As I was standing up from my desk yesterday at noon, took a stretch and packed my sandwich in my bag, I was so excited to get outside and see something different. I’d seen that Via Campesina Europe was organizing a “Farm in the City” event on Place Luxembourg, one of the main squares at the heart of the European quarter, and chatted a friend into checking it out.
Now here is the thing about outreach events like this: I am new in town, I don’t know these organizations, I am super eager to learn more because I have a blog to write – I should be perfect bait for people wanting more participants to join their causes. I was expecting a vivid, positive event, with loads of stands of farmers and community organizers wanting to tell their stories, and had even taken my camera to document everything.
Sadly, the whole event was slightly disappointing.
First things first – it was raining. Of course, that is not their fault, but definitely affected the mood intensely. Maybe they could have gotten a bigger tent under which to mingle, or at least cranked up the energy of the volunteers (music? dancing?) to counter it. As it was, there were very few people in the square that didn’t seem to belong to the organizations present. Well, my friend and I thought, at last we will be able to talk to a lot of organizations.
But half of the tables we approached were non-staffed, and only covered by flyers haphazardly distributed across the space available. I grabbed a few of those, but that info is always available, ya know? So we moved on to one table that did seem staffed and where we saw people chatting. However, the volunteer was engaged in such an intense discussion that we left after waiting 10 minutes whether somebody else would show up. Sigh.
Then we saw two calves hanging out – the only nod to the ‘Farm in the City’ idea – and my friend asked me to translate the sign hanging over their heads. It was a rather depressing reminder that they would soon be euthanized because they cost their farmer more than their worth in feed and keep (blamed on the low meat prices due to policy) and a call for rescue. Not really something to lighten up the mood or to get people energized to act.
At the final booth we went to, volunteers from an urban farm somewhere in Belgium were busy with making fresh vegetable juice for the guests. Which was nice, of course, and we thoroughly enjoyed our carrot-beet-apple juice, but again, while we were waiting for the juicer to do its job, we would have loved to know more about the farm idea, but couldn’t find any volunteers that were available to chat. Those that were making the juice were talking to each other, and in general it rather felt like everybody knew everybody and were having a rather exclusive get-together of activist friends. Maybe we should have been even more aggressive in trying to approach people, but then again – that is not necessarily the role of the visitor of such an event, is it?
The only thing I could think is that with such an approach, it seems pretty hard for Via Campesina to reach out beyond its existing support base. Especially if they want to be influencing EU politicians and policy-makers, understanding how to portray your movement as friendly, cooperative and non-threatening, rather than an exclusive bunch of rainboot-wearing do-gooders mingling amongst themselves (which, to clarify, is not necessarily what I think, but how they could be perceived based on this one experience), should be key.
Have you ever felt out of place at an outreach event? How do you react to that?