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4 October 2007updated 24 Sep 2015 11:16am

Campaigning on campus

After much campaigning, UCL’s leadership has agreed to move towards ethical investment. Sara Hall gi

By Sara Hall

In December 2006 students at University College London started a campaign to get their university to ditch its shares in arms companies and adopt an ethical investment policy. Seven months later – after our campaign had featured prominently on the New Statesman website – UCL’s leadership agreed to start developing an ethical investment policy. How did we do it ?

Some tips from Disarm UCL on how to win a campaign on campus:

The BASIC campaign

Build a broad supporter base
Disarm UCL was supported by a range of different student societies from the start – so it tapped into a pool of existing contacts and e-mail lists. Try and contact everyone you can think of who might be interested in supporting your campaign.

Know your facts…
Whether it was collecting signatures on campus or talking to the media or the UCL Provost we needed to present our case convincingly. Make sure you know your facts and be confident.

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…and get them right
Make sure that whatever you say in public or put in writing is 100 % correct. Any small inaccuracies could be used in attempts to discredit your campaign. It happened to us and it wasn’t nice!

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Get your Student Union on board
We presented a motion to the UCL Student Union Council who voted to support Disarm UCL. Having the Union behind you is a strong statement in support of your campaign. Try and convince them!

Get online…
Promote your campaign online. Get a blog: www.blogger.com or www.wordpress.com and create a facebook group. Use www.pledgebank.com to raise funds or get a certain number of people to write letters, etc.

The CLEVER campaign

…and promote and update your web features
Make sure you promote your blog, facebook group and/or pledge properly and keep it up to date. Your campaign looks dead if your last blog entry was four month ago or if your facebook group has only eight members.

Be strategic
UCLs leadership puts a lot of emphasis on its work with alumni and is very media conscious. We set up an alumni network supporting the campaign and tried to get as much media coverage as possible. Try and identify the areas your university puts the most emphasis on and target them

Be creative…
We got peoples attention by having creative actions in UCL’s main quad. On one action we put up fake gravestones, in another we dressed in camouflage uniforms with mortar boards on our heads and toy guns in our hands. Think of something a bit different to catch people’s attention.

…but be wise
We used existing resources as much as possible. We borrowed the Control Arms grave stones from Amnesty International and the toy guns from Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). We bought the uniforms cheaply on the internet and raised the money on pledgebank. Don’t reinvent the wheel unless you have to. See what resources you can access easily and use them.

Make it personal
We contacted an UCL alumnus, whose sister died as a result of the arms trade. He allowed us to “use” his story and supported the campaign actively. Try to show how people like you and me are affected by the arms trade or whatever it is you’re campaigning against.

Contact the media
We asked for some sound media advice before we started. Make sure your press releases look good and that you follow up with short and polite phone calls. Be prepared to give your mobile number to journalists.

Make use of new media
We found it much easier to get pieces on Disarm UCL published online. Most publications feature blogs on their website and are looking for good contributions. Contact them and write a comment piece on the issue you are campaigning on. Try your local newspapers and student sites.

The WINNING campaign

Welcome any contribution
In addition to our key campaigners, we had many people who helped simply by doing that which they enjoyed doing, or things which were easy for them to do: Designing a cartoon, passing around a petition in one of their lectures, writing a spoof funding proposal for UCLs global citizenship fund, donating ten quid. Make sure you value and encourage one-off contributions – they make a real difference!

Treat opposition as a challenge
Engaging with people who argued against us helped us to put our point across more clearly and confidently, each time we did it. Very occasionally you will come across very unreasonable people – take a deep breath and respond calmly to their provocations. Walk away if someone is abusive (luckily this never happened to us).

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice
During the campaign we picked the brains of quite a few professionals, particularly from Campaign Against Arms Trade but also IANSA and others. Professional campaigners will be helpful but their time is very limited. It helps to be polite and keep questions short.

Get something out of it
Whether it is meeting great people, getting some valuable experience to put on your CV, the need to speak out against injustice or having a break from lectures, libraries and lager– make sure you know the positive things you’re getting out of campaigning. It will help you through the rough patches.

Stay positive and stick with it
Our meeting with the UCL Provost was first cancelled on short notice, then delayed for months and eventually took place only at the very end of the academic year. Don’t expect smooth sailing in your campaign– there will be setbacks. Don’t give up. You’ll get there in the end…and it will feel good !

Please note: UCL still invests in arms companies. However UCLs leadership has now made a commitment to ethical investment. And just in case this has slipped their minds: UCL students are about to kick-start a new round of campaigning to get their university to ditch the arms shares immediately.