The Lows and Highs of Grassroots Initiatives
Fair Vote needs volunteers for the final push to electoral reform
By Pat Carl
Two things happened very recently that illustrate the lows and highs of grassroots efforts like the campaign to change BC’s electoral system.
The first thing that happened was the release of an Angus Reid poll taken in September. The poll asked voters in BC how they intend to mark their ballots when it comes to voting on the referendum about electoral reform. According to the poll, about 60 percent of voters are pretty evenly split in their support of either the current electoral system or proportional representation (Pro Rep).
But it’s the other 40 percent of the poll respondents who caught my attention: these are people who describe themselves as undecided. For a grassroots activist, it’s those undecideds that are the really scary wildcard.
The second thing that happened was a folding party. What’s a folding party, you ask? Well, it’s when an organization like Fair Vote Comox Valley (FVCV) can afford to print 5,000 one-page, two-sided flyers with information in support of Pro Rep, but can’t afford to have them folded. Then you have a folding party at your house, invite your friends to fold the flyers, and serve them chili and wine or beer as a thank you.
That’s what FVCV did the evening before municipal elections and, wonderfully, over a dozen people arrived at a supporter’s home around 5 p.m. and spent several hours folding flyers and eating, the buzz of friendly talk in the air.
These two things that happened are representative of the lows (the 40 percent of people still undecided about Pro Rep) and the highs (volunteers folding flyers) that many of us who are working on the referendum have felt over the 10 months of the campaign.
We attempt to keep our sights on highs, but we can’t ignore the lows.
Two examples of lows: The half truths and downright lies spouted by the BC Liberals and their leader, Andrew Wilkinson, and the nuisance injunction brought by the Independent Contractors and Business Association of BC challenging the referendum, which BC Supreme Court Justice Miriam Gropper declined to grant.
Despite lows like these, FVCV and its grassroots volunteers have tirelessly reached out to voters.
We have canvassed two times a week most weeks since January, so much so that our tennis shoes are showing serious tread wear.
We have hung thousands of information door hangers on door knobs, we have written articles and letters to the editor, and we have sponsored and continue to sponsor numerous public presentations about the referendum which includes the audience taking a quiz that helps participants to focus on their values in relation to the referendum questions.
We have made so many phone calls to rural Valley voters that our ears are tattered remnants hanging off the sides of our heads.
We have staffed information tables while sitting in uncomfortable folding chairs until our behinds are screaming for mercy.
And then, of course, there’s the folding party.
We were under the gun because the flyers folded at the party were intended for distribution the very next day outside polling stations in Cumberland, in Courtenay, in Comox and in Areas A, B, and C. And here’s the amazing part: Thirty-three of us worked a total of nearly 100 person-hours to hand out the flyers between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on election day.
Now we’re on a real, non-chemically induced high, but, frankly, we’re still worried about the high percentage of undecided voters.
The referendum ballots are on their way to voters’ mailboxes. Voters will have until Nov. 30 to follow the instructions and send their ballots back to Elections BC. FVCV will continue to get the word out about Pro Rep, but we are getting a bit tired, as you can imagine.
So, I have a big ask: Will those of you who support Pro Rep, but have had other challenges on your plate, now join our grassroots effort to reach even more people about proportional representation? Come help us cross the finish line with arms held high in the air.
That’s right. I’m asking you to get involved. It’s not too late. We need your help.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your friends right after you exercise at the Rec Centre or at d’Esterre in Comox. Don’t be afraid to contact Fair Vote Comox Valley at email@example.com and pick up some door hangers that you can distribute in your neighbourhood while you’re taking your dog on her morning constitutional. Don’t be afraid to sign in and let your views be known to all those friends you have on Facebook. Don’t be afraid to tweet those 240 characters in support of Pro Rep.
Don’t let this proportional representation opportunity pass without pitching in.
Believe me, your efforts will not go unrewarded. You’ll have done a great service by supporting electoral reform and our provincial democracy.
Pat Carl is a member of Fair Vote Comox Valley and a contributor to the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.