Democratic Messaging: the Need for Repetition, Emotion, Consistency, Simplicity… and Action
But if thoughts corrupt language, language can also corrupt thought. ~George Orwell, 1984
It occurred to me yesterday, when I was introduced to a new resource called The Job Quality Index.
Did you yawn? Because I did when I saw “Job Quality Index.” I almost skipped over the next few sentences.
Then I saw it referenced as the Crap Job Index.
And then I was intrigued.
The Crap Job Index compares the number of higher-wage/higher-hour jobs to lower-wage/lower-hour jobs. And to make a long story short, it shows exactly what you’d expect. In 1990 there were about equal number of good/crap jobs.
Now there are far more crap jobs. Behold:
So in a few squiggly lines we can visualize the downward slump of job quality in America. (Find it here: https://www.jobqualityindex.com)
That’s powerful stuff, isn’t it?
It tells a very different tale of the last 30 years – one of lost potential and overworked families just scraping by.
Let’s couple that with some more wonky bits that I have a feeling you’ve not heard about and then I promise I’ll get to the point.
In May, a survey by the National Retail Federation found that half of the respondents said they needed to be vaccinated to feel comfortable returning to work – but that wasn’t all. Over 1/3 (35%) said they would need their co-workers to be vaccinated, too. Thirty-four percent said they’d need social distancing at work, and 33% said they’d need mandatory mask-wearing at work. Almost a third said they’d need widespread vaccine availability for the public (which sure sounds like they’re desiring not just “availability” but actual compliance).
Is this the first time you’ve heard of this survey? I consider myself pretty plugged in. But this was the first time I had heard of it.
Which is a shame, because it strongly suggests that a significant hurdle in getting people back to their physical locations of work (especially critical for restaurant workers and people who work in retail sales) is … safety. Ergo, increasing vaccination rates and improving public health and safety would increase the number of people going back to work.
Guess what political party has been touting the need for more vaccinations, social distancing, and mask wearing as key to economic recovery? Mmm-hmmm.
I may not have heard of the survey suggesting that one of the biggest drivers of unemployment is fear (or of this one showing that “only a small share of job seekers would choose to remain unemployed and receive UI payments that include the supplement rather than accepting job offers” but that the additional unemployment impacted employers perceptions of worker availability). And I hadn’t heard of the Crap Job Index’s measures of how many undesirable jobs had been flooding our economy – suggesting that Americans are being forced to scrape the bottom of the job barrel.
But do you know what I had heard of already?
Twenty-five Republican governors taking away $300/week in federal pandemic related benefits to unemployed residents in their states because of a pervasive narrative that those folks are “taking advantage” of the system.
“We need people to get back to work,” the Governors announced, signaling to their constituents that starving them into submission is their preferred motivator. (Note that the unemployment rate is highest for black and brown Americans, a fact that no doubt influenced their perception of the issue.)
And like you, I had heard news stories of restaurants unable to find workers blaming this scourge of unemployment benefits for their inability to staff up. And I had seen plenty of restauranteurs and business folks touting the lack of mask mandates as boons for their business – with claims that being (or appearing) “fully open” was the key to success.
It’s all … wrong.
And this brings me to my point (hopefully you’ve stayed with me this long).
The GOP messaging ecosystem is not sophisticated, necessarily. It’s just disciplined and multilayered…
…and incredibly effective.
Go back and consider the actual results of the survey I cited above. People don’t want to return to work because they just don’t feel safe. They don’t feel safe even with a vaccine that is over 90% effective, because they don’t trust their neighbors and customers to do the right thing and get the vaccine. They want workplace protections like masks, and they want them to be universal.
Okay, so now that we have that information, let’s think about what Democrats could have done (and could still do) with that information – besides the obvious press releases and party statements.
Maybe they could call on governors who are touting the need to get back to work to continue to demand mask wearing. Call on businesses who are looking to hire back workers to enforce mask wearing and social distancing. Call on GOP leaders who are screaming about unemployment to put their money where their mouth is and discuss safety measures with displaced workers. Do YouTube videos and Facebook lives with workers asking for GOP leadership on vaccines and masks. Demand that GOP leaders do more to tell GOP voters that vaccines are effective and safe – and that we won’t return to normal until there’s widespread immunity.
In other words, take the information and purpose and repurpose it in about 10,000 ways so that people hear the message in a number of channels from a number of sources.
Then go to Democratic governors and mayors, and explain the survey – and let them know of some great policy options they might have. Do the heavy lifting for them and create a 50-state roundtable of Democratic leaders to discuss the impact of the pandemic on workers and how GOP-led states have let the working class down. Write policy proposals based on the real data, and then publish them in Op Eds, send them to Democratic governors and mayors.
We could have had (and still could have) massive coordinated messaging about the cruelty and ineffectiveness of the GOP’s policy decision to force low-paid workers back to work in a pandemic in places where they’re highly likely to get the virus if they can’t get vaccinated. (And remember that some people truly cannot be vaccinated.)
I don’t know if it’s lack of imagination, lack of infrastructure, lack of centralized leadership, or lack of discipline, but I’ve not heard of Democrats doing any of this. Which is a shame, because we have an opportunity to highlight the effectiveness of Democratic policies, and point out the anti-worker pro-gazillionaire bent of the GOP.
The same goes for the Crap Job Index, which is an incredibly helpful tool to help people visualize the death of the American middle class. Sure, a graph isn’t sexy and shoving one in someone’s face won’t convince them of anything but that you’re a snooty elite. But start calling a Job Quality Index (yawn) the Crap Job Index (oh?) and tell folks that it proves there are more crappy jobs now than in 1990, and I’ll bet you’ll get some heads nodding.
The Democrats messaging ecosystem is not just non-existent. It’s actually counter-productive.
We battle each other to the death on Twitter (p.s. only 23% of Americans use Twitter at all – which is less than LinkedIn) and turn our noses up at Facebook (where 69% of US adults spend their time – and 7 of 10 users use it daily).
And when it comes to getting our message out broadly … we fall pretty silent and expect the truth to just magically spread itself around like pixie dust.
Contrast that with the GOP, which has an intertwined media network that includes FoxNews and Sinclair Broadcasting (which for many Americans IS the local news). Hour after hour they breathlessly proclaim that unemployment insurance is the death of restaurants and the economy. Or that “critical race theory” is corrupting our children. Or that transgendered kids are going to ruin sports. The same phrases hammered home…
Again and again and again….
Repetition, emotion, simplicity, consistency … and action.
Repetition of an emotionally-charged and simple message, consistently applied across media channels and backed up with actions by government leaders to “prove” it’s an issue.
Pretty soon, a simple and emotionally charged theory that people are gaming the unemployment system (and therefore stealing money from taxpayers) is picked up by every other show and network, repurposed by GOP leaders in Congress and the states, and turned into a press release, talking points, and a policy applied consistently across 25 states. So that “everyone knows” it’s a problem, and the fact it’s been taken seriously by government leaders “proves” the issue.
Hey, I’m not the first one to point this out. I’m sure I won’t be the last. But yesterday, as I was looking at the Crap Job Index, it was pretty easy to see the impact of 30 years of GOP policies … and 30 years of weak Democratic message discipline.
So now we get to the “okay, Michele – so what the heck can we do about it?” part of things. And that’s tough because unlike the Republicans we don’t have a top-down structure and a culture of blind obedience to messaging. (I’m also not part of the “top” to assist with “top-down” messaging, which is another barrier to me being able to give an easy answer.)
This isn’t an easy problem to solve … or someone far smarter than I would have solved it long ago. But I think we have more tools at our disposal now than we’ve had in the last 30 years…
Because here’s the great news: right now you have a social media network, a friend network, a family network, and probably quite a few political groups that you’re part of. That’s a lot of people that you can educate and organize. Start there, with people who you already have a trusted relationship with.
Within your local democratic groups you can create a local media infrastructure, with letters to the editor and policy proposals to the policy makers in your area that really hit on the major narratives in your community. Go to any local Democratic leaders that you’ve got with a policy solution (hopefully written out), and explain why it’s needed. Then don’t just watch them carry the water – back them up with local support, petitions, hosted conversations, comments at local meetings.
If that all feels a bit too much, then just reach out to your local Democratic committee person or elected official and talk to them about what messages they want to focus on. Take your lead from them, and start spreading the word.
In other words, start modeling the behavior locally that you want to see nationally.
That’s a lot, I know. And if you get creative you can think of a lot more. But you’ve got more power in the “messaging” arena than you know.
It’s time to start tapping into that power.
Let’s get to work.
Actions for the Week of June 15, 2021:
Tuesday: Join Indivisible Activist Briefing
Want to learn more about how you can help pass the For the People Act? Then join Indivisible, with co-founder Ezra Levin, Tuesday from 7:30-8:30 Eastern.
Later this month the Senate plans to bring S.1 the For the People Act to the floor for a vote, a transformative piece of legislation that can protect voting rights, end gerrymandering, and push back against the influence of big money in politics.
That’s why on Tuesday, June 15th, Indivisible will be hosting a Movement Call to brief activists on the critical moment we’re in and what’s needed to pass the For the People Act.
We’ll be joined by members of Congress, movement and coalition leaders, and activists. Please join us to learn how you can help ensure the passage of this historic legislative package.
Sign up now: https://www.mobilize.us/dfadcoalition/event/395300/
Wednesday: Preventing Presidential Abuse of Power
The stories this past week of the Department of Justice under Trump subpoenaing the records of lawmakers is just another example of that administration abusing power.
Stand Up America describes it well: After Watergate, Congress passed reforms that placed urgently-needed restrictions and checks on the Executive Branch. It was a common-sense response to the most dramatic abuse of presidential power in American history to date, but it wasn’t enough.
Trump went further than even Nixon in breaching ethics norms and abusing presidential power — and the Protecting Our Democracy Act would address the clear threats to our democracy exposed by his actions. It’s a comprehensive bill that addresses issues ranging from abuse of presidential pardons to profiting from the presidency.
…The Protecting Our Democracy Act would ensure that no president is above the law by prohibiting self pardons, preventing presidents from profiting from office, and ensuring presidents can be prosecuted for wrongdoing. It would protect the Department of Justice from political interference from the White House and defend our elections against foreign interference by enhancing criminal penalties for seeking support from foreign actors.
These reforms would help ensure that the White House is a place for serving the interests of the American people, not a place for self-enrichment or handing out “get out of jail free cards” to oneself or others.
The first step is to get the legislation passed through the House.
Check to see if your Congressperson is a cosponsor HERE. A note for Missouri folks that neither Cori Bush nor Emmanuel Cleaver have cosponsored, so let’s find out what’s going on there, shall we?
Then give your member of Congress a call and tell them that you expect them to sponsor and support the Protecting Our Democracy Act!
Thursday: Join Fair Fight for a Hot Call Summer
Last night, Stacey Abrams was on Joy Reid’s show on MSNBC and encouraged everyone (yes, you!) to call their Senators EVERY DAY this month in support of SB1. Great idea! And you can also add her “Hot Call Summer” actions to your list. From their event page:
“As temperatures rise this summer, we are turning up the heat and calling our Senators to demand that they pass the For the People Act as it heads to a vote this month. This bill would block efforts to suppress the right to vote and protect the freedom to vote for every eligible American. Fair Fight Action is inviting folks in Arizona, Nevada, and other states in the Southwest and West to attend a virtual Town Hall with community members and elected officials to discuss the current attacks on voting rights and how you help protect our freedom to vote.”
This Thursday you can join Stacey Abrams and special guests, including Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of Arizona and Speaker Jason Frierson of Nevada, on June 17 at 9 PM ET/ 6 PM MST/ 6 PM PDT to learn more about how you can get involved and start calling your Senators! Sign up HERE.
Friday: Find a Juneteenth Celebration Near You
Saturday is Juneteenth. On June 19, 1865, two months after the Civil War ended, a general entered the town of Galveston, Texas and read the Emancipation Proclamation. Since then, many African American communities have commemorated “Juneteenth” as liberation day.
Many cities are having Juneteenth celebrations, and I encourage you to check out what celebrations are going on in your neck of the woods.
If you’d prefer to celebrate virtually, here are some options:
The National Museum of African American History and Culture has an entire website devoted to Juneteenth. From listening to a beautiful rendition of Lift Every Voice and Sing to learning how to research ancestors to listening to a folk tale to kids crafts, it has something for everyone. I encourage you to check it out: https://nmaahc.si.edu/events/juneteenth. Join the Museum virtually on Juneteenth, when they will have a special social media watch party.
James Madison’s Montpelier: James Madison (yes, the founding father) was a slave owner. His former home, Montpelier, is now a memorial to him and the Enslaved Community. Montpelier has done a good job of incorporating the real history of Montpelier, and will be celebrating Juneteenth by laying a wreath at the Enslaved People Cemetery on Montpelier grounds. There are other virtual events you can attend, and quite a bit of history on their Juneteenth website. Check it out: https://ocaahsjuneteenth.org/celebrate/
Step Afrika! will have a Juneteenth performance at 8pm eastern; register HERE. Premiering three unique works, Trane, Little Rock Nine and The Movement; Step Afrika!’s virtual celebration honors and embodies the determination, resilience, and reclamation of freedom with newly filmed choreographic masterpieces inspired by the African American experience.
DID YOU KNOW YOU’RE A ROCK STAR? I DID. SUPER PROUD OF YOU!
P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
P.P.S.: If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.