Make it a realistic goal. Then figure out a way to make it happen.
Action without focus – action without a goal – leads to unplanned results, if it leads to any results at all.
On Friday, the New York Times proceeded to look down its nose at the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Although the article allows that the demonstrators are “rightly frustrated” it also frames the entire protest as a group of immature, ineffective kids. Paragraph after paragraph shows the group as fractured, ineffective, flighty, and just downright silly. Even the fact that many of these people traveled from out of state is mocked, as reporter Ginia Bellafante says they traveled “with drums, horns, tambourines and, in the instance of one young man, a knee-length burlap vest, fur hat, ski goggles and tiny plastic baby dolls applied to the tips of his fingers.”
I wish she wasn’t somewhat right.
The truth is, the progressive movement has to get serious about how they present their causes, otherwise they will always allow themselves to get mocked and their important causes to be overlooked.
In our country protests are tools to get media coverage and nothing else. At this point oppressive structures are so decentralized, it is unlikely that physical force in one location could create any massive change in a social problem. Occupying Wall Street does not take down the financial system of this country. Beyond that, getting large amount of people to mobilize seems to be increasingly difficult.
So the crowd with protest signs is about getting the media to let the message out. This means that we need to make sure that the crowd is on message. Those running a protest need to work to make sure that as many people as possible are in agreement about what their goals are, what they want to say, and how they should say it.
This isn’t easy. But there are always leaders in each protest – influencers who have the ear of a group. For example, this could be the lead organizer of one particular community group that decided to march. These leaders need to work to find each other, come to consensus, and then keep an eye on their area for anything that is off message.
If not, the NY Times leads with a paragraph about a crazy naked lady and millions of readers suddenly dismiss your very real cause. It’s that simple.
The best communication for social change campaign I have seen in a while didn’t come from a major non-profit or powerful group of grassroots activists. It came from a High School Senior named Gaby Rodriguez.
For six and a half months of her senior year of High School, Gaby Rodriguez pretended that she was pregnant. With only a few key people in on the plan, Gaby documented how she was treated and how perception about her changed as she got “father along.” Kids got cruel, assumptions about her and her boyfriend were made. At the end of the six and a half months, an assembly was held where Gaby confronted the students with the awful things that were said about her, then revealed that she was not pregnant. (Here’s a blog post with the details, and the AP video for the story.)
In many ways, it reminds me of Jane Elliott’s elementary school experiment, where she divided her third-grade class into blue-eyed and brown-eyed groups. She told one group that because of their eye color they were better than the other, and cruelty was the result. Decades later, those kids have never forgotten the message of stereotypes and injustice, and neither will the kids from Gaby’s school. It was a brave and impressive action.
It was also something that communicators should learn from.
When trying to move people to action, we often get stuck in the same old tactics – advertising, tweeting, PR, walkouts, protests, et cetera, et cetera. But this is a very one-dimensional view of what it means to communicate.
Gaby took a brave step and used her own body to create a relationship with her audience. She involved them, drew them into her campaign, compelled them to interact with her, then gave her message. Because the relationship was so personal between her and her audience, the change she achieved is likely to be lasting and significant – far more than, say, an ad about teen pregnancy.
Brave, strategic, creative. Gaby Rodriguez: you’re awesome.
When a person tries to act in accordance with his conscience, when he tries to speak the truth, when he tries to behave like a citizen, even in conditions where citizenship is degraded, it won’t necessarily lead anywhere, but it might. There’s one thing, however, that will never lead anywhere, and that is speculating that such behavior will lead somewhere.
Monday! Blogs are posting! Here’s a roundup of things worth checking out.