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Crowding people in

by: Kairos dela Cruz

What should we do next with the People’s Survival Fund? This is the question that has been bothering me for quite some time now. I got a piece of the answer in a meeting in the middle of a bad weather in Tagaytay.

Our long term partner called for a meeting in a nice hotel in Tagaytay to get a sense about collective progress in the fight for economic justice in the Philippines. The meeting introduced to me a new concept that I didn’t come across in my university days or in the countless round table discussions I have attended.

Two words suffice; it’s called “crowding in”.

According to the resource person, Joel Rodriguez, “crowding in” determines whether an existing campaign was able to move individuals or organizations to participate substantively and contribute value to the campaign. The concept, admittedly, is contrary to a lot of indices that I’ve grappled with in the years I’ve spent campaigning on different issues. I recall doing a nationwide campaign that focuses on hitting the targeted number of signatures in support of legislation. At first, we are going for a gazillion of people from identified demographic blocks. We targeted students, academicians, legislators, local government officials, celebrities, and press people, among others.

Everything looks good but we committed a fatal mistake.

We are too caught up with the goal of hitting the numbers that we just run the campaign for the numbers not for the impact. We urged people to join the campaign but we ended up joining long enduring campaigns. Our simple campaign became a campaign piece for tree lovers, good governance advocates, land rights diehards, urban poor organizers, frustrated game changers and others. We had a good run with these folks but we ended up with a bunch of signatures that we don’t know what to do with. To top it all, the main intention of the campaign was not met. Our fixation with the numbers gave us the numbers but not the change that we sought to achieve.

We created noise instead.

I am not trying to say that signature campaigns are a waste of time. It is just that, without a projected end game, we can easily fall into the trap of mistaking (vigorous) motion for substantial progress on the basis of ill-crafted or half-baked signature campaign initiatives.

I find the concept really interesting. I think we’ve done okay in our work on climate finance, particularly in transforming the People’s Survival Fund bill into law. We identified a clear endgame; we ended as we originally set the goal with the enactment of the bill in record time. From the moment of passage, the question has slowly morphed from “what do we need” to “where do we go from here?” Passing the bill is nothing but a step .The need to move forward, to advance the long term interests of vulnerable communities — this has not been diluted one bit.

A strong follow-up to the bill’s eventual passage is in order. We need to re-mobilize the constituencies we’ve engaged, encountered and ultimately crowded in to ensure gains in the PSF campaign are transformed into investments in more innovative advocacies and more effective strategies.

The fact is, gains and all, we are still unable to create momentum for systemic change since the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the PSF is still languishing in the Presidential Palace and officials appear too complacent to pick up the pace. So much more needs to be done.

The two-day Tagaytay meeting examined different campaigns very closely, identifying factors that led some to success and others to compounded difficulties. I am most grateful for the outsider’s lens that Rodriguez used to analyze the way the PSF passage campaign was run, including the identification of facets that ultimately paved the way to success. It’s been over a year since the PSF law was passed and today there’s a whole new ballgame waiting to be set in motion. I think it’s time to crowd in constituencies again in maybe similar campaigns, but with clearer, new end games in tow.

I’d like to say 2014 will be the best year to start, but we’re not done with 2013 yet.

There’s more still to come.

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