Stopping the nuclear dump in the Lake District – Peter’s story

Last week, Cumbria County Council voted to abandon plans to investigate building a nuclear waste dump in the Lake District. More than 50,000 38 Degrees members signed a petition opposing the dump; there were demonstrations, articles in the press and TV reports – and suddenly, the rest of the country had its eyes fixed on Cumbria.  Thousands of us wrote to the council leaders urging them to listen to the public and scrap these crazy plans – and in the end, they heard us.

Lake District

It’s easy to forget amongst all that where this campaign started. A few months ago, Peter Maher, a 38 Degrees member who lives near the Lake District national park, set up a petition on the new ‘Campaigns by You’ part of the 38 Degrees site (you.38degrees.org.uk). In just a few weeks, he grew and grew the petition until it had tens thousands of signatures – and became a powerful symbol of opposition to the nuclear waste dump that couldn’t be ignored.

Below is Peter’s story of how he started his campaign and made it such a success. It’s full of great tips and advice for potential campaigners – and he shows just what you can achieve running your own campaign. Read Peter’s account below and click here if you’d like to find out more about starting your own campaign: you.38degrees.org.uk

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What can you do!

That’s how I felt when I heard that the proposal for searching for a nuclear site in the Lake District meant an exploration of a site under the National Park.  For you the issue will be different, but that sense of outrage was important in providing the motivation.

I called a meeting in the community; not the first time we’ve done that, and now because of that it’s easier, since we’ve got e-mail addresses for many of the locals.  On the first occasion though, on an entirely different issue (our village pub had closed!) we went door to door dropping a leaflet asking people to come to a meeting to discuss it.

On the nuclear dump issue, 150 people turned up; our small village school hall was packed to the rafters. That was the first physical sign that many people were alarmed at what was being proposed.  Despite a publicity campaign by the Council about the nuclear dump proposals most people had consigned the literature delivered to every door to the dustbin because, “nobody  would put such a thing under a national park……..would they?”

When they learned about the potential they were angered and wanted to take action.  This was the first time I had heard about 38 Degrees (sorry 38 Degrees!) and one of the tasks that I took on at the meeting was to go to the internet and find information. What I found was the “Campaigns by You” part of the 38 Degrees site where anyone can start a campaign on an issue that was important to them.

It was really easy and within 5 minutes I had my own campaign site and a URL that I could give to others so that they could sign up too.

The starting point was my own contacts database.  I sent to everyone I knew a copy of the link http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/no-nuclear-dump-in-the-lake-district and asked them to sign too.

Then I went further afield; everyone who had attended our village meeting was asked for their e-mail addresses.  I sent them the link and asked them to sign too.

Here’s the first big mistake and the first important bit of learning;  it’s not enough if you just get other people to sign up.  You have to develop the “pass it on” message.  Sign up and then pass it on to others and get them to do the same.  Just think about the exponential growth if you do that.  Say that the first people you give it to pass it on and they in turn persuade two more and so on.  What happened is this.

Your signature + 2 + 4 +8+16 +32 +64 +129 +256 +512 + 1024 +2048 + 4096 +8192 + 16,384 + 32768  and so on; if this happens day after day in just over 2 weeks you’ve collected 65,535 signatures.

That was more or less what happened to us; things started slowly, but as soon as we learned the “and-pass-it-on” trick we increased rapidly until we were getting 2000 signatures a day.  Health Warning – clicking the 38 Degrees link to see how many votes you’ve got now is very addictive behaviour!

A 38 Degrees petition is not enough; you have to supplement that with writing, emailing, encouraging others to join, making films, joining protest walks, writing blogs, driving Facebook and Twitter campaigns,  writing letters to politicians and papers, setting up paper copies of your petition putting up posters.

My advice, for what it is worth, is that you don’t need a complex and structured campaign group to organise this; a “committee” in my experience is the death knell of initiative.  Just tell your supporters that they don’t have to ask permission to take action.  It does not matter if 30 separate people write to the same politician – in fact it helps, or if the local paper get 50 letters of complaint addressed to “letters to the editor”; tell them “don’t ask, just go for it!”

Of course there is a need and room for some coordination.  In our case a website was a useful point for dissemination of ideas and information www.noend.org.uk. This was put together by Roger, just a neighbour from the local community; Roger claims no great IT skills but sufficient to get this off the ground; that leads to the next learning point:

Never underestimate the skills within your community:  ask and encourage people to help, give them permission to do so (without asking permission) and just see what they can do; your community represents a huge resource.

Finally let me talk about 38 Degrees; they have been helpful and supportive all along.  The ability to use their software to e-mail supporters who have already signed up is a great bonus (beware you are only allowed to do this 3 times a week).  They can help you plan your campaign, write media releases, get radio, TV and newspapers interested in running your story.  The fuel of publicity should not be underestimated.

So are there things that you can learn from our experience? Yes, but you too have got things to teach others, so use your creativity and do what you think is right for you and your campaign area.

  • Set up your own 38 Degrees campaign site at you.38degrees.org.uk; they make it easy for you
  • Send the link to  everyone you know
  • Get all those likeminded people in your community to do the same
  • Develop the “pass it on” message
  • Use your 38 Degrees site to send positive  messages to encourage each new wave of signatories to develop the “pass-it-on” culture
  • A 38 Degrees petition is not enough – look at the ways you can do more to raise the profile of your campaign; we found Facebook and Twitter a very useful tool.
  • Encourage your supporters to take the initiative and to be self motivated
  • Never underestimate the skills within your community of supporters
  • Use the help and guidance available of the 38 Degrees site and email the staff team who will help in whatever way they can.

We achieved our goal of getting Cumbria County Council to vote against the Nuclear Repository in just 7 weeks; you could have the same sort of impact and 38 Degrees can help you get there.

Oh, just one final thing; “what happened to the pub?” We started a cooperative, sold shares to 225 villages (min £100) and took it on ourselves; we’ve been open since April 2011 and business is booming.  We’re now planning to build a village shop and visitors centre with a village hall space for our community.  Our philosophy?  “Can we do it?  YES WE CAN!”