In examining closely civic campaigns that were either wildly successful or spectacular failures, we believe there are merits to both, which warrant observation and serve as excellent learning opportunities. For this example, we’re looking at a civic campaign that was overwhelmingly successful in achieving its stated goals.
In the spring of 2012, the Carnegie Library system found itself operating with a major budget gap. The library took the issue to the voters, needing 2,800 signatures to place a referendum designed to save the library onto the ballot. They kicked off the ‘Our Library, Our Future’ initiative, which attracted more than 100 volunteers to circulate the petition and organized events at the library’s 19 locations to raise awareness of the issue. They ended up gathering more than 10,000 signatures – more than triple the required amount.
Next, the campaign faced the much harder task of convincing voters to approve an increase in their own property tax rate in order to raise more than $3 million each year to support the library. The library highlighted the impact its closure would have on low-income community members, denying them access to its internet facilities and career education center.
In a brilliant move, the library promoted its case as if the battle over the referendum was extremely close, despite the lack of any organized opposition to the measure. They distributed fliers, organized rallies, and continued their public push at the library’s branches. They sought the support of numerous high-profile Pittsburgh politicians, notably including City Councilman (and vocal library champion) Patrick Dowd.
The end result? Library supporters were extremely motivated to go to the polls, and the referendum passed by a margin of 2-to-1, with 72% of voters in favor of saving the library.
Regardless of whether you were for or against the referendum, you have to admit: this was civic campaigning done right.