How to Create a Human Rights Campaign in 10 Easy Steps

My stellar campaign team

Last summer, I participated in a campaign competition run by PSCORE (People for Successful COrean REunification).*  The purpose of the contest was to gather a group of individuals with varying skill sets into five teams, which would each put together their own human rights campaign.  The ideas and materials generated from the five teams would be used in Geneva, Switzerland, where the winning team would present North Korea’s atrocious human rights violations, run a street campaign, meet with other NGOs and interested parties, and organize awareness events during the United Nations Human Rights Council session.  For those of you who may participate in a similar competition in the future, or are interested in starting your own worthy campaign, I have compiled a list of the steps you need to take based on my vast experience working on part of one campaign.

1.  Gather your campaign team

Need a ukulele player?

You should make a list of potential teammates and their respective abilities, and decide in an objective manner who will contribute the most to your campaign.  Being objective is key, because you will obviously be more partial to choosing your friends than actually qualified people.  And while your friend Susie may be a wonderful person who can play the ukulele and recite Shakespearean poetry on command, you should think about how useful she will be to your human rights campaign.  Also, it’s a good idea to find a group of people who have different skills.  For example, having ten people on your team who are all trilingual is great, but if none of them can present in public without an onset of paralytic fear, this could prove to be problematic.

You will eventually choose three teammates, and you will discover that between the four of you,  you can speak five languages and have varying degrees of knowledge in the areas of filmmaking, photography, art, computers, editing, and research.  You are feeling pretty positive about your group members and are now ready to embark on your campaign creation adventure.

2.  Create a fun team name

This will instill in your team a sense of unity, and if you are the one to come up with the name, you will receive props for your creativity and awesomeness.  You will all have different ideas and may end up wasting several minutes politely disagreeing with one another.  Eventually, you will half-heartedly settle on the name “NK Avengers.”  You will be pleased with yourselves for coming up with this cute, catchy, and culturally relevant name.  However, before you can give yourselves a congratulatory pat on the back, you will discover that two other teams have similar names and that you are not as original or as awesome as you had thought.

3.  Create a campaign slogan

Before jumping into campaign specifics, you should now create a campaign slogan.  This is what will go onto your printed material, website, etc. so it should also be catchy and thought-provoking.  You will suggest using the phrase “Never Again,” in reference to the pledge made by nations to never allow events as atrocious as the Holocaust to happen again.  You will think that the haunting reference and solemnity of the slogan is effective yet simple.  However, your team will completely shut you down and inform you that this phrase is over-used and cliché, and has therefore lost its original gravitas and weight.  You will end up agreeing on two slogans: the Dr. Seuss-ian “No More Silence, No More Violence!” and the accompanying “Say it Forward.”  Everyone will be happy with these slogans, although you may secretly feel wounded that nobody wants to use your suggestion.

4.  Agree on some campaign ideas

You have a team name and a slogan and are feeling pretty good about yourself.  Well, don’t.  Because now the hard work begins.  Your team will need to come up with real ideas to raise awareness about North Korean human rights violations.  One of your ideas will be to create two posters with photos of the many diverse faces of your supporters.  The first poster will state the slogan, “No More Silence,” and the participants will cover their mouths to indicate their lack of free speech while also implying that the less people speak out, the more violence will continue unabated.  The second poster will have these same faces, except they will be shouting instead of covering their mouths, indicating their desire to be heard.  The caption for this poster will be your second slogan, “Say it Forward.”  You have other ideas as well, but your teammates do not seem to recognize you for the creative genius you know you are.  Do not be discouraged.  You can only improve yourself after several of your peers have politely told you that all of your ideas are bad.  You will be better and stronger because of this.  So embrace the negativity.

5.  Wrangle the participants

Most street campaigns will involve the participation of passersby, in the case of a fundraising game or activity, or the organization of participants in advance, in the case of a flash mob.  In the latter case, you will need to wrangle an appropriate number of people who are willing and able to participate.  Do not be afraid to reject people, though.  If you are choreographing a dance-based flash mob and your friend Joe really wants to participate but has the rhythm and moves of a drunk gorilla, you should assign him to photocopying flyers and choose someone else for your flash mob.

Bad dancers need not apply

For your street campaign, one of your ideas will be to ask passersby to get their photos taken in the manner explained in Step 4 as an awareness-raising activity.  You will need some models, or anyone with free time who you can guilt into participating, to test out the effectiveness of this idea.  You will decide to trap all of your co-workers in your office – if there is only one exit, this task will not be difficult –  and explain your idea, the overall goals for your campaign, and why you need their help.  Reactions will most likely be positive, mainly because they are good people, but also because they are narcissists.

6.  Conduct an amateur photo shoot

No More Silence

Doing a photo shoot is a good idea because it can help raise awareness among your peers, the results can be used in promotional materials, and it’s just hilarious.  You will try to capture at least two photos of each of your twelve co-workers (more than two, in the case of a few co-workers who prove to be grossly incompetent portrait subjects).  And surprisingly, the whole process will take less than fifteen minutes!  This high level of efficiency will be due to the fact that:

1.  Most of your co-workers are well-versed about the cause your campaign is promoting and are willing to participate in any project that will raise awareness about these human rights violations.

2.  Some of your co-workers are models / actors and so have become habituated to having a belligerent and bossy lady barking orders and screaming reprimands at them for their poor hand positioning.

3.  They all love attention and will find it flattering that you want to take their photos.  You should make a huge effort to sufficiently stroke their egos, even if the result seems flirtatious or just awkward (“No, you look great.  You don’t have kimchi in your teeth.”  “Oh really?  You’ve been in other photo shoots before?  I can tell!”).

Photo shoot with Jessica

You will finish your shoot feeling satisfied.  Your co-workers may have taken some artistic liberties with the second set of photos, and so their emotive states will vary from elated to constipated to completely terrified.  You will realize that conducting your photo shoot at work was a fantastic idea because you wasted time while appearing both professional and productive with your over-sized camera, look of ferocity, and authoritative demeanour.  Also, it was much more fun than photocopying ESL worksheets on subject-verb agreement.

Photo shoot with Barry

7.  Create promotional materials

You now have photos and good ideas for your campaign, so you should begin promoting your campaign to everyone that isn’t already tired of hearing about it.  Use every means available to you, including SNS, posters, flyers, pamphlets, and word-of-mouth.  Your co-workers will see the photos you took of them and may want to backtrack on having them used in your campaign, so it’s a good thing you made them sign a contract before the photo shoot.

While you are partially disillusioned with the state of humanity and have no faith that anyone will want to participate in your campaign events, you are also confident that the bright colours and snazziness of your posters and pamphlets will attract those human beings with their souls still intact.

 8.  Check over the fruits of your labour

No entiendo computers

You have everything ready for your campaign – promotional material, scheduled events, etc. –  and you just have to check over your work one last time.  You will present your campaign ideas to the selection committee next week and are feeling nervous.  Your team has placed you in charge of editing the PowerPoint presentation, and from this experience, you will discover two things about yourself:

1. You have the computer skills of a three-year-old.

2. You can’t spell the word “campaign.”  It is spelt three different ways throughout your PowerPoint, and you can’t figure out which way is correct, as you have never typed out that word in big blue letters before.  You know there’s a “g” in there somewhere, but now it looks awkward and French, and you’re not sure why.

Also, you realize that your campaign slogan is different on every poster, and you now have to inoffensively tell the Korean speaker who edited all of your posters that he has to go back and change them.  You would do it yourself, but you are too embarrassed to admit you don’t know how to use Photoshop, and you don’t actually remember what the original slogan was supposed to be.

9.  Scrap everything

You are feeling confident.  You are ready to present your campaign ideas, which will of course be lauded by your peers who will all recognize your brilliance.  Then, your team leader will come to you with some disturbing news.  She has talked to the NGO’s director and explained your ideas to him, and he seems confused by the whole thing.  He isn’t sure how the posters and photo-taking sessions will be connected to the various activities you have planned, and he doesn’t think your plan is original or well-organized.  She will suggest that you guys scrap everything and try to come up with a new plan.  You hate everything.

I hate everything!

10.  Start from scratch

Go back to Step 3 and repeat the process without ripping all of your hair out.**


*PSCORE recently lost its funding and is trying to appeal to different sources for a resumption of this funding, which is necessary for the continuation of its education and cultural programs for North Korean defectors.  Please sign this petition to support them in their efforts.  Thanks!

**Despite the frustrations listed above, the campaign at the UN Human Rights Council was very successful.  Our team leader, Dominica, was selected as one of the final team members for the Geneva campaign.  She has written an iCNN report about her experience and her views on the current North Korean crisis.


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