Sunday, September 21, 2003

In 1939, Hitler and Stalin played with countries like Latvia as pieces of meat on a butcher block, condemning millions to decades of tyranny and suffering. Last night, in Latvia, a final postscript was written to the erasure of the Molotov Ribbentrop pact, as Latvia took its place within Europe.

Pretty cool to be there for that moment...especially when the Prime Minister was presented with our "It's Better to be Inside" T-shirt, and promptly put it on in front of a thousand people and national television. It was a big coup for us...unfortunately, it may be the last thing he does as prime minister.

The ruling coalition, rumored for weeks to be holding together merely to prevent any instability ahead of the referendum, promptly collapsed after the results of the referendum were announced. I guess politics can only wait for so long...good thing it waited at least as long as it did. Such news in the week before a referendum could have led to unpredictable results.

Latvia voted about 70-30 in favor of joining the EU. There was a little tension in the air, but as the turnout kept rising (to about 70%), our team at Klubs Maja got looser and looser, and preparation for the big election night rally took on more of a party feel.

The Youth Turnout Team project was a great success, if not for its effect on the result of the referendum, certainly for its impact on Klubs Maja, and the tone of this campaign. They were everywhere, all the time it seemed. Their logo for this campaign is plastered all over Riga and throughout the country. We've helped build their capacity for future campaigns and other projects, and the energy they brought to this campaign changed the way Latvians looked at the issue of the EU...not only did their heads want to say yes, but so did their hearts.

Ken got on a plane this morning and headed back to Boston. I'll be at the volunteer thank you meeting tonight, getting feedback from Klubs Maja about the project, and return to London Monday.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Election day in Riga...another great weather day. Just came from a polling place, where turnout is reported to be steady and high.

Yesterday was spent getting out the last of the lapel stickers and doorhangers. Groups of 4 or 5 team members went out in the campaign t-shirts, walking the crowded streets of the city at rush hours, being visible. I went with a group to the central bus station, which was crowded with people leaving the city for their places in the countryside.

The official YES campaign held a massive rock opera on the main square in central Riga last night. The square was packed. The music was not something Ken and I are used to hearing at a political rally...very operatic, classical, almost durge like...but people seemed to be moved by it. Clearly, all of it had some symbolic meaning beyond it's mere musical qualities, a chord the YES campaign is keen to reach.

Our team is preparing for tonight's election night party...Klubs Maja's wing-ding in a smaller square in Riga's old town is the main place to be tonight. Lots of staging, loud rock bands, what Brits would call "razzmatazz". Given that last night the main square was packed to capacity, tonight could be quite an event.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Delivering leaflets is a great way to learn about a place...yesterday, I went on a lit drop with some of the Klubs Maja team, Karlis and Sandra, just about sunset. We got on a rickety bus and went into the suburbs of Riga, got off amidst a sea of imposing and grim soviet tower blocks.

Getting out doorhangers here is easy if you can get the code to the locked entrance door. Some don't have locks, but coded doors can be breached if you look carefully at the metal push buttons to see which have been rubbed shiny by constant use...identify those, and you're in business.

Once in, take the lift to the 9th floor, stick a door hanger on each flat (usually four per floor), walk down a flight of stairs, and repeat until you are at the bottom of the stairs.

Only one problem...lighting. Many of these stairwells are completely unlit, save the bit of light coming in from the windows in the stairwells, which fades to black after sunset. It can be a bit scary, especially if you are in a rough neighborhood with a forest of tower blocks as far as the eye can see.

Despite this challenge, Sandra and Karlis went about it like pros...in the stairway, up the lift, down the stairway, on to the next one. Doorhangers aren't a very common practice in these parts...saw a lot of confused looks from people arriving home after work. Most people seemed happy to see young people running around in the tower blocks doing something other than loitering or causing trouble.

More great weather in Riga...couldn't ask for better weather for a visibility campaign. The team is getting ready for the big concert event tomorrow night when the polls close. Hopefully, the weather will hold out.

There isn't a lot of tension in the air about the result...Ken and I think it may be closer than everyone else thinks, but people seem to be expecting a clear YES vote. Once our campaign hit the streets, it seemed a lot of the steam went out of the NO campaign....they started copying our tactics, rather poorly, and now they have just faded into the woodwork. Occasionally, you'll see a couple of people out and about, but they aren't too aggressively campaigning.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Today was "Garbage Day"...another myth about the EU in Latvia is that all of Europe will send its trash here if Latvia joins the EU. So the Klubs Maja team went out today dressed in bright yellow garbage overalls (our t-shirt as well) to hand out leaflets dispelling this myth.

A major leaflet push is on for tonight. Klubs Maja sees this as the last day to get a major amount of our doorhangers out onto the street before the weekend. The referendum is Saturday...so Ken and I will be part of the big push tonight, around 7-ish.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Our Klubs Maja colleagues went out with "culture day" leaflets, dressed as if they were going to the opera. The message was to emphasize that Latvia will keep its culture upon entry into the EU...the NO campaign regularly uses scare tactics like "Latvia will lose its culture if it joins the EU", so our team today decided to take on this myth head on. So we got some good footage of Klubs Maja kids in tuxedos and dresses...

Ken and I will be heading a team of canvassers tomorrow night. Yes, night...interestingly, leafleting happens here after 10 pm...we find this to be a fascinating phenomenon, and will explore it in full tomorrow. We're recruiting crack leafleters for our team...

The concept of the doorhanger, relatively unknown in these parts, has caught on. You know that thing you put on your hotel door when you don't want to be disturbed? That's a doorhanger. We printed a ton of them for this campaign, and the Klubs Maja kids love 'em. Thousands go out daily.

Rumor has it that the president may show up at our election night event to announce the result...we're keeping our fingers crossed.
Riga is having amazing weather lately...perfect for a campaign on the streets at the grassroots. Today, Klubs maja is doing culture themed events....we're on our way to the 5 pm event with our video camera.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

We've been at it for a week now, and the opposition is beginning to take notice.

Klubs Maja, with support from the Campaign Company, launched its campaign for joining the EU on Monday the 8th of September, two weeks before the historic September 20 referendum. Since that date, the Klubs Maja campaign has been the most visible actor on either side of the issue. Oddly, there appears to be no organized "YES" campaign other than that organized by Klubs Maja and the Campaign Company. And in an election that CNN described as "too close to call", that campaign may ultimately prove to be decisive.

Since the 8th of September, Klubs Maja volunteers have been on the streets of Riga and other major Latvian cities displaying banners and t-shirts, hanging posters, distributing literature, and working to persuade every person they come across that joining the EU is good for Latvia. Press coverage has been significant, and the campaign has been featured on four nightly news programs and in 5 national newspapers to date.

Over the weekend, the campaign switched into high gear, as Klubs Maja volunteers began canvassing door-to-door in Riga and other cities. The campaign hopes to distribute tens of thousands of leaflets through their door-to-door campaign.

The campaign has also begun to focus on some of the myths that "NO" supporters have been circulating about the dangers of the EU. For example, "NO" supporters have warned that Latvia will lose its unique cultural identity and its language if it joins the EU. In response, Klubs Maja volunteers have taken to the street dressed in traditional costumes to demonstrate that you say "YES" to the EU while still cherishing and protecting that which is unique in Latvia.

Probably concerned by all of the positive media attention that Klubs Maja has been able to attract, the "NO" campaign has become more visible in recent days. Posters have begun to appear, and several press events have been held. Still, the "NO" campaign's message is confused, and they clearly do not have the grounds troops that Klubs Maja has been able to put on the street.

Support from the Campaign Company has been crucial to the campaign so far. Providing guidance and training on everything from message and logo development to organizing canvassing operations to managing media relations, we have been involved in every step of this campaign. But of course it is the Klubs Maja staff and volunteers that are doing the real work, by leading the most aggressive campaign in the nation.
Not only are EU leaders converging on Latvia, so are Tim & Ken!

EU Business - Baltic, European leaders converge on Latvia before EU referendum

Monday, September 15, 2003

Tim heading to Riga tomorrow. Ken already there. News shortly.
Tim heading to Riga tomorrow. Ken already there. News shortly.
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