Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Media kills or cures: Promoting nonviolence

In the late 1970s I was involved in a movement to shut down a nuclear weapons command facility. We generated little notice and a few recruits (pictured).

Just a few years later, Randall Forsberg (pictured) started the nuclear freeze movement and brought a million people to a peacewalk in New York. We realized we had not been learning how to use media to recruit.
You are in a movement. You have realized that you need to recruit more numbers to your ranks. You need to create political pressure to get the policy change you seek. In short, you need media.
The dream: Major media takes the content of your brochures, your position papers, your manifesto, and puts it on page one. Since you are not the Unabomber, you don't take that fantasy too seriously. Instead, you begin to think about media strategies and tactics to operate as nonviolent civil resistance strategies and tactics.
Media gets you public attention, relevance, significance, and some possible protection. So how do you message to get the best help from the media? Your message is fact, perspective and transmits your connection to others as well as your credentials to offer a credible message.
There is no faster way to engage in leveling the playing field than to use media.
These are easy principles and they all swiftly degenerate into lots of hard work.
Failing to control the message will fail to recruit support and participation.
Messages are authentic and simple. They resonate with shared values. Use the values base to draw others to your approach. The more elements and the more confusing the long list of positional demands in your message, the more your recruitments cancel each other out.
Ride the policy wave. Be a player in the dialectic. Your timing is crucial. Like a surfer, you watch the building waves behind you and you learn when to switch to high energy and all the muscle you can bring to bear.
Control your image. Rachel Corrie's image justified her death. Nicolas Kristof specifically features the suffering of young girls in order to gain more resources and justice for everyone, because research into public opinion shows that sympathy for young girls outranks sympathy for all others. When someone turns on a television to see members of an antiwar demonstration burning soldiers in effigy your message for that demonstration will negatively affect recruitment. You may gain 11 burn-it-down nihilists and lose 1,100 working citizens. Think in terms of net gain.
A great part of your people power should be devoted to media. The older I get and the more campaigns I work in, the more I'm convinced that our work should be one part action, four parts discussion and negotiation, and five parts media. Whatever the ratio or priorities of your group, move media up high and get the people power to make it happen.
Gentle personalism. There is no substitute for relationship advantage. Don't let the default arrangement be the unchanging status quo. If an editor isn't your friend, make her your friend. If a reporter doesn't know who you are, invite him out for coffee, have a couple of things in writing, but don't give him those things until you are shaking hands goodbye for the day. This apparently unfair and biased approach is simple human nature. It works and ignore it to the detriment of your campaign, your movement, and your personal cache as a news provider.
Grab 'em by the throat in the first few seconds and never let go. National Public Radio aired a segment that included an interview with a long-retired movie director who was asked how he got the interest of the viewers. "I grab 'em by the throat in the first few seconds and never let go," was the response. Make your pitch, your press release, and your own writings center on stories that illustrate your point. Start with the story, make your point, mention the story again, and you are happily helping the mainstream media operative to help you.
In our little case to shut down a nuclear weapons command site we did learn how to use the media eventually. We generated stories in many local, state, and regional media, and even into national media such as the Christian Science Monitor and surprisingly even one long story in Asahi Shimbun, a huge Japanese newspaper. Despite the US navy telling us that they would keep the facility open for another 30-35 years, it's shut down now. I think we did a good job, finally. It's never too late to learn.

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