There is an art to political activism. Not just science. Not just hard work. But art.
Last Friday and Saturday, LALIT branch members all over Mauritius participated in distributing a new leaflet. Let’s look at the art of it. It is after all an art developed over hundreds of years.
The theme of the tract was the opportunity that the coronavirus epidemic offers to the working class. It is about how what looks a dark and hopeless moment in the history of working peoples’ struggles – both with regard to the pandemic and the economy – can be turned into something positive through political action. It is a précis of our program in the context of the pandemic and pending economic collapse as major industries flounder. You can read the content of the first side of the leaflet on our web-site www.lalitmauritius.org or on our Facebook page LalitMauritius, under the title: Kriz Koronaviris Reprezant Lokazyon pu Klas Travayer. And this content was designed to link together with the context of village council election campaigns in all 130 villages. A democratic process like neighbourhood village elections, however little power the Councils may have, is a way of uniting behind a working class program on national issues. One just has to imagine a village council as something akin to a trade union. You can read the content of the bit about how to include national demands in village elections on the flip-side of the tract under the title Eleksyon Vilaz: Sak Lekip Bizin Met enn Program ki fors Guvernman Sap Pei depi Katastrof – also on our site and Facebook.
The LALIT leaflet we distributed was designed, in its content and form, to be accessible to city-dwellers and villagers. This was done by linking the two themes, and by giving urban dwellers a role i.e. to discuss the content with their friends, work-mates and relatives from rural areas.
So, there is an art to choosing the content. Ideally, people receiving the tract, if they follow current affairs as most Mauritians do, should have a good guess what it is about before you give them a copy.
The form is also an art. The font used is fairly large, and there are headings included. This helps people who do not often read. We use fairly narrow columns. It is clear that it is a LALIT pamphlet, as a glance. We usually include a visual of some sort. There is a way to contact us included in a box in the text.
And for legal reasons, it must be signed by someone in particular, for the party, and must include the party’s address. Mauritian leaflets are best in the peoples’ language, Kreol. We often have five or six different people read the draft – not just for typos, but also to ensure comprehension and a certain fluidity as they read.
And then, there is always the question of where exactly to distribute so as to reach the spread of people you want to. We chose four bus stations – Victoria and Lenor in Port Louis, Rose-Hill and Curepipe – and La Louise, for the urban distributions. The best time for this kind of urban distribution is between 6 and 8 a.m. if you are closer to the working class. This way you reach working people as they wait for transport where they can read it or discuss it, when they actually are on their way to work when they can read it, then at work they can share the content, and then take it home in the evening, giving it new readers there.
Then each LALIT regional took charge of all villages in their area. In the first half of the campaign, we reached the following villages, most often handing a leaflet to someone actually in a village election team: Chemin Grenier, Riv. Noire, Tamarin, Bambous, Richelieu, Petite Riviere, Albion, Case Noyale, La Gaulette, Le Morne, Baie du Kap, Chamarel, Riviere des Galets, Chamouny, Surinam, St. Martin, Flacq, Moka, Ti-Verger, Reduit, Dagotierre, Sebastopol, L’Avenir, Montagne Blanche, Olivia, Caroline, Bramsthan, Q. Cocos, Mont Ida, Camp de Masque, L’Esperance, Riv. des Anguilles, Mahebourg, Rose-Belle, Cluny, Camp Diable, P. Magnien, Beau Vallon, Vieux Grand Port, Souillac, Goodlands, Poudre D’Or, Pamplemousses, P. des Papayes, T. aux Biches.
For these distributions, we worked through our branches themselves, and also via contacts in the 50 villages where there are asbestos houses and where people are already in contact with LALIT, as well as in the ten or so fishing villages where we work on the on-going “Fishers’ Charter”. We also seized the occasion of a weekly open market, as people come out of the market all relaxed and keen for a short chat, while other members stood near a bus station, catching people from a number of villages in one place, as they move around. Whenever possible, one or two members or supporters from that village are present. Then they get people to stop and talk to one of the members, who then stops distributing leaflets. Often local meetings get set up this way, or invitations to centralized events are shared.
When LALIT members do this kind of leaflet distribution, it is on-going work. So many of those going past have already participated in the process of taking a leaflet, so that those who are new to it, just learn from the old hands. When someone stops to chat, the LALIT member stops distributing and listens to them, sometimes together they laugh as the person sets off again. A fair number of people in the urban centres will stop, and ask for a specific number: four, or eleven, or twenty-one leaflets. This means they have that number of work-mates who regularly ask them for a copy. No-one would ever, ever throw one away. Very, very few people refuse to take a LALIT leaflet. It is as though they know its value. If you look around, you will see people waiting for their work bus, leaning against a wall, one foot bent up behind them, already engrossed in the leaflet. Or a bus conductor already sitting reading his or her copy.
Some extra tips for activists: It is important to remember that a good proportion of people may not themselves be able to read. This means it is imperative to communicate that, firstly, it is a LALIT tract, and secondly what the subject is: coronavirus and political opportunities of an electoral campaign, in this case. This way the person knows what he or she is accepting from you. If someone stops and says they cannot read, you can just mention that one of the advantages of LALIT writing in Kreol is that you can just get someone to read it aloud for you. Some people who have not ever taken a leaflet might think it is about religion, and need reassurance that it isn’t. Others might ask if they have to pay for it, as they would for a newspaper. Remember to speak clearly and quite loudly, so that older people or the hard of hearing still get to hear. Another tip is that cyclists and motorcyclists often slow down for a leaflet. So what some of us do is keep a little stock of folded leaflets so you can quickly give them one to slip into their pocket or into a bag. At bus stations, it is always interesting to give bus drivers a copy, and remember always to give a second copy for their bus conductor.
LALIT members always hold their pile of leaflets very straight and proud, as if it is precious – which it is. It is very much a visible, public activity, one which ensures a closeness of LALIT to the broad masses of working people. It is also eminently collective, in that in the same two days, a dozen teams are out doing the same kind of political work, all at the same time.
Remember always to have a pen-and-paper handy to take the mobile numbers of people who want to be invited to party activities or to organize neighbourhood meetings. Via leaflets, we also sign up people for our bi-monthly magazine, REVI LALIT, which is our main recruitment tool. In fact, our party is structured around the writing, producing, distributing, reading, discussing of our publication. This way we recruit on the basis of our on-going program. This way we are independent of the commercial newspapers and radios or government’s MBC.
Lindsey Collen, for LALIT.