Losing the messaging battle

If you’ve been paying any attention to the news, you know that there’s been a dispiritingly high level of nonsense permeating the recent discussion of climate change. Of course, there’s always a high level of nonsense attending any public discussion of climate change. But many of us have been taken aback by the amount of traction that various anti-scientific arguments have gained in recent weeks.

It started with the hacked emails from East Anglia, which were followed by a series of ginned-up “climategates,” including the discovery of some minor errors in the IPCC report. A large snowstorm in Washington, D.C., was treated by partisan outlets as a refutation of global warming, and — more shockingly — mainstream journalists covered this nonsense as though they were reporting a ping pong game between evenly matched opponents.

For sheer breathtaking stupidity, it would be hard to match a *Daily Mail* headline that read, “Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995.” This would be news indeed, if the headline did not sit atop an article in which the scientist in question states the exact opposite thing. None of this prevented the article from zinging around the deny-osphere.

Most maddeningly, there’s a tendency among certain elements of the smug commentariat to blame environmentalists for this state of affairs. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post exemplifies this attitude. The idea, it seems, is that if environmentalists weren’t always going on about environmental problems, then the world would be able to have a more rational discussion about these issues. Or something.

I never know how seriously to take this stuff. Engaging too deeply with it always raises the possibility of giving it more power than it deserves. As RealClimate notes, there’s a cyclical quality to these flare-ups that reflects their media-driven nature. Meanwhile, the worlds of science and policy grind along, hopefully unaffected by the day-to-day chatter.

But it’s hard to maintain equanimity in the face of the latest onslaught. Tom Friedman has an excellent column on the need for greens to push back. But I’m not entirely sure about his prescription:

> In my view, the climate-science community should convene its top experts — from places like NASA, America’s national laboratories, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, the California Institute of Technology and the U.K. Met Office Hadley Centre — and produce a simple 50-page report. They could call it “What We Know,” summarizing everything we already know about climate change in language that a sixth grader could understand, with unimpeachable peer-reviewed footnotes.

> At the same time, they should add a summary of all the errors and wild exaggerations made by the climate skeptics — and where they get their funding. It is time the climate scientists stopped just playing defense.

Certainly such a document could be valuable, but I’m not sure that it gets to the heart of the problem, which seems to have much more to do with the control of media narrative than it does with the raw facts of climate change. Unfortunately the deck is fundamentally stacked: scientists by nature tend to hedge, to find nuance, to couch findings in technical language, to shun policy debates, to regard criticism as a serious matter requiring investigation and thoughtful response. Lobbyists and television pundits feel no such compunction.

How to address this imbalance? I think that scientific bodies would do well to study the messaging techniques of modern political campaigns. This makes me a little sad to say, and I’m by no means suggesting that scientists should bend facts to support specific positions. Rather, they should learn to speak in crisp, non-technical language; they need to respond swiftly to controversies, even before all the facts are fully known; and they should recognize that the truth needs a strong advocate. It’s not enough to publish in journals and hope that the knowledge gets out there.

Author Bio



  1. Tom Harrison - February 24, 2010

    Adam —
    Having just spent a weekend with my family, some of whom are unclear on the facts, I would observe that at least people who have critical thinking skills do not accept the absurd blather of the deniers — they have far more nuanced reasons to doubt the need to change the world, and will, eventually, be swayed by the facts. But sadly, this group is not representative of our country.
    I think the basis of Friedman’s piece was the general distaste of the UN, hence IPCC, that this country seems to have developed. It’s classic American bravado to not believe the truth until our own scientists say it’s true. Still, the IPCC report rocked the world, to be sure, and another one as Friedman suggests could help advance the facts in a powerful way. Yet this would only impact those of us listening, and the policy makers (and maybe Bill Gates, as per your previous post).
    I have come to believe that the same strategies that have been so well-refined by the conservative movement are, sadly, the ones the progressive (and environmental, etc.) movements need to adopt. I wonder if we have the spine to do it?
    I have long argued that one of the issues facing progressive thought leadership is that we tend to argue amongst ourselves about the details — TerraPass certainly has some different views than the “typical” environmentally oriented site, for example. Nuance, science, and alternatives are all confusers — the conservative message is not confusing.
    The success of the conservative message is founded on finding a simple concept expressed in two or three words, co-opting facts and warping their meaning into the concept, wrapping it all in a flag, repeating it ceaselessly, and using it to bludgeon those who disagree. “Drill Baby, Drill”, “Clear Skies Initiative”, “Tea Party” are only a few that come to mind.
    While I suspect we can come up with the words, I simply cannot imagine that we could successfully do all the other dirty work. I am not sure this is the right path to take. I still believe we have to stand behind the concept that lead me to vote for Obama. He has had a couple of bad knocks, but don’t count him out yet.

  2. Rob Gonzalez - February 24, 2010

    Honestly, what the environmental movement needs more than anything is focus focus focus!
    After the Superbowl you talked about the car commercial (Audi was it?) that had the environmental police arresting people for crimes. Not composting, sorting recycling, etc. etc. Your conclusion was that it came off kindof on the fence, which is to say that it wasn’t a green commercial, but wasn’t overtly anti-green either.
    I think it’s a great example of what I’m trying to get at. To do envi right and not be chastised by the envi enthusiasts is really hard; the movement ends up coming off haughty and condescending (ever see that South Park episode with the cloud of Smug over San Fran?). I think a great deal of the backlash has more to do with that than anything else. It’s emotional.
    Even focusing on just climate change the messaging is all over the map. If the marketers to just agree on one specific thing–maybe it’s the carbon concentration number in the atmosphere that is the point of no return?–rather than be all over the map, fighting a million battles at once, then it will seem less overwhelming to people, and easier to get more on board at the beginning. Otherwise the movement comes off as micromanaging people’s lives, from the cars they drive to the house they live in to their travel preferences to their jobs to their eating and shopping habits…etc. etc. etc.
    Make sense? I mean, heck, I offset my carbon with Terrapass, bike to work, live in the city…I do all the big things right, and still I feel this way about the messaging. Something isn’t right about that. There’s not enough, “Good job!” attitude.
    Another way to look at it is this: when a kid starts to write, you don’t berate him for not being able to do so in iambic pentameter and perfect rhyme. It takes time. The US (and world) are like toddlers when it comes to environmentalism. A little more positive can-do attitude and a little less preaching will go a long way.

  3. Rob Gonzalez - February 24, 2010

    Yes! I totally agree with the contrast you made with the Conservative messaging. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) really works. People are bombarded with data and info about everything all day long, and for anything to stick it has to be consistent, repeated, simple, and powerful. Environmentalism has nothing of the kind.

  4. Kathryn Smith - February 24, 2010

    Thank you for this thoughtful and clearly heart-felt information.
    I think the core problem lies with the media, as you said, which has been bought off and centralized. That is fundamental strategy to controlling public thought, for profiteering interests. And because of that business interest, sadly I suggest that the fight with the media will never be won, until the monied interests are out of the picture. How to address that core problem, I do not know the answer. But as has historically always been the case, the system will eventually correct itself.
    What certainly will be effective is if we, the people, become the media. The internet is such a useful tool and it is exactly because of the media’s arrogance that more and more people are turning to alternative news sources and blogs. The real information comes from us all, not from the media, and this is a known fact to many people, and increasing numbers thereof.
    I suggest that Terra Pass ask its readers to take up their “pens” and post widely to blogs, send letters to the editor (which are supposed to represent a cross-sector of public opinion, and usually do. I have more than 100 letters printed in my name, and have found that contrary to popular belief, the mainstream news does print controversial things in these letters).
    We also can go through the college newsletter editors, who not only are inclined to print raw truth, but also talk to their parents and thus wake the slumbering giant. STudents and even very young children are concerned about climate change. They will be very proactive, with their pens and their newsletters and their voices.
    When you find a brick wall (the media) don’t try to walk through it. Walk around it. Through the open door. Thank goodness we have this door, and it is a wide open one.
    Thanks for all you are doing and for your concerned ethic!

  5. Kathryn Smith - February 24, 2010

    PS Also the local newspapers are inclined to print things that are censored by the mainstream media. The awareness and truth can be spread one town at a time. And people do talk, and the internet is such an outreach tool with such a swift response. Therefore, reaching the smaller newspapers will have much more outreach than immediately meets the eye.
    I suggest the college newsletter editors, the smaller local media, and asking readers to become the media, to sum it up. It will work. Word will spread, and the truth shall set you free. It can’t be stopped. Period. end.
    Thank you for all you are doing.

  6. Tom Harrison - February 24, 2010

    Nicely put, Rob.
    Bill McKibbon founded 350.org, and they have one, simple message: get CO2 concentration down to 350ppm. They had some success in Copenhagen, and without diminishing their impact, I think we need more of a broad, consistent, topical marketing effort. I think Repower America is doing a fairly good job of this.
    But there can be no single group responsible for getting out this message; it has to be a movement that all organizations get behind and support.

  7. Rob Gonzalez - February 24, 2010

    Here’s another good link on the subject of simple messaging. It’s from the Boston Globe, and it’s called “Easy = True.” The idea here is that cognitive psychologists have found that if something is perceived as easy, it is also more likely to be perceived as true!
    Quote: “One of the hottest topics in psychology today is something called

  8. Ron - February 24, 2010

    I strongly suggest you take Tom Freidman’s advice very seriously. Public opinion does impact legislation at local, state, and federal levels, and we are clearly losing the argument. This is Gresham’s Law as it pertains to information (as opposed to money). I argue bad information drives out goods information, since the bad information suggests status quo which is easier to accept. A vast majority of noisy people mistrust government and this issue is associated with government, so a massive information effort is necessary to redirect the thinking and undrstanding on this issue. The Imhoff’s of the world will use any correction, contradiction, or misinformation to malign the climate change argument. You need to listen to Freidman. This is very serious.

  9. Adam Stein - February 24, 2010

    Lots of good thoughts here, although I do think we’re talking about slightly different things. Designing the appropriate messaging around environmental goals is an overtly political task. Bill McKibben and others (including TerraPass) are engaged in this task, and it’s an important one.
    But I’m talking specifically about breaking the dominance of anti-scientific nonsense in the mainstream media. It’s great to have a crisp, positive statement of the environmental agenda, but someone still needs to go on TV and state with force and authority that a snowstorm in Washington does not refute global warming. In fact, we need a chorus of such voices, and we need them to be equal in prominence to the voices declaring otherwise.
    I wish this weren’t true. It’d be nice to believe that the truth will out. But increasingly I’m feeling otherwise.

  10. Steve Bogner - February 24, 2010

    Adam, isn’t stating ‘with force and authority that a snowstorm in Washington does not refute global warming’ part of ‘the appropriate messaging around environmental goals’?
    Breaking the dominance of anti-scientific messages in mainstream media is critically important to gaining ground on environmental goals. Winning over those who have educated themselves on the science and the issues is much simpler than convincing people on the fence (or outright skeptics) that they need to do something about pollution, conservation, care of the environment and etc. 50-page studies won’t get any converts; 5-page reports probably won’t either. Fence-sitters and skeptics will look to those public authorities they already trust – convincing those key people may be the place to start gaining ground on getting the appropriate messaging accepts by the masses.
    The easy converts are already converted, the next wave will be much more difficult and may require a different strategy.

  11. Adam Stein - February 24, 2010

    Adam, isn’t stating ‘with force and authority that a snowstorm in Washington does not refute global warming’ part of ‘the appropriate messaging around environmental goals’?
    Well, I don’t see the point of getting into a semantic debate about this, but I’m trying to draw a distinction between the topic of the post (anti-scientific noise) and the topic of many of these comments (selling an environmental agenda to the broad public). However you want to label these things, they aren’t identical, and they seem to require different strategies.

  12. Rob Gonzalez - February 24, 2010

    I just completely disagree with you that you can disentangle these ideas. The reason that anti-scientific noise exists is that the messaging is easier, the groups spouting it are more focused, and the environmental movement is all over the place.
    I don’t care what expert you get on what stage speaking about climate change with what level of clarity or authority. It’s not going to make a difference. Which people cared aobut Al Gore’s movie? Answer: those already agreeing with him. If what you try to do is pull the credibility rug out from under the anti-scientific nonsense you’re fighting the wrong fight. See the ongoing ridiculous evolution in schools topic on that one.

  13. Adam Stein - February 24, 2010

    My guess is that the people doing the actual groundwork on science education in schools would disagree with you. Having scientists speak with clarity and authority in a timely manner actually matters quite a bit. Pro-science folks win court battles and public school board battles all the time, and they do so in part through dedicated effort at outreach and education.
    I confess, I’m not really sure what we’re arguing about here. But if you’re suggesting that it’s impossible to formulate a media strategy to push back on misrepresentations of climate science without first figuring out the grand message of the environmental movement, well then I’m sort of left scratching my head.

  14. Anonymous - February 24, 2010

    A to the Men (and Women)
    I’ve had a lot of spirited debates with friends on facebook about global warming. Its been a fun way to practice framing and maintaining a respectful dialogue. The kooky perceptions people have latched onto, once expressed, often defeat themselves.

  15. Kathryn Smith - February 24, 2010

    a reply to Adam Stein and Rob Gonzales’s comments:
    I consulted a political strategist who had the following to offer:
    a) It’s been officially studied. Preaching to the choir works. Further, it works better than trying to recruit new people to your team. Political movements have grown by appealing to their own constituent base rather than trying to convince new people. Why? If you think about it, here we are, “the choir”, sharing information with each other. In so doing, we gain knowledge, therefore increased credibility. And that is how the wave grows. As sharing occurs, as backbone grows stronger, so does the movement. So in a spirit of utmost respect, Rob, let me state the opposite point of view. Talking to those who already are into this subject will do lots of good, far from being futile.
    b) Again the counter-scientific argument is fueled by monied interests. We are never going to convince them to stop tooting their horn. HOwever we can keep putting out the opposite point of view, in as convincing a way as we can, and those with common sense will join us.
    I suggest that it be stated as a mantra, again and again:
    “Where any question exists, why not take the protective point of view” (and action).
    c) The political strategist also had the following to offer:
    For those who believe everything they hear, don’t want to think, prefer to watch the ballgames and pass the beer/peanuts, etc here is how to cut through.
    It’s about wordsmithing, not about lengthy articles and facts, said the political strategist. That is why politicians use short slogans et al. They brainwash the people, to be perfectly frank. Or, at least, it’s a salesman’s game. The greater cross-sector doesn’t like to read long articles, so to cut through is not about facts. Repeat: It’s about short slogans. And there is an art to doing this in an effective way, pointed out the strategist.
    Terra Pass could team up with marketing specialists who can help them to design such slogans. Remember, to break through the mindset, these slogans have to be used again and again. It’s a mantra, not a one-time thing.
    I also have found that visuals catch peoples’ attention more than words. When boothing at a county fair, this became clear. We had banners out, etc and very few people stopping to look/read. But when we put up large photographs, posters with images and symbols, suddenly people stopped and looked. There were only, once again (eyeball roll, sorry for the repeat) short slogans on these banners. It was the images that got peoples’ attention. THEN they started to read further, if they had the time and interest. But the pictures surely drew them in.
    Just a few ideas for new ways to cut through.
    “Why not take the protective point of view?”
    Image of glaciers melting, with a stopsign showing an image of something we want to stop, alongside it. Just an idea.

  16. Rob Gonzalez - February 24, 2010

    Great stuff, Kathy. Thanks for posting!

  17. William Cutler - February 24, 2010

    We are approaching a Darwinnian moment for the human race. Unless we get on top of the climate crisis pretty soon, our species, along with the rest of life on the planet, is in for a very hard time for the next couple of centuries. Populations will be decimated. The only hope is that the smart people will survive. It is a serious genetic flaw in our makeup that the equation Easy = True governs our beliefs. At the end of the trial period, it will be quite clear that another equation holds true: Stupid = Death. That lesson will be learned, either by physically skewing the IQ curve toward higher numbers by the extinction of the lower, or through enculturation of a more rational approach to complex problems.

  18. E. Daniel Ayres - February 24, 2010

    I like the phrase “enculturation” of a more rational approach to the solution of complex problems. As a technical consultant to a company making its living in the business of ISO certification processes, I can state that a certain amount of that enculturation has been occurring. The problem continues to be at the very top where resource allocation decisions are driven by self interest and corporate greed. A society and culture which produces large numbers of humans with no hope for a future will probably be destroyed by suicide bombers or their equivalent, revolutionaries with “nothing left to loose.”

  19. darooda - February 24, 2010

    Totally agree. There’s too much “We’re right and everyone else is a liar or an idiot” attitude in the movement. I’m for good strong policy and and progression on climate issues, but I don’t agree with everything here. According so some here, apparently I’m a liar or an idiot. The problem with that is it completely turns off people that are neither. There’s tons of data out there on tons of issues we all aren’t on the same point in the learning curve and even when we are we don’t agree on the best solutions. I have good friends that support climate legislation that are also conservatives, they are not a rare breed, but attitudes and statements like the ones here completely turn them off and eliminate their positive input to the discussion and their party.
    We need to communicate our message without insulting the people the message is for or we will find ourselves ignored. The truth is that we aren’t the only ones with intelgence and good ideas, we need to stop acting like we are.

  20. Misanthropic Scott - February 24, 2010

    Tom Friedman’s suggestion of a 50 page document that a 6th grader could read has already been tried.
    The link above contains the executive summary of the document, which can be read by someone who does not even have the hypothetical 6th grade education as well as links to the PDF containing the full document at just around 50 pages, not including table of contents and 6 pages of references.
    Needless to say, it has proven ineffective. One anonymous blogger even hit my site claiming to be a former climate scientist who didn’t believe the report. We were many comments into the discussion before he finally clicked through the link to actually look at the document. I was able to tell from my wordpress dashboard that no one had clicked through prior to his comments, so knew beyond any reasonable doubt that he had not even glanced at the thing before attacking it.
    Such is the mentality we are fighting … and fighting for our very lives.
    I am not hopeful.

  21. Anonymous - February 25, 2010

    Let me suggest that the thing to do is to use this example, without naming the person of course, and write about it….on blogs, in letters to the newspaper editor, in chain emails, wherever you can. Your wording that we are fighting “for our very lives” are powerful and moving. If you state the case that those battling for the cause of death instead of against it, should do their research first, then that might be cool.
    I still advocate for the cause of repeating the mantra:
    “Where a survival question is concerned, if there is any question, why not take the protective point of view” (and action).
    Kathryn Smith

  22. John in Easton - February 25, 2010

    NPR’s Guy Raz recently interviewed liberal “cognitive linguist” George Lakoff about the difficulty climate scientists are having communicating with the public. One take-away message: The topic should be “FRAMED” by referring to the subject as “THE CLIMATE CRISIS”, rather than as “global warming” or “climate change”.

  23. Tom Harrison - February 26, 2010

    Yes, you have it exactly right. This is an issue of language and communication. Tom Friedman is an optimist (thank goodness for them, I’m not one).
    But we cannot give up. We just need to be a little smarter, right?
    There is a way to get the correct message out, broadly. It will not reach the group of the true-disbelievers, such as those who have commented on TerraPass, my blog, my company’s blog, your blog, etc. But there is a group of people who can be convinced of the truth, given the right message — and it is, truthfully, most of the US. We’re not a dumb country in general, we’re just struggling to make sense of a lot of confusing signals (lots of disinformation, included).
    I get misanthropic ever other day. But on the days when I read something that gives me despair, I think, and realize that hopefulness is the only true answer.
    Be hopeful. It will let you see how to solve the problem better.
    Tom (on a good day)

  24. Dale Kemp - February 28, 2010

    I’m impressed and hopeful with the spirit of the conversations posted. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I recall how people literally threw trash (pop cans, paper litter, etc. out car windows and while walking on sidewalks across America without a thought. The public service TV owl and slogan of “Give a hoot, don’t pollute!” was simple and caught on like wild fire. It became unpopular to be insensitive to our shared environment. I am not naive enough to believe that one such simple campaign alone changed societal behavior, but it played a role.
    Anyway, it seems to follow some of the logic discussed above, i.e., the need for simplicity and imagery in messages for people to grasp the necessary changes with new behaviors to slow or stop the slipping time line and save a dying planet.

  25. Tom Harrison - March 1, 2010

    Kathryn —
    Yours is one of the most lucid responses, amongst a number of really thoughtful comments here, and it made me think.
    I have definitely come to points in my life where arguing further has seemed pointless — it’s all just the same smallish group of us talking amongst ourselves. I have been blogging for five years on energy, conservation, climate change and so on, and haven’t felt like I have made that much, if any difference. Indeed, I quit my regular job and now am working at a company that is trying, like TerraPass, to make a difference in the world (we’re called energycircle.com, which is a pretty shameless plug :-). In either case, it seems an uphill battle.
    Yet, as you have reframed this idea, it makes a lot of sense to keep on fighting for what I believe is right. It really is a movement, and those of us in “the choir” are tasked with gently, gradually explaining how what we see and understand is right. We each can take on small audiences with the single small message, and it can spread.
    The trick is (and back to Adam’s post): what is that message? I think we need to take a page from the political strategists’ play-books and find some simple, clear, ways of explaining what we need to do.

  26. Adam Stein - March 1, 2010

    I’m sorry to belabor this, but this post really isn’t about political messaging at all. Political messaging is important. It just doesn’t happen to be the subject of this post. Obviously I didn’t do a very good job of conveying my point, so apologies for that.
    I’m writing about the problem that Chris Mooney describes in Unscientific America. The national discourse around scientific topics is dangerously ignorant. We need to find a way to fix this. I think what is required in practice is for scientists to get their hands a lot dirtier.

  27. Kathryn Smith - March 1, 2010

    How about starting with YouTube videos of Terra Pass personnel as reporters/informers? Then also going to the TV as said, as money affords?
    YOu probably already know about this funding source, but in the unlikely event that you don’t, here is a well established and legitimate d-base of grantors in every category, including social justice giving:
    This is the Foundation Center Library’s website where grantors and funders are listed in every category under the sun. It’s a lengthy resource and I myself have obtained grants as an individual, not as a non-profit (they have two basic series: Grants to INdividuals and Grants to Non Profits). The intake question on the front page is: “What size grant are you looking for? Under $5,000 or over $500,000?” So there is money to be had. Recently one of the Foundation Center librarians told me that the economy has affected grant giving, cutting it back by 10%, but it’s not as if there isn’t funding available. With your good cause here, I say: Go for it!
    Also let me remind people here that newspapers (at least in the area where I live, and in DC) are going bonkers with articles about green this, green that. I think it is very much on the mind of the public, so thank goodness that wave has started and it’s only a matter of cutting through the disinformation campaign as said.
    That’s where I suggest that Terra Pass members could be recruited, by emails from Terra Pass, with requests to post rebuttals to the opposition’s statements on the web.
    I have found that when I specifically write that reprint permission is granted to any articles I have written, and ask readers to seed them around the web, that they do. Things travel widely when you do this. Maybe Terra Pass could do the same. Any emails you send out, or anything you print, ask readers to post them to blogs, send out chain emails, etc and word will spread. After all, people want to survive! Laugh….:-)

  28. Kathryn Smith - March 1, 2010

    Hello Adam et al
    Adam, thank you so much for all you are doing and for opening up the door to this public brainstorm. What a tough position you must be in.
    Concerning “Force and authority”,let me suggest that at least in my experience ,that is exactly what turns people off. I am plenty guilty, believe you me, and don’t want to pretend that I have it all together either. When we feel strongly about something, it becomes increasingly difficult to be soft, pliable and a good listener. We know too much and when we hear something someone else says, which we know right away to be wrong and further which will do great damage, we get up in arms. And it’s very difficult to be approachable.
    Yet, being approachable is exactly what people need in order to feel heard themselves, and in order for them to hear our message.
    I suggest that education with facts (I am contradicting what I said before about images, slogans and keeping it simple) will convert people better than “Force and authority”.
    Of course you are probably talking about confidence, that is a different stance than “force and authority”.
    I understand the frustration and utmost concern which informs this latter position, but I suggest it may prove counter-productive in the end. I think it is most effective to educate and drop facts, even questions actually, which get people to think and draw conclusions for themselves.
    The JEwish way to get through to people is not to educate in a fact-based way. Instead, it is to ask questions. The rabbi, or “Teacher”, asks questions in order to teach. It’s an approach which stimulates critical thinking, and that may be exactly what our mainstream cross-sector is missing. Critical thinking.
    So some fact-based education, along with asking questions of people, may be an effective way to go.
    I also wonder if a Youtube video or TV show with images once again, of melting glaciers et al—I am talking about real-life videos and not just comic strips, but real footage of actual events in nature or satellite images or the like—-may convince people. As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words”.
    I could be wrong. This is only for whatever it’s worth.
    Thank you all.

  29. Kathryn Smith - March 1, 2010

    Hi Tom et al
    Let me reply to this. I can identify with your feelings FYI. Sometimes we *think* our blogging work is having no effect. But we could be very wrong.
    I think it’s very different to do political work from the computer room, than it is to do it in person. I too have been blogging and writing letters to editors for years, always addressing the Feds and what is happening at the top. Recently, a blogger suggested that to work with the local governments is the way to go, and to let things filter up to the top from the bottom. Interesting thought.
    So I went to a townhall meeting about a certain topic, spoke in person to a crowd of people, and was extremely heartened to see about 85% of the room was nodding their head in agreement. Further, they had been “going with the program” previously, not objecting at all to certain wrong dynamics and just plain being compliant and so-called polite (at the expense of the better well-being of many. I can hardly call that polite in teh long run, if you ask me). There I Was, telling them that my hair was standing on end and here was why (x,y,z defined), and suddenly the compliance in the room shifted to most people nodding their heads. I talked with a few people afterward, who offered:
    “When one person speaks up, it makes it easier for the next person to do it”.
    That in-person experience was so utterly different than working from the computer, where I had thought that my god, Americans are asleep and I have no faith in our own people anymore. Sorry and no offense intended, as I love our fellow Americans and our culture. But it’s true, I too had run out of optimism.
    This experience, in person, was so different than what I *thought* the dynamic was when working in isolation.
    So I want to affirm you and others here who may feel the same way. Our work WILL have outreach, and we WILL make a difference.
    Blogger “George Washington” (pen name) cites a study in which a crowd of sheep changes to a revolution when only one person speaks up. If one person speaks up, the rest of the previously compliant crowd follows. It actually has been studied. It was cool and once again so heartening to experience that, first-hand.
    Secondly, let me state examples of where writing has outreach that we may not know about. An activist told me that she was leafleting Al Gore’s movie actually, when I submitted an election reform proposal (one of my previous focuses, it shifted later to civil liberties, my first focus and which remains so to this day). Not one newspaper turned the proposal down for printing in the letters ot the editor: I have found that newspapers like to print the positive hope and the empowering facts, what we can do, etc. It’s the public complaints which indeed are often printed, but also which must be sifted through because there are so many of those coming in. HOwever, if I have submitted proactive and hope-based information, it has been printed every time….so the activist was leafleting a movie theater, another activist marched the proposal to a Kucinich house party where Rep. Kucinich was present, who said he wanted to do what he could to get it penned into law.
    Mind you, it was the smallest local newspaper around here that got this kind of outreach!
    In telling this story, I am not trying to be self-congratulatory, sorry and that is not my aim. Instead, I am saying “look at all the hope. Look at how much we really can effect change”.
    So how do you know, Tom, that your writing has not made any difference? That could be one more illusion offered by the isolation of the computer room. Isolation may or may not be good for us activists. We need the in-person contact and the enforcement thereof.
    Best wishes to all, KS

  30. Kathryn Smith - March 1, 2010

    A reply to Rob Gonzales’s comment:
    WOW!!! how interesting, the idea of “Cognitive fluency” and “Easy=True” or peceived as such.
    Because after all, it’s not “easy” to accept the reality of all that we are up against.
    Denial is a psychological defense we create subconsciously in order to protect ourselves from…drumroll…EMOTIONAL PAIN. WE WANT TO BLOCK THAT OUT, AT ALL COSTS.
    Hence the disinformation campaign? In part it may be (largely even) based on corporate profiteering interests. But for the *public* cross-sector which has nothing to gain and everything to lose, it also may be based on…DENIAL.
    “Truth=easy”. But reality is hard, especially right now.
    I wrote an article on OPednews titled “Denial Is the Great Enabler”. Feel free to google it and take a peek if this might be helpful in any way. SOme people posted good comments when I asked the question:
    “How can we break through the collective denial? What are some techniques?” A therapist responded and some sales people responded, and believe it or not the sales person had some of the best information to offer. Have a peek. Maybe this is the keystone of the problem we are talking about here.
    This is only an idea.