A letter delivery is a planned, usually in-person, event where representatives from a group or campaign deliver a letter to a manager or business. The letter explains the issue and what they would like the organisation to change.
Letter deliveries have been used as a tactic by groups for a long time such as:
- In 1938 William Cooper, Aboriginal elder and activist, led a delegation of members from the Australian Aboriginal League to the German consulate in Melbourne to deliver a letter protesting the violence of the Nazis against Jewish people.
- In 2001 the Australian group Rainforest Information Centre shared a letter on the internet to protest Westdeutsche Landesbank’s support for a new heavy oil pipeline in Ecuador.
More recently in Australia, the Stop Adani campaign has used this tactic frequently and effectively. For example, many local Stop Adani groups delivered letters to bank managers at HSBC asking for a commitment to stop funding any works related to the construction or development of the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine.
What is a letter delivery?
A letter delivery is an event that is usually held in-person. At this event, a group of people deliver a letter directly to a corporate or government target. These letters can be written specifically by an individual group, or else amend a template letter which can be shared among other groups to deliver to the relevant targets (e.g., bank branches) in their local communities. The letter should contain a key ask, an explanation of why the group is asking for a response. While most letter deliveries events involve people physically handing over a hard copy of the letter to managers or staff, during the Covid pandemic some letter delivery events were also held online.
Some groups also combine a letter delivery with a rally or photo opportunity outside the location where they are delivering the letter. These events can include people holding banners for photographs, speeches and chants, and can also include a choir.
Video “The #StopAdani Choir at HSBC letter delivery Melbourne” by Stop Adani. View on their Vimeo channel at https://vimeo.com/569235702
How is a letter delivery organised?
Letter deliveries can be organised independently by a single group, or networks of groups working together on a shared issue. There are a set of key questions that need to be considered before designing a letter delivery event:
- What will the letter say?
- Who will sign the letter?
- Will the letter be open (e.g., available for anyone to sign) or closed (e.g., just for the group or selected individuals to sign)?
- Who will deliver the letter?
- How and when will it be delivered?
- What will happen if there is no one to deliver it to?
- Will the letter delivery event incorporate other elements, such as a rally, banner holding photograph, flyering or other?
Once these elements have been confirmed, the event can then be organised. Some letter deliveries are only promoted to members of a specific group, while other letter deliveries may invite the general public to join as well.
Some letter deliveries require a lot of time before delivery in order to invite additional stakeholders to sign the letter. For example, a group may write a letter, then circulate this (online or offline) with an invitation for others to also add their signature.
One example of this approach is the letter delivery action organised by a group called ‘ShareAction’. This group wrote a letter in July 2021 to be sent to banks around the world. The letter described the many reasons why banks should align their financial activities with the Paris agreement framework. The letter was uploaded to a webpage which was then circulated to investors and investor groups around the world, inviting them to add their signature to the list. A total of 115 investors signed the letter, which they were then able to send directly on to banks of their choice (either as a printed hard copy or online version).
What resources do you need to organise a letter delivery?
The critical component of a letter delivery event is the letter itself.
- Draft the letter
While some groups write their own letters, some campaigns may offer letter templates which can be adapted for use by individual groups. For example, Move Beyond Coal provides a template letter which can be downloaded directly from the Move Beyond Coal website:
- Sign the letter
Once the letter has been drafted, it can be signed by the individual group, or circulated to multiple groups alongside an invitation to sign.
- Deliver the letter
A small group of people will be required to enter the target building, request time to speak to the manager, and then deliver the letter. If there is no manager available, then the letter can be delivered to staff, ‘posted’ under a door, or sent via email afterwards. Some groups also chose to inform local media about the letter delivery event.
- Complete any associated events
While most letter deliveries are small, unobstructive events, some groups combine a letter delivery with a photo opportunity, where supporters stand outside the building with a banner/posters while the letter is delivered. Others may also organised a large rally around the letter delivery event. However, these additional activities are not required for letter delivery events.
- Promote and follow up
Once the letter has been delivered, groups can choose a variety of follow up actions. For example, appointments with bank managers for follow up conversations can be requested, as well as holding post-delivery flyering and rallies. Group members, supporters and the general public can be informed if the letter delivery target/s chose not to address the issue or refuse to speak further with advocates.
Most important resource:
- Signed copy of the letter
- Small group of people to enter building and deliver letter
Additional possible resources:
- Flyers, banners, posters (if an associated photo op or rally will be also included)
- Audio equipment (for associated rally)
- Photography/video equipment
- Media release to circulate to local/national media prior to the event
One example where a letter delivery was combined with a large rally was the JPMorgan Tar Sands rally. A very large network of environmental groups in the United States delivered a letter to JPMorgan Chase Bank during a Shareholder Meeting in 2019 and combined this with a rally. Their request was for the bank to divest from Tar Sands and other fossil fuels. They also provided a media release and circulated this to media companies before the letter delivery, took extensive video coverage of the event and then produced a video for public viewing on YouTube.
Video of letter delivery and rally at JPMorgan Chase bank, Chicago, 2-19. Rising Tide Chicago and Rainforest Action Network. “Soft Cage” YouTube account, video titled ‘Activism Now Stop Line 3’. 26 May 2019.
What have letter deliveries achieved?
Letter deliveries can be a very powerful action, as they provide the opportunity for groups to speak directly with powerholders such as bank managers. While ascertaining the exact effect of letter deliveries is difficult, local groups active in the Stop Adani campaign collectively delivered letters to hundreds of different targets, which, combined with other actions, have resulted in over 100 companies ruling out working with Adani.
The example highlighted above demonstrates how letter deliveries also offer opportunities for people to share their values without necessarily engaging directly in activist groups. The ShareAction letter was signed by 115 investors. Another example from the United States comes from farmers, who signed a letter requesting solutions to the climate crisis.
More generally, a number of outlets have written about the rise of digital activism, and attempted to ascertain how successful it is compared to offline actions. Here are some articles for future reading:
- “The Second Act of Social Media Activism”, Jane Hu, The New Yorker, 3/9/2022
- “How to ensure your online activism has an offline impact”, Natasha Pinon, Mashable, 3/12/2019
What are the benefits of a letter delivery?
There are a number of benefits of doing a letter delivery:
- Lots of people can sign on. The tactic can be used to then encourage people to join the group and get involved
- Letters are easy to sign. They offer people a low-cost, low-risk way to get involved in an issue without feeling pressured or nervous
- Targets can see on a letter how many people have signed very quickly. This demonstrates people power quickly and efficiently.
Letters can be organised and delivered both online and offline. As a result, this makes them accessible to more people, and more likely to reach a more diverse audience. This can help enable people to remain involved in the campaign even when locked down during the Covid-19 pandemic.
- “You can’t eat money”: An interview with Extinction Rebellion activist Jo Flanagan
- How to present a petition to Parliament
- Tactics resources in the Commons Library
- The real action is your target’s reaction, Beautiful Trouble Toolbox