How do we mobilize in rural communities/small cities?

From Le Hub/The Climate Justice Organizing HUB
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Purpose: This page responds to direct requests from rural or small city organizers. Their context presents challenges and opportunities that are unique from urban or larger city environments. Many organizers may feel discouraged by limited turnout to their events compared to more populated areas. There are several considerations for organizing in rural areas/small towns, and also several things that can be leveraged to build successful campaigns. This guide aims to raise some of these considerations.

This guide includes: barriers to organizing in rural communities/small cities, plus several leverage points related to building connections and outreach, narrative and messaging, online presence and tactics and strategy.

Learning objectives:

  • Equip grassroots groups with suggestions for mobilizing more effectively in rural communities/small cities.
  • Learn from the lived experiences of people living in rural communities/small cities.
  • (Bonus) Discuss new ideas to add to the roundup of practices currently listed in the guide

Where does the knowledge come from? Knowledge included in this guide comes from experienced organizers here in so-called Canada, direct insight following a learning circle with activists in rural areas/small cities, research findings from organizers in rural America and from panelists included in the Rural and Remote Toolkit by Climate Reality Canada and the Climate Justice Organizing Hub launch event. Highlighted text throughout this guide is knowledge shared during our Learning Circle on this topic.

Panelists included in toolkit launch:

Alex Lidstone - Climate Caucas

  • Changed their career from environmental law; pursued Masters in climate change development and policy
  • Started with organization of summit for mobilizing local climate action
Sivan Black-Rotchin -Save West Mabou Beach
  • Teacher and podcaster
  • Began organizing in 2022 when golf course developer targeted provincial park
Margaret MacDonell - Save West Mabou Beach
  • No prior experience in climate work, but felt compelled like Sivan to protect local park
  • Now working on getting long-term protection for park
Payton Mitchell - Iron & Earth
  • Grew up near coal power plant, largest single source polluter in North America & experienced asthma 
  • Involved in student climate strikes, No Future No Children campaign, justice for migrant workers and reconciliation work

Accompanying activity suggestions:

  • Individual or group read-through using our apply your understanding questions below. Go through them as a team.
  • Trying to model the good practices in the guide and running an action plan workshop for the group based on them. Goal is to come up with plan, timeline and bottom-liners to implement some of the ideas in the guide
  • Checking back in after a couple months’ worth of testing the ideas in the guide in real life and doing a rundown of what worked well and what didn’t as a group
  • Allow group members, using some of the scenarios in the guide, to speak to resonance and hear what new ideas and considerations are shared 

Suggested follow-up:

Introductory thoughts

"Community organizing has been going on for as long as there have been people living together facing challenges. Many people work together in small and rural communities all the time to address contemporary challenges, this is the basis of community organizing." -Montana Burgess, Neighbours United

"On the one hand, sometimes all it takes is a spark plug to get people who are sensitive to the causes you are defending to join you. On the other hand, it is necessary to deconstruct somewhat the idea that organizing a mobilization in urban areas is much easier and very different from rural areas. While it is true that the often younger, university-educated population of cities has a large number of committed people, this must be put into perspective. For example, a demonstration of 1,000 people in Montreal, which has 2 million inhabitants, is the equivalent (proportionately) of a march of 50 people in an entire region like the Gaspé, which has less than 100,000 inhabitants. It is therefore necessary to begin by readjusting the mobilization objectives according to the population density in presence." (Translated from French) -Pierre Avignon, Comité citoyen Vers un val vert

Key takeaways from this guide

  • Meet people where they're at; i.e. where they convene (e.g. churches, community centres, general stores, sporting events etc), campaigning on issues that concern them (by asking them), and being accessible to what they need to participate (transportation, childcare, tech support, not during common work hours, accessible language etc).
  • Use 'porch talk': that is, small town neighbourly talk, to your advantage.
  • Hold social events that curb burnout and build relationships i.e. potlucks, or playing a game together.
  • Reach out to those who are valued in the community! (e.g. local politicians, local businesses, local news and radio stations)
  • Have an online presence to reach people who are spread out (facebook groups being particularly useful in small communities, or collect emails to send newsletters or action updates)
  • Use a variety of strategies for outreach, and ways to participate for events and actions.
  • Consider other groups in your region. Who is active in other communities and in the larger climate movement that you can connect with?
  • Connect with people on their stories related to the issue, and share personal stories too.
  • Hold hybrid/virtual planning meetings to increase reach, and offer call-in options to curb bandwidth challenges.
  • Municipal elections can be an opportunity to engage with people on your campaign issue 
  • Limit yourselves to one kind of action/outreach approach only. This is less likely to engage new people.
  • Push your campaign on people without consideration for where they're at and what they need to participate.
  • Work in a silo. Coalitions and relationships are key to building power.
  • Stereotype everyone in rural communities/small cities as non-progressives, as farmers, etc. 
  • Only hold 'serious' actions. Fun and engaging things like poster making and music draw people in.
  • Use complex language or spit facts and figures to communicate. You want folks to relate and understand.
  • Hold in-person meetings only. (At the least, offer a way to call in with the group).

Read on for more details about all of these recommendations!

Barriers to mobilizing in rural areas/small cities

Differences in values, interests, concerns

  • Urban-rural divide → feeling detached from decisions made in urban centres
  • Challenges mobilizing politically traditional, conservative folks

Statistically less progressive people who may place stronger value on individualism / self-reliance

  • Smaller communities having varying areas of focus

E.g. fishing towns caring about open net pens + salmon farming

Desire to maintain peace in tight-knit communities

From our rural organizing toolkit launch:

  • New residents may feel pressure to fit in
  • People want to avoid bad blood with neighbours and maintain relationships, rather than burn bridges
  • Fear of alienating themselves by being too radical/polarizing
  • There are tangible consequences to losing community and access to resources (e.g. renters worry landlords will blacklist if they're too disruptive to the community)

Being geographically dispersed 

  • People live far away from one another
  • High cost of travel, plus long travel time
  • Events not near public transportation, making it hard to sustainably travel
Lack of / limited access to internet + media + community spaces
  • People come to in-person meetings but hard to keep them engaged virtually in-between
  • People might not use internet to find information

Low internet literacy  Not everyone has broadband access

  • Popular media focuses on urban issues

Hard for rural voices + issues to be covered 

From our rural organizing toolkit launch:

  • Sometimes there's a lack of access to indoor common spaces that can be used to meet as community members, especially without having to book in advance. 
  • Organizing can be hard in the winter months as a result of lack of spaces and travel times

Low population density 

  • Burnout when same people / small teams take on bulk of the work
  • Large population of older folks who are harder to reach and fewer students / post-secondary institutions
  • Often not a lot of people to sustain organizing
  • Can be difficult to build momentum following actions 

Lack of inclusivity leads to people not wanting to join group

  • When people aren't open to new opinions, perspectives and directions
  • Not being able to offer childcare support

Leverage points for small city/rural communities

Building connections and outreach

1. Meet people where they're at
  • "The golden rule for small town organizing is meet people where they are at, literally and figuratively. Finding supporters, volunteers, donors, and other potential partners should be done by going to places and events that most likely already have your desired audience in attendance. For example, if you are organizing around affordable housing and research shows that moms are a likely audience to become supporters, go to events at schools and daycares the public is invited to, or child-centred events in the community, or you can street near these places where it is appropriate and not creepy to talk to likely moms as they pass by." -Montana Burgess, Neighbours United
  • "If your mostly volunteer prospects all have young children, work with an early childhood program that has activities for parents and kids, go to one of the activities and present to the parents, bring something age appropriate for the kids to do while you talk with the parents, bring the parents coffee to get their tired brains activated." -Montana Burgess, Neighbours United
  • "Try different activities to find your people. Test hold house parties/meetings (always with free food!), try streeting outside the grocery or hardware store, try new things where your desired audience goes." -Montana Burgess, Neighbours United
  • "The 5 practices on an organizers journey of telling stories, building relationships, developing strategy and structure, and taking action can all be thought of through the lens of meeting people where they are at to get better involvement in small and rural communities." -Montana Burgess, Neighbours United
  • There's an abundance of small venues where people congregate and already feel sense of belonging. Do outreach there! (E.g. churches, community centres)
  • Other areas to reach people suggested in our learning circle included: general stores, community gatherings and cultural events, farmers markets (you can ask to table / collect emails), public libraries, town square, sporting events (baseball, fishing), workplaces, local cafes, bakeries, etc.
  • Identify talents and interests people already have, and not just because of their profession. For example, connect hobbies people already have to bring them into movement.
  • Acknowledge local wisdom + other ways of knowing outside of formal education (e.g. experience).

From our rural organizing toolkit launch:

  • Engage deeply to build trust and leave no one behind.
  • Mutual aid initiatives can help meet immediate community concerns. From there, you can add a climate lens as a multiplier of injustices.

2. Talk to family, friends and neighbours

  • Your personal address book is useful for organizing. "Don't be afraid to ask friends and relatives for help. Your contacts have contacts; you will be amazed at how far your request will go!" -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • "In order to encourage involvement, one must be involved in the community and rely on people who already have a network in the area. We must also not hesitate to call on people who speak out publicly to denounce certain situations in order to give them our support." (Translated from French) -Pierre Avignon, Comité citoyen Vers un val vert
  • Talk to your neighbours! Small communities get a lot of their information from 'front porch gossip'. Keep an ear out, spark a conversation and if you can focus conversations on an issue, try not to be deterred by discriminatory attitudes / values that don’t align. Agree to disagree to maintain relations.
  • There are benefits of having smaller numbers in your community! People are more likely to know one another, which is a great foundation for trust. It can also be easier to connect and spread the word, especially face-to-face.

From our rural organizing toolkit launch:

  • Use storytelling as a powerful tool for imagining climate just futures, aligning people towards these visions and getting them to care about climate. E.g. Sooke residents used community storytelling (see here).
  • Foreground mutual respect and community care despite dffering opinions. Be gentle with people and tough on systems.
  • Find common ground to move through disagreements. Acknowledge what someone says and pick up on threads that build foundations for what you do agree on. For example, 1492 Land Back Lane was about Indigenous land reclamation. This is difficult to some to understand, but as a major trade route lacking infrastructure, folks could share distaste for the government and their harm/inaction.
  • Ask about personal experiences. For example, Selkirk residents were asked whether they noticed the poor health of loves ones and connected this to the presence of heavy industry as a culprit for these experiences.
  • You might consider using community-based epidemiology to document people's stories and experiences, especially if there hasn't been formal research/data collection on the issue.
3. Build a media list
  • "The use of local media, no matter how 'small' they may be, constitutes a gateway into each community, either through the distribution of newspapers or through local radio. However, it is necessary to multiply the ways to reach the population. This diversity of strategies to be implemented is even more important in the regions, since older populations, less adept with digital technology, are present." (Translated from French) -Pierre Avignon, Comité citoyen Vers un val vert
  • Local media sources are more trustworthy to people in rural regions than national news. Facebook and local news stations are the top platforms to seek news for people in rural communities. Utilize this; reach out to your local news outlets to feature your actions and demands. Invest time in making local news connections. [1]

  • "Small local newspapers, whether printed or digital, should be considered either to distribute open letters or to challenge journalists." (Translated from French) -Pierre Avignon, Comité citoyen Vers un val vert
  • Research the main newspaper/radio/television contacts in your area, then learn what will interest the regional and the national outlets."Find out who writes on rural issues. When you read the news, always be on the lookout for authors who will be interested in your work." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • "Use your press releases judiciously, and journalists will pay more attention to you. Do follow-ups with the people you send them to. Remember that a press release is used to announce an event, not to complain about or denounce an ongoing problem. It must have a quote from a source (often a member of your own organization) and it should follow an established format." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
4. Build networks and coalitions with other groups

"It is by taking one step at a time, by establishing a core of more committed people that the circle of people ready to get involved will gradually expand. Do not hesitate to create an informal network by giving it a name and taking the time to structure it little by little." (Translated from French) -Pierre Avignon, Comité citoyen Vers un val vert

  • Build close-knit relationships with local organizations and personal networks who can support with organizing (e.g. teachers).
  • "Partner with other types of committed groups (community gardens, parent groups, women's groups, workplaces, etc.) and collaborate could be a good strategy, as mobilizing people from scratch can take a lot of energy in areas with less density and diversity. Create links and partnerships with the people in charge of gathering places, like the library, cafés, the city (for the organization of events in parks), schools, local businesses, youth centres, community and/or cultural centres etc." For example, a coalition of citizens, politicians and community groups formed a coalition for Quebec to intervene in the management of the Lac Barrière dam. -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
  • Create a network of support by working with local organizations - churches, school clubs, your local horticultural society, bicycling clubs, women’s institutes, field naturalist societies, rod and gun clubs. Participate in their actions and events. How do you complement each other? How are you different?" -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • Identify: "who has influence in your community? Do they have ideas or suggestions for you? Will they help spread your message?" -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub

The Council of Canadians

Alliance for a Liveable Ontario -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub

  • "Many provincial organizations also have networks made up of local groups that can be put to good use. For example, the Union paysanne or the network of family farmers. In the same vein, two movements have developed to promote local mobilizations: the David Suziki Foundation's Réseau Demain le Québec and the Front commun pour la transition énergétique (which brings together dozens of organizations)." (Translated from French) -Pierre Avignon, Comité citoyen Vers un val vert
  • For more on forming coalitions, see this guide by Blueprints for Change.

5. Seek Indigenous Perspectives

Above: Protest, Western University, December 2022. Credit: S. Collingwood
  • Learn about the language and culture of the people of your area. Study your common history, and find out what treaties apply. "Discuss a land acknowledgement for your meetings and events. Learn to pronounce names." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • "Promote Indigenous events" and "reach out to Native friendship centres, who may be able to suggest a speaker to help inform your own events. Learn about the appropriate protocol for inviting Indigenous speakers. Remember that the people you will meet are usually busy volunteers; be respectful of their time." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
6. Contact local businesses
  • "Could they support an event or participate in an action? Would they donate to your organization? (You could reciprocate with an acknowledgement on your webpage or leaflet). Could you put a poster or a basket of informational cards or leaflets in their reception area?" -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • Share posters for upcoming events or notice of your group with local businesses. Some are more than willing to post your poster on a bulletin or on their shop window if they support your cause! -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
7. Connect with local politicians
  • There's a better chance of knowing government representatives personally because they represent less people and are more familiar with community members they serve. We carpooled with ours, because we had established a relationship!
  • Get to know your local politicians. Many may be "sympathetic to what you are doing. Develop a relationship with your MP and MPP, and particularly with councillors and other local representatives. Be friendly and receptive, but be persistent. Letters and calls are important; personal meetings are even better." Congratulate them when they do something good. -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub

See the below section on tactics and strategy for more on leveraging local politics.

8. Turn to National organizations for support
  • "While small towns likely don't have an organized network of community organizers, much less organizers sharing best practices on specific issues, regional, provincial, national and international communities of practice, training institutions and hubs already exist that you should get involved with for training, learning and sharing best practices and peer support. The Climate Justice Organizing Hub is a great example of an organization that fills this role across the country... As they say, let's not reinvent the wheel!" -Montana Burgess, Neighbours United
  • "Look for organizations that can help you understand the complexities of the issues you face." Keep in contact, and ask if they have any local connections. "Your organization is a part of a larger movement. For example...'

Canadian Environmental Law Association

9. Consider event and meeting access

"Make sure any communities meetings or events you host have a transportation plan. Transportation is least accessible in small and rural communities. Having your events near public transportation hubs during key bus hours is useful, building in a carpooling/ridesharing organizing component to RSVPs can work well, and assume if the weather isn't ideal, rural folks will be less willing to drive in on the highways.

  • Making sure rural organizers have adequate resources marked for getting around the region to meet with prospects or recruit supporters/volunteers/donors. This may mean a higher transportation budget for mileage, or more time for long public transportation routes, or both." Experiment with online events/meetings. -Montana Burgess, Neighbours United
10. Offer public shows of support
  • E.g. hand out stickers or make yard signs for people to show their support for a local issue or your campaigning group! Note that this will require a small amount of funding -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
  • Asking supporters to add a sign to their lawn helps to create excitement and a sense of viability. In communities where driving is necessary to get everywhere, signs can help to identify your supporters to engage them in future organizing opportunities. [2]
11. Encourage those involved!
  • Use 'wolf nudges'! "When wolves move as a pack, they are constantly bumping into each other. That’s intentional; it’s just a little signal of solidarity to the other wolves, a reminder that their group is made up of individuals. Your “wolf nudges” could be directed to others in your organization, people you consider allies, or those you’d like to develop a stronger relationship with. 
  • A wolf nudge can be as simple as copying a notification of an event to someone who may not know about it, or sharing your notes from that event. You might send a copy of a picture taken at a rally with someone who was there. You could send a short note of thanks to someone who helped out. A wolf nudge is usually something that doesn't need to be acknowledged, but it strengthens your whole community." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub

12. Try door knocking

"Door to door canvassing is a great way to establish connections. Take your time, and be sure to listen: you will learn a great deal of useful information about the community. You can also organize canvassing trips around farmers’ markets, local fairs, plowing matches, many other local events. Make it fun, and stop for coffee afterwards." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub

13. Host booths at local events
  • Tabling could include educating local residents, petitions for folks to sign, sign up sheets to join an email list etc. -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
14. Create bulletin and leaflet networks

Above: "Mailbox" by REM Photo Off & On is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

"Create a bulletin board network. Are there cafes, businesses, libraries, grocery stores, churches, sporting facilities, long-term care residences, or other locations that would allow you to post on their bulletin board? Make a list of the boards you find, then divide the list up geographically among volunteers, so that no volunteer has too many bulletin boards to cover. Announcements can be sent out by email, printed off, and posted quickly.

  • Design your announcements so that they do not require too much printer ink. Consider that some members of your network will only have a black-and-white printer. These members should colour in a few elements of the poster to call attention to your message. Libraries will often take multiple copies of an announcement, sending them out to be posted at the smaller branches. They may also partner in an event." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • "A leaflet network asks volunteers to print off a message from their email and distribute in a defined area. For example, volunteers could drop off a few leaflets on their rural route on the way to the grocery store. The message should be carefully designed in order not to waste paper or ink. For example, you might think of printing announcements two to a page. It’s important not to overwork volunteers." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • Don't forget to hand out leaflets and sign up sheets at your actions!
15. Socialize and get to know others!

Don't do mobilizing alone; include social events to keep your spirits high and form deeper bonds. -Member of Reseau Demain le QC 

  • Organize potlucks, family-friendly events... things that draw community members in to mingle!
  • Identify community leaders who can help connect with people (e.g. particular audiences, such as teachers)
16. Try dating apps!
  • Make a profile that's clear it's for group or event recruitment.

Narrative and messaging

1. Listen to and learn from locals
  • "Subscribe to farm magazines, and learn a little about farm concerns." You might even be able to find articles written by people in your area who may be interested in your issue. For example...


Country Guide

Bulletin des Agriculteurs -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub

*Note: workers are not exclusively farmers in rural areas, but they do make up a big part and their needs are not amplified in urban settings. Leverage this!
  • "Find out what rural residents are concerned about before coming in with your message." Your narrative should resonate with rural residents. -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • Survey people on their needs and concerns. E.g. Alma en Transition used a google form to compile results on top issues. -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
  • For example, top issues for rural Americans (according to research from include [3]  :

    • Wages increases 
    • Prioritizing small, local businesses
    • Incentivizing local construction, manufacturing and agriculture
    • Investment in rural jobs
    • Decreasing daily expenses such as the cost of health, child and elderly care
    • Expanding access to affordable housing
    • Increasing investment in transportation and connectivity (internet)
    • Promoting safe rural communities
    • Investing in rural education and arts
    • Promoting outdoor recreation and the protection of the environment
2. Craft a narrative and image that suits the needs of locals/your target audience
  • Small communities have strong 'neighbourly' relations that you could use to your advantage by changing messaging to align with what it means to be a good neighbour.
  • Make sure your messaging is accessible to those with lower literacy due to lack of opportunity / access to education.
  • "Using a public narrative that is centred around your desired audience is also very useful for figuratively meeting your audience where they are at. This includes telling stories and using language and phrases they connect with." Using the example of organizing around affordable housing, if research shows that moms are a likely audience to become supporters, "sharing a personal story about your connection to needing affordable housing for you and your children or when you were a child, and centring the experience of a mother in the story will make it easier to connect with the audience through shared experience and emotion. Using language the audience of moms use in the small community and connecting the narrative to current community narratives will make you and your experience relatable to this audience." -Montana Burgess, Neighbours United
  • "When you are confident you understand your audience, communicate a sense of purpose by setting out the main points of what you want to do. Save the details for later." -Sharon Collingwood (Perth Sustainability Hub)
  • "Think about a simple slogan that is easy to recognize and remember. 'Take a picture, or find a representative image you could use as a brand. Develop a logo" (see the following logo making tool). -Sharon Collingwood (Perth Sustainability Hub)

From our rural organizing toolkit launch:

  • Broach the subject of climate without getting into the technicalities of science and policy. 
  • Appeal to different communities in ways that resonate for them. E.g. arguments related to climate can be made for maintaining land for farmers, tourism and the local economy, the affordability crisis and the need for social services to support population growth, the impact of green space on health
3. Leverage key community members/people who are trusted
  • E.g. Vire Au Vert made a video for distribution (which could be done in local facebook groups, for example) including the viewpoints on key issues from community members who have some local recognition. You might also include their quotes in written materials (E.g. flyers) -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
  • According to research by in rural America, the people most trusted include doctors and nurses, farmers and ranchers, local business people and teachers and educators. [4]  

4. Avoid stereotypes in your messaging 

The following insight comes from based in the so-called US:

  • Rural voters support key progressive policies. For example, US polling data shows 36% of rural voters strongly agree the government has a responsibility to combat climate change, and 25% somewhat agree. That’s a majority! [5]
  • “While rural voters do lean right when it comes to political identity, the breakdown is not nearly as dramatic as often portrayed in the media. Rural US data suggests there’s only about an 8% difference between the presence of “strong Democrats” and “strong Republicans” when comparing voters in cities to rural areas. [6]
  • Not all rural citizens are farmers; they make up a big portion of workers, but a larger portion of people work in sectors such as education, healthcare, industry etc. [7]

5. Use community care values-based framing [8]

The following insight comes from based in the so-called US:

  • Rural voters believe rural communities look out for each other (particularly friends and family). [9]
  • This value, community care, should be central to campaigning efforts and messaging. (E.g. instead of critiquing what’s wrong in rural areas, point to what is right!)
6. Embrace local businesses and oppose corporate corruption  
  • A high majority of rural voters in the US believe “the government mostly reflects the will of the rich and influential.” ; 87% from polling data in the US and 69% agree the current economic system is rigged for the wealthy and powerful.
  • Rural people are looking for authentic leaders who understand their needs, which they feel aren’t being met by politicians. Leverage this! [10]
    • According to surveys conducted by, '“Rural respondents demonstrated significant support for candidates who expressed anti-corporation and pro-small business sentiment.” (E.g. against monopolies of food system, tax incentives for corporations). [11]

7. Use experience with nature in your framing
  • People in these regions may have a stronger connection to nature than in urban areas due to a greater access to natural spaces.
  • Leverage pre-existing interest in environmental protection by sharing experiences with the changes you've seen locally.

Online presence

1. Hold hybrid/virtual meetings
  • "The organization of virtual meetings also helps to promote involvement, especially because public transportation is sometimes non-existent or difficult to access." (Translated from French) -Pierre Avignon, Comité citoyen Vers un val vert
  • Holding meetings online can be particularly accessible for rural organizing where people are spread out, and it can be difficult to come together in-person often. E.g. Mouvement Mare. -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
2. Keep a shared drive and use online organizing tools
  • Google workspace is a "familiar standby for collaborative work." It can be linked to slack. -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • A shared drive could include, for example: Flyers to print out, examples of chants, slogans, a list of videos and documentaries, example letters to the editor, media advisories, example petitions, action photos etc. You might also consider using a google form for folks to fill out and compile everyone's available skills and interests, or to use as a contact list. -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
  • Create a shareable event calendar. What will be going on in your area over the next year that you can participate in?" Plan for events in advance, and "be sure that your calendar can be easily accessed by all members of your group. A Google calendar works well for this." After events, "don’t forget to take notes for next year - contacts, emails, telephone numbers and reminders of what was needed for the event." '-Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • See Organizing on different platforms: Pros and cons
3. Use social media
  • Social media accounts help with community building, "particularly since broadband access is increasing in so many rural communities. Be sure to set up some rules about appropriate content, and find an easy way to share links and other material to your social media group (e.g. slack). Follow like-minded groups and individuals, share their posts, and comment. Create online community." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • The use of digital technology makes it possible to cover sometimes very large geographical areas. As for all mobilizations, the creation of affinity groups on social networks becomes a very useful virtual rallying space that must be maintained and fed regularly." (Translated from French) -Pierre Avignon, Comité citoyen Vers un val vert
  • Instagram, twitter, facebook, a website, a podcast. Use whatever feels most accessible for reaching people in the area. -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
  • Lots of people use facebook, and local facebook groups can be a good place to reach new people.
  • US data suggests many rural citizens (and also many urban citizens) use Facebook as their primary news source because “users tend to read and share news from friends and family; those on the inside that they already trust.” [12]
  • Everyone in your group should be ready to send in their photos and videos after an action as soon as possible. -Sharon Collingwood,Perth Sustainability Hub
4. Create an email list
  • Consider purchasing a domain name for email (around $25 yearly). "This will allow you more consistent branding of your messaging" (, etc.). A domain name is also useful in setting up newsletter software." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • "Mass messaging sent out by email is often caught in spam filters, particularly if links, photos and files are included. This is why mass mailing programs like MailChimp are so popular. Many are free, with some sending limitations. Most programs are easy to learn, and allow people to self-subscribe (a good way to pick up new members). NOTE: These programs will not work well when senders use free email services like Gmail. -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • For email newsletters, try to involve readers in what you publish. "Report on local news stories and upcoming events that connect with your issue, and include pictures of local people and landmarks. Quote the opinions of locals, even if they don’t always agree with you. Make sure your newsletter is useful to your community." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub

Tactics and strategy

1. Make events fun and engaging to draw people in!
Above: Chalktivist event, Stratford Ontario. Credit: S. Collingwood
  • "Art shows, speeches, parades, dinners, street parties, bicycle safaris, picnics, festivals, silent auctions, free concerts." Use your imagination, e.g. "a popup barbershop quartet or rap contest with comic protest songs. A chalktivism event held at the same time as a hopscotch tournament. A puppet making workshop showcasing the use of recycled material, followed by a parade." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • Ask for support in holding more impactful actions (E.g. are their local artists who could provide music at your event?) -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
  • Use live music to bring people together and communicate campaign messages
2. Hold marches, rallies and blockades
3. Get involved in local politics
  • You need fewer people to make a difference in municipal elections, so these can be key events to organize around. Even if voting in progressive candidates isn't your tactic, these can be opportunities to engage with community members around critical issues.
  • It is "essential to identify the different places of power, involvement and information dissemination. While municipal politics in the region may not be attractive to many, the public meetings of municipal councils that take place on a fixed date each month are important places to understand and influence local issues. This space is also a place for citizen engagement that should be utilized." (Translated from French) -Pierre Avignon, Comité citoyen Vers un val vert
  • "Each set of towns is overseen by another institution: the regional county municipality (RCM), bringing together the mayors and having teams of employees more important than many small villages, it is important to be interested in them." (Translated from French) -Pierre Avignon, Comité citoyen Vers un val vert
  • Groups such as Mères au front - Saguenay use town halls and citizens assemblies to discuss local issues. -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
  • Alma en Transition uses a google form to compile responses to questions raised on key issues in municipal assemblies and at electoral debates. -Member of Reseau Demain le QC

  • Provide well researched, clearly written information on candidates and how to register to vote in a simple format. "A 'get out the vote' campaign should be planned well in advance." '-Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub
  • "Send letters to candidates asking them for their support on a clearly-defined position or issue. Include a card that identifies your organization. If they support you, have the candidate take a picture of themselves holding your poster. You can then publish candidate pictures in your own campaign. Later, you will be able to remind the winning candidate of their promise." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub

  • "In the case of these public institutions, whatever the cause, demands to multiply consultation spaces and transparency practices must be claimed upstream. It is indeed thanks to such practices that citizens will have access to the information necessary for the debate as well as to spaces to present their opinion. We must not forget to call on the local media before such events are held." (Translated from French) -Pierre Avignon, Comité citoyen Vers un val vert

From our rural organizing toolkit launch event:

  • Closer proximity/social ties with local politicians provides opportunities to work with/against power more closely.
  • There's a delicate balancing act of appealing to those in power as an ally for the cause and pushing them to meet your demands.
  • When working with the government against a billionaire golf course developer to halt the proposal, government policies, strategic plans and policies were used.
  • Robust relationships between locally elected officials and constituents can be leveraged. For example, an activist in Kelowna invited a city councilor they knew to a webinar about tiny homes for unhoused people. They brought the idea to the mayor who implemented it as local policy.
4. Promote positive changes you see in the community
  • Organize both around what needs to be replaced, and what our systems will be replaced with! E.g. see Mouvement Mare's agenda. -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
  • E.g. share a post about a community member who re-wilded their garden, or about a community member who repurposed an old item for continued use! -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
5. Create subcommittees
  • You don't all have to be on the same page; create subcommittees that can compliment one another if you have enough people to organize around different focuses and/or approaches to taking action -Member of Reseau Demain le QC
6. Plan events that are easy to engage in for new volunteers
  • "Help volunteers overcome their shyness with actions that are easy to engage in such as "a 'phone canvass party’ where volunteers get together and make calls over tea & coffee. This should be a pleasant social experience. You could have a script made up in advance, and maybe do a few rehearsals together. There are many tools to help you in this, like this one." -Sharon Collingwood (Perth Sustainability Hub)
  • "A letter writing party can work in the same way. A hand-written letter to local officials will stand out, but email is also effective. If volunteers bring electronic devices you can get a great deal done in a short time. Have a few model letters prepared in advance, and help each other. You can also send out a mailing with links to letter-writing tools like this one." -Sharon Collingwood, Perth Sustainability Hub

Unsure of what to campaign around in your small city/rural area? Check out this list of ideas from Tool Complices Pour Notre Communaute. You might also draw ideas from Mouvement Mare's campaigns, which range in focus from local community-specific to National issues. 

Apply your understanding

We suggest taking a couple/few meetings to go through this, to get the most out of your reflections!

Reflecting on barriers

1. What barriers described in this guide resonate and why? 

Reflecting on building connections and outreach

2. Where do members of our community meet? Where do people convene? Where do they spend their time?

3. Who in our group has tried one-on-one conversations? What was their experience like? What can we learn from these experiences?

4. Do we have a media list? How can we build this?

5. Do we have coalitions/alliances with... other groups in our area? Other larger networks? Local businesses? Politicians? Our local Indigenous community? How can we establish new potential connections?

6. Do we have access plans (e.g. transportation/online access)? How can we build this? What are some other strategies we can use to connect us (e.g. dating apps? Yard signs? Socials?)

7. Based on our reflections in this section.. what are some new approaches/practices we like that we could implement...

a) today?

b) over time?

Reflecting on narrative and messaging

8. What are we doing, or what have we done, to gather the concerns of our community members?

9. Are we including the concerns of our community in our campaign priorities, or do we need to go back to the drawing board to include them more strategically?

10. What stories are we telling that our community members can relate to in their daily lives? What stories can we tell?

11. Is the language we're using accessible, or do people need a certain level of awareness/education to understand our message? Is there any part of our messaging that could be improved on this?

12. Do we have... connections with teachers? Doctors? What connections can we build upon/leverage?

13. Can we leverage in our framing... care? Experiences with nature? Local businesses and opposing corporate corruption?

14. Based on our reflections in this section.. what are some new approaches/practices we like that we could implement...

a) today?

b) over time?

Reflecting on online presence

15. Are we offering hybrid/online meeting options? Can we improve this at all?

16. What online organizing tools are we using to make it more accessible and easy to engage and include people? Are there any new platforms we could try?

17. Where are we currently communicating to our audience? Where do we send them to get updates about our group? Do we need to try something new, or is this working for us?

18. Based on our reflections in this section.. what are some new approaches/practices we like that we could implement...

a) today?

b) over time?

Reflecting on tactics and strategy

19. Do we use our imagination to plan actions (or do we plan the same action every time)? What are some new ideas we could try that could target specific audiences (e.g. families, artists etc)?

20. What kind of engagement numbers (on an email list, on social media, at actions etc) would it take for us to feel good planning a march, rally, or blockade?

21. Are we engaged in any local political matters, or with any politicians who we're aligned with? How can we leverage elections for mobilization purposes?

22. Are we offering different levels of involvement in our group? How can we improve this?

23. Are we promoting hope in our community (or only sharing our fears)? What could we do to improve this?

24. Based on our reflections in this section.. what are some new approaches/practices we like that we could implement...

a) today?

b) over time?

Closing reflections

25. Based on the strategies raised throughout our reflections... which could we apply to address the barriers identified in question 1? Is there anything else we could try?

26. What questions are we left with?

Further resources

Neighbours United's Deep Canvassing Playbook (having vulnerable, emotional, and nonjudgmental conversations with someone who feels differently about an issue to engage them)

Rural and Remote Toolkit by Climate Reality Canada and the Climate Justice Organizing Hub (local governance structures, organizing tactics and case studies)

If you have any suggested revisions or additional resources to share related to the above content, please email them to

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Back to Homepage