Writing with your non-dominant hand by @BloggersRUs
Writing with your non-dominant hand
by Tom Sullivan
The truth will not set you free. Our insistence on the left that it should gets in the way of moving the needle on key issues. It is a hard lesson to learn for children of the Enlightenment that reason does not always win the day. It’s not how people work.
Anat Shenker-Osorio (Don’t Buy It: The Trouble with Talking Nonsense about the Economy) applies the race-class narrative to countering right-wing messaging in a new podcast series, Brave New Words.
The core principle is to address race explicitly. Avoiding talking about it for fear of being accused of practicing identity politics leaves right-wing, divide-and-conquer messaging about race expressed in dog whistles unanswered and un-neutered. A race-class formulation that acknowledges race and calls out fear-based messages “outperformed colorblind economic populism across the board,” she wrote in the Washington Post last year.
The key to moving the needle on social issues is to offer a positive vision of where progressives want to take society rather than making legal arguments and painting a picture of negative consequences of conservative policies. But it’s a little like learning to write with your non-dominant hand, Shenker-Osorio says.
People Seeking Asylum offers a compelling example of how traditional messaging misses the mark. The Australian government‘s warehousing refugees in under-resourced, offshore detention centers provoked both outrage on the left and support on the right. More than half of Australia supported holding even infants indefinitely in holding centers.
The narrative echoes the immigration debate in this country. The debate was framed as dark-skinned criminals coming to take “your stuff.” Shen Narayanasamy of GetUp’s Human Rights campaigns tells Shenker-Osorio that these debates are always about race. Economics and infrastructure are surface issues used to disguise that fact. But after years of framing the issue as one of international law and human decency, this time they took a new approach.
The “Let Them Stay” campaign shifted public opinion in a matter of weeks (transcribed).
“If it had been the old way of doing it, we would have run a campaign about the numbers, how unlawful it was. It would all have been focused on how awful offshore detention was,” Narayanasamy says. Instead, they collected human stories about refugees’ experience as people. They asked detainees about their kids, about their lives, about “what it feels like to hold a newborn, what your hopes are, that they just like you and me. Speak to the essential anxieties that underpin this debate.”
“Unfortunately, you have to prove your humanity,” she continues. “The first step after you’ve been othered is to try and get the person othering you to acknowledge that you are, in fact, human.”
This proved uncomfortable for some. Why should they have to prove their humanity?
Narayanasamy explains the foundation for “Let Them Stay,” “Not don’t let them go back. Not it’s all horrible. It’s, here is a child. Here is a family. Their story is like you.” This woman likes Beyonce, etc.
“It’s all authentic memories. We spent a long time, then, talking to people about it. And this woman, you know, they were Iranian refugees, and they’d had a terrible situation, but I had to — I felt horrible — because you’re asking people, literally, who’ve been tortured and traumatized, what’s your favorite music?” Narayanasamy says.
They ran stories in Australian Women’s Weekly to illustrate people’s humanity “to a population to whom the great anxiety and the great debate was about othering them and not seeing them as human. And we just smashed it across everything.”
Public opinion sifted 15-20 percent in a month and a half, and the government relented.
Their success was not total, but human rights activists had won a victory.
Greater Than Fear examines the Minnesota campaign to push back against othering of the state’s Somali community.
Sharon Goldtzvik (Uprise, Greater Than Fear campaign) explains the challenges they faced ahead of the 2018 elections:
It’s such a tricky problem. It’s actually important to say that Muslims are not terrorists, but it’s hard to understand that staying it that way doesn’t actually change people’s minds about it. You feel like it should. You feel like making factual statements should change people’s minds. But what we know about persuasion is that that’s actually not the case. People decide much more based on emotion than they do based on straight-up facts and all kinds of other psychological factors. It’s just people are really genuinely outraged and feel like, if I just explain it and explain why it’s not true, then like people will understand it. But it’s a big problem when we do that because we’re actually handing over the conversation to our opposition. we’re letting them set the terms of what the conversation’s going to be about.
This next year is going to get ugly. The temptation will be to go toe-to-toe with opponents, to spend all our time challenging their narratives rather than selling positive a more positive vision. Instead, Shenker-Osorio insists, our goal should be “to engage our base, persuade the middle, and reveal the opposition for the outliers they are.”