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The Psychology of Activism

By       Message Kathryn Smith     Permalink
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I started out as an election reform activist, then as a civil liberties activist. When I was doing both, I realized that I couldn't do it all. This activist trainer pointed out to me that we must weed out what we cannot take on, no matter how important the issue is and how we agree with it. Because if we  become too spread out, we can't be effective or take the time to become knowledgable.

And it is facts, not opinions and certainly not emotions, which convince people.

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D) Preaching to the choir works! Here's why: You get a wave going. The wave gathers force. People share information contributing to the collective knowledge. Therefore, the wave gathers strength and credibility. As it gathers credibility, the word spreads. More people join in. Bingo! YOu've got it made.

To appeal to people not on our side may or may not be effective. Think about business and advertizing strategy: YOu have to target the appropriate clientele. You don't try to "sell" your product or service to someone who is not the right fit. Ditto with our activism. The way we will get others recruited to our side is by using the strategy above. Think of an ocean wave turning into a tsunami. That's how it works.

E) Many people prefer not to think. They'd rather watch the ballgames and have a good time, not be disturbed by many depressing issues at hand. How can we wake those people up? I asked this brilliant activist, and here is what she said:

"It's not about giving out information. It's about wordsmithing. People are not reading oriented. Short little slogans work better".

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EXAMPLE: "The War on Terror" is such a slogan. My fiance came up with the brilliant twist of truth on that one: "The War OF terror" is much more accurate.

Let's use this wordsmithing tool to our advantage! Submit it in letters to the editor. Post it to blogs. Get the ball rolling, and get the numb-outs thinking! If not, at least appeal to their emotional brain, if not their intellectual one. The slogans can be pitched to "talk" to their emotional nature. Then you've got them hooked.

It's like sales. Good sales technique, that is. Bad sales technique is to harp in someone's face and "push" the product or cause. That's the best way to turn people off (and is exactly how we activists will turn people away from our cause). Instead, a good sales person:

A) Establishes a rapport with his/her client

B) Gets them thinking about a product without their even knowing it. S/he is good at getting them interested, by telling them trivia et al about the product, how it works, history, etc. Ditto as regards our work with activism.

C) A good salesman knows how to manipulate your mind without your even knowing it. "Life is short" I would tell people when selling a product. This phrase would come up again (later) ,as the clients objected to buying based on saving money in the bank. "Life is short" I would say again. I talked people around from buying nothing to buying a thousand dollars worth of product, many a time, using this phrase.

We can do similar things as activists, "working the energy" without people even knowing it.

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A few other things I have done which have worked:

Having written to many activist organizations, I have found that the leaders of those groups did indeed take my cues and run with the ball, at times. Anthony Romero wrote an email to ACLU members about the quote above: "Just let them wiretap me, I have done nothing wrong so I have nothing to hide". He pointed out that it's about privacy, not whether or not we have done anything wrong. Strategies I have written to activist entities have been implemented, once in a great while. I heartily encourage people to write to these activist entities with concerns and strategic suggestions. (Bear in mind though, that you may come up against a few egos at times so be gentle and very affirming in your approach. LEt them know how much they have done, because commonly the objection is "we have done so much").

I also have written so many letters to the editor that I have lost count. More than 100 are printed in my name, for sure, since the year 2000. That should be tribute to the fact that letters to the editor are not as censored as many people on this forum may be inclined to believe. I hope that sounds a note of hope.

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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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