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The Art of Effective Activism: Advice from an International Trainer!

By       Message Kathryn Smith     Permalink
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Obviously, they worked. The reason: "People need solutions"- said the activist trainer. "The crowds are demotivated by depression."-

 So one key activist strategy is to provide hope. This is terribly important for spawning proactivity, pointed out the activist trainer. "Sometimes urgency can spawn proactivity, but more often it's the hope that works,"- She said.

EXAMPLE OF PROVIDING HOPE: If the mainstream news won't print protest activity, ask organizers to urge participants to bring their cellphones with them. Participants photograph the activity, post it to the web, and bingo! You've got coverage. What a handy little tool in our hot little hands, eh? Perhaps it's no coincidence that the German word for cellphones is "handi"-.

Here's why, according to the activist trainer, "preaching to the choir" works:

"It's been studied. You create a wave among those who already are sold on your cause. The wave gathers momentum, people talk and inform each other which gives backbone to their presentation, word spreads, and that's how the wave grows."- She added that preaching to the choir actually works better than trying to recruit newbies! Surprise, surprise! The beauty of it is that life is often easier than we think.

 Letters to the editor are, according to the ACLU and, the most-read pages in the newspaper, a perfect vehicle for expressing opinion and which indeed are read by politicians who want to know what sentiments are pulsating through the veins of the crowds. To reach out to the public cross-sector and get them to think for themselves, submit a letter to the editor in which you identify and rebut thought models such as those exemplified above. In so doing, you can help to spawn thinking and research on the part of your readers, especially if you reference superbly credible sources.

College newsletter editors may be a very smart strategy where submitting letters to the editor are concerned. The reasons are simple: Kids are very proactive, and they not only talk with each other, but they also talk to their parents. Many parents who are politically asleep at the wheel are "awakened"- by their kids, whom they love and therefore will listen to. I can testify to this truth first-hand: One of my neighbors formerly accused me of Being A Liberal, saying "you just don't take events like 911 lying down without a fight."- Now he has turned around 180 degrees, thanks to the fact that his daughter is in college and reading the Web. Sometimes, that's all it takes. Therefore, if the mainstream editors refuse to print your letter, Don't Get Sad, Get Glad! Move on to the college and local newspapers. They work!

The ACLU's website is the best political education there is, on the web or otherwise. At least, that's my opinion: When you read the Congressional voting record, look at declassified FBI documents, become informed about current legislation, the impact thereof, read statistics, watch videos, read the current civil liberties-oriented news on the front of the website page, etc. then Democracy Now! Becomes confirmation instead of news. The beauty of it is that the ACLU also is good at understating the facts, is expert at marketing themselves with imagery as well as words, and is a really good way to study the art of self-presentation without turning off the crowds to the truths.

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And that is exactly why understating the facts is terribly important: So as not to risk losing credibility with the public. Belief spawns proactivity. Disbelief and lack of credibility result in just the opposite, simple as that. And that's where studying the ACLU's methods can be very instructive to all the rest of us activists, world-wide.


I organized a booth at the County Fair for the local Chapter of the ACLU. When posting written material such as FBI documents, nobody read them unless I pointed out the intrigue of what they were (surely most people don't see an actual FBI document every day?) And in fact, once I pointed it out, everybody wanted to see it. But the fact is that the crowds continued to just walk by. However, once we photocopied poster-sized photos seen on the ACLU's website, suddenly people stopped. And looked. And talked. Then we got their attention. People are visually oriented, not reading oriented. Use images and symbols when doing a boothing presentation, not written material. A hand held up as if to say "stop"-, a face, that's all it takes. Any written material should be no longer than one sentence long, preferably only two words long, just as with the wordsmith's art, pointed out above. The short phrases and pictures will capture peoples' attention. Then we can steer people to longer presentations, if they are interested. (And some intellectual types will want to read further).

When writing letters to the editor, we also can study the art of understating the facts even while we also don't truncate them. The ACLU is very good at this: See their website! Go to and punch into the search box "Military Commissions Act Fact Sheets"- for a good example. Or punch in "Patriot Act"- and see what wording and visual aids come up. It works!

To read FBI documents or anything else on the ACLU's website you want to see, just punch any topic into the search box and oodles of links will come up, FBI documents among them. This makes superb quoting material for letters to the editor or for on-line articles.

It's not merely the issue at hand which we are writing about, but how we present ourselves which is all-important. If we ourselves lose credibility, then we also lose proactivity from our readers. Further, we may even discredit the entire truth movement, not merely our own image.

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Understating the facts may be better than becoming emotionally embroiled, future-tripping, and other things which risk our credibility.

EXAMPLE: "We will all be hauled away to FEMA camps"- is a sure-fire way to risk being branded a conspiracy theorist. Any newcomer to the subject will laugh us out of town, right then and there. And they will stop reading or researching the facts further, even if shown highly credible sources. Our one so-called "conspiracy theorist's statement"- (even if it's based in truth, actually) will have turned that person off to receiving further information.

The problem with this is much more far-reaching than "It doesn't matter a darn what other people think"-. Nonsense! In this case, if people don't believe us, and if they do think us to be conspiracy theorists, the fact is that the government can then haul people away with no fear of consequence. Whereas if our presentation is highly credible and fact-based, we can create a transparency-in-government which protects the People from such crimes.

See why writing opinions instead of facts can be a problem, at least at certain times? I suggest very strongly for the sake of Opednews's credibility, our own credibility, and especially for the sake of the urgent causes at hand, that we reference highly credible sources even when expressing our own opinions and concerns. Don't get me wrong: I too agree with everybody here that sharing opinions is very important. But I also am pointing out that there is a time and a place when such opinion can do harm instead of good, at least if not backed by highly credible facts to underscore what informs our opinions. I hope people will think about this.

SOLUTION: Quote the Executive Order, show videos, etc and avoid future-projecting. Let people decide what they think, for themselves. State the facts about post-911 legislation in which the word "Terrorism"- is "overbroad"- (Patriot Act), as unanimously agreed by the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, Electronic Frontier Foundation, even the conservative Gun Owners of America. When people know the facts, they will conclude for themselves that there could be possible danger. If they choose not to conclude that, it is interesting to know what informs their different belief. If we hold a genuinely open mind, we will find out more about how to work with people, and could possibly even learn something ourselves to cool our own heads! Sometimes we just plain know too much, and our knowledge may inform our own folly (fear, False Evidence Appearing Real). Even if we are right and not fear-based, we still can learn from the positive "take"- others may have on the same exact situation. Why not learn from them? At least, why not learn what informs the conclusions others draw, so we can better learn how to "pitch"- our presentation to begin with?

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This quote summarizes the nature of my concerns and the content of personal experiences which stir my activism: "Necessity is the plea for every infringement on human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves". --Paul (more...)

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