Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Yearly Kos 2006: Communicating the Progressive Vision

Communicating the Progressive Vision panel.

Jeffrey Feldman, operator of Frameshop:

To be a progressive means to believe in the power of communication. Blogs aren't just sites where people post articles. They're places built on talk. On any given day, the blogs are boiling over on how to best communicate progressive ideas. How to disarm Republican propaganda. How to use language. As such, there has emerged a new core principle. Success doesn't merely begin with fundraising, but with talking back the talk, and ends when we hold the debate. While movement republicans are eager to accept talking points and propaganda, we have uniformly rejected a top-down approach, choosing instead to pick up the tools of political communication and apply them. Progressive activists go where only PR consultants had gone before with profound results.

Today we have 4 people representing a cross-section of progressive communication. Jim Derych, author of Confessions of a Former Dittohead. John Javna, author of 50 simple things you can do to save the earth, and 50 simple things you can do to fight the right. Justin Krebbs, founder of Drinking Liberally and Laughing Liberally, and George Lakoff, author of Don't think of an Elephant and Whose Freedom.

A word about the format--since they’re all experts, I'll turn over the floor to them. Each will speak for five minutes, after which I'll initiate a panel discussion. The panelists will speak to us, and to each other.

JIM DERYCH: I'm Jim and I'm a former dittohead. I still can't believe I'm standing up here. I started blogging in 2005. I wrote my first diary called confessions of a former dittohead after 2004, and tried to make amends for my vote for Bush in 2000. I went in my bunker for about 2 or 3 months and the sun was still shining so I rejoined society, but I said, this would be cathartic, I have to write the reasons why I changed my mind. It got 300 comments and went to the top of the rec list. What can I tell my co-worker, etc. It was really a book written with the help of the community. Very much a bottom-up phenomenon. It's the difference between what we do and what they do. They pre-masticate the information and distill it.

Imagine a world where one party controls all the branches, corrupt, where Congress focuses on thing that people don't care about. This year is 1992. People found a voice that spoke against it in Rush Limbaugh. I was going to college, UT-Knoxville. My dad turns on Rush. My mom says he's just a hate-monger. But I was hooked, because of his framing. He does a great job. Montana Gov. Schweitzer sad that issues divide and values unite. We need to focus on values. But today, we need to frame the issues. We need to fight to frame the issues but then bring it back to our values. I believe I am my brother's keeper--people don't fail because they're not trying. A rising tide lifts all boats and government can have an effective role. You can't be a Republican and believe that. I'm pleased to be a part of the panel.

JOHN JAVEN: This has been a heck of a conference. I don't know about you but I spent the last two days talking non-stop. The morning after the election of 2004, I, like many, woke up and screamed. What have we done? It was the first time I realized that my children might grow up in a repressive society. So I decided I was ready to do something. I checked the blogs, magazines, books, but nobody was having a conversation about what an average American could do to make a difference. So I decided that it was my obligation to write this book. I have to admit, it wasn't my first book, it's about my 50th. You might assume that because I'm a writer, that we're all here to tell you how to use words. Certainly that's important. This book has many ways that you can use words, but let's talk about something else. The central component is action. So what does that have to do with it?

When you talk about a vision, it's the picture of the world as you want it to be. The world you want to live in. Raise your children in. And that implies, change, action. On some level, they know that. If we don't believe in our own vision, how can we communicate it? If our vision isn't strong enough to inspire us to work every day to fulfill it, nobody else will believe it or accept the idea that we believe it. Action has always been a part. The progressives of the late 1800s were among the most prolific of political activists. They believed in their message and took action. Think of what they gave us: primary elections, direct senatorial elections, labor unions, social security, child labor laws. Even student newspapers. It's because of what they did that we believe and know the truth of the progressive vision today. It's what they did. The sense of vision. We have it a lot easier than they did. They created the progressive vision and we need to fulfill it. Unfortunately, we’re not living up to their example. We're not doing enough. But the good news is that here we are at a convention. People who strictly used to associate by words, and now we're asking, what can we do? Take my book home. Look it over. Find something that we can do. Don't just talk about it, show it. I firmly believe that once we integrate what we think with what we do, we will be unstoppable, and the progressive vision will be the American vision. Thank you.


JUSTIN KREBS: I'm delighted to be here. When I was 12 and read 50 simple things you can do to save the earth, I haven't thrown out the rings in aluminum cans since. Don't think of an Elephant is a pretty good book too. We're all here, and we've all crashed the gate. But my work is a little more on seducing the gatekeeper, or softening the gate. They're connected. One idea is drinking liberally. It might not sound at first like a communication tool, but it's building community. One of the ways we refer to it--and I didn't make it up--it's the gateway drug of progressive politics. It's easy to go have a drink with someone. It's a lot more difficult to show up here in Las Vegas. There are easier ways of getting involved, and that ups your ante. I think about the Democratic alternatives, and they're linoleum floored, fluorescent lit rooms. And if you showed up in that and they started arguing about Roberts Rules of Order, you might decide not to do it any more. But if you have a drink, you can get people started. You'll then have people on the hard drugs of progressive politics, standing on street corners in freezing rain handing out literature. A great comparison that's been made is that it's sort of like church for us. But for all of us atheists in New york, we don’t go to church, but we recognize the community that they have after the sermon. They talk about family, the kids. Not the sermon. That’s the way drinking liberally is. Same with Laughing Liberally. Who could imagine that we'd be energized today at 8am after being at the stratosphere? But we were because he's an awesome Bush impersonator.

People who watch a political speaker might repeat what he said. But a great comedian will get you to repeat the punchlines. If those punchlines carry a meaning and message and communicate liberal values, they can be a Trojan horse. That's what we're out to do. We don't believe that the kind of talk radio that convinced Jim will work for us. We need to storm the gate of party establishment, but with our community, you’re going to convince them by cracking a joke and having a drink. And that's what we're about.

GEORGE LAKOFF: It's a pleasure to be here at this amazing convention and this panel.
These are wonderful people. This convention is about freedom, and that's what the book is about. It's about taking back the idea of freedom that they have successfully commandeered. I'm trying to point out that, say, the second inaugural, he used free, freedom and liberty 49 times in 20 minutes, and the question is, what did he mean by it, and what do we mean by it? I'd like to talk about the Rockridge institute. We're compiling a handbook for progressives, free on the internet. What it will do is go through the basics of framing, simple and systematic. And then what it will go through is put up regular postings on these issues using these ideas. And what we want to get people to understand the complexities of framing. And in addition, set up an action network. As I travel, I find that there are groups trying to do that. Last night I was taken out to dinner by the Las Vegas Framing Study group. Awesome people, and there are groups like this everywhere I go. We want to organize them and organize individuals who want to speak out. People want to be able to speak out more effectively.

Let me tell you a little about what this book says, and what the handbook will say. What I learned from Ronald Reagan’s chief strategist--he's very proud of what he accomplished, and what he did was, he joined Reagan as a pollster. He believed that 'people voted on issues. But then he realized that people didn’t like Reagan on the issues, but they just wanted to vote for him, and he was upset. He wanted to know why. Regan talked about values rather than issues, and he was authentic. And people trusted him, and they identified with him. VALUES, AUTHENTICITY, TRUST, IDENTITY. To them, issues are symbolic, and that's how Bush ran his campaign. It's the values themselves that matter. These things are not programs. Not social security or net neutrality. Those are consequences of values. If you're a progressive, you care about people. Protection. Safety nets, consumer protection, environmental protection, real protection from terrorists. You care about fairness, equality and all those other issues. Given that, there are certain principles that we all intuit as soon as you hear them. Let me go through three.

The first is that we believe in using the common wealth for the common good--building an infrastructure that everyone can use. Taxes, for instance. Using them for roads, schools, the internet. The banking system supported by the federal government. The court system. The SEC which runs the stock market. You can't do anything in this country without using the common wealth. It's necessary for individual goods. We know it, but we need to say it.

Take another one. There has been an expansion of freedom, in the liberal notion. If you look at it, what has been expanded? Voting rights, civil rights, education, science research, communication. That allows us to be more free. It's what this country is about. The last has to do with basic human dignity. Anyone can be treated like a human being. They're cross-cutting. They're framing in the deepest sense. There was a mistake made in the reading of "don’t think of an elephant" by journalists who thought it was about spin. It was about ideas and values. So we're going to go through framing and arguments in our manual.

All political arguments begin with a usually hidden moral premise, but they all make sense only if you assume a moral premise, whether that's right-wing strict father morality or progressive morality. And we'll get at those in our manual. The idea is to give you a tool to allow you to understand what's going on when you hear things, and what happens when you give your own arguments, so when they work you can understand why and when they don’t you can also understand why. So you can be the best progressives you can be.

Q by JEFFREY: I’d like to start by asking a question. An activist walks up to me, and says, I've read your ideas, but I have my feet on the ground and I want to know what I can do right now. First question for Justin: what do you say to that?

JUSTIN: Specifically in terms of drinking liberally, I'd say either go to one or start one. We don't pretend that that's the end point whatsoever. We don't endorse candidates or send people to bus trips, but it creates the community of the people that do. Start there, because you don't know what conversations you'll have there. The only way you'll join the community is to show up. The number of people who have formed interesting action projects, from the army man project in the South--it's amazing. The social networks that we can build are a piece of that action.

JEFFREY: When, John, people take a look at your 50 things--where can people get started?

JOHN: It's organized by difficulty. With things to Save the Earth, not all people start at the some level. We need things that aren't so challenging but are rewarding. Somebody who’s asking, what can I do?--is just getting started. As soon--

and here, my battery died. sniff.

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