The Commons has been gathering perspectives on the role of elections as part of social change strategies; case studies of past campaigns; guides to different tactics relevant to elections; and tips for maintaining morale and wellbeing on the campaign trail. This guide focuses on stories: from struggles to win the vote to recent election campaigns.
In this resource guide we provide links to case studies regarding how activists have intervened in elections in order to raise issues, force policy change, undermine and defeat opponents, and raise questions about the nature of democracy.
Note that while the Commons Library links people up with resources to enable engagement with political structures and processes we do not endorse any particular strategy, political party or candidates.
Winning the Vote
A history of how First Nations people gained the vote via campaigns across Australia.
A short history of how activism gained the vote for women in South Australia and then others across the country.
Various classroom resources and an essay for people of all ages linking voting rights in Australia to activism undertaken by Chartists and others as well as the Eureka Stockade uprising of 1854.
Issues Campaigns at Elections
This article from the British Journal of Industrial Relations analyses and details how the Australian union movement campaigned against the Howard government’s WorkChoices labour reforms. It explores how the Your Rights at Work campaign intervened with a form of political organizing that had an electoral impact while responding to shifting state strategy and the limits of traditional union defences constituted by industrial action, legal protection and reliance on the Australian Labor Party.
A case study of the Franklin Dam campaign and how it combined non-violent direct action with lobbying and intervention in the 1983 Australian federal election to gain environmental protections.
This publication delves deeply into the history of the Franklin Dam campaign and the differing methods of organisations and tactics that activists used, including in relation to the 1983 election.
This article compares the tactics used by climate campaigners during the 2017 Queensland election with those used a century earlier by suffragettes in Britain and draws lessons from the experiences of both.
Campaigning for Candidates and to Shift Election Results
Australia reMADE shares insights into two successful independent campaigns from the 2019 Australian federal election.
Amanda Tattersall discusses how GetUp worked with locals in Launceston to successfully shift the seat of Bass during the Australian Federal Election in 2016. The accompanying podcast can be found here.
A conversation between Amanda Tattersall and GetUp national director Paul Oosting in which the pair discuss what GetUp learnt from the 2019 Federal Election campaign. Paul provides insights into the group’s tactics as well as what it’s like to operate under the pressure of media and political attack.
This case study, drawn from a presentation at 2021’s FWD+Organise conference, discusses Victorian Trades Hall Council’s Candidate School, which supported forty people from across Victoria to campaign on issues they cared about in their local communities.
An interview with Neale Jones who worked as Chief of Staff to New Zealand Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern during her successful 2017 election campaign.
Amanda Tattersall discusses how US organisation Indivisible created 6000 local groups in a three month period during 2017 to lobby politicians to pass progressive legislation and help shift control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats. A companion podcast can be found here.
Humor and Political Theatre
An article from The Drama Review that discusses the art of electoral guerrilla theatre via a history and analysis of Pauline Pantsdown’s 1998 election campaign. It details how creative activism satirised and disrupted Pauline Hanson’s first run for senate.
This article about humorous political stunts includes a case study about the John Howard Ladies Auxillary Fan Club and how they pranked the then Prime Minister during the 2004 election and beyond.
A brief guide from Beautiful Trouble to “piggybacking on the massive media attention that elections gather” via stunts and dummy candidates and parties to “attract much more public attention than might otherwise be possible.” Includes links to various case studies and examples.