Activist organisation Getup brought a lively crowd of 400 people to Bega, NSW on Sunday to hear the candidates of the key marginal Eden-Monaro constituency outline their policies. The meeting occurred as Getup geared up for the closure of the electoral roll in advance of the election. The movement's electoral director, Taren Stinebrickner, said its volunteers had handed out 5000 enrol-to-vote cards since August and had signed up 300 people this week alone on university campuses across the country.
This is the first federal election since the two year old Getup was founded. The issues based activist group sees this election as its most important campaign to date. They have grand ambitions and plan to coordinate grassroots action and voter engagement in every seat in every state. Its national profile is at an all-time high after raising $200,000 in a week to broadcast an ad during the AFL grand final that spoofed Government advertising on climate change.
Getup was founded in 2005 by two Harvard educated Australians, Jeremy Heimans and David Madden. The pair met while studying at the Kennedy School of Government. They were inspired by Move On, an Internet based activist political organisation that has raised millions for the Democrats. Heimans and Madden decided to found Getup when the Government won control of the Senate in the 2004 election. They adapted the Move On model for Australia. When launching the site, Heimans told the ABC that GetUp was a way to get ordinary people back into politics. These were “people who are tired of institutional politics,” he said “People who aren't happy with the direction this country's going”.
Both Heimans and Madden had to defend themselves against the accusation that Getup was a front for the Labor Party with Evan Thornley and Bill Shorten as foundation board member. Former Liberal Leader John Hewson was also on the first board but quit less than a month after its launch citing lack of time to make a commitment. Liberal MPs Malcolm Turnbull and Andrew Robb denounced the group and its initial email campaign as “little more than spam”. They were complaining about Getup targeted strategy of getting their members to send pro forma emails to government members.
According to its own website, Getup “does not back any particular party, but aims to build an accountable and progressive Parliament”. Within its first week, Getup claimed 17,000 members. This number has now risen to over 200,000 after two years. While Heimans and Madden remain on the board, the day-to-day running of the organisation is in the hands of executive director Brett Solomon.
Brett Solomon got his ideas for grassroots activism during his time working for Oxfam Australia where he was the co-ordinator of the International Youth Parliament (IYP). According to Solomon, IYP was an international forum where “hundreds of young people from over 150 countries exchange ideas, strategies and the implementations of their Action Plans”. He wanted IYP to give young people the tools to work with their peers from around the world and effect change at the grassroots level. Now 37, Solomon has taken this zeal to Getup and is one of three full-time staff at their Sydney headquarters. Under Solomon’s leadership Getup has become an effective issues based organisation.
In an interview with Monica Attard for ABC’s Sunday Profile in July, Solomon said Getup fills a void for people to have a say. Solomon also denied Getup was a Labor front. “The aim of GetUp is to build a progressive Australia and what that means is a country which has social justice, economic fairness and the environment at its core,” he said. “So, we tend towards having a membership which is progressive in that sense”.
As of May 2007, they were Australia’s most popular political website with 16 percent of the total traffic and about 200,000 hits each week. Their biggest campaign was to bring David Hicks back to Australia. They invited residents of Bennelong (John Howard’s seat) to write to the PM saying “I want you to bring David Hicks home”. 10,143 residents obliged, about one in eight voters. Solomon believes Getup’s campaign was instrumental in Hicks’s eventual return.
Beyond the election, the next step for Getup is international organisation. They have co-founded a new global political online community called Avaaz (which means 'voice' or 'song' in several Asian languages). Avaaz aims to "match the power and reach of global leaders and borderless corporations" and has big ambitions to tackle trans-national issues such as climate change, escalating religious conflict and corruption. Avaaz claims one million members across 192 countries "speaking with one voice".