Community Organizing During COVID
From the Nest, Issue 6
by IELECT Hamilton
It began with a couple of face-to-face meetings with a few dozen people who knew each other in January and February of 2020. The catalyst was an op-ed in the Hamilton Spectator in December 2019 about “civic sadness”.
It turned out it was something many were feeling brought on by the endless scandals at City Hall of the Red Hill Valley Parkway, Sewergate, violence at Pride and Council’s reaction to it, the employment of an alleged white supremacist in the IT department, and many more. It wasn’t so much that scandals were new, but it was the seemingly endless parade of them, one after the other.
Even people who were used to reading about problems with City Hall had to admit that Hamilton Council was producing more than their usual number of them. Was frustration turning into anger? Could anger be channelled into action?
Our first meeting was held on a cold, dark, January night, not the most hospitable weather for a meeting. But everyone showed up. As the meeting got started, each person was asked to respond to a simple question – Why did you agree to attend this meeting? The answers were filled with emotion. In fact, they ended up laying the groundwork for what would become IELECT Hamilton.
Notes were taken of what people said. Then, the notes were read back to the group. Here are just some of the words and phrases people used –
- Tired by what I see
- Toxic culture at City Hall
- Deeply concerned
- Tired of being tired
Collectively, we knew we needed to do something to try to make our city better, but we didn’t know yet what form that might take.
Our second meeting three weeks later sharpened our focus. That’s where we decided on our vision – new leadership for a better Hamilton. It would be about working to change who sat at the Council table and about realizing a better Hamilton.
The IELECT name followed from the vision. We wanted something memorable, but also something that would describe what we were trying to do. IELECT consists of the first letter of six municipal priorities our research told us all cities across Canada deal with – Infrastructure, Economy, Leadership, Environment, Community, and Transportation.
We defined each priority so they would be meaningful to all residents, no matter which Ward they lived in. We believed it was important for all Hamiltonians to be able to find themselves in both the priorities and the work we were about to undertake. We scheduled our third meeting for the middle of March, 2020.
That meeting never happened.
Little did we know less than two weeks after our second meeting, COVID would change all our lives. Certainly, COVID slowed us down, but it did not shut us down. Emails, phone calls, online meetings, socially distanced updates and recruitment replaced face-to-face coffees and small and large group meetings. Branding was completed. Research on issues was done. A website was created. Videos were made.
We developed a Resident Survey that asks people for feedback about their own experiences within each of our six priority areas. We officially incorporated as a registered not-for-profit. We set up a bank account. We made the decision to not create a slate of candidates, nor to endorse any candidates, but rather to help voters make informed choices about all candidates, including incumbents.
Then, on Saturday, May 22, we launched IELECT Hamilton with a full-page colour ad in the Hamilton Spectator.
Every media outlet, except CBC Hamilton, covered our launch — newspapers, radio, television, online. In our first four weeks we received hundreds of volunteer sign-ups. Raised tens of thousands of dollars. Added an incredible number of followers on our three social media platforms. Received an overwhelming response to our Resident Survey.
To say we were buoyed by the response would be an understatement. We were thrilled. So many have told us they’re grateful something is being organized to help build a better Hamilton.
We continue to organize, and to act, all within the limitations presented by COVID. We’re confident that between now and the municipal election on October 24, 2022 we’ll be able to gather face-to-face to discuss ideas, issues, and candidates. Tons of work ahead, but we believe building a better Hamilton is worth the effort.
IELECT Hamilton is a registered non-profit organization with a simple vision – new leadership for a better Hamilton
If you’d liked more information about IELECT Hamilton, please visit ielecthamilton.ca and be sure to sign up for updates, get in touch to volunteer, complete the Resident Survey, and perhaps make a donation to help us with our work.