Revealed! Inside the IF Campaign

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Now everyone’s talking about the IF campaign. Saturday’s rally in Hyde Park was on TV, radio, and in pretty much every Sunday paper. More importantly, the IF campaign message can be seen in churches, mosques, synagogues and charity shops across Britain, it is being discussed in school classrooms and student unions, and it’s gone viral online. (My son said to me that he was playing on the computer when he came across a picture of David Beckham, clicked it and saw a message about the IF campaign. Lesson 1: I have no idea what my son is up to online – I am a bad parent. Lesson 2: IF is connecting with a new generation of young people – we have great campaigners.)

Of course, some people say that no one is talking about IF. Indeed there are now hundreds and hundreds of blogs about how no one is talking about IF, all with lots and lots of comments agreeing that no one is talking about IF…

But what’s it like inside the campaign? I’ve read a few pieces about what really goes on, which remind me of John Lennon’s remark that he loved reading music reviews, because from the reviewers he found out what his songs really meant. So here’s a few reflections from what actually happens.

What doesn’t happen:

We don’t plan how to help David Cameron get re-elected.  Last night Ed Miliband came to an IF event to say what a great campaign it has been and how he’ll do everything he can to support it. Of all the people who’d want to help re-elect the PM I reckon the Leader of the Opposition isn’t one. The campaign is genuinely non-partisan, it’s about the agenda of tackling the causes of hunger.

We don’t plan how to promote the expansion of the “New Alliance for Food Security”, established at Camp David, as the answer. Hence the IF campaign statement “The expansion of the New Alliance is not the answer.”

We don’t talk about the G8 as the solution. We talk about the G8 as the group of governments who are meeting this month in the UK  where we are based, who have a major role in the global economy and who need to stop being part of the problem – on land grabs, on tax dodging, on the lack of transparency. We are all involved, also, in supporting campaigning by Southern civil society movements to hold Southern governments to account.

What does happen in IF discussions:

We disagree with each other. We disagree with each other a lot. We are 200 organisations – from NGOs to community organisations to faith groups. The world is complex and we are passionate.

We make compromises. The IF campaign is not any individual organisation’s version of perfect. It is a coalition – we balance, we give and take. When a critic challenged veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell, a lion of social justice and radicalism, for his support for the IF campaign, he replied “These criticisms of IF are too harsh. IF does address tax avoidance, land ownership, corporate ethics. Not as radically as I’d like but it does.” In a coalition, many will feel that they’d like IF to be doing more on their issue, and more in their way – but the power of a coalition is dependent on people working together and compromising.

We worry that we’re making mistakes. We have moments when we feel down. Those who ask how the IF campaign people can keep on without ever asking questions can feel reassured that everyone in it is asking questions all the time. Have we got the right issues, the right messages, could we have done it better, should we adjust and how? (I’ll make a confession. I and others worried that we wouldn’t meet our target of 20,000 people at the Hyde Park rally. I was right. We didn’t make it. We got 45,000. )

We have moments of getting stuck in the details. When you’re close to something it can be hard to see the bigger picture. The other day there was a lot of anguished discussion about a footnote which in the history books will not even merit, er, a footnote.

We get confused about how old we are. At times the conversations turn to which pop star will be best at which point of which event or which youtube video. Sometimes there can be an hour of debate before people admit they have no idea who they are talking about and that they need to phone their nephew (or grandchild). Other times people start remembering the good old days – Make Poverty History, Drop the Debt, Free Mandela, the Civil Rights Movement, Gandhi, the Suffragettes – until someone says “you’re 37, you’re not 110.”

We get geeky. Lots of people have started saying “I think we’ve moved the needle on beneficial ownership”. I have no idea what that means, so I say “Let’s wait and see the details”. Always works.

We think it’s going to make a difference. We think, not because it is in the bag but because the campaigning pressure is being stepped up even further this week, that we’re going to see progress in advancing transparency on tax and on land – not so that we can retire from campaigning on 19th June but so that we can we see a real step forward for justice in what we know is a long march. (Hint to the G8: now that expectations are high, if you don’t meet them, we’ll be blunt in saying so.)

We have moments of being very cross with each other – but we have all felt, throughout,  profound love and awe for the amazing grassroots campaigners who have made this movement inspire and terrify politicians in equal measure. The charity workers don’t control the campaign any more. No one does. That’s wonderful.

We all think we’re looking forward to the end of it. But we’ll miss it.

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Ben Phillips

About Ben Phillips

Ben Phillips, currently based in Nairobi, is co-founder of the #FightInequality alliance, the growing movement for a more equal world. He has lived and worked in four continents and a dozen cities, and led programmes and campaigns teams in Oxfam, ActionAid, Save the Children, the Children's Society, the Global Call to Action Against Poverty and the Global Campaign for Education. He began his development work at the grassroots, as a teacher and ANC activist living in Mamelodi township, South Africa, in 1994, just after the end of apartheid. All his posts are personal reflections. He tweets at @benphillips76