Leadnow began as an online engagement organization, designed to mobilize individuals and communities to push forward political issues like our democracy, environment and economy — all factors that determine our ability to lead healthy lives.
They have since expanded their ground game, organizing people face-to-face, and tapping into people power to make real change and shift the balance of power to focus on the most important issues of our time.
Leadnow's prairie organizer Leslie Cramer sat down with Upstream's Jared Knoll to discuss why citizen engagement is so vitally important to our health both as communities and individuals.
JK: Upstream uses heath and the social determinants of health as a frame through which we see and analyze the political issues of the day. How does Lead Now or how do you think that we can use this lens and engage people on these and other issues?
LC: It’s interesting because I came to Leadnow from a space where I was working on poverty, and seeing the issues we were trying to have an impact on were so connected to people’s ability to advocate for themselves at a systems level and push forward those kinds of issues that they may be experiencing in their day-to-day lives.
If somebody is experiencing ill health due to poverty, and we create a platform for them to speak to government, then hopefully we can help address that from a systems-level and really create the foundation to push for changes that people need to see.
A lot of people are frustrated and angry.
JK: Do you think Canadians are aware of the connections between the issues in the election this fall, and future health outcomes for themselves?
LC: I believe so. It’s really important for me to explain that this campaign is about more than just impacting the outcome of the election, because otherwise they don’t buy into it. People are seeing what they are experiencing in their day-to-day, and connecting it to the election. So the issues are always at the forefront when I’m talking to people.
People will see that our healthcare system has been negatively impacted, our social benefits and government programs are being cut and our prison systems are becoming overcrowded. And people are seeing that in their day-to-day, and connecting that back to the election and seeing who is responsible for moving our country away from being a country that is out for the wellbeing of everyone.
JK: Do you have any stories from the work you have done with Canadians on that day-to-day reality, and what the problems are faced by people going to the ballot this election?
LC: I have a lot of older adults who work with me on some of my teams, who are concerned about their pensions and living in poverty after they are finished working, and having to continue to work. I work with a lot of people who are concerned about childcare and those types of things. A lot of people are frustrated and angry.
JK: How can this sort of ‘people power’ approach have an impact on the health of our communities?
LC: People who know best what their health needs are, are the people experiencing them. When we stand up for each other and stand up for the health of our community, we need people power to do so.
I just think of Fort Chipewyan and how they were experiencing high levels of cancer and they are now standing up against oil industry that is polluting their water, air and food sources. If those people weren’t standing up for their water, air and food sources, that if those people weren’t standing up for their better health, then nobody else would know that they were experiencing a problem. So it’s about standing up for yourself, and pulling other people into your goals of better community health.
We need to come together across party lines and work with each other
JK: To get to that place, what does the average Canadian going to vote this Fall need to focus on, in terms of issues for the election?
LC: It’s tough because it varies from riding to riding, and in each riding perhaps there’s a different candidate that can best represent your community’s health interests… think that just connecting with other people in your community and finding out how you can get involved and how you can meet people face-to-face, is also a really great way to make sure your vote can count in 2015.
JK: What needs to happen afterwards? What needs to happen after the election?
LC: Regardless of the outcome of the election and regardless of how people voted, we need to come together across the party line and have to work with each other, to make sure that our representatives hear us and hear what we want from them… if your party of choice does get elected and becomes the new government, that is not a reason to step back and say, “alright, our party is in, we’re all good.”
It’s all the more reason to keep pushing and keep them on their toes, to make sure we actually move forward around health and economy and environment and all those things that are so heavily connected to each other.
JK: If we could talk about climate for a second… it’s becoming a better known and better understood determinant of health. The forest fires we’ve had in Northern Saskatchewan and in the West, in BC as well… do you think that climate change is as central as it should be in the debate, in the discussion and discourse leading up to the election?
LC: It needs to be front and centre. In some ways, in some places, it’s easy to skirt around, and it is a scary thing for candidates to talk about if they are connected to industry and connected to people who are connected to industry, and we just have to be honest about how influential climate is, and really push people on that issue more.
JK: For the average Canadian walking to the ballot box this fall, maybe they have kids they need to keep fed, they have bills they need to keep paying… what do they need to bear in mind as they walk towards that ballot box, to make their vote translate towards a healthier future for themselves, their families and their communities?
LC: Getting out to vote and having your voice out there is really important because if we allow ourselves to be alienated from a system, and if we feel that our vote doesn’t count, then that is true. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy. So getting out and voting is the best way to make sure that you can have your say in changing the direction of our country.
Paying attention to the stage of the race in your community and what groups are working there, and what’s happening is important, so that you’re informed when you go to the ballot box. Getting out there and making sure that your friends, family and neighbours are out there too, is super important.
As the Regional Organizer for the Prairies and the North, Leslie’s role is to support people organizing on the ground and to build up Leadnow’s organizing network in the region. With a background in social justice, community development, and anti-poverty work, Leslie is passionate about supporting people to have greater influence over the systems that impact their lives.