Forest sell-off: Social media celebrates victory

by Avinash Saxena

 38 degrees website

The 38 Degrees website’s Save our Forest campaign. Photograph: 38degrees.org.uk

“Victory! Government to scrap plans to sell our forests,” declared theFacebook page of 38 Degrees on Thursday morning, as hundreds ofsocial media users posted their congratulations on the site in the wake of the government climbdown.
The jubilation was repeated on Twitter, where the saveourforests hashtag garnered thousands of tweets.
The campaign group – the name 38 Degrees comes from the angle of the tipping point that triggers an avalanche – was one of the key opponents of the privatisation proposals. The group raised money for aYouGov poll that found 84% of people were opposed to the government plans, and set up a petition that achieved 533,053 signatures.
Many of the campaign’s Facebook supporters saw the government U-turn as a victory for “people power”.
“Great to know the online petitions do help,” posted Sara Hancock.
David Babbs, executive director of 38 Degrees, agreed. “This was a real team effort,” he said. “This is the story of an awful lot of people getting together and changing the government’s mind.”
Other groups also helped to focus opposition to the sell-off online. Although the National Trust did not adopt an official position on the forestry plans, the charity – which has 3.8m members – played host to a vigorous debate on the plans through its website, and the Woodland Trust and others offered people the chance to sign the petition.
Social media and websites did not have the field to themselves, however – traditional media also played a key role. All of the national newspapers gave the story heavy coverage, and some carried letters from celebritiesand advertisements urging MPs to vote against the sell-off. The grilling of Caroline Spelman on television, in which she insisted that the media had misrepresented her plans, also helped to give an impression of a government caught off-guard.
The mobilisation of such a large opposition to a policy that ministers thought would pass under the radar, and the strength of the response, shocked David Cameron’s government. “It was a genuine cock-up on our part. We honestly did not think we would get this response,” said one Downing Street insider.
There may be more to come from “people power”. 38 Degrees has raised more than £100,000 for its campaigns in the last few months, including about £60,000 for advertisements on the forestry campaign and £25,000 for advertisements urging George Osborne to tackle tax avoidance, and there are plans to raise more. Members have also been discussing the government’s NHS reforms, which many are worried amount to a move towards privatisation, encouraging people to write to their MPs about the proposals.
Victory in the forests achieved, the activism will now take a new turn. “Tomorrow our members will start discussing what we campaign on next,” said Babbs. “There is space in the schedule now.”
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