As communicators, we know words matter. They influence whether we are attracting people to a new idea or unconsciously turning them off. Naming the “People’s Bailout Campaign,” by a coalition of groups, is one example where we could have done better with our words. Why?
Because the campaign name frames the people as needing a bailout. There is nothing wrong with the intent and principles of this campaign. You can check it out here. What many people need is help. But ask, what’s a bailout?
Bail is something you have to pay when you’ve done something wrong. You are in jail and you need to be bailed out. What do you think of people that have been in jail? They are bad. Associating the words people and bail constructs the metaphor or frame that the people are bad. This raises the question, do they deserve to be bailed out?
This accidental frame positions people as getting something they don’t deserve or that they are weak. The people are strong. They are risking their lives on the front lines of the pandemic to help us all. They are heroes. They are protecting us. They are showing us that we are in this together and that we care for each other. We help people because we have empathy and care.
It’s easy to see how the campaign organizers grabbed this name. It was a response to the bailouts for corporations. They are getting bailouts despite the fact that they have held up workers for low wages, poor safety, lack of health care and destruction of the climate. They have created a worldview that only they can create jobs, and that the economy is the only thing that matters. The economy does matter, so does people’s health. But ask why there are so many “corporations” at the Trump press conferences? Will the corporations save us, or will workers doing 14 hours shifts making masks and ventilators save us?
What could we have done instead? Position the people as strong and deserving, and that we are in this together. There are dozens of ways to do this. For example only: People Before Corporate Bailouts, or Protect Workers Saving America. You know the creative drill.
The purpose of this post is not simply to critique. The first step in disarming an opposing worldview or narrative is to understand and explain the purpose and motivation behind it. As progressives and climate justice activists, we need to avoid falling into the dominant narratives or frames of the opposition. We can do this by testing our language, and putting our values first. Then making sure we use our own positive frames.
“The right thing to do is ensure we all have what we need to be well – regardless of how we earn a living or how much we make. People already pushed to the brink by low wages and high housing costs will be most affected by this virus and an economic slowdown. This is the time to live up to our ideal of justice for all.”
‘We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
L. Hobart Stocking