Campaign Burnout- How to Avoid It

What follows is a post by Lydia Snodin, originally published on her Campaigning 101 Blog, and in written in response to Charlotte Nichols’ piece on Mental Health and Activism. Lydia has been a member of the Labour Party since she attended a local Labour Party meeting in Brighton and fell in love with organising and campaigning. Previously a writer for the small feminist blog, Bad Salad, she now runs a Housing Campaign in West London to fight for a better private rented sector. I love the almost ‘Buzzfeed’ style of her articles and am really pleased that she has agreed to write on a regular basis for LYON.

Campaigns are wonderful, challenging and sometimes euphoric but most of us activists have experienced burnout at some point. That is, we did way too much way too fast and needed to sleep for a week to recover.

My inspiration for this came from a great blog by Charlotte Nichols on the Labour’s Young Opinions Network. Although I do not agree with all of the current discussion around mental health, I would describe myself as someone affected by mental health issues. For the past year I have been recovering from extreme anxiety, more than your day to day discomfort on the crowded commute but a diagnosable disorder that requires lifestyle changes to reverse. It made me confront not being able to continue at 1,000,000 miles p/h with no consequences. A year ago my life was…

BUSY

I was living and working in Brighton, leading in a housing campaign whilst also running a group for young people in the local Labour Party. AND I was commuting to London for half of the week for a challenging new internship at a human rights NGO. Do you feel tired, stressed and anxious just reading about it because I kinda do!

The sheer quantity of coffee I consumed alone warranted an intervention with family and friends.

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An artist’s impression of me at the end of 2014

Since then I’ve been learning to take care of myself whilst living the campaign lifestyle. Here go my tips for fellow campaign-addicts who want to stay sane-ish:

1. There’s a difference between obligation and enjoyment

We all got into campaigning because we loved it but once you are involved it’s very easy to do more than you signed up for. There are an infinite number of phonebanks, door knocks and leafleting sessions. We should all make sure we are doing things for the fun of it rather than the pressure to – although a little pressure is part of the experience!

2. Every campaign deadline is not THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER

Every campaign goal – be it the general election, the EU referendum or the London Mayorals – is billed as THE BIGGEST CAMPAIGN IN THE WORLD. They cannot all simultaneously be the most pressing issue ever. I say this as someone who wants more people involved in activism. What I mean is: there will always be a big campaign, don’t worry!

3. Save your energy for when it counts

There is NOTHING like the feeling of the crucial days and weeks in a campaign. No replacement for the team spirit and intense bonding of the late nights, hysterical tiredness and junk food. Why not pace ourselves to enjoy rather than resent the final push towards the deadline? On election day last year I was door knocking in Brighton for 10 hours, I’ve never felt foot pain like that before or since. I wouldn’t change a thing.

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An example of some very enjoyable extreme tiredness during a campaign weekend in Brighton in Summer 2014.

 

4. Have friends who don’t campaign

This is hard yet essential for those of us who’ve built our social groups around our activism. Talking to people outside of the bubble can be a good barometer of when you’ve spent too much time immersed in election stats and not enough time binge watching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix. At this point I sincerely can’t tell whether HIMYM is amazing or I’m just used to it being on in the background.

How I met your mother
Is this funny? I DON’T KNOW ANYMORE D:

 

So that’s my advice on how to avoid burnout. If we all took better care of ourselves and each other in activism we would have more dependable happier teams that could change the world and have fun doing it!

AND sometimes live off campaign strategy, biscuits and caffeine for three weeks FOR TEH LULZ.

Lydia x

Lydia Snodin
Lydia Snodin

The EU- History says ‘In’

David Cameron recently told us that the date for the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union will be on the 23rd June. Our history is an important part of British identity and will play a part in the debate in the coming months. In this piece, Philip Freeman, the Campaigns Officer for London Young Labour, tells us that history tells us that we should stay in. Philip also has his own blog which can be found at http://www.leftwardho.co.uk.

Two years ago on Monday, Ukrainians woke up to the news that their president, Viktor Yanukovych, had fled the country secretly after four months of protests on Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets, leaving jobs and family and risking injury and even death to protest against Yanukovych’s corrupt and kleptocratic government, but also to take a stand against his decision to suspend the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement, which foresaw greater Ukrainian integration into the EU. It seems odd to Brits that people would actually give their lives for eventual EU membership, and even the most ardent europhile among us would be wary of laying down their life for greater European integration.

Kiev is around 1,500 km away from London, and Ukrainian history and the Ukrainian political experience is very different to ours. Yet there is certainly something that we can learn from the martyrs of the Maidan. As the referendum on Britain’s role in Europe nears, we, as an ex-colonial and ex world power, still very much inflated by our past glories, should take a look at what Ukraine, a country that has been occupied and re-occupied by different empires for centuries, wants from Europe. Ukraine quite clearly cannot resist Russian incursion on its own. In order for progressive change in Ukraine to occur, it must be free from Russian influence, whether it be in the form of corruption, neglect of the rule of law or illegal annexations. This is why Ukrainians look to the EU. They realise that in a world where nation states are far less powerful than they used to be and where sovereignty is now a murky concept they need to club together to defend their interests. Alone, the nations of Europe are almost powerless to resist the interests of international capital, exploitation and militarism. The force of 500 million citizens and the world’s largest economy, on the other hand, has the power to ward off the vultures that threaten our civil society. The EU can clamp down on tax avoiders, can chastise China for dumping cheap goods and, if it got its act together, could force Russia to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. These are all things we cannot do alone. When Brexiters talk about ‘reclaiming sovereignty from the EU’, they fail to realise that an independent Britain would lose more sovereignty and be subjected more international control than under the EU. Furthermore, we wouldn’t have a say in any of it.

Monday marked another important European anniversary. On the 22nd February 1848, the 1848 revolutions, also known as the ‘Springtime of Nations’, started in Paris. It spread across almost the entire continent, from Sicily to Transylvania. Millions of Europeans took to the streets and raised barricades in the name of freedom, democracy and national self-determination. Although ultimately unsuccessful in the short run, the revolutions planted these radical and republican ideas firmly in the political consciousness of an entire continent, and its influences were felt when new nations formed out of dying empires in 1919, when new, social and republican post-war constitutions where being written in 1945 and when Eastern Europe threw off the chains of Soviet repression in 1989. As we go into the referendum we must remember that Europe’s political traditions are rooted in these revolutions. And so the choice becomes clearer and clearer. Either we align ourselves with the most developed, the most progressive and the most democratic alliance in history or we let ourselves drift out into the Atlantic, where we will be battered mercilessly by the forces of globalisation and unchecked capital.

Britain cannot do it alone anymore, whatever ‘it’ may be. Our time as a great power came to end long before anyone of my generation was born. That’s why young people overwhelmingly support the EU. We don’t have the delusions that our grandparents may have about Britain ‘punching above its weight’ or ‘having a seat at the top table’. We want a future in Europe because Europe represents peace, prosperity and a safe haven from the worst excesses of the Great Powers of our time.

Philip Freeman
Philip Freeman

On Careerism in Politics

In this article, Oliver Simpkin looks at the controversial issue of careerism in politics and whether such a phenomenon exists. Oliver is currently one of two Campaigns Officers for St Helens Young Labour, he is 17 and, in between agonising over his A Levels, is a massive fan of Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The West Wing’

Ask three Labour members who’s damaging the party right now and you’ll get three different opinions either; it’s Corbyn and his Trotskyist spies; it’s Blair and the New Labour lot or you’ll hear a more accurate idea. It’s not an ideology that damages the Labour Party, it’s a coalition of all beliefs that manifest themselves into something we can only refer to as “Careerism.”
Labour is the Party of help. That much is true. We do our best when we make this a defining goal of our leadership, our parliamentarians, our elected officials and our activists. So, how do you help people? You put them first. I think we’re all in agreement on that. So would someone please do me a favour and tell this to the seemingly endless raft of careerists stuck to the Party like barnacles to a boat.
You know the type I mean. People of all ages who will jump at an issue to promote their perennial election to some committee or another are the true enemies of the Labour Party. There normally part of so many groups they can’t actually commit to any of them. I feel like saying “If you Union Officer for one group, LGBT Officer for a second and Chair of a third. How do you get anything done?” They want to capitalise on the issues, but do nothing to solve it. They want to make the Party their personal playground and climb the ladder of offices. It’s no shock to me, nor should it be to any of you, the number of people in our Party that have advanced from post to post, Chair of a CLP to Chair of a Regional Committee to getting on the NEC. Don’t misinterpret me though, I’m all for experienced officials, but when we look at the track record of some of these people all they’ve done is tweeted a selfie of the actual activists, or taken the credit for the actual organisers hard work. Their shameless careerism has to end.
Look, if you think that you should stand for a committee, and if you think that you could do it better than the incumbent or your opponents then good luck to you. Revolutionise a tired old bureaucracy, of meetings, committees and executive bodies who make decisions in the shade. But please, do it for the sake of the Party, not for your own little Labour legacy.
To paraphrase JFK. “Ask not what your Party can do for you, ask what you can do for your Party.” So I beg you, don’t let people who just want to be something for the sake of a few lines on a CV stop you from getting out there and actually making a difference.
But rather than just preaching to you I want to show the careerists how to act. All of us who have achieved something, who won some form of election or have organised an event or campaign. We need to act, we need to get involved, we need to make sure that all elements of the Party, young and old, are committed to the Party not to themselves.

 

Disagree with what Oliver said? Want to write a response? Email labour.lyon@gmail.com and we’ll publish your article.

Oliver Simpkin
Oliver Simpkin

Rachel’s Vision for Young Labour

And now it’s the turn of Rachel Megan Barker to set out her vision for what Young Labour can be. Rachel has been the youth representative on the London Regional Board and a member of the London Young Labour committee for the past three years. She was previously chair of Leeds Labour Club and youth officer for her CLP, and is a member of Unite the Union and the Young Fabians, as well as an active campaigner with the Labour Campaign for Mental Health. She works in digital marketing, and as a freelance copywriter and personal tutor.

Being a young person in the UK right now isn’t exactly fun. You’re lucky to find a job, you can barely afford rent, you’re burdened with debt; and that’s before we even start on the Tories cuts to welfare services which so many young people rely on. If you’re still in school, the Tories are piling more and more pressure on you to pass exams, taking away your retakes and hollowing out your curriculum.

I am standing for chair to build a Young Labour which is a strong, grassroots movement that will take the fight to the Tories.

In order to be this movement, we need to build Young Labour groups on the ground. I’ve already helped build YL groups across the country and as chair I’ll work with our regional reps to develop strategies for creating and strengthening groups from Cornwall to Inverness.

I’ll mobilise our movement to get out on the doorstep for Labour, providing training and support for YL members and committees to organise campaign sessions, run phonebanks and coordinate volunteers. I’ll run national campaign weekends for YL members across the country, with food and accommodation provided; too often we expect young members to cover the costs of campaigning themselves.

And while I’m a huge believer in the importance of knocking on doors, I also want to see young members campaigning nationally and locally on the issues that matter to them. As chair I’ll provide resources and training for YL groups to run local campaigns, working with trade unions and progressive organisations.  

But it’s important to remember the vital points that Charlotte raised in her post on this blog about activism and mental health. If we are to truly take on the Tories, we need to be the kind of movement that they are not; an inclusive, kind movement which reflects the sort of society that as socialists we want to build. That means not looking down on people for “not campaigning enough”; not seeing one type of campaigning as superior and, honestly, just being nicer to each other.

And we need to make campaigning more accessible. As a disabled woman, I am all too aware that often it’s those who most need a Labour government that we exclude from our movement by not making what we do inclusive. I’ll work to make our doorknocking sessions more accessible; for example, by having sessions that we know are wheelchair accessible, and having a fund to cover costs for those with childcare responsibilities. And I’ll make sure that in Young Labour we recognise the many ways that people can contribute; from banner-making to social media to designing leaflets to writing articles.

I’m standing to deliver a movement which is accessible and inclusive; which can unite and take the fight to the Tories.

You can find out more about me and why I’m standing in my manifesto: https://www.joomag.com/magazine/rachel-for-chair-of-young-labour/0952132001455209464

And over on my facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RachelforYLchair/

Looking forward to seeing everyone in Scarborough!

RMB
Rachel Megan Barker- Candidate for Chair of Young Labour

Caroline’s Vision for Young Labour

With the Young Labour National Committee Elections fast approaching, we at LYON have given both candidates for Chair of Young Labour a chance to set out their vision for how the organisation would be if they were to win. Up first is Caroline Hill. Caroline Hill is a trade union representative on the Young Labour national committee, and is running to be chair of Young Labour. She is a newly qualified teacher working in a primary school in North London. She is also really excited that it’s half term this week!

My pitch for chair of Young Labour is simple: we need to think bigger, bolder and louder. The organisation has just tripled in size in the past 6 months, so it’s definitely the right time to be thinking about doing things differently, and reaching out to more people than ever before. My vision is based around focusing on three main things, and getting them right: campaigning, political education and democracy.

Campaigning. No one doubts Young Labour’s amazing capacity as campaigners. I’ve had the privilege of campaigning alongside thousands of YL members before the General Election. However, the reality of campaigning means that we need our activists in key seats, knocking on doors. We shouldn’t expect them to have to pay their own way there just to volunteer for us. As an organiser with the Labour Young Trade Unionists Network, I organised campaign weekends in 16 different key seats where activist’s food, accommodation and travel was all paid for. I want to replicate this as Young Labour chair so that young members can enjoy campaigning, meet activists and not be out of pocket.

But campaigning shouldn’t just be about hitting the doorstep. We all joined Young Labour because some issue touched our heart – so it’s time Young Labour got serious about issues based campaigning, by running a national priority campaign, to engage new members that are interested in lobbying and making change in their communities.

Political education. Young Labour could be playing a key role in the education and training for members, but where is it now? Right now members are expected to pick up policy, ideas and history all by themselves. That puts them at an immediate disadvantage within the party. Time to level the playing field and run training and education events to let young members develop and learn their own brand of Labour politics. I will run an annual political weekend with representatives from the PLP and the trade union movement.

Democracy. The national chair will be elected by less than 1% of members. How on earth can we engage our members if so few of them are involved in the big decisions? We need to shake up our system with One Member, One Vote for each position, then look at how we can increase turnout. By running better communications and changing how we hold our committee members accountable, I believe we can make Young Labour a much more open and transparent organisation.

We need to change the way Young Labour operates. By running campaigns that young people care about, by running courses and training to empower our members, then engaging them in our structures, I believe we can transform the organisation into a vibrant, democratic and engaging movement.

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Caroline Hill- Candidate for Chair of Young Labour

On Mental Health and Young Labour’s Activist Culture

What follows is our first guest contribution. It comes from Charlotte Nichols. Charlotte is the North West Young Labour Vice Chair (Membership) and has recently been elected as the Youth Representative on the North West Regional Board, where she also sits as the Diversity Officer. Originally from Reading, since graduating from University of Liverpool in 2013, she works as a Researcher for a major trade union in Manchester and spends most of her time outside of those roles with her nose buried in a book, or practicing her Hebrew which she’s determined to become fluent in.

The issue of mental health has come to the fore in the party recently, particularly following Jeremy Corbyn’s appointment of Luciana Berger as Shadow Minister for Mental Health and the great work of the Labour Campaign for Mental Health (incidentally established by Young Labour members). Vital, and long overdue, conversations have been happening but sadly the process of change is a slow one.

A growing concern of mine, particularly in the social media age, is the weight of expectation (both implicit and explicit) on activists in activist groups and the impact of this on accessibility. Sadly, far from being an exception, the Labour Party (and particularly the youth sections) is often a very poignant example of this. Now, I’m not for a second advocating a party of navel-gazers or the perfect intellectual argument that is delivered to absolutely no-one outside of the room it was thrashed out in. It’s absolutely right that if we are to have a Labour victory in 2020, along with a strong message and bold policy platform, we need to be taking this message to every constituency, every community and every voter. My concern is how we treat our existing activists, and how we support new ones, to do just that.

While well-intentioned, hashtags like #labourdoorstep often contribute to the pressure many young activists feel to be the model party member. For many, campaigning feels like a competition, and one which they will never win. There will always be someone out that bit more than you, in that one more marginal seat campaign than you, who has posted that one more photo on the doorstep in the rain to show the depth of their dedication to the Labour cause.

The right to have an opinion in the party, or the worthiness of your opinion, is increasingly linked to how many doors you’ve knocked on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen debates on Facebook on policy descend into (in essence) “I’ve done more campaigning than you, therefore my opinion has greater merit”. Phrases like “well I’ve never heard someone say THAT on the doorstep”, “come back to me when you’ve done some actual campaigning”, and the passive aggressive “so I’ll see you on the doorstep yeah?”.

Doorknocking is not the only valuable campaigning activity, and there are a myriad of reasons why someone may be unable to come doorknocking regularly (or even at all!). Part of this is down to the days and times when campaign activity is usually held, but even where the days and times do move around, for people with caring responsibilities and/or disabilities in particular, there may never be a time that is suitable for them where doorknocking would be possible or practical.

We don’t show enough that we value the campaigning our activists do, or acknowledge the mental burn-out that many activists feel especially around election time. We expect so much from our activists, as a party, and rarely acknowledge that actually, for many people making it out of bed at all that day can be an achievement in itself and to demand more is deeply unfair. We need to be more explicit about the fact that your worth isn’t linked to an arbitrary threshold of leaflets delivered or doors knocked, that whatever contribution you can make, we are grateful for. We need to be kinder to ourselves, and to others, and be less punishing in our expectations. Without each of us working to cultivate an inclusive activist culture, we can never truly claim to be the party that makes mental health a priority.

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Charlotte Nichols

Why I Started LYON

 

I wanted the first post on this site to set out why I started the Labour Young Opinions Network (LYON). To do this properly though and to give the reasons some context, it would probably help for me to tell you- the reader- where I come from as a person.

I grew up in the former mining and glass making Northern town of St Helens. The town, like many northern industrial towns, was savaged by the despicable economic and industrial policies of the Thatcher Government in the 1980s. You could never have said that the town was an affluent area but after the coal mines were closed, many of our people were put out of work and life became even harder for its residents.

My mum and dad are not wealthy- my Granddad is fond of telling me that he grew up in a house with an outside toilet- and they never spent any money on my education. I went to the local state comprehensive which is where I discovered an interest in writing and also in politics. I was lucky enough to gain a place to study at Oxford University where I was able to develop those interests. This year, having finished University, I came back to St Helens and have been helping to set up a Young Labour group in the area.

This brings me back to the question of why I wanted to set up LYON. I sit in my Young Labour meetings (and in CLP meetings too) and listen to other young people who come along and speak so articulately and passionately about the issues that matter to them. We have great conversations about local issues and national issues, about the small details of policy and about the blue sky thinking of the Labour Party’s vision. I never fail to learn something at these meetings and have often left with my views in a different position than when I walked in.

But when we walk out, that is the end of the discussion. There doesn’t seem to be a way for us to contribute to the wider policy debate of the party. To develop our communication skills. To read other opinions and challenge our ideas and to express ourselves.

I started LYON to provide an outlet for us to do just that. For Young Labour members to publish work without the need to have contacts within organisations such as Labour List or the Fabians. So I started to ask around friends to ask for contributions and there were a few takers. But then someone said to me that they weren’t confident enough in their writing abilities to put their ideas- great ideas, convincing ideas, articulate ideas- into words.

And this got me thinking: ‘Why does the fact that something like writing comes easily to me mean that my views are more important or are more deserving of being broadcast?’ And I realised what I already knew, what I had already known, that they are no more important than everyone else’s. As much as I hate to admit, there are many times when the people within my Young Labour group who told me that they don’t feel confident to write have wiped the floor with me in oral debate and they deserve to be heard. I am a Socialist. For me, Socialism, at its most basic level, is about using the skills that you have to help others who don’t have those skills. So that’s what I want to use my skills to do. To help give others a voice.

I hope you enjoy reading this blog…

 

Outcard Photo
Alex Graham- Editor of LYON