Bears For Belarus – Lessons learnt from a popular and liberal campaign.

As many who read this blog know Liberal Youth recently launched the campaign Bears For Belarus, a reactionary campaign to the actions of Alexander Lukashenka, President of Belarus and often referred to as “Europe’s Last Dictator”. With press releases, blog posts for the Huffington Post and Lib Dem Voice being written I wish to take this opportunity to discuss a different aspect of the past month.

The site campaign began with an email thread between the International Committee, a handful of photos and as many views, yet has since grown beyond expectations. We now have over 18,000 views, international media coverage and politician support. On Friday the campaign received a big boost when Jeremy Browne MP and Foreign Office Minister sent in a picture, a real sign of success for the campaign.

With Liberal Youth’s largest fresher campaign just around the corner there are some lessons to be learnt from this campaign.

Firstly, that people should not underestimate Liberal Youth’s campaigning ability. The response from Executive Committee members and activists was phenomenal. As soon as I posted around for support, my twitter and facebook feeds were full of the campaign and the hashtag exploding. The ability of activists to mobilise on social media sites demonstrates the strengths of our organisation and this should be used for fresher campaigns. This allowed the campaign to gain momentum which ultimately gave us our first media coverage. From that foundation, the campaign was always headed in the right direction. This also seems a pretty good platform to say Thank You! The campaign would be nothing without this.

Secondly, the campaign highlighted the relationships within the Liberal Democrat Party Liberal Youth has, and how using the party can give a great boost to a campaign. MPs have been fantastic in their support, sending in pictures, retweeting and offering any assistance possible. With much being said about the gap between MPs and activists recently, this campaign has demonstrated anything but that. MPs recognised a liberal campaign in need of support and helped where possible, as they too were once activists like us! Jeremy Browne MP best demonstrates this. He came in to briefly meet with Liberal Youth regional activists who were receiving training, before ending up staying for near an hour, sharing stories of his time in Liberal Youth, later taking a picture for the campaign. Liberal Democrat politicians are assets that should not be ignored when campaigning. Furthermore there were many members of the party at all levels helping out, from HQ staff, through to councillors. The Liberal Democrats are an organisation there to help Liberal Youth, so use it.

Lastly, that a campaign with Liberal values at the heart of it can be popular. Liberal Youth have been told that our unpopularity and demise is unstoppable – which I for one am thoroughly fed up with. Liberal Democrats have been questioning our image and values during the Coalition and at times become stuck. Depsite this, if Bears For Belarus has proved anything, it is that liberal campaigns can still be popular. Defending human rights, freedom and democracy are at the core of our beliefs and cared about by the general public. We are the only party truly able to defend our record on human rights and freedoms, so let’s shout about it. This is why there is still a need and demand for the party. People never before involved in politics have taken part in this campaign and become engaged with the issue. With campaigns on drug policy reform and equal marriage lined up for Liberal Youth groups at Freshers, we should not forget that our generation are the most liberal yet, and our liberal values will come true when campaigning.

This campaign has been a joy to be part of, a humbling experience and left all involved with a sense of fulfilment. Reading the messages of support from Belarus has been truly heart warming and as clichéd as it may sound – has shown we really can make a difference.

By thinking outside of the box with campaigning techniques, using the party and remaining liberal, there is real hope for Liberal Youth in the future.

It doesn’t take much to start a campaign that can grow into something really special, in this case it took just a few young liberals and teddy bears.

So what are you waiting for?

With Fresher campaigns just around the corner it is your turn to campaign on an issue, because if you don’t, who will?

Sam Fisk is International Officer of Liberal Youth. He studies at the University of York.

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