Music, food and dressing up - sounded like a party to me! Except for my fellow Oxfam volunteers and me, one drizzly Sunday in Manchester, the party was at Manchester City's ground and the music came courtesy of huge Oxfam supporters Coldplay. We did dress up, and we were there to talk about food - specifically, the broken food system.
GROWing for Coldplay
Having been a long-time Oxfam campaigner, the opportunity to share the message of GROW with Coldplay fans was too good to miss. Always happy to spare a few hours to spread the word about an issue I care about or collect signatures for petitions, this tour had an extra special appeal: Coldplay wanted us there so we could do them and Oxfam proud.
The 20+ strong team of volunteers met at the stadium for a briefing under heavy clouds, the passion of the Oxfam tour staff evident despite doing this night after night for months at a time. With key messages in tow, we tucked ourselves into foody costumes, armed ourselves with tablets, badges and stickers, and set off to grow more support for Oxfam's campaign for food justice.
A ridiculous chilli fact: prices of chillies increased so dramatically that the Indonesian government had to distribute free chilli seeds to enable families to cook with this staple ingredient.
Pitch side pitching for Oxfam
Dressed as a chilli, I descended the steps with fellow volunteer, V, into the stadium and onto the pitch to mingle with the Coldplay fans and talk food.
Campaigning can often be very hard work; many people immediately assume you must want money. But as soon as the audience heard about Coldplay's longstanding support for Oxfam, any barriers went down and we had some great conversations and got lots of support. There are always going to be some people more wary than others, but the Manchester crowd was receptive, and we were soon finding our typing skills couldn't quite keep up with the number of people ready to put their names to the Grow petition to show
support for the millions of smallholder farmers across the globe.
500 million smallholder farmers feed 1/3 of the world's population
"That's out of order!" one young person said on hearing the various issues facing smallholder farmers all over the world, and the growing power of super agri-businesses (did you know, three companies control almost 90% of the world's grain?) Knowing you've engaged someone with important campaign messages is always rewarding, but when it's a young person it ignites a particularly special spark of hope; they are the leaders of tomorrow and are essential in the fight for a sustainable food future for all.
Amidst patches of drizzle and sunshine, V and I collected over 100 signatures and felt uplifted by the positive response from young and old. As well as being a great excuse to dress up and talk about Oxfam, I learned new insights about myself… apparently I am competitive against arbitrary targets! Although 80 sign-ups would have been very respectable, I was not going to rest until we'd surpassed 100. And we did!
It's the talk that counts
But more importantly, as volunteers and campaigners, we became part of the journey towards a fairer food system. By talking to people of all backgrounds, ages and political persuasions, we encouraged others to take the step and join us on that journey. Discussions ranged from where their food comes from, to why we should think about the food choices we make, or about the global trade systems that continue to be unfair, unjust and unsustainable.
We met couples who buy local, kids who shop fairtrade, groups who wanted to know more. And that's why campaigning is so important to Oxfam's work; campaigning opens the gateway for discussion. Great campaigning allows you to talk about the issues, answer questions, and hopefully squash a few myths and misconceptions along the way.
By 9pm, and after a lot of talking, we were safely stowed into seats and ready for the big act. The lights went down and the wrist-bands lit up...
But like a true Oxfam-campaigning-geek, the highlight for me actually came with every close up of Coldplay guitarist, Johnny Buckland... the proud green Oxfam logo displayed in the corner of his t-shirt was empowering and uplifting. The future depends on those who live in plenty standing in solidarity with the world's poorest, and on a rainy Sunday in Manchester we did just that.
Coldplay, we thank you - let's hope the campaign continues to GROW in strength and success.
It's very easy to get involved and start your own GROW journey.