How LeadNow plans to fight the "stunning erosion of Canada's democracy"
Jamie Biggar and Adam Shedletzky at a LeadNow meeting. Photo credit: Adam Shedletzky.
Community organizing 2.0: lean, mean, and online
Despite the momentum, LeadNow co-founder and board member Adam Shedletzky said that the organization had a life-or-death moment last winter, when funds were running low. However, after a highly successful campaign against the controversial crime bill, thousands of Canadians donated enough money to keep the organization and its campaigns running.
The organization's three full time staff members now work virtually, communicating and collaborating online.
"You make progress on initiatives and launch campaigns with very limited budgets," Shedletzky said. They're not in it for the money, he said. He knows: he worked full time at LeadNow for free before taking a step back to join the board of directors and go to law school.
Shedletzky had saved money from working as a management consultant for a few years after university, and planned to go to West Africa to learn French and do community development volunteering. He then intended to go to law school.
After the Copenhagen conference and subsequent long phone calls and email exchanges with Biggar, Shedletzky said he began to wonder if there was an even more important project to develop in Canada.
A few days before his trip, he canceled all his plans to help Biggar develop LeadNow.
He deferred law school for a year and went to work getting the organization get the funding it needed to launch officially.
High profile advisors offer mentorship and practical advice
The organization also depends on its pool of high-profile advisors, such as rabble.ca founder and publisher Judy Rebick, Canadian Auto Workers economist Jim Stanford, and Purpose.com director of strategy Alnoor Ladha, among others.
Rebick has been an advisor to Biggar since before he started LeadNow, back in 2008. She said she was struck by his collaborative leadership style.
"Jamie sees differences of opinion as a constructive and creative thing rather than as an attack on him, which is unusual in most left groups," she said. "I think he has a lot of integrity."
Rebick recalled going to a LeadNow demonstration in June at Courtenay BC, where about 150 people of all ages had gathered to lobby the Conservative MP.
She said that although the diversity in age groups is admirable, the organization still has room to develop, particularly in its cultural diversity. When asked how LeadNow is engaging with immigrant communities across Canada, Biggar said that the organization is still figuring it out. Engaging more ethnic communities is one of the organization's biggest priorities, he said.
"We don't yet have great answers to that, besides the importance of connecting with and organizing with people in those communities, and then working on a peer-to-peer basis," he said.
He admitted that the way forward in engaging as many Canadians as possible without losing focus is one of the organization's biggest challenges.
He cited a LeadNow demonstration at Vancouver-Kingsway Conservative MP Ray Leung's constituency office which involved young Asian Canadians as a hopeful sign that more 1.5 and 2nd generation Canadians are getting politically involved, in a marked difference from their parents' generation.