Dutch Disruption: OPEN long reads

But this is exactly why I wanted to start DeGoedeZaak. The whole idea was to give progressive Dutch society a chance to say: “It’s not a done deal that the right has taken over this country.”
- Jurjen, Executive Director, DeGoedeZaak

Sit back, make a cuppa; to do this story justice, we had to use a few extra lines. It’s the story of how a brand new OPEN organisation built a 120,500 person strong movement and saved two children from being deported from their home in the Netherlands.

The name of the Dutch OPEN group, DeGoedeZaak, is difficult to translate into English. Walking around near their office in Amsterdam you’ll see the word Zaak on storefronts – it can mean a small business – but it can also be an issue, or a cause. Jurjen, DeGeodeZaak’s Executive Director, translates it as “The Good Fight”.

But it’s their tagline that tells an especially unique story: it means “the ally for Progressive Netherlands”. Staffed by a three-person team already well-connected within the Dutch progressive movement, they see their role as adding capacity and expertise to an already healthy activist ecosystem. Every campaign they run is a collaboration.

It’s a fabulous example of how OPEN groups are adjusting the model to their national contexts. And DeGoedeZaak’s latest campaign, to stop the deportation of 400 children of refugee backgrounds, is a masterclass in what their chosen approach can achieve – a rapidly growing active membership, real respect from the national progressive sector, and most importantly, incredible impact.

"All of a sudden, people realised you can have a progressive win, in this right-wing context, and you can even have this progressive win on a topic like refugees, which so many experienced campaigners said was impossible."

Like in the rest of the world, ethnonationalism is on the rise in the Netherlands – and like in the rest of the world, refugees are often the government’s first targets. When DeGoedeZaak launched 11 months ago, one campaign in particular was in their sights: the team expected the new right-wing government could soon start deporting a cohort of 400 children, many of whom were born in the Netherlands.

The campaign they launched, powered by an incredible coalition of organisations and activists already working on the topic, is called Ze zijn al thuis – ‘they are already home’ – and it’s changing the political landscape of the Netherlands.

A photo of a young girl, looking directly at the camera. Orange overlay text in Dutch translates to they are already home.

When the first Facebook post for the campaign appeared, DeGoedeZaak had around 800 members. The first petition, to change the law to protect the 400 kids, was signed by 75,000 people in 40 days.

And that welling of public support was much more than a stroke of viral luck. Every signature was a product of a creative capacity-building approach, planned by staff and brought alive by a volunteer team. Within months, 165 people around the country had volunteered to lead local campaigns targeting local chapters of the Dutch governing parties – soon, over 30 municipalities had split from the national line. And to build on the moment, the DeGoedeZaak team facilitated targeted media, centreing the people and the stories that cut through the political spin and spoke to a wide range of the public, bringing them on side.

"Everything that happened here was because we had already set the sails, and we got wind. Without our 165 local leaders, we could never have won the local campaigns. Without the national petition, we wouldn’t have been listened to by the media. Without the coalition we developed, there would have been no campaign.”

Along the way, DeGoedeZaak did lose some fights. The government won the first two cases they brought forward – and deported the children. But DeGoedeZaak never gave up, and their movement only grew as the outrage snowballed.

Then, a few weeks ago, everything came to a head around the stories of two children, Lili and Howick. The Dutch public already knew about their case, and DeGeodeZaak worked closely with their lawyers and supporters, bringing in the power of their members behind them. Soon even far-right punters were expressing support for these kids.

The children lost their last-ditch court case – and went into hiding. Incredibly, the police asked the public to help find them. The campaign became “We won’t cooperate”. In a country where cooperation with the Nazi occupation is so strongly remembered, this new framing spread like wildfire. Finally, one of the parties in coalition government broke ranks at the national level, and plead for change. At the very last minute the Minister backed down, and confirmed that Lili and Howick would stay in the Netherlands.

"Before this campaign, a lot of people couldn’t imagine getting involved on refugee issues – as a country we are extremely polarized on this. But this was a huge victory. We won this case, and we also moved the whole debate, by campaigning vigorously and involving people. It led to a lot of politicians in government saying ‘we need to solve this, here and now’, which was exactly what we wanted – this is the momentum we can use to fix the whole policy."

The broader campaign hasn’t been won yet. The law still needs to change, to protect the rest of these kids. But fundamental cracks have appeared in the Dutch government’s power – including 65 key municipalities now calling for action – and it’s because DeGoedeZaak are building this truly impressive movement, integrated into the Dutch progressive space but unique within it, proving a new kind of campaigning can bring the wins we need.

DeGoedeZaak have experienced incredible success in a political environment and on an issue that many would have said wasn’t possible, using nuanced and highly responsive strategy.

And that’s exactly what OPEN is here to support, all around the world: people fighting the good fight, in ways that make sense in their national context – and winning real change for people.

Aurora Adams