Activist Strategies: The Power of Positive Framing

Stratfor advises governments, businesses, organizations and individuals about geopolitics, business trends, and how to cope with them. One of their specialities is evaluating the impact of activists on public debates. Stratfor’s May 31 report on “Sustainable Consumption: The Push for Using Less” (may require a paid subscription) focuses on energy and the environment, but suggests strategies that anti-porn activists might consider, such as framing agendas in a positive way and thinking outside of old political categories.

The developing progressive coalition has coalesced around the recognition that voters in the United States have overwhelmingly rejected progressive liberal issues — even though it seems to them that most Americans generally share their values. The result has been a feeling among liberal Democrats that they have a communication problem, rather than unpopular ideas. In essence what they have come to realize is, while their platform might be a good one — for example, who wants more smog or a larger hole in the ozone? — they have failed to sell it to the general public.

To make that sale, progressive activists are building on the work of linguistics professor George Lakoff [blog], who forwarded the notion of expressing the message in terms of what the activists are fighting for, rather than what they oppose. Moreover, they are especially targeting a large group of Americans — as much as one-third of the population — whom one demographer has identified as “cultural creatives.” The term refers to people who do not fit neatly into traditional categories such as activist, liberal or conservative, but who nonetheless are creating new mechanisms of social change to address issues they care about, such as the environment, peace and social justice. These cultural creatives do not identify themselves as members of a cohesive group, and many are not even aware that so many others like them exist. A subset of this group, the progressive activists, however, aims to create a cohesive movement around these people, and harness this group’s potential to shape a new American agenda…

To express their priorities in terms of what they support, progressive groups have begun to rally around a new set of ideas that can be proposed in a positive way. Among these are notions of fairness, justice and the relationship between health and the environment (which encompasses sustainable consumption). Each of these allows progressives to maintain their traditional views, but to talk in positive terms, rather than negative. And this strategy has gained the attention of big business and certain unions and politicians.

See also:

George Lakoff, “Simple Framing”
Frame development takes time and work. Progressives have to start reframing now and keep at it. This reframing must express fundamental progressive values: empathy, responsibility, fairness, community, cooperation, doing our fair share…

Reframing is telling the truth as we see it – telling it forcefully, straightforwardly, articulately, with moral conviction and without hesitation. The language must fit the conceptual reframing — a reframing from the perspective of progressive morality

…we followed a systematic procedure:

  1. Pick out the relevant core values for this issue.
  2. Write down how your position follows from these values.
  3. Articulate the facts and their consequences within this moral framing.
  4. Define us and them within this moral frame.

…The fundamental progressive values are:

We are empathetic; we care about people.
Be responsible
Help, Don’t Harm
Protect the powerless

…Talk about responsibility instead of victimhood; about accountability instead of grievances; about citizens instead of consumers

Negative campaigns should be done in the context of positive campaigns. To avoid negating the opposition’s frame and thus activating it, do the following: start with your ideal case of the issue given. Pick frames in which your ideal case is positively valued. The contrast will attribute the negatively valued opposite quality to the opposition as a nightmare case.

D.A. Clarke: Women Adopting Men’s Bad Habits Is Not the Answer
The conflict of values can be represented as a struggle between ethics of excess and moderation…

To accept that the costs borne by strangers in far-off lands make our
way of life unaffordable implies that we learn to respect those people
and that we become ashamed of living at their expense; to accept that
we are responsible for the damage that we do to our soil, water, and
air means that we learn to clean up after ourselves; to accept that
resources are precious and should not be wasted is to learn that the
world is not a consumable, an expendable – and neither are its people.
To accept that our way of life is costing too much means accepting
less: giving up excess, resolving to live within our means. Shoving off
the costs of your behaviour onto others, expecting someone else to
clean up your mess, blowing away the household economy with
irresponsible spending, treating other people as objects to be used and
discarded: are these not some of the traits for which feminists have
persistently criticised and confronted men, the habits of privilege and
arrogance?

Grabbing all you can while you can get it is an expensive way to live.
It may turn out to be an expensive way to die. A generation which took
this lesson to heart would be less likely to use up, despise, abuse and
discard women and children as sexual toys…

The symbols, language and style of lesbian sm chic are the symbols and
language and style of male supremacy: violation, ruthlessness,
intimidation, humiliation, force, mockery, consumerism. Words like
respect, tenderness, gentleness, are boring and pass­e, according to
our new fashion leaders. What we want is excess, and lots of it:
extreme experiences of every kind, a great bazaar of fantasy for our
shopping pleasure…

A New Category Debuts: Love and Beauty
There is so much that’s wrong with today’s porn that it’s easy for
anti-porn activists to be in a bad mood most of the time. As Andrea
Dworkin freely admitted,
“I represent the morbid side of the women’s movement.” The public sees
the anger and frustration, and many turn instead to the porn industry,
which is much better at selling itself as glamorous and fun.

Our new category, Love and Beauty, will show how sex, love, relationships and people can be so much more than the narrow, blinkered version
that porn offers…

A beautiful act can be astonishingly persuasive.

Gloria Steinem at Smith: Cooperation, Not Domination
…which leads us to the big question of violence… Until the family
paradigm of human relationships is about cooperation, and not about
domination or hierarchy, we’re unlikely to be able to imagine
cooperation as normal and even possible and commonplace…

While we’re at it over the next fifty years, remember that the end
doesn’t justify the means, the means ARE the ends. If we want joy and
music and friendship and laughter at the end of our revolution, we must
[have] joy and music and friendship and laughter along the way. Emma
Goldman had the right idea about dancing at the revolution…

The Anti:Pornography::Pro:Love Group
For the last 10 years of my life I have looked at and engaged in
pornography off and on. (I knew it altered the way I looked at women. I
knew it made me desire them more and more for the way they looked on
the outside. However, I thought I could work through it and it wouldn’t
hurt anyone other than possibly me).

In that moment it finally dawned on me. I realized in some small way
I was part of the problem, part of the growing number of guys sending
women a message that it is all about the external and that is it. And
it broke me.

It was so hard to look at my friend. I loved her with all my heart
and yet in that moment I realized in some small way I was in-part
responsible for the problems she had chosen to [commit]. I had been part
of the message.

It was on that day that I decided that I would never again be part
of that message. Instead I decided it was time to start championing and
pushing a new message.

That we Love and Accept and Care for the women in our lives –
EXACTLY – for the way they are…It is not about your looks. It is about
your heart.

Therefore, I started the Anti:Pornography::Pro:Love Group on
Facebook. It was the only thing I knew to do. It was my first step:

I just wanted to send a new message to women: You feeling loved and
accepted to a greater degree are more important than my selfish
desires. You are more than worth it. I love you exactly as you are.

8 thoughts on “Activist Strategies: The Power of Positive Framing

  1. So it seems that your tactics for good argument are:
    1) Take in research
    2) Toss away all facts except those which suit your ends
    3) Spin.

    Doesn’t this strike as being at ALL intellectually dishonest? Don’t you see that if you are spending this much effort on maintaining your argument (manicuring articles, silencing your opposition) that you might just be wrong in the first place?

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