When a clicktivist hits the streets

Yesterday I went street campaigning with Greenpeace UK and a bunch of Stormtroopers (that’s right, Stormtroopers), so I thought I would share some of my impressions and pictures of the day with you guys, while walking you through a very peculiar campaign that combines both online and offline tactics.

Greenpeace’s Dark Side campaign kicked off in late June this year, targeting the car manufacturer giant Volkswagen.  The ultimate goal of the campaign was to stop the company from lobbying against climate laws and have them spreading their “Blue Motion” energy efficiency technology throughout all their models – instead of just a few.

Yesterday’s street campaigning event would be one of the later stages of this European wide operation, whose earlier stages included:

  1. The launch of a spoof video in late June
  2. The launch of the viral game Dark Side – Join the Rebellion
  3. A number of direct actions (in the UK, France and Germany)
  4. The film competition “See Volkswagen Differently”

Our goal was to collect over a thousand signatures against Volkswagen’s lobbying practice. There were about 70 volunteers involved from all London GP networks, and 8 Stormtroopers (or volunteers wearing Star Wars costumes, if you will) escorting us through the streets of London. Simultaneously, campaigners and Twitter users were tweeting about the campaign, sharing pictures of their encounters with soldiers from the Imperial Army and using the unique hashtags #spotthestormtrooper and #gpactive to mark their tweets.

I found this combination of online and offline interactions very fascinating, though not as effective as I expected, unfortunately. To my great surprise, less people than I thought were actually interested in tweeting, mostly because they weren’t on Twitter at all (yikes!). Only couple of people out of the over thirty people I spoke to yesterday told me they were on Twitter (of those, one magically tweeted about the campaign from her smart phone while I was still formulating my question – oh, youngsters!). This made me think of the potential reach of a combined campaign that includes both face-to-face and online campaigning. However, this surely depends first and foremost on the target audience of the campaign in question; in this case, mostly middle-aged middle-class car owners, I guess.

My second thought of the day was: despite its undoubted effectiveness, street campaigning is, and will always be for me, a weird beast. I must say, I don’t usually fancy people coming around asking for money or signatures on issues I didn’t even take into consideration a minute before. Let’s be honest, nobody likes it. That is why, when I do get involved in this, I’m always very conscious of the way I’m talking and interacting with people. I’m aware of the fact that a single word could either scare them off, or make them hang on my lips. You also have to get used to being rejected most of the times, and learn not to take it personally. It is not a nice feeling in most cases, but is challenging and therefore very rewarding when it works.

Third thought of the day: Stormtroopers are campaigners’ best friends. The following pictures are pretty explicative of what happened once the guys put on their costumes and held the Greenpeace sign against Volkswagen. Lots of eyes, lots of pictures, lots of questions, lots of signatures (and, obviously, lots of fun).

At the end of the day, despite loosing the use of hands and feet due to the freezing London weather, we eventually reached and exceeded our goal, collecting over 1,600 signatures in just few hours.

Now, what would my beloved anti-clicktivists possibly have to say to this?

Oh yeah, and this is me with the Stormtroopers (tell me, how could I not have published this?).

--Oriana (@OrianaLau)