I know I’m a tiny bit guilty of it, but far too many gay rights activists take their fight only to Downing Street, Parliament and Facebook/Twitter. Over the last year I decided to run the most local campaign I possibly could in Guildford. Why? Because the progress of gay equality will only ever be known coldly and lifelessly as “the gay agenda” until the average Joe suddenly realises that somebody he/she knows and cares about will be affected. Facebook ‘likes’ and tweets don’t bring that message to your neighbours and friends, merely to those who most likely already know and accept you – i.e. the type that’s already on our side.
Let’s not take the second-reading vote for granted. It was overwhelming, but that does not mean it can’t be overturned. If this post does one thing, I hope it’s that it convinces you to do something local – just the smallest thing that lets people know the gays aren’t just in the metropolitan suburbs of south London, but that they’re the neighbours too.
So, here’s what I did.
ONE. A goddamn petition to the local council.
Not just any petition. I was a councillor in Guildford between 2007 and 2011. During that time, I established one thing – Guildford Borough Council doesn’t do democracy. It was awful at it. Not because of the officers who work pretty hard to engage with the people, but simply that the council has on it some of the most apathetic disinterested people I’ve ever met.
So I started a petition on their e-petitions website. I had less than two weeks to gather the signatures because of the imminent closure of the government consultation. It was, is, and will most likely remain vastly the most engaged-with e-petition Guildford BC has ever received. Anyway, as we amassed over 500 signatures, we became the first (and last) e-petition to trigger a debate at Full Council. That’s been covered a fair bit here, so I won’t go over old ground. What did we get out of that? The chamber was packed full of supporters – not a single opponent and the local press coverage was pretty bon (see photo). This was the free newspaper delivered to every house in Guildford.
TWO. Go and see your MP. If you have a partner, bring him/her
I did this twice. Once with my new local MP in Vauxhall (who has since decided she’ll vote for the legislation for which I’m very grateful) who wasn’t too receptive to begin with so I wrote her an open letter; and I had various chats with Anne Milton, Guildford’s Conservative MP. As a councillor, I worked with/against Anne on a number of things, so the contact was already there. I met with her in Portcullis House and asked her to support it. She said she needed more pro-equal marriage people to write to her because of the sustained campaign from opponents.
I cannot stress more the importance of seeing your MP face to face. If they’re wavering, they need to see exactly who it is that is affected by the legislation. My partner and I went to see Kate Hoey at her surgery. We wanted her to know that when it came to deciding how she voted, we weren’t this nameless entity that she hadn’t met before. Meeting your MP humanises the legislation for them and this can tip the balance. If you haven’t seen your MP about it yet, do!
As it came closer to the vote, it became clear that (as normal), only the fanatics had emailed Anne regarding equal marriage. A number of people who want marriage frankly, like many normal people, aren’t as clued up to the political process as the sustained and organised campaigns by the Churches.
I knocked together a very simple postcard using the branding from Coalition for Equal Marriage. I decided it was important to use that branding because otherwise the message becomes fragmented. Although I don’t usually recommend commercial services on here, I used a printers called Vistaprint. The price was reasonable, as was the speed of delivery and the quality of the final print. I made sure the MP’s name was in big bold type on the front – it needed to be clear that this was a deeply local postcard.
We managed to get 169 signed in just over six hours. The scale of support for equal marriage is massive – it just takes somebody to go out there and ask people.
If you don’t have the means to print full-colour postcards, knock together a simple leaflet/letter. Tell people why you want marriage. Print it out on the cheapest paper you have and go out with a friend to deliver it to your street. Make it personal, make it local, and make sure the person who reads it knows they need to speak to their MP.
[If you need the high-res image produced to print your own postcards, just give me a buzz on firstname.lastname@example.org]
They were signed by same-sex couples, mixed-sex couples, married couples, couples with civil partnerships, single people, a whole variety. I took photos of some of them which I’ll produce below. The impact is high for such a small amount of work….
The fight isn’t over yet. Be inventive. Be creative. But most importantly, be local!