Converting Dissatisfaction into People Power
In December 2017, moments after Tony Abbott abstained from casting a yes vote in the same-sex marriage plebiscite, Mark Kelly’s frustration reached its limit. “I’d just had enough. Here was a politician brazen enough to openly not care about the wishes of the people he represented. I emailed a bunch of friends in the community asking what are we going to do about Tony Abbott?”
The rest is history. Mark worked non-stop, drawing on every ounce of his marketing and merchandising expertise to create and oversee the Vote Tony Out campaign. Over the course of the 18months leading to May 2019’s federal election, VTO took on a life of unbeatable proportions, amassing huge support from passionate local residents sick and tired of the status quo. The momentum Mark generated paved the way for Zali Steggall to arrive perfectly in time for an electorate whose appetite for change had been whet for a year.
Jump ahead to 2021, and with the Australian political landscape in as close to a complete shambles as anyone can imagine, residents fervent for change all over Australia have begun reaching out to Mark, eager to apply the VTO principles that proved so effective in toppling a former PM to their own electorates. “I’ve been working with 7 electorates, all preparing for whenever the next federal election is called, setting the stage for a groundswell of support for change to lead the wave, and the for the best possible candidate to step forward when the time is right and have an extremely powerful platform for success.”
Mark’s ground up model of political campaigning, starting first with building a movement for change that people want to be a part of then worrying about finding a perfect candidate later, goes against all the usual machinations of contemporary politics where an individual is tasked with creating the buzz from the top down. And while Tony Abbott may have been able to shrug off the VTO’s growing popularity throughout 2018, when Zali Steggall stepped up to the contest in January 2019, Mark’s 12months of non-stop groundwork proved priceless, and no doubt played a very important role in the ultimate success of Zali’s race. “My strategy to encourage engagement is to simply start the conversation with as many people as possible, and with two straightforward questions; Why is your member for parliament in power? Do they represent you? The ability of that conversation starter, to not actively promote a certain candidate, but for people to question the sitting member’s fitness for office in the first place, helps move people to think more deeply about why someone is in power, and whether or not their actions truly represent the needs and wishes of the people. If a voter is unable to draw strong answers to these questions, if you’ve listened to them intently and not forced an alternate candidate down their throat, they’re far more likely to become passionate advocates for change themselves, fed up with the status quo they’ve been lumped with.”
The seven electorates where Mark’s VTO principles are set to be applied are all occupied by ‘moderate liberals’ whose representation of their constituents seems regularly to be in stark contrast with their commitment to LNP donors. These include Mackellar, North Sydney, Wentworth and Hume, where the Vote Angus Out (VAO) movement is up and running. If the Warringah example is a harbinger of things to come, seven incumbents should be very nervous about their political future right now.