Campaigners in the first socially-distanced action day on 4th July

Campaigners in the first socially-distanced action day on 4th July

MVM Lewes took grassroots campaigning virtual in lockdown, inspiring our upcoming Day of Action on the 22nd of August. Hazel Fell-Rayner (MVM Lewes Acting Chair) writes about their experience…

It might just look like a small market town in Sussex, but Lewes likes to think of itself as a hotbed of political radicalism, and when a few of us met in February to plan forming a new Make Votes Matter group in our local constituency, there was no shortage of ambition. We were going to have street stalls! Hold rallies on the bridge over the River Ouse! Organise marches! Dress as Suffragettes and demand Equal Votes for All! And it was all going to start at a public meeting, which we duly scheduled for late March.

But by late March the world had changed, and our public meeting had to be postponed indefinitely. Instead, we met online – everyone in some form of shock, wondering if we could even think about campaigning for voting reform in the middle of a pandemic. But it felt good to talk… So, we kept meeting and talking, hoping our online “Chat and a Cuppa” evenings would give us time to learn more about PR and let ideas bubble up. As the weeks went by, the need for voting reform became only more apparent, and the desire to do something from the constraints of lockdown put the fire back in our bellies.

MVM Lewes online “Chat and a Cuppa”

MVM Lewes online “Chat and a Cuppa”

We decided to do a “virtual rally” and quickly realised the virtual format had some real advantages for grassroots campaigning – reaching communities across the constituency (which includes the towns of Seaford, Newhaven and Polegate as well as many rural villages, all with their own unique character) as well as enabling people shielding or self-isolating to take part from their homes.

We asked people to make a poster or placard and to take a selfie with it from their doorsteps, gardens, or from a local landmark – remembering to keep to 2m distancing for small-group actions. In the days leading up to the rally, we used our Twitter and Facebook pages to share pictures of “works in progress” – showing flattened delivery boxes being turned into placards to provide inspiration and reassurance that these could be made simply and by no means needed to look perfect.

Making placards and banners

Making placards and banners

As the weekend started, pictures, posts and tweets started arriving, and we referred to them on our social media as “joining the virtual march”, using village and town hashtags as well as #MakeVotesMatter and #ChangeTheVotingSystem to build the sense of this being a live local campaign event. Before long, our tweets had been viewed more than 20,000 times and we’d achieved a post-reach of 2800 on Facebook. One of our activists created a photo-collage to depict the “rally”, and we sent it with a press release to our local newspaper, the Sussex Express. You can see the results here – at one point, the story was the second most-read, showing voting reform to be a current issue.

We were thrilled when MVM HQ shared details of our action and developed the idea for the National Day of Action on 22nd August. We can’t wait to join in, and this time, we’re hoping to “twin” some of our actions on the South Coast with some of those from groups in the North of England – so as well as reaching across the constituency and across parties, we’re trying to reach across regions. After all, this is an issue that affects every voter in the country, and voices everywhere should matter equally.

Hazel Fell-Rayner, Acting Chair, Make Votes Matter Lewes