A recipe for social change: “hit the phones and the pavement”

The very excellent Civil Eats site posted a fascinating story last week that tells the behind-the-scenes tale of how San Francisco city council was persuaded to implement the so-called “Happy Meal ban”—placing limits on restaurants that use toys to bribe children to eat their unhealthy food. (Check out my blog post on the victory here.)

Turns out, it wasn’t the power of Twitter or cell phone video reporting or Facebook friends that made the difference. Value [the] Meal campaign director Judy Grant (working for Corporate Accountability International) told Civil Eats they did their organizing  “the old-fashioned way – we hit the phones and the pavement.”

They built coalitions and supported grassroots activism, they got doctors on-board who could testify to the impact of junk food on children’s health and wellbeing, and they joined forces with Bayview Food Guardians, activists from a low-income neighborhood who spoke about the on- the-ground reality of trying to combat the onslaught of fast food marketing aimed at them and their children.

The story made me think about Malcolm Gladwell’s controversial piece in The New Yorker a few weeks back about the limitations of social networking as a tool for social change.

While no one is denying the power and effectiveness of social networking and new technologies, it’s only part of the puzzle when it comes to organizing. In order to truly mobilize people we still have to get off our computers, go out into the world and talk to one another.

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