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Taking the election message to the streets

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As the election draws nearer, more and more people are getting interested in what's going on -- and what it's going to mean for their personal and collective futures.

In this context, I thought I'd report a bit on my personal experiences passing out election propaganda.

But, unlike what you might think, that doesn't mean I'm campaigning for any political party.

I'm actually passing out copies of the rabble rouser, the weekly election flyer from rabble. I made 40 copies of the first issue, 60 of the second, and made 150 or so of the third edition. The last issue is ready for download...

Each week, I've just gone to the main street near where I live, that has a good amount of foot traffic as well as a lot of small businesses (including a number of coffee shops).

I'll walk down the street with copies in my hand, and ask people whether they're interested in the election, or if they'd like a paper about the election. Sometimes I'll mention "independent media coverage of the election" in my three-second pitch, but most often that'll only come up if they express interest.

I've found that when I'm walking, people are a lot more receptive than if I'm just standing on the corner -- it seems that when people are coming towards you, and you're just standing there and they see you trying to hand stuff out to people, they prepare an automatic "no thanks," whereas if you're "on the go" and just happen to be passing stuff out on your way, they either don't judge you the same way or just don't have time to do that judgement.

So I would guess that it's probably at least a 50 per cent pick up rate when I'm moving. Maybe like 25 per cent if I'm standing still.

I've also been going into the coffee shops I mentioned, I'll just walk in and go up to people sitting in the shop with their drinks, asking them if they'd like to read something else about the election. A lot of times people are receptive. I skip people who are too engrossed in conversation or with their computers. And I usually leave one or two (or more) if there's a place where people might pick them up.

There's been some good feedback. One person happened to be in the same coffee shop two weeks in a row (actually sitting in the same seat), and was very pleased to be getting the "new issue," especially given that it had 25 election websites listed on it (he had his computer in front of him). Another person, although she initially declined the paper saying that she got her news from the tablet she had with her, changed her mind and accepted the paper when I showed her the list of websites in the paper.

People's reaction on the streets is often positive, beyond just saying "yes." I explain to them that it's from Canada's most-visited online independent media site, and that seems to raise the value of what they're getting -- they'll say they'll check it out online. One woman was extremely interested in what kind of content was on the site, especially in terms of multimedia. When I was talking with her, it was cool to be able to describe rabble as "10 years old today" and get into discussion about the 2001 Quebec City protests against the FTAA.

Now, I live in a riding that's a pretty safe NDP seat. Maybe elsewhere, you won't get as many 'as long as it's not for Harper' responses to the question of whether they'd like a paper. But even here, I think it serves a good purpose of connecting people to this alternate news/analysis media source which most have never heard of.

When people get something like this, there's always the chance that they'll spread the word, and often that means via email or social media, which can reach people in various ridings throughout the country. And I'll also sometimes find out through conversation that the person I'm talking with is actually from out of the riding where we're standing.

I'm wondering how many others are actually engaging in this kind of outreach -- one that doesn't specifically promote a certain party, but does get an alternative message out about the election.

On the Facebook event, a few people initially posted about what they were doing with copies they printed. But when I posted on babble about this, it was pretty much dead silence -- so I was wondering if people are taking up the opportunity that the rabble rouser project offers to them (maybe the babblers aren't a representative sampling of the population?)

If you've been distributing copies of the rabble rouser, please add any experiences you've had as a comment below! (Or even add a comment if you haven't been doing it yet:)

Greg Macdougall is an activist/educator/writer based in Ottawa. He is the producer (aka layout person) of the rabble rouser. He is also a member of the provincial anarchist organization Common Cause, and wants to be clear that his role in producing the rouser is not affiliated with his membership in Common Cause -- a group which has taken a clear 'anti-election/anti-voting' position that is elaborated on at http://genuinechange.info

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