Advocating for change at city hall

How to impact change in Toronto
(Column written for Town Crier Dec. 22)

“You say you want a revolution,” the Beatles sang. “Well, you know, we all want to change the world.”
Even if it’s not a revolutionary change you are seeking, here are some tips on preserving a cherished service or advocating for a new policy at city hall.
As I wrote in a previous column, you can achieve small changes by calling 311, your municipal councillor, or by making a deputation at city hall.
But if you are seeking larger policy changes or want to protect services from being slashed, you’ll need a stronger game plan.
Do your research
Councillor Gord Perks is no stranger to activism, dating back to 1987 when he was involved with Pollution Probe, Greenpeace Canada and Toronto Environmental Alliance — all before he entered politics.
“You will have opponents so your information has to be as good or better,” he said.
So know your facts: why does it make economic, social and political sense for policymakers to agree with you?Build momentum
“You should build popular support across the city for whatever change you want,” Perks told me. “Identify who your allies are and recruit them.
“Find out who your opponents are and the people you can convince in the (undecided) middle.”
Stick with it
“Working for a better world has to be fun if it’s going to take you months or years,” Perks advises.
So perhaps try out some street theatre to get your point across with a goofy protest.
Remember, you aren’t going to be successful by making a five-minute deputation at a committee, so plan on advocating repeatedly in as many ways as possible.
You can make a difference
This is not a time to be quiet and assume the government will do what you want, Councillor Joe Mihevc said.
“This is a time for active democracy and taking action,” he added. “Every issue has community people who stood up and said, ‘I want to make a difference in student nutrition, hunger, urban renewal, public health, public transit’.”
Media attention
As a Town Crier news reporter for eight years, I’ve interviewed my share of groups looking to shine a light on their causes. Media attention should be one of the tools you use to effect change but it has to be done right.
I remember two Town Crier stories I reported on about saving school pools that stand out as examples of what worked.
In 2002, Torontonians were facing the possible closure of 85 school pools as provincial funding was going to be pulled. Swim advocates got creative and invited 100 kids and students from across the city to a protest/swim party in a Beach school pool. And they invited the media.
I covered the event, where I spoke to Michelle Agnew and Mikaela Kraus-Glover, a pair of eight year olds, who told me why their pool should stay open.
“I’d feel bad. You need to learn how to swim because people might drown,” Agnew said at the time.
Kraus-Glover added: “My school pool is where I learned how to swim, so it’s important to me.”
A few days later the province said it had a change of heart.
Of course it wasn’t that simple, the school board has since raised the issue of pool closures almost yearly.
In 2008, faced with the possible closure of the Malvern CI pool, student Hannah Gladstone helped organize a mock funeral for her school pool.
“We decided to do a eulogy and funeral because we are feeling our pool is dying,” Gladstone told the Town Crier.
My advice: if you want to start a media campaign then know your facts, plan an event, have a website, use Twitter to let people know what’s happening, start a Facebook campaign, send out press releases, get a crowd of supporters behind you and have an articulate spokesperson.
If you have an issue you are pushing for, I’d love to know or post a comment on my blog.


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