The ‘Trim Tab’ Effect: What every campaigner should know

Being an Effective Campaigner requires Quality, Team Spirit, Fairness and HonestyToday, I’d love to illustrate how integrity, fairness, professionalism and the right connections can create huge momentum behind social action, where force and protest may not.

I’ve experienced the ‘trim tab’ effect in my own work as a campaigner. Sure, I had advantages, such as prior experience of working with policy-makers and MPs; and being trained in public speaking and media handling. I now teach these skills. Approach is everything though…


Here’s just one of the anonymous testimonials I’ve been blessed to receive:

“I don’t know Anj Handa personally, but she’s the person who got me write to Theresa May regarding the deportation… I’m almost 5o and have never written in protest before, but someone has to say “This is wrong.”

In a digital age with ease of access to information and protest, where so many causes, so many voices and so much noise dilutes rather than engages, I have found Anj Handa to be a model of information who cares about people and their rights.

Anj Handa is a modern day campaigner. She speaks from a place of positivity and the belief that she can create change. She has been a consistent force for changing attitudes…”

What the heck are ‘Trim Tabs?!’

I was delighted to have found (via the Facebook page of a campaigner that I respect) a great analogy by WWI US Naval Officer, Bucky Fuller.

In a 1972 Playboy interview (honestly!), Fuller talked about momentum and the “trim tab.” These are small surfaces that are connected to the trailing edge of a larger control surface on a boat or plane. Trim Tabs counteract hydro- or aerodynamic forces and gently stabilise the craft without the operator needing to constantly apply a controlling force. Just as an effective campaigner will do.

Want to be a great campaigner? Take note!

In Fuller’s interview, he was asked the following question: “How we can live with a sense of the individual’s impotence to affect events, to improve or even influence our own welfare, let alone that of society.”

Many of us would love to know the answer to that. Fuller’s reply was perfect:

“Something hit me very hard once, thinking about what one little man could do. Think of the Queen Elizabeth — the whole ship goes by and then comes the rudder. And there’s a tiny thing at the edge of the rudder called a trim tab. It’s a miniature rudder. Just moving the little trim tab builds a low pressure that pulls the rudder around. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab.

Society thinks it’s going right by you, that it’s left you altogether. But if you’re doing dynamic things mentally, the fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go. So I said, “Call me Trim Tab.”

The truth is that you get the low pressure to do things, rather than getting on the other side and trying to push the bow of the ship around. And you build that low pressure by getting rid of a little nonsense, getting rid of things that don’t work and aren’t true until you start to get that trim-tab motion. It works every time. That’s the grand strategy you’re going for.

So I’m positive that what you do with yourself, just the little things you do yourself, these are the things that count. To be a real trim tab, you’ve got to start with yourself, and soon you’ll feel that low pressure, and suddenly things begin to work in a beautiful way. Of course, they happen only when you’re dealing with really great integrity.”

A bit about me:

I led a high-profile, award-winning campaign in 2014 to help an asylum seeker and her two young girls on the grounds of the risk of Female Genital Mutilation. You can read the press releases here.

The public’s support was incredible. Almost 128,000 people signed my petition, enough to get the national and international media interested in the story. We got MPs to speak out and even found a legal team to submit applications on her behalf.

Many letters were sent to Theresa May, including one supported by the West Yorkshire Playhouse and around 20 directors, playwrights and performers. Thousands tweeted Virgin Airlines boss Richard Branson and stopped the first scheduled deportation.

If we all do a little, it can lead to major change. If I can become a recognised campaigner and bring about a movement like this, me – with no training, funding or existing experience – so can you! With a growing number of amazing women, I’m creating a movement called Inspiring Women Changemakers. Join us!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *