A report by Positive Money supporter and volunteer Amy Coats who ran our stall at the festival:
One of the first things Ed and I learnt when we volunteered at a Positive Money stall is that it doesn’t actually matter if you don’t know loads about Positive Money. That was one of our biggest concerns before we opened the stall in the Green Futures field at Glastonbury festival on Tuesday afternoon. What if we can’t answer all of the questions? What if we get someone scary accusing us of preaching something we don’t know everything about?
The truth is, just by knowing a little bit about why Positive Money was set up, you probably already know a lot more than most people you talk to. And if you don’t, just tell them! Tell them you’re a volunteer and recommend they look at the website. No one ever got uppity if we didn’t have all the answers, or if we hadn’t heard of a certain news story, or read some essential economics book.
It can be far more interesting to listen when someone knows more about ‘this kind of stuff’ then you do, and it ends up being a bit like having a chat with an informative stranger at the pub. The most scary it got was when one guy stabbing at the email sign-up sheet with his index finger, looking me in the eye and saying “You make sure I get signed up won’t you. You make sure of that OK?”
Another thing we learnt is that spreading the word by no means stops at the stall. In fact we learnt this the hard way, when the wee tank we were placed next to started to leak, and reek, and we had to pack up the stall and go out into the festival with our clipboards and t-shirts. But even after we’d packed up the stall after a day of inviting people over to chat and put down their email, and went out to roam the festival, we ended up talking to even more people about what we were doing. And talking about Positive Money is a great way to break the ice if you’ve just met a stranger because everyone has an opinion about money, even if you’re miles away from the all-important email address sheet.
One afternoon I left Ed (involved in a long conversation about the Adam Smith economic model) and the festy odour (of the leaky wee tank) and headed down off to watch Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green party and Positive Money supporter, talk in the Speaker’s Forum. She gave a superb talk and seamlessly handled all of the questions. I felt emboldened and inspired, and the roving microphone guy happened to be standing at a tappable on the shoulder distance, so I decided to go in for a question.
He nodded, and hands shaking, I took the microphone. “Hi Natalie. You mentioned that the current economic model isn’t working. I’m here with Positive Money, and I wanted to thank you for your support in trying to change the way that money is created by private banks. I just wanted to get your thoughts on how we umm might work towards taking the power from private banks, so that we can tackle the housing price problem, support smaller enterprises and reduce wealth disparity?”
Natalie responded firstly by pointing out the big-ness of the question inappropriate for the relative shortness of time she had left, then said that a talk by Prof Tim Jackson had “completely convinced” her about Positive Money and what we’ve set out to achieve. Tim’s talk had explained that the most recent financial crisis was the culmination of an unsustainable economic situation, where so-called “complex financial instruments” were used to hide the true extent of debt.
She then said a few more things e.g. about how house prices are 18x the average UK salary, how money is not getting to the right places, and about the need to start dialogue in government about the current economic model. All said far more eloquently and concisely than I had ever put it to anyone I had spoken with. She also cited an MP survey that Positive Money had carried out, which showed that very few MPs had any idea about how money is created in the UK. She smoothly concluding by saying that there’s a big education job to do. Hear hear Natalie!
Later on, as it started to drizzle, I spotted Natalie again as she was inspecting some flowers fashioned from different coloured tights and bits of milk carton.
“Hi again!” I said, and mumbled something embarrassing about her being awesome.
She politely responded and said “Nice plug by the way,”
“Yeah. Sorry about that.” I said.
“No it’s OK; it’s really great the work that Positive Money is doing.” She said
I walked away, grinning with pride, flushed with embarrassment that I’d made her shake my dripping wet hand, and kicking myself for not blagging her to come back to the stall to meet Ed (a big Bennet Fan) in return for a free t-shirt or suchlike.
As well as some of the nicest and weirdest people I’ve met, I’ll not forget some of the things I saw, heard and learnt. The snippets of conversations we heard as people strolled past our stall, the kindness of the lady who shared her Naproxen with Ed for his sore back, the entrepreneurship of the kids at the Gypsy and Traveller Advice Service across the way, the excitement in one man’s eyes as he drew us a detailed map of where he’d found the Temple of Solomon.
If I could give one tip to anyone about to volunteer by collecting email addresses, I’d say it’s about not doing any kind of hard sell. Asking passers-by if they’ve ever heard of positive money, and then basically just starting to explain it with an intriguing fact or two, and they’ll generally stop to listen. Then you can be genuine and say what Positive Money is and is aiming to do, and suggest that if they’re interested in ‘this kind of thing’, that they put their email down and we can keep them in the loop. This approach might have worked because we were talking to people in the Green Futures field at Glasto, but I imagine that this as a general approach would be an OK starting point.
Because no matter if it’s at Glasto or your local village fete, telling people about Positive Money is key to making change happen. Everything starts from somewhere and to repeat the words of William James that were printed on the back of the Speaker’s Forum: “Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
And speaking of making a difference, a special thanks goes to Douglas, the tireless hero who carted our stall stuff to the festival and back afterwards, who stayed bright and positive even after averaging 20 hours a day working and 4 sleeping, who showed us where the biggest breakfast could be purchased, and who even managed to gather a couple of dozen email addresses in between doing all the other various things he was doing.
Volunteering for Positive Money is infinitely rewarding, and I’d recommend anyone to do it. Not only did I learn loads about economics and lots of other important things, I got to practise those essential objection-handling and chatting-to-just-about-anyone skills. And I’ve never felt so strongly about the cause.