Colorado Education Advocates Unveil New Tactic

By Tim Hoover of the Denver Post….

Supporters of an initiative that would ask voters in November to raise taxes for education are using an online, grassroots strategy to gather signatures that could revolutionize the petition process.

“It is the first time that I have seen this kind of tactic,” said veteran ballot-issue consultant Rick Reiter. “I’m watching it closely because I could learn a lot.”

Great Education Colorado Action is the political arm of Great Education Colorado, a group that urges more spending on education, and it has sent e-mails to supporters and turned to social networking to jump-start a signature-gathering drive for Initiative 25.

That proposal would, for five years, raise state sales taxes from 2.9 percent to 3 percent and hike the state’s income tax from 4.63 percent to 5 percent. If voters approved it, the proposal would generate an estimated $3 billion for K-12 and higher education.

Supporters say the tax hikes are needed to offset three years of deep cuts to education spending.

Critics say Coloradans are in no mood for a tax increase and the proposal would kill jobs during an economic recovery. Republicans have been the most vocal critics, but many Democrats have been silent on the proposal, and Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has repeatedly said Coloradans have “no appetite” for a tax increase.

The initiative filed by state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, doesn’t have the support so far of the state’s major business or education groups. That means the six-figure sums that are usually required to hire companies to conduct petition drives may not be forthcoming.

So supporters are trying a strategy that uses social network websites to ask people to sign the petitions. Supporters have set up a website that allows people to download petitions and then volunteer to gather signatures.

The kit includes instructions on how to gather 50 signatures to fill each petition and even how to properly staple the pages. It instructs volunteers to seek out a notary after gathering the signatures and then to return the signed petitions to supporters in Denver.

Every petition must bear an individual number, and the website where they can be downloaded assigns each one a unique number.

“The conventional wisdom is you need a lot of money to get something on the ballot,” said Lisa Weil, spokeswoman for Great Education Colorado. “Well, we don’t have that. What we’ve got is tens of thousands of education supporters who care about schools and affordable higher education.”

Instead of standing outside a supermarket, Weil said, volunteers can seek signatures on a more personal level. This closer-knit connection also will allow volunteers to better educate others about funding cuts for schools and colleges.

The hurdle to get an initiative on the ballot isn’t small. Supporters will have to gather the valid signatures of 86,105 registered Colorado voters, a benchmark that usually means circulators aim for as many as twice that number of signatures just to be safe.

“I think that the structure of what they’re doing has potential here,” said Reiter, the consultant, “but like all these things, when you need 11,000 people engaged in it, the management and the direct contact with those people will dictate whether this works or not.”

He added: “Hopefully 11,000 people have staplers. Because if you don’t staple it right, you’re done.”

Does Greenpeace Cause More Harm than Good?

The effort to shut down Chicago’s two coal plants literally climbed to new levels on Tuesday, as eight activists from environmental watchdog group Greenpeace scaled the smokestack of the coal-fired Fisk Generating Station power plant.

The activists spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday morning hanging from the 450-foot high smokestack, while painting the phrase “Quit Coal” in giant letters.  The eight were later arrested and charged with felony criminal damage to property.

Eight more Greenpeace activists worked to halt the approach of a coal barge at the city’s other major power plant. The activists dropped off a bridge near the Crawford coal plant, and unfurled a banner with “We Can Stop Coal” written in both English in Spanish.

While the scene was hectic at Fisk, it was nothing compared to the chaos at Crawford.  Traffic was backed up for miles. Dozens of police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances lined the street, where ornery officers barked at the press to stay on one side of the street. Meanwhile, the activists dangled below the bridge, preventing a coal barge from passing for hours.

The action was part of an ongoing campaign led by Greenpeace and other national and local environmental groups, focused on cleaning up air pollution by replacing both of Chicago’s coal plants with clean energy.

According to Greenpeace, coal fired power plants kill between 13,000 and 34,000 people a year.  That staggering figure includes the 42 Chicagoans who die as a result of pollution from Fisk and Crawford.  And according to a report from the Clean Air Task Force, residents are at risk for heart disease, cancer, and respiratory illness because of pollution from these plants.

“Some may question these aggressive tactics,” said SparkLight Communications President Joseph LaMountain.  “But Greenpeace has carved a unique niche with their ability to draw the spotlight onto issues they care about.  This is critical for the success of any movement and their actions, no matter how outlandish you may find them, have been essential to the environmental community’s success.”

Does a “Slut Walk” Help or Hurt the Cause?

Grassroots activists in want to redefine the word “slut.”

The movement to protest the culture of victim-blaming began in Toronto where the first SlutWalk was organized to protest a police officer’s comment that to avoid being sexually assaulted women should not dress like “sluts.”

These marches have since been organized around the world and one will hit the streets of Hamilton, Ontario in two weeks.  But will the walks achieve their goal, or simply reinforce negative stereotypes?

“The word slut is used to make women feel uncomfortable about how they’re presented to the world and to shame (them), and make them feel they need to police their bodies and police their sexualities in the way they express themselves,” said SlutWalk founder Nikki Wilson, 22, who is from Hamilton.

“We want the word slut to represent a person who is confident in their sexuality, somebody who likes sex and isn’t afraid of talking about that, who isn’t afraid of expressing that.”

According to SlutWalk Hamilton’s Facebook page, more than 800 people are planning on attending the march, which will begin at City Hall at 2 p.m. and then go into Hess Village and end at the Central Police Station.

“These marches have been a great success and they definitely send a message,” said Sparklight President Joseph LaMountain.  “But I question the wisdom of wearing fishnet stockings and other provocative clothing.  While sex generates media coverage and awareness, it could also reinforce some of the negative connotations the group is trying to eliminate.”

SlutWalk organizers could take a lesson from the gay and lesbian community.  They’ve sought to tone down some of the more outrageous behavior in an effort to “normalize” homosexuals in the eyes of the general public.  Over time, this strategy has contributed to increased acceptance of same-sex relationships in American society.

Collecting 1.3 Million Shoes for Charity

“We have the responsibility to receive the truth when we are confronted with it,” George “The Shoeman” Hutchings told a group of about 30 kids and adults at the Ethical Society of Mid Rivers, Missouri meeting May 15.

Hutchings was there to explain how he developed a grassroots organization to provide footwear and clean drinking water to people in underdeveloped nations.

Hutchings was a Marine sergeant, earning a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam. After being wounded and flown to Alaska, he was touched by the simple act of a nurse placing a blanket over him. That was the first “truth” Hutchings said he opened himself up to. He then went on to seminary school and worked on several humanitarian projects.

In 1998, he was in Kenya delivering 30,000 pairs of shoes to orphans and refugees. Later he worked in an African town with a medical center that had no water, yet delivered two infants within 20 minutes of each other. This is when Hutchings put two and two together and came up with the idea to collect and sell old shoes in order to provide water drilling rigs to poor areas in Kenya.

In 2008, Shoeman Water Projects was born. Since then, the organization has collected more than 1.3 million pairs of shoes from donors at schools, churches and businesses.  Hutchings sells the shoes for 35 cents a pound to people who distribute them to be sold by locals.

He uses the money to buy water rigs to drill wells in towns in Africa and Haiti where there is no clean, available water source. The first rig built was at a school in Kenya that had not had water for 10 years due to a broken handle on the only water pump. Shoeman Water Projects also trains local repair staff to maintain the rigs.

According to Hutchings, shoes are almost as important as water because walking on bare feet can cause people to get worms and other parasites that can make them sick. Hutchings showed a slide show of the people he has come to know during his visits to Kenya and other countries. One photo showed a 3-year-old boy holding two jugs as he walked to a dirty watering hole to gather water for his family.

Hutchings’ project has created several sustainable micro-businesses for the local people to sell the shoes at roadside stands and maintain the wells.

The children at the meeting were inspired by Hutchings’ compassion and dedication. “I thought it was cool what he was doing, giving away shoes and fresh water,” said 8-year-old Katherine Johnson, who brought shoes collected at her school, Mount Hope Elementary.

“It was moving that he would do that when obviously most people wouldn’t even think of it,” said Elisabeth Johnson, 11. Johnson and other children at the meeting collected about 1,300 pounds of shoes to donate to the project.

Retired MD Collects 5,800 Petition Signatures

A campaign to restore funding to a palliative care community service on the Upper North Shore has received a big response reports Tracey Findlay in the Hornsby and Upper North Shore Advocate.

Retired Wahroonga doctor Yvonne McMaster has collected 5800 signatures since launching the campaign in March. She intends to present the petition to Parliament House. Dr McMaster said she had been encouraged by the community response.

“I am now pretty confident we will get at least 10,000 signatures. I have had lots of replies and offers of help,” she said.

As reported in the Advocate in March, Dr McMaster is protesting against “a rationing of services” for the terminally ill after palliative care community funding was cut by $1.2 million by the then Northern Sydney and Central Coast Area Health Service in 2009.

The Zombie of Public Awareness Campaigns

According to the National Institutes of Health, 20 percent of Americans sleep less than six hours each night.  This can lead to mistakes in the workplaces, costing American businesses billions of dollars each year.

That’s why the Better Sleep Council (BSC), a trade association representing the mattress industry, declared May as national “Stop Zombieitis!” awareness month.

The BSC sought to use social networks to identify and educate those who complain of the symptoms of “zombieitis” – feeling like death, exhaustion, irritability, and a slow gait.

“Linking sleep deprivation to zombies is a clever idea, especially for a social media campaign,” said Sparklight President Joseph LaMountain.  “Millions are sleep deprived and zombies are a popular online meme, so this was a great opportunity for BSC to reach a wide audience with its messages.”

But that hasn’t really happened.  The campaign website was not intuitive and took several visits to understand.  Their three YouTube videos were seen fewer than 700 times while the “Stop Zombieitis” Facebook group counted fewer than 600 friends and hardly any engagement with members.

“What the BSC discovered is that it takes more than just a clever idea for an awareness campaign to work,” LaMountain said.  “Putting a couple videos online, creating a Facebook page, and hoping that your video goes viral is not the best strategy.”

As representatives of the mattress industry, the BSC could have aggressively reached consumers through retail outlets, manufacturers lists of customers and delivery trucks.  They could have used targeted online advertising (Facebook and Google AdWords) and reached out to niche “horror” blogs to gain traction.

“Social media is a great tool for reaching people,” LaMountain said, “but it’s not enough to simply post your content online and wait for the masses to arrive.  It has to be part of a comprehensive marketing and communications plan if it’s going to work.”

OR Voters Reject School Bond…Lessons Learned

Last week we wrote about a Portland, Oregon ballot initiative to better fund public schools.  The measure was defeated by a narrow margin on Tuesday.  The following article by Susan Nielsen appeared in the May 16 edition of the Oregonian….

Portland isn’t the kind of city to have nail-biting elections over school taxes. Levies “coast to victory” in the news headlines here. A special income tax will “pass easily by wide margins,” even during an economic downturn.

Bonds pass, too — until this week, when Portland voters narrowly rejected a $548 million capital bond and upended conventional wisdom about their loyalties and limits. This man-bites-dog result provides some invaluable lessons for the district and its campaign team as they regroup for the next bond effort.

Starting with this lesson: Never take voters for granted. Listen to what they’re saying now — not what they’ve said in the past.

Early polling suggested broad support for a bond measure for Portland Public Schools. Election history also pointed to victory, with 58 percent of voters approving the last bond, more than 60 percent approving a special income tax and 63 percent approving the last levy. Portland appeared unstoppable, even as many other Oregon districts struggled with multiple rejections of more modest local tax measures.

The pro-schools track record may have dulled the district’s senses. (Of course voters will come through. Of course Portlanders will make sacrifices for school kids, once they see enough of those homespun yellow signs that say, “Portland (heart) Schools.” Of course the public will trust the district to work out the details later.)

School leaders and campaigners didn’t quite fathom the opposition brewing in pro-schools strongholds, including neighborhoods near Grant High and parent groups in the Sylvan Hills. They wrote off the grumblings as isolated complaints rather than major red flags.

They won’t do that again. Continue reading

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