Have a Goal

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.

Others know this and are very good at doing it.


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Social INjustice Communications: National Institute of Canadian “Values”

The following awfulness ran in Canada’s National Post recently:

Via Open File

This is courtesy of the National Institute of Canadian “Values” which, in their own words, is “a national think-tank dedicated to advancing knowledge of public policy issues from Judeo-Christian intellectual and moral perspectives, as well as awareness of how such perspectives contribute to a modern, free, and democratic society.”

The society they dream of apparently contains these messages: Females are weak, children can’t think critically, and LGBT people are a disease.

According to their website, the Institute values feedback.  If you’re pissed at this, why not give them some:

Ekron Malcom
Executive Director
Tel: 416.391.5000 EXT 344
Fax: 416-391-3969

More about the ad here.

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Condescension and a Lesson from the New York Times

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.


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Filed under Approach, Grassroots, Process

Lessons from the Fight for Marriage Equality in NY

On Friday, the New York State government decided to (as my friend put it) “enforce the constitution of our country” and acknowledge the basic human rights of LGBTQ citizens, legalizing same-sex marriage.  It was a joyous and long-overdue moment.

The New York Times has an excellent article detailing the political path to Friday’s successful vote.  Within it are two vital points.

First, there will be no success unless progressives come together in one unified movement, under single-minded leadership.

The article credits Cuomo with bringing same-sex marriage advocates together as one group under his guidance, so each could be deployed when necessary.

Sounds a bit authoritarian and patriarchal, doesn’t it?  Too bad that’s how big movements are effective.

It is obvious that change comes when people come together and demand the same thing in one unified voice.  History is filled with examples to prove that.  However, we progressives often end up arguing the nuances of oppression with each other endlessly.  That work is important, but it should be left in the private spaces of the movement.

When presenting a forward-facing movement, we must unify under one message and one leader (who we can vote the eff out if they suck).  In other words, keep the fighting within the family.  This is the only way to make change within the system that we exist in.

The second point is simple but profound: change begins in the home, between those who love each other.

In the Times article, a marriage equality opponent changed his mind because his decision to oppose it began to tear apart his family.  He had to see and feel the hurt of oppression in his home to understand the pain his decision was causing.

I look back on my life and see that I am only where I am because of the people who I have met who have pushed me to be a better person – who have been brave enough to guide and strong enough to demand.  It is our responsibility to do this for those we love.

The power of unity and the power of love: key forces to be used in the fight for social change.

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Filed under Campaigns, Inspiration, Process, Social Justice

Creating the Meaning of Osama Bin Laden’s Death

Osama Bin Laden is dead.  As soon as that news hit, people across the world took to the digital space in massive numbers to celebrate, mock, worry, and argue.  Through this, we were all creating the meaning of this event.

This ability to create meaning is unique to our generation.  Because of many of us can now publish to a mass audience – by posting, tweeting, blogging – we now all share the ability to shape national narrative.

So, how are we shaping it?  With consideration and thought?  Or with the same amount of energy we put into a tweet about how much we love Mad Men?

In the past, saying your idea to a large amount of people required money for a printing press or, more recently, connections to an agent.  It took the time to write your ideas down and the expertise to hone your craft.  Most importantly, it required the infrastructure to reach large amounts of people.

Now, we write down a thought within fifteen seconds and publish it to hundreds of people with just one click.

This is important to understand, because those who control what information is shared shape how we think about things.  And now we all have a little bit more control.

When we publish, we state a thought to people.  They then can accept, reject, or modify it. But our thought serves as a starting point for their decision process.  By simply publishing, we set a frame through which meaning is created.  In other words, we shape narrative even if what we publish is wrong.

So, if your wall on Facebook is filled with celebration for Bin Laden’s death, that becomes the meaning of it, even if you disagree.  The argument becomes about celebration, leaving out other aspects of this complicated issue.

The narrative we all write about Bin Laden’s death will shape how we talk about our foreign policy, our future responses to terrorism, and our basic feelings on the appropriate reactions to violence – on a state and individual level.  Each of us now has the responsibility for shaping that narrative.

We need to take that responsibility seriously and publish with consideration.  Otherwise we risk creating a world we do not want to live in.




Filed under Events, Mission, Social Justice

#$%&@! (Bad progressive communications via the DCCC)

Forgive the subject heading, but I kind of lose it when progressives make terrible communications about important issues.

Check this out.  Seriously.  Watch this thing:

Let me just start by saying I’m not opposed to using humor to educate and move people to action.  We lean serious so often, and sometimes making people laugh is the most effective way to reach people.

But not like this.  Why?

The lemonade stand and mowing the lawn gag is relatively strong.  They bring home the point of the commercial – this plan puts the burden on seniors and that is cruel.  However, the stripper gag (sigh, I can’t believe I’m writing this) is the wrong message.  It frames the problem in terms of an inconvenience to non-seniors – they are going to become our burden.  This is an obnoxious and self-centered point of view, speaking to selfishness instead of empathy.  It also is a switch in message half-way through the commercial, a junior copywriter mistake.

And, people who made this ad, if you’re going to respond by saying, “it’s just a joke” well here’s my next point:

Bad acting?  Awkward dialogue?  Check and check.  In the industry we call this joke “too easy.”  And “obvious.”  And, frankly, “stupid.”

But that isn’t even the biggest problem here.

Progressives cannot create advertisements for social change while at the same time contradicting their value system (this has happened before).

Look at the stripper scene.   The joke is based on the idea that old people are unattractive.  As in: “ewwwww, I wouldn’t want an old person stripping for me.”  So, congratulationsDemocratic Congressional Campaign Committee for insulting the people you claim you are fighting for.  I believe that’s called hypocrisy.

What else?  Use of an industry that is connected to the sexual exploitation of men and women across the country as a joke.  Faux female empowerment.  You know, progressive stuff.

A common defense to these criticisms would be “we’re trying to get attention, so we’re being a little risky.”  That’s an excellent idea, but being risky isn’t enough.  When you step outside of the box to get attention, you need to make sure your message is tight and approrpiate (which it isn’t), that the quality is high (which it isn’t), and that you still fit within your values (which this doesn’t).

Do better, DCCC.  Hire better creatives.  Make sure the people approving creative have both good taste and an understanding of strategy.  Most important, when you stretch yourselves do it in a way that stays true to the values you claim to represent.


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Filed under Campaigns, Social INjustice

A High School Senior’s Awesome Campaign on Teen Pregnancy

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.



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Filed under Campaigns, Inspiration, Uncategorized

Quotation: Always be doing

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.

Václav Havel


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Comm Roundup – 4/18/11

Monday!  Blogs are posting!   Here’s a roundup of things worth checking out.

  • Like me, the blogger at Parents for Ethical Marketing doesn’t like advertising flooding our schools.  But recently, one of her readers challenged her to come up with alternatives to fund schools.  This very interesting post is her response, and totally worth checking out.
  • Here’s an animated infographic showing the relationship between the spread of radiation from the Fukushima reactor and tweets about it.
  • Google launched Messages For Japan, a site where (using google translation services) people can post messages of support that can then be translated into Japanese.  Beyond the power of the site, it’s crazy to think about how technology may soon help remove the barrier of language in our communications.  (via The Inspiration Room)
  • The Chronicle of Philanthropy points out that a lot of nonprofits have been nominated for the Webbys this year and does an excellent round up of them.
  • And teammates and a crowd of people came together to support a Brazilian player who was accosted by homophobic remarks.  Solidarity is a powerful, awesome thing.



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Communication Action: Grade-Ins Create Awareness for Teachers

Oh, I love it when people get together to do a cool protesty-action communication things in creative, powerful ways.  Especially when it is a group of people that are so important to our country – teachers.

My friend Nancy from The Teacher Geek sent me this article.  Apparently, teachers across the country are starting to participate in “Grade-Ins”, where they congregate in a public space and grade tests, to show people the amount of work they do.  It’s a response to the idea people have that teachers get all this time off, and work less hours than other people.  Here’s a video with some interviews:

Just imagine walking into your food court and seeing it filled with people…but they’re all quiet, and focused on papers in front of them. A sign says “ask me what I’m doing” so you do, and then you experience first hand the effort these men and women put in to helping our children.

It’s an well designed piece of communications.   They’re not standing outside the school holding signs yelling about how hard they work.  They want people to understand all that they do, so…they show it.  Also, it is done in a way that grabs your attention and pulls you in.  This is an inviting action.

However, at no point in these videos and articles is there a strong call to action letting me know what I can do to help.

Thanks to this clever piece of communication, I am now aware…but awareness is nothing unless it leads to action.  Give me a petition, send me to a website – something.  I am engaged with your cause for this moment, use that to get me to help you in a concrete way.  Even this facebook page has no direct call to action.

If these teachers would work together to tie a Grade-In to one local, easy-to-do action for those who witness it, they could see some concrete results.



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Filed under Campaigns, Grassroots, Social Justice