Romanian Resistance: OPEN long reads

It’s not everyday that you’re campaigning to stop people from showing up to vote! But that’s exactly what Romanian OPEN organisation Declic decided to do this month, to stop their government’s plan to enshrine homophobia in their constitution. Their campaign to prevent the definition of the family being limited to marriage between a man and woman was nothing short of a strategic masterclass. So, sit back and read about how Declic pulled off something incredible.

From their small office in Cluj, the 8 person Declic team are no stranger to big victories. In fact, in the 3 years they’ve been around, they’ve fought police brutality, curbed illegal logging and corruption – and even launched a revolution.

The government had planned to hold the referendum in June, and the Declic team were all set to launch a big, positive ‘vote no’ campaign. But when the vote was delayed to the Autumn it gave them some breathing room and more time to plan.

“There were lots of discussions with partners. And we just kept polling and asking our members what we should do. And it became obvious that it was essential to see this vote in the context of what was happening in the country overall.” 
- Roxana, Campaigns Director, Declic

Because in August, the mood of Romanian society had completely changed. There were big protests against corruption, in which Declic were involved. The public were horrified by the levels of police brutality – it was a huge turning point, and the referendum provided an opportunity to consolidate it. To be valid, turnout needed to be over 30%; if it was less, the legitimacy of the government’s anti-equality narrative would be challenged.

“Our members were telling us that they were furious. And it was this moment that we realised that this referendum would be easier to boycott rather than participate in.” 
- Roxana, Campaigns Director, Declic

It was a huge risk. But Declic saw that the most strategic way to win was to make the vote not just about this issue – but to tap into the anger of the entire country. There was growing sentiment that the government was using referenda to divide society, and to distract the public from the real issues that matter. Declic also were able to forward the principle that human rights issues weren’t something that should even be asked about. They were able to speak directly to the concern that Romania was moving backwards, and give people a powerful way to respond.

So in collaboration with partners, they launched the campaign to boycott the vote. The hard part was holding their nerve. But the Declic team have nerve in bucketloads.

For Declic, even running a campaign on this topic showed bravery. They knew it would lose them members. But this didn’t stop them - in fact, they came up with a fun way to make even that about victory. There was an office sweepstakes on how many members they’d lose, with bets ranging from 40,000 to 0. In the end, they only lost 400 members – while hundreds left them, many others joined.

The team recorded their bets on a blackboard in the office.   Their usual entry action - a petition - wasn’t going to work for this campaign. So they built on a template from France’s OPEN organisation, and launched a quiz which 100,000 people filled in. The goal was to highlight the real problems with Romania – if you had 35 million euros, would you build schools or run a referendum? – and build a huge group to engage in follow up actions.  Meanwhile, the opposition were making mistakes, talking more and more in really radical terms - and people didn’t want to be associated with it. Declic fanned the flames of public discomfort with a dramatic video. It worked..

The team recorded their bets on a blackboard in the office.

Their usual entry action - a petition - wasn’t going to work for this campaign. So they built on a template from France’s OPEN organisation, and launched a quiz which 100,000 people filled in. The goal was to highlight the real problems with Romania – if you had 35 million euros, would you build schools or run a referendum? – and build a huge group to engage in follow up actions.

Meanwhile, the opposition were making mistakes, talking more and more in really radical terms - and people didn’t want to be associated with it. Declic fanned the flames of public discomfort with a dramatic video. It worked..

Click here to watch the video on YouTube - with English subtitles

“The video was really negative. We went completely against the wisdom that these should be positive and hopeful. And for this, it really helped and spoke directly to people’s concerns. It amplified the concern that it was a radical choice to vote in this referendum.”
- Tudor, ED of Declic

During the last weeks before the vote they also focused on engaging the Romanian diaspora to phone home and persuade the relatives and friends to boycott the vote. Declic built on best practice from around the network, like UpLift’s Repeal campaign strategy of encouraging quality conversations, and Mobilizr, which was built by someone from the Austrian group #aufstehn, it’s a tool that got lots of people texting and sharing their key messages leading up to the vote.

On Sunday 7th October, it became clear DeClic had pulled off something amazing. Turnout was 22.1% – they won and the constitution wasn’t changed.

“It was an incredible victory. But we didn’t lose the stigma LGTBQ people face - there was some very extreme discourse and we got the worst backlash we’ve ever experienced. There’s more work to do.”
- Tudor, ED of Declic

Congratulations, Declic.

Elsewhere around the Network

Before we say goodbye, it’s also been a great few weeks for the German and Swiss OPEN groups. Read on to get the low-down.

Campact mobilise over 50,000 people for a coal phase out in Germany

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Hambach Forest has become the symbol of a coal-free Germany. Ancient and home to many precious species of trees and animals, it’s at risk of being dug up and destroyed for coal...but not if Campact members have anything to do with it.

On the first weekend of October, Campact mobilised over 50,000 people to come together. Why? Hambach Forest was in imminent danger, sparking a national outrage. The moment was also more significant because the police have just evicted the protesters who have been occupying the forest for years, the police brutality widely reported and widely condemned.

Campact have become pros at mobilising tens of thousands quickly. They formed a coalition and helped mobilise directly, as well as supporting their members to publicise the march through posters and leaflets. Campact members also chipped in to finance the march. And it wasn’t without its last minute difficulties. Just a few days before the march the police tried to stop it. But that wasn’t enough to stop Campact – they managed to get a judge to allow the protest to happen.

And this isn’t over. Campact are ramping up support for the Hambach forest and they have more mega demonstrations and decentralised events planned for COP, in December.

Thank you Campact!

Swiss weapon exports: Campax gets regulation over first hurdle

“We don't want blood on our hands!” was the cry of members of Campax, the newly launched Swiss OPEN group, in response to the government’s plan to loosen regulation to allow weapon exports to countries in civil war.

It’s been an ambitious campaign - especially considering Campax only have two staff - but their recent victory proves that it’s worth aiming high. It’s involved protests outside parliament, gathering a parliamentary group, pressuring the security commision with videos, a fundraiser to finance legal steps. And after a petition was launched which attracted over 25,000 signatures in 30 hours, a special debate in parliament was announced.

Campax sprung into gear and asked members to write letters to members of parliament and demand the approval of a motion to regulate weapon exports as a law instead of an ordinance. During the special debate a politician stated that he never received so many letters concerning an issue. The motion got passed in the lower house of parliament -- a huge partial victory.

Now they're setting their sights on the upper house, asking Campax supporters to target members of the Christian popular party with personal photo or video statements. Their also planning member meetings with parliamentarians.

We’ve got everything crossed for you Campax!

Becky Jarvis