It’s possible. If your campaign isn’t boring, then don’t read this. But boring can be deadly.
We live in an attention-based economy. 1000 messages a day compete for our attention and we respond to buzzes, rings, and the crisis of the minute, to say nothing of commercials of fat middle-aged white guys dancing. (Who thought this was a good idea?) We filter most of these messages out. So if you can’t be found among the noise, how will you make an impact? Capturing attention is one of the first steps in communications, and we can’t do this if we’re boring.
Unfortunately, most progressives, and that includes climate activists, believe that we can capture attention with facts and then reason people into supporting our campaigns. Cognitive scientists tell us that doesn’t work and not just because it’s boring. (Careful, I can see you sliding that fact sheet under your desk.)
Let me just ask… if facts worked so well to attract attention and convince people to act, why are we still working 30 years on in the climate crisis to get people to act?
There are two aspects of boring that might help a campaign. The first is just being bat-sh*t crazy. Crazy attracts attention, but doesn’t establish trust. Instead, being a little creative helps. For example, LED light projection can be fun and often attracts attention. Especially if it’s creative. Unfortunately, the primary tactic for attracting attention and creating excitement is counter-intuitive. It’s called framing.
Let me tell you story. Hidden in a MN legislative omnibus bill is a provision to criminalize fare nonpayment for riders on the Metro Transit trains and buses. Important, but kind of boring.
Let me give you a few boring facts. It requires adding minimums to the number of police already on the Metro. It will equate nonpayment of a $2 fare to a DUI with escalating fines. Did I say that Black and Native Americans are 5 to 7 times more likely to be stopped or questioned that their white peers?
None of this matters because some of our legislators, many of them white, don’t even know about this provision. Many of our citizens don’t either. An attention problem for a small boring detail, but a sign of systemic racism.
Let me propose a hypothetical non-boring attention grabber to this problem. What if we got a legislator to offer an amendment to the bill? One that required, transit police to wear bright yellow uniforms, the predominate color of the Metro. Perhaps as a safety measure. Not boring. Not too crazy. I’ll add that they won’t carry guns. As soon as this amendment is submitted, every legislator would have to begin to examine what is being slipped into the bill because someone would have to say… “I don’t want yellow uniforms.” Suppose someone whispered yellow uniforms to the news media. The opposition might say, “Police are NOT yellow. They are brave.” OK, why do they need guns? This is an example of getting someone to feed what they fight.
The last administration did this for four years and we fought each absurdity until we normalized voter fraud, caravans of disease-ridden, drug-addled, terrorists coming to take your jobs, and not wearing masks.
It’s one way to get attention. When we attack what they say, we draw attention to it. To our detriment, climate activists do this a lot. When we attack their frames, we lose. They say “Clean Coal,” and we say “Coal is NOT clean” until half of Americans believe there is something called “Clean Coal.”
On the other hand we can go with our own frames, and let them attack us. How about, “Health care is a human right.” Or “We all deserve to breath clean air.” Or even “The Metro should be free?” When they say, “The Metro should NOT be free,” people begin to think about whether it should be.
This is a case of understanding how frames work to capture attention, and putting forth our vision of justice. Getting your opposition to respond to your frame is one way to boost attention. Defund the Police is not the best frame, but when BLM stood up for the dignity of life and marched in the streets, the opposition attacked this frame enough to draw attention to it, and now the idea receiving consideration.
In our next campaign, let’s begin by asking how we can get our message noticed. Do we send runners from Standing Rock to Washington DC? Do we walk backwards from Brainerd to Enbridge’s pipeline construction sites? Do we say yellow when others say blue? Do we understand how we frame and how we are responding to frames?
We don’t have to be totally outrageous. Just put out our vision based on our values. Just create a frame that captures attention and isn’t boring.
‘We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
L. Hobart Stocking