Scribing for GetUp! — using the pen to bear witness

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(First posted on LinkedIn.)

I went along to a big training day organised by the political organisation GetUp! for people wanting to learn how to help effect change in their local communities. I’d been asked to come along and “livescribe” some of the stuff I was seeing there, capture some of the people attending.

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When I think of GetUp! I imagine loads of slick youngish people (probably fans of The West Wing) sending out alerts about awful things politicians are doing, and there’s probably some of these people at the offices, but I was surprised by the spread of people I saw on the day — types, backgrounds, ages, ethnicities — who are willing to give up their time to help in giving their local areas a voice.

It reminded me of the protests against Tony Abbott when he was prime minister, which were attended by a massive cross-section of the community unwilling to sit back and accept that a man like him represented Australia to the world (aside from the effects of his policies and worldview). At those protests you saw grandmas and young guys and dads with their little kids and couples with dogs.

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I think in having a cartoonist draw the goings-on at their event, GetUp! volunteers hoped to “disrupt” their own branding a bit (branding which is clean and readable but fairly generic and even “corporate”-looking) and show the public something of the spirit that exists within their organisation. Their photos and video do this too (vollies out on the hustings, orange shirts on), but art is good for turning a subject over in your hands and examining it from other perspectives.

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And when it’s well done it can be a lightning rod, enabling change (and creating extraordinary reactions in opponents of change — look at how our pal Tony reacted when he heard Macklemore was going to perform a song about same-sex partnerships at the Grand Final).

As my wife (another excellent cartoonist) said to me today, “Comics are a good way of bearing witness”. Cartoonists are naturally good at telling a story with images, but they’re also often good at synthesizing information and capturing emotional changes. Confused? Want to know what’s going on in any given room? The cartoonist can probably tell you!