Developing leadership for a progressive Australia

Damian Ogden

Democracy works best when the largest possible number of people participate and exercise their power. Social democracy arises when politicians and leaders engage with the community beyond a short-term transactional relationship.

Elections are not just a battle about media, money and mobilising supporters for a few weeks; it’s the product of the strength of a political movement.

Campaigning for political office, while extremely important in its own right, is largely a vehicle for getting people involved in political movements. When powerful enough, those progressive movements can win election after election and move a progressive agenda forward.

This is not a new concept; we call this ‘grassroots’ politics. Our greatest resource as a progressive movement has been our ability to mobilise a committed volunteer base. It was the foundation to political campaigning before money, focus groups and big advertising campaigns centralised the process.

This blinkered one-dimensional view of elections has meant that grassroots support has been viewed as an unnecessary nuisance and the opportunity to recruit new leaders that can build movements for change have been ignored.

Experience shows that this neglects our community ties and ultimately makes winning elections and passing a progressive agenda more difficult. For good reason the electorate is increasingly cynical of candidates who emerge every few years during election campaigns and expect support.

Instead, there must be a return to grassroots campaigning as a way of electing progressive candidates and moving a progressive agenda.

We must develop new leaders who will advocate for social change and in doing so broaden our progressive base to engage those from underrepresented communities.

There is a vast difference between supporters of a cause and committed volunteers. Too often they are viewed as the same. They are not.

It was frustrating after experiencing Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign first hand that his historic win was attributed only to an ingenious online campaign. It wasn’t long before many political experts were passing off the latest ‘tricks’ attributed to the campaigns success. You can’t substitute an authentic grassroots movement with synthetic grass.

The online campaign was a modern tool that helped mobilise his energised, diverse base of supporters to become passionate effective volunteers. Central was the identification of new leaders and training them to be effective advocates not just for the campaign but also on the issues that mattered to them.

Identifying new leaders from our community is essential to rebuilding power locally and then more broadly. However, we must invest in training new and current leaders and mentor emerging leaders with the best training and resources available.


Campaign Action’s primary focus is to engage with individuals and organisations that represent a progressive voice and give them the skills to be more powerful in their community by becoming better advocates, organisers, campaign workers, citizen activists and maybe even candidates for political office one day.

Damian Ogden is the founder and Executive Director of Campaign Action, a national non-profit training institute for progressive leaders and organisations who advance political and policy change.


About Chifley Research Centre

Chifley Research Centre

The Chifley Research Centre is the Labor Party’s official think tank, committed to the advancement of public policy debate and progressive thinking in Australia.

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