I love podcasts. You can listen to campaigners, politicians and academics reflect on the biggest issues of the day, and what they’re doing to tackle them, all while going about your daily business – what’s not to love? Audio is (for many) more accessible than the written word, and podcasts give the busy campaigner bite-sized ideas to chew on. I’ve compiled 10 podcast episodes that I’ve enjoyed for your listening pleasure…
1. Esther Foreman, Director of the Social Change Agency based in North London, talks to strategist Jim Coe about email campaigning targeted at politicians, and its limitations (2016). Incidentally Jim’s podcast is the only podcast I know of that focuses on issue-based campaigning in the UK, and is well worth subscribing to.
2. Civil rights lawyer Lord Joel Joffe on Desert Island Discs (2007). From defending Mandela in apartheid South Africa to campaigning for the legislation of assisted dying here, Lord Joffe had a varied and fascinating career before his death this year. This interview is a good portrait of someone who spoke truth to power.
3. Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, talks to one of Obama’s key political operatives and journalist David Axelrod (2017). Since joining Planned Parenthood Richards has tripled the number active supporters to over ten million, and she is a leading voice in women’s health in the US. Here she talks about the battle to stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. What strikes me about this interview is Richards’ skilful use of statistics and stories to frame and position the issue she’s working on. (The Axe Files podcast is a treasure trove of interviews so picking just one was really hard!)
4. US academic Hahrie Han talks about her research on how organisations develop activists (2014). Han explains the difference between what she calls transactional mobilising and transformative organising, and shares her findings that the most effective organisations are blending the two approaches in order to win results now and in the future. A fascinating listen.
5. A discussion about John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice on Philosophy Bites (2010). A little left field possibly, but it’s useful to get philosophical about our work as campaigners from time to time. This is a short, accessible summary of a political philosophy that underpins today’s progressive politics: the idea that when designing a society, we should be ignorant of the social position we might occupy in it. This thought experiment, Rawls says, would lead us to choosing generous redistribution and social welfare policies. A good basis for our work as campaigners, it seems to me.
6. Radio 4’s The Long View is a great concept for a show: it compares contemporary social issues with moments from history. In this episode, the 1883 a grassroots organisation The Primrose League that secured votes for the Tories in countryside is compared with Momentum’s role in securing new members for Corbyn’s Labour party. A good study of how to use grassroots approaches to reach new audiences, and a reminder to look back in history from time to time.
7. Sasha Issenberg on the behavioural science behind winning elections (2014). Issenberg talks about the use of organised money and organised people in modern election campaigns, and how the evidence shows that volunteers are more effective than paid staff at gaining voters. The interview is a little dated now (a lot has changed in US politics since 2014!), but principles are still interesting and relevant, and apply as much to issue-based campaigns as to politics. I really like the emphasis on experimenting, learning and applying learning into the next campaign – something we could all do more of in our work.
8. Another Desert Island Discs episode, featuring Derby-born honour-based violence campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera (2013). Jasvinder shares her experience of facing a forced marriage at the age of 14, escaping it, and then being disowned by her family. This and her sister’s experience led her to start campaigning for stronger laws, and she was instrumental in the creation of the forced marriage criminal offence that came into effect after this interview in 2014. A powerful example of someone using their lived experience to create change.
9. Activist Alicia Garza talks about how the Black Lives Matter movement she co-founded began (2015). A lesson in how to channel profound rage into social change, and how traditional organising blended with new social media platforms can be used to bring others with you to great effect. It’s a shame this podcast has since been discontinued, it was really good.
10. Zeynep Tufekci talks to Buzzfeed about the proliferation of social movements enabled by social media platforms, and the response to them by governments. What I found particularly thought-provoking was the idea of censorship by the denial of attention. That is, where states like China are smother social movements by denying them attention, or creating a distraction elsewhere. I added her book Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest to my wishlist off the back of listening to her interview.
What podcasts have inspired you?