No one predicted that the Australian Greens would win three seats in Brisbane. Yet signs of the Greenslide had been present for some time as Greens were elected to council and picked up state seats.
At the heart of the recent victory in the seat of Griffith, and also in part in Ryan and Brisbane, was a strategy of combining electoral campaigning with social organising.
Australian Greens’ Griffith campaign manager Liam Flenady outlines how they laid the groundwork for this breakthrough victory by the radical left.
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When the candidate for Griffith, Max Chandler-Mather, suggested in February last year that we integrate a community organising wing into our overall campaign plan, I thought it was a great idea.
Neither of us predicted it would completely take off: we imagined it would largely supplement our door-knocking campaign. Yet, by election day, it was a defining feature of our campaign.
Between the community work of Greens Brisbane councillor Jonathan Sri, Greens state MP Amy MacMahon and our campaign in Griffith, we built up a lot of capacity to intervene on community issues and plug gaps where the state was failing at crucial moments.
While we are nowhere near as big as we need or want to be, our experience was a very positive test case in how to run an integrated electoral and social organising model.
Below is just a partial list of the things we managed to do:
- During surges in COVID-19 cases, we ran a “basics box” program that provided people who were isolating with a free box of food along with rapid antigen tests, panadol and other medical items we could get our hands on. This initiative first emerged from the office of Greens state MP Michael Berkman in 2020.
We letterboxed large sections of the electorate to let them know about it and ensure we were able to help as many people as possible.
- During the recent Brisbane floods, we pivoted our entire field campaign to providing flood relief. This included: delivering basics boxes of food and ice to homes without power; setting up daily free sausage sizzles at the base of apartment towers; driving people around to access the things they needed; and supporting community organisations in the flood relief work they were doing.
It also involved a week of sustained clean-up, where we mobilised several hundred volunteers from our campaign and the broader community, to help clean up dozens of affected homes.
Our organisational capacity meant we were present on the ground well before Brisbane City Council’s poorly organised mud army arrived.
- We worked with local communities affected by excessive flight noise to organise multiple rallies, community meetings, a petition and a yard sign campaign.
- We helped organise locals and activist group Growing Forward to plant a community garden in the middle of a local park that was at threat of being bulldozed to make way for a four-lane roadway. This garden is now a self-organising community asset that we support, rather than run.
- We promoted other smaller campaigns – largely using yardsigns, petitions and public meetings – against the sell-off of public housing, to establish new parkland, for new bus routes and smaller issues like traffic calming and pedestrian safety on side streets.
It is important to note a few aspects with regard to the age-old tension between electoral campaigning and social organising.
One is that we established an incredibly effective feedback loop between our door-knocking teams and our community organisers. Greens doorknockers passed on local issues to Greens community organisers to follow-up on and turn into campaigns. Door knockers and letter boxers also disseminated information about community campaigns to locals.
During the floods, we had doorknockers go out as scouts to check in on flood-affected homes and offer help. Based on the information we gathered, we provided reinforcements to help with the clean up from our broader volunteer pool.
Having trained, confident and passionate doorknockers meant we had more capacity than Brisbane City Council to find out who most needed help.
While our overall campaigning model is human resource intensive, it paid off in spades. Furthermore, it is certainly one that Greens campaigns could adopt elsewhere.
In a context where politics is abstracted from so much of people’s lives, that a candidate and party will do something like help clean up your home after the flood, or plant a community garden in your area, means a great deal.
Importantly, this strategy not only provides opportunities for going beyond narrow electoralism. My sense coming out of this campaign is that the Greens’ vote in Brisbane did not just reflect our electoral support, but potentially the beginnings of a genuine ongoing social base.
[Liam Flenady was the Australian Greens campaign manager in Griffith.]