the value of personal stories that people can relate to. We can change people’s attitudes to migrants by sharing the personal stories behind why individual refugees fled their home or how migrants are integrating into local communities (the popularity of stories about migrants in Ireland getting involved in local GAA clubs springs to mind!). Brian Killoran of the Immigrant Council spoke of the need for migration to be accepted as a “positive reality”, and for political discourse to move away from a hard-line, defensive narrative (i.e. keeping migrants out, deportations, etc.) to a positive one.”

Ismail Einashe

“Dr Maureen Gaffney… said that people do not make decisions ultimately on reason alone, but on emotions. It’s about how people feel about things, what kinds of connections they make to an issue. Often people think ‘gay people don’t concern me’, because they imagine there are no gay people in their family or even at their workplace – and often people say ‘I don’t personally have a problem with gay people, but I am not that bothered about voting to give gay people right to marriage equality’. So the job of the yes marriage equality campaign was how to humanise and connect the struggle for gay rights in Ireland, with the concerns of ordinary Irish people. Furthermore how to make Irish people see that a yes vote for marriage equality concerned them just as much as did gay people in Ireland. The central campaign message that yes marriage equality campaigners took away, was deceptively simple, but very powerful: make politics personal. This tactic helped sway the referendum vote in Ireland. The marriage equality campaign brought its voice into Irish homes, pubs, and workplaces. It took on a divisive issue and made it everyone’s business: it was now about your child, your cousin, your friend, and your colleague. This is a key campaign lesson for me: which is to connect the personal to the political. In the UK campaigns such as ‘I Am An Migrant’ are an effective demonstrations of how such campaigns can work best.”

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