David Fenton’s new book is a must read for any climate justice activist or climate communications professional under the age of 40.
For anyone over that age, it is also a delightfully raucous walk through the history of liberal movements when activism was fun. For all, it illustrates the value of experience, thinking big, and storytelling.
Fenton’s experience runs from being a photographer for the Rolling Stone covering the Chicago 7 trial, to working on the No Nukes campaign, to fighting to free Nelson Mandela. Particularly, his work extends to environmental and climate issues. He founded the first liberal PR agency in 1982 to address the onslaught of right wing PR.
He begins with the story of helping Yoko Ono pass a moratorium on fracking in New York State. Imagine there’s no fracking. Part memoire, part history, and part ‘how to,’ the book is illustrated with lots of colorful examples of how to create movements and change outcomes with a set of progressive values.
He outlines his communication rules for activists in 2 short pages (see Amazon’s preview page). Fenton begins with, “Craft simple messages everyone can understand,” to “Speak to the heart first,” to “Repeat, repeat, repeat.” Each chapter punctuates this simple advice with a story.
My favorite is his story of Abbie Hoffman shutting down the New York stock exchange. Hoffman bet a friend he could shut down the exchange, a symbol of greed and what was wrong with capitalism. An instinctual PR genius, he went to the visitation gallery of the exchange and threw dollar bills off the balcony onto the trading floor. Traders stopped trading and raced to pick up the money. The exchange was shut down for 15 minutes. This action received media coverage. Today there is a plexiglass wall separating the balcony from the floor.
In the fight to save ourselves from climate collapse there are many fronts. It often feels like we are playing Whac-A-Mole. Yet much of our effort also feels stuck in white paper mode reciting endless facts and reasons trying to prove that climate change is real in the belief we can “convince” or “persuade” people. We can’t, we can only attract people with better stories based on our values. There are a series of accelerators for climate action such as finance, policy, education, and psychology. But one of the most important accelerators is communication, and we risk losing, by doing it badly. And the best communication is a good story.
Fenton tells a good story, and the story of good. He reminds us of what is possible, how to do it well, and how to attract others by making our efforts fun.
Thanks for all you do.
We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
L. Hobart Stocking
Good advice, Hobie. Stories do move people in ways that facts can’t always do even when they reveal and prove massive problems to be solved. Learning about other people’s experiences — including hardships and suffering — can often elicit the empathy we need personally and collectively to actually act for others and for ourselves, especially when they are followed by a timely and specific request for help and participation in the solution(s).