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Campus Living Wage Manual
VIII. Action Plan
Once you're organized, you need to start thinking about how to conduct your campaign. There is no right way to do it. The situation will be different at every school. There are, however, general goals and strategies that can guide your planning. Here is a broad overview to help you think about long term strategy. More details about specific techniques make up most of the rest of this manual.
Educate your campus. Chances are most people have no idea what a living wage is or are suspicious of the idea. You need to show them that a living wage is necessary, reasonable, and feasible. You'll need the support of students, faculty, and workers in order to bring about change, so informing them and gathering support will probably be your initial focus.
Contact your administration and make your demands. Make sure you know exactly what you want. Then present your demands clearly and professionally in a letter to them administration. It is very unlikely that they will accept them or say "yes" initially, but you need to give them the chance to refuse (or fail to respond) before you can step up the pressure. Once they've said "no", you are in a stronger position to protest.
Turn on the heat. You must mobilize your support base to put public and private pressure on the administration. This is what will 'convince' them to adopt a living wage. Tactics range from personal conversations to press releases to rallies to sit-ins, and will be discussed at length in the following pages.
While it is impossible to make a detailed plan in advance, it is important to think about long term strategy before you get started. If you have a lot of initial support you might begin with a huge media campaign and flyering blitz. If you don't have a lot of support you might want to slowly escalate over time as more people get involved.
It is crucial to consider your school's schedule in planning. If you want to build up to a big rally make sure you have time before the end of the semester. Consider when students will be in finals (when they tend to be understandably less receptive), when breaks are, etc. If you move too quickly, you may peak early and peter out before the end of the semester, but if you move too slowly, you may not peak before the end of the semester and you'll have to try to restart after the break.
Remember that even very committed members of your group have limited energy, and your audience (students, faculty, and administration) has a limited ability to pay attention. Don't try to do too many big actions in the same semester and risk running out of steam or being ignored ("Those crazy protesters are out shouting again..."). A good strategy is to have continuous small actions to keep the issue in people's minds, punctuated by big shows of support.
Think about who you want to pressure. It might be the administrators who have the direct power to pay a living wage, like a Vice-President of Human Resources, but it might just be the highest-level, most visible administrator. Often, some administrators, like the president or chancellor, have a very public image and may be a good person to target for a campaign after thy initially refuse on living wage. Personal attacks can backfire and make administrators less likely to budge or more vocal about defending their initial position. However, things like comparing the salaries of high-paid administrators to low level employees can be an effective strategy. Think carefully about the political climate at your school and how certain administrators might react to certain tactics. Remember, your goal is to get a living wage, not to publicly embarrass an administrator just to show how evil they are. Shame and embarrassment can be incredibly powerful tactics, but use them only so far as they advance your campaign.
SUPPORT-BUILDING STRATEGIES AND ACTION IDEAS
Here is a brief list of techniques you may consider to build support and put pressure on your administration. This is a "bag of tricks" to draw from. You can find more details and examples on each in separate sections at the pages listed.
Literature. Have a good base of information that you can give to reporters, faculty, students, and administrators with information like relative salary comparisons, cost to pay a living wage, number of employees in certain income brackets, etc. Be prepared and professional; it will make your case seem much more reasonable.
Engaging Faculty Support. Faculty support can be extremely useful to your campaign. Faculty are respected (they are after all the purveyors of wisdom on campus), they know how the school operates, and they can get things done. Initially it makes sense (to save time and money) to try to focus on professors that teach classes on liberal topics or those that teach in social science disciplines. However, if possible, make up a packet of literature to send to every faculty member including a cover letter, a copy of your demands, fact sheets, and a faculty petition card asking for their public support of a living wage (see p. 29). If you already have support from some faculty members, ask if you can mention their names in the information you send to other faculty.
Engaging Alumni Support. Alumni give money. Administrators want money. Administrators listen to alumni. Try to get alumni lists from other activist groups, from the administration, from the career planning office, anywhere you can. Send letters and emails depending on your budget and ask them to call or write demanding a living wage, refusing to give money, signing your petition, and perhaps even donating to your campaign. If there is an alumni listserv try to get sympathetic alumni to send out a message.
Flyers. Flyers are a great way to get the message out and to attract people to come to meetings, particularly at the beginning of a campaign. They are a staple of most campaigns and serve to attract attention, inform, and update. Some people respond well to flyers that are posted around campus; others respond better when they can take a flyer from a person and talk to them. Try doing both. Unusual artwork, humorous slogans, and fluorescent colored paper will make your flyer stand out on a kiosk.
Petitions. Have a petition that indicates support for a living wage. Encourage students, faculty, employees, and administrators to sign on.
Teach-Ins. These are information sessions about the issue and what you're asking for. They are a good chance to distribute detailed literature and to recruit people for the campaign.
Direct Actions. Direct actions are good for showing off the support you have for a living wage and for getting more people interested. Vary the type of action depending on whether you have a lot of support already or if you're just getting started. Creativity and humor help win support.
Letter Writing Campaigns. You'll need to have official communication with the administration to present your demands and correspond about meetings. Letters should state your arguments clearly and succinctly and mention the support you have. Letters are not the time to be confrontational. Be aggressive publicly to pressure them to agree, but be polite so that they will respect and work with you.
Letter writing campaigns are a classic way to put on pressure. You should develop a generic letter that students, faculty, or alumni can sign and send in or can use as a model for their own letter. The letter should include why you think a living wage is important, why the university has a responsibility to pay it, any pertinent information such as cost to the university, a mention of the support you have for the proposal, and a closing asking the administration to implement a living wage immediately.
Once you have a sample letter addressed to the appropriate administration member(s), you can begin distributing it with your other campaign materials such as flyers, fact sheets, etc. Include it in mailings to faculty, alumni, and other interested groups. Many schools have areas where student groups can set up tables with information, generally a good way to distribute literature and talk to people. Have copies of the letter available to have students imitate in their own words. You can also just stand in busy areas with a clipboard and copies of the letter. If someone won't take the time to write form letters, signed petitions are weaker and less intensive ways to show support. All you need is their name, class year, and signature. It will make it even easier to get students to sign if you offer to send the letter and/or petition to the administration.
Remember to be polite and try to judge people's level of interest. Some people will sign but don't want to hear about it or have literature thrust upon them, so respect that and thank them for signing. Make sure your campaign doesn't get a bad reputation for being pushy; it can really damage your support base. Some people will be very interested, and you should try to get them to help out or come to meetings.
GETTING MEDIA COVERAGE
The media will probably be the way most people learn about your campaign. Therefore, it is very important to have a focus on getting as much coverage (sympathetic, if possible) as you can. Of course, media work should be coordinated (press releases, letters, phone calls) with the rest of your campaign. Many of your efforts, such as creative actions, should be developed with the media in mind. It is often easy to get friendly coverage in school papers. Talk to the editors about doing articles and send press releases before actions. If you know students who work on the paper, talk to them about writing an article or have them suggest an article to their editor. When you do actions or before and after important events, write and send press releases to as many news outlets as you can think of locally and nationally.
One idea on how to saturate the campus media is to have each member of your group sign up for one day of media duty a month. When it is your day of responsibility, you are responsible for writing a letter to the editor of the campus or town paper, calling in to a call-in radio talk show at the school radio station, and distributing 50 flyers around campus. Even with a relatively small group, you can create the appearance of a massive effort and saturate all means of communication on campus.
Access to and coverage by the media is important to the success of your campaign. There are a few universal traits that you want to keep in mind when doing any sort of media work for your campaign.
Clarity. Know clearly what your message is and be able to illustrate it using clear-cut points and examples.
Connectivity. Be sure that your message is seen as having direct connection to what is going on in your community, demonstrated with clear examples.
Responsibility. Media appreciate getting their information from one reliable source who provides one reliable message. Having multiple people do this can be unproductive in establishing long term relationships with media.
Timeliness. Build relationships with media by becoming a credible source of timely information.
Drama and Conflict. Human interest and conflict between opposed forces add to newsworthiness of a story. Frame your story in such a manner as to maximize this angle.
There are various ways to get your story into the media, especially your local newspaper.
Talk Shows. Call in regularly to call-in shows. Submit your press releases, leaflets, and clippings to the producers and hosts of public affairs shows and talk shows with a letter suggesting your best spokespersons as guests.
Newspaper Articles. To get a news story, send out a press release before and after the event, emphasizing local information, including statistics and local participants. Follow up this effort with a phone call to the reporter or editor. Organize your media event to be creative or to have large numbers of people involved. Have a visual theme. Media stunts can be of great use in getting coverage if they are done well.
Photos. Newspapers will publish photos of local people engaging in interesting activities. Once again, a visual theme and a well executed media stunt can get a photo in the paper.
Letters to the Editor. Various members of your campaign should write and submit letters to the editor. Letters to the editor should be brief, catchy, and on topic. If they are in response to something just recently covered in the newspaper, their likelihood of appearing increases.
School Newspapers. Student-run school papers are a great way to get your message out. Students and faculty often read the paper every day, and alumni often subscribe as well. Not a lot of real news happens at most campuses, so papers are eager for stories. The most important thing to focus on is getting your message presented the way you want it.
Have as much contact with the paper as you can without being annoying. Talk to the editors and make sure they understand your goals and related issues. Often, one reporter will be assigned to a long term issue, so the paper may pick someone to cover the living wage campaign. If you can influence the decision to pick a specific reporter, do so by all means; it will affect how you're presented for the entire campaign.
Talk to the reporter covering your campaign often and make an effort to treat her like a "real" reporter (student reporters love that). Always keep her updated on progress and send her press releases, literature, and living wage articles. Give the reporter some special access if you think it will make the coverage more friendly, but be careful not to say anything that you wouldn't want printed. You may not want to have a reporter at meetings, for example. As long as you trust her confidentiality, tell the reporter ahead of time about actions, particularly sneak attacks - this coverage will most likely reach a far broader audience than the action itself (and the inside scoop will make the reporter feel cool).
Some student papers print almost every letter to the editor they receive. These letters can present your case as well as update on progress, respond to criticism, and note successes. Letters to school papers can generally go more in depth and have more give and take than letters to larger newspapers, which will probably be read by people who haven't heard much about the issue. Use this to your advantage.
You may also be able to submit op-ed pieces which are longer and more in-depth. Talk to the editor or editorial board about doing so. Op-ed pieces carry more weight than letters.
CASE STUDY: LIVING WAGE CAMPAIGN STRATEGY AT HARVARD
At Harvard, a living wage would allow over 2,000 employees in the Boston area to live decently. We began our living wage campaign with the understanding that we could not win a living wage in less than a year or two. Recognizing the length of these campaigns is crucial to planning a good strategy; universities rely on weathering short bursts of activism with the security that students will graduate and the issue will be forgotten. Not only is it crucial to think of strategy in terms of a multi-year campaign, but work must be done to plan for when key organizers leave by making sure that information is decentralized and a large core of committed activists has been built up. It also means that the community outside the university must become involved if lasting pressure is to be maintained.
Our plan is simple: to put constant pressure on Harvard until we win. For the most part, we have done this by holding a series of rallies, each one escalating in intensity. Each major action we have held has included a new element-something they haven't seen before-and has stepped up the level of the campaign. If we do need to have a sit-in or a building take-over, we will have built our strength and support to the point where we will be certain that such a crisis-provoking action will win.
The Harvard Living Wage Campaign began with a rally at the end of February, 1999 to announce our presence; after weeks of talking to workers, students, faculty, and unions, over 300 people turned out in support. Less than two weeks later, we united with two other student campaigns to hold a 400 person rally which surrounded our main administrative building during a general meeting of the faculty.
But a campaign cannot have a large action every week. Thus, our next big event was not until May: over two months later. There, more than 200 people rallied and a delegation of 30 people - including a state representative, the Vice-Mayor of Cambridge, and prominent professors - entered the office of a key administrator and demanded her help to get a living wage at Harvard.
In between these rallies, however, we increased our pressure and presence by holding a series of small but highly public actions. At Junior Parents Weekend, twelve campaign members went on stage after the Dean of the College finished addressing 300 parents and gave a speech about the need for a living wage. Similarly, at the President's opening address for Pre-Frosh Weekend, we presented him the "Worst Employer of Boston Award."
Other actions have ranged from covering statues on campus with the faces and phone numbers of administrators to hiring a plane to fly over commencement trailing a banner reading, "Harvard Needs a Living Wage." These actions not only raised awareness about the issue to new groups of people, they made administrators nervous at their own events. Most importantly, they gave many students a chance to get involved in the strategic planning of the campaign.
This summer, we have done two things to increase the pressure on Harvard. Traditionally, summer is a time when universities can rest from student activism; we wanted our campaign to be year-round. First, we wrote alumni and we asked them to pledge not to give money to Harvard until a living wage was implemented. To this point, over 100 alumni have notified Harvard of their support for a living wage. Second, we held a rally, designed to show the support for the campaign beyond the university, which was attended by over 200 people from dozens of labor, community, and religious organizations. Both tactics have increased the number of avenues through which Harvard is being pressured.
One typical aspect of student campaigns we rejected is negotiations with the administration. Not only are we in no position to negotiate contracts for employees, but we simply are not qualified to bargain with lawyers who make a career out of finding legal loopholes. While it is of course important to be in contact with the administration, it is also necessary to maintain an antagonistic relationship.
Negotiations have another problem. They have a tendency to create an elite sub-group who possess the vast majority of the information, thus leading to an internal power disparity and, eventually, a stagnating campaign. Keeping our demands as simple and clear as possible while focusing on actions-concrete things to do-has allowed students to join in the middle of the semester and immediately become involved in the campaign.
Through the power we hold as students working in coalition with workers, faculty, alumni, community and religious organizations, and unions, we can force Harvard to implement a living wage.
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