DiverseCity Blog

School4Civics – pulling back the curtain on political engagement

Aug 7, 2013 |

by Alejandra Bravo

When we put out a call in April to be part of our upcoming series of School4Civics boot camps, workshops and networking events, we were pleased to see the broad interest in getting involved in political life. How did we judge who was a good fit for the program? Rather than have a cumbersome application process, we figured that the people in the room are the right people, because they were willing to show up on a Saturday in the summer and participate in political training. We now have a group of 60 who committed to give up some of their weekends and evenings.

It’s inspiring to meet people from across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) who are this committed and interested in making their communities better. While they come from different places, politically, when they come together, they see that the political spectrum in Canada isn’t actually that wide.

People who get involved in politics can get a bit of a bad rap. What gets lost sometimes is that they’re some of our most engaged, committed and civic-minded people. In most cases, people who get involved in politics have already been active in their communities, volunteering, sitting on boards, and contributing in other ways. When they get involved in politics, they are really putting themselves and their families out there in a way that most people can’t imagine. So, we celebrate the commitment that these people are making. And we want to prepare them in the best way possible.

Pulling back the curtain – why there’s a need for a political training program

You can go through one or two political campaigns before you fully understand what you and your team should be doing. While our training covers the basics of a campaign, our main focus is to dive into the essentials that no one really ever gets taught. We’re revealing the mysteries of campaigns. Demystifying political campaigns will equip people to participate and demonstrate what they’re capable of with a lot more knowledge and more effectively.

We’re focused on a long-term vision, helping people gain skills around planning, recruiting and retaining volunteers, fundraising and positioning their own leadership inside a political machine. We’re helping them build their political leadership in the longer term. Our goal is to turn people interested in elections into lifers – people who are going to seek to make change in the political and electoral process, time and time again. We don’t want people to show up once, unequipped and unprepared for what they need to do and feel marginalized because they don’t have the information insiders have, and then not participate again.

For a person who’s coming without any previous political experience, it provides a real revelation of what it’s actually like to work on a political campaign. For example, how do you make the choices that you make in a campaign? How do you choose your messages, where to concentrate your energies, especially if you have limited capacity, money, people and time?

Our participatory, hands-on approach really engages people. The first two boot camps have been great. Participants didn’t want to stop for lunch. I had to kick a group out of the room at the end of the day because they just wanted to keep talking, engaging, connecting, sharing and learning together.

Boot camp 1 – learning from the experts

Building Capacity for Electoral VictorySean Meagher, a trainer from Public Interest, was able to compress and present the critical pieces of campaign planning – all of the pieces you need before you get started – in an accessible, understandable way.

View a visual overview of his presentation.
Download the presentation.

Rocco Rossi was our politician guest speaker. He has a wide range of experience and political career, from volunteering on campaigns, to leading the federal Liberals, to running for mayor and as a provincial MP with the Conservative Party. He gave a very candid talk about what his experience was like running for mayor.

Boot camp 2 – preparing for your campaign

The second School4Civics boot camp took place on a sunny, hot Saturday. Despite the weather and the many distractions the city has to offer, we had a packed house for two distinct workshops, “Campaign Planning Principles” and “Digital Campaign Tools.”

Diane O’Reggio, the first Black woman to lead a political party (the NDP) in Ontario, and now Executive Director of Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), shared the principles of planning for a campaign, drawing from her own experience and from publicly available resources such as those offered by Wellstone.

Campaign Planning - Diane O'ReggioDiane covered the what of a campaign plan, key roles for developing a plan, its elements and key questions to ask. Participants learned about the importance of research, developing a message, and campaign communications. She also covered the essentials of voter contact, creating a campaign budget and fundraising, and how to manage tight timelines.

View a visual overview of her presentation.
Download the presentation.

The second workshop was lead by Chris Cowperthwaite and Adel Boulazreg and focused on the use of digital tools to mobilize communities. Among other things, they discussed how to develop your platform, knock on doors (online!), and how to analyze data and adapt your campaign approach based on your findings.

You can watch a previous version of their presentation, made at the Building Blocks Learning Exchange, earlier this year.

Getting involved, but not always winning

In training, there is tendency to showcase people who have succeeded or only to share successful practice. But there’s nothing more instructive and compelling than someone telling a story about not quite making it, while reflecting on their experience and sharing those insights.

In boot camp 1, Rocco Rossi candidly shared his experience, including reflecting on mistakes and how he might have done things differently. This is true of all our trainers, who often draw their most powerful lessons from failure.

For us, this is part of pulling back the curtain. We think that the point with political engagement isn’t always to run and win all the time, but to try. The reality is, you’re going to fail more often than not. Only one candidate will win. It’s the engagement and the effort that really matters – and what you do afterwards.

Related links:

Sonny Cho: a campaign 20 years in the making

Jul 25, 2013 | ,

by Alejandra Bravo

sonnyPoliticians are the most visible of leaders in our society, but they don’t always reflect the diversity of talent found in our communities. This is at odds with the attitudes of residents in the Greater Toronto Area, who would like to see a more diverse group represent them at all levels of government.

Sonny Cho has been involved in politics for over 20 years. He is an active member of the Willowdale community, running a business and being involved in politics for decades. Recently, he launched a campaign to seek the nomination to run for the federal Liberal party in the 2015 election.

As part of our series chronicling the individual journeys of School4Civics participants, I asked Sonny to tell us more about why he decided to become politically involved.

When did you first get involved in politics?

I have been interested in politics since I first started watching political debates as a kid in Korea. I got involved in Canadian politics in the mid 80s when Premier David Peterson wanted to connect with diverse communities and get them more actively involved in Canadian politics.

I wanted to be part of this and became one of the young people who signed up to reach out, encouraging new Canadians and Canadians of diverse communities to become engaged for the first time.

What drives you to seek a nomination?

We are in an exciting time in Canada. There is a feeling I believe across the country that the time has come to change course and reconnect with what makes Canada the country we all love so much. Government shouldn’t be about executing a political agenda; it should be about serving our society as a whole with a thoughtful understanding of the needs of all Canadians.

I recognize that I have an opportunity to be part of changing the political culture in Canada. I want to be sure that the voices of Willowdale, with all of our unique needs and ideas, are a big part of that change.

What do you think it means for a political party to have people from diverse backgrounds running?

It means different things to different people; but to me it means being more than just a member of a party or a source of votes. It means being part of a diverse party that is truly and honestly welcoming everyone to the table and reaping all of the benefits that come from inclusive politics.

Diversity is one of the things that define Canada, and I am very proud to be associated with a party and a leader that understands that after the votes are counted, we are all Canadians.

What does it mean for the community?

It means that our entire community has an opportunity to be represented and appreciated and that the issues that make us unique are equally as important as the issues that make us the same. I am committed to representing our entire community; and with the help and support of Willowdale we can all go to Ottawa together.

What has it meant for you to be part of the School4Civics network?

It means a lot. I want to applaud the vision and commitment of the leaders that started this project and their continued support of good candidates that may not have otherwise been able to take that leap forward.

It means tremendous support through training workshops, networking sessions, information and meeting inspirational leaders. It made such a huge difference in building my confidence as a candidate. I have received valuable training on topics that even major political parties do not offer, thus making me a more qualified candidate.


For a deeper dive into why it all matters, read The Diversity Gap: The Electoral Under-Representation of Visible Minorities by Myer Siemiatyck

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