Thursday, January 26, 2006

Musing on the progressive movement and the tactic of framing

Peter Teague from the Nathan Cummings Foundation argues at AlterNet this morning that progressives are hurting themselves by misunderstanding how to effectively re-frame the arguments of conservatives.

Teague maintains that the way the progressive movement is organized is one of the biggest obstacles. Because our organizations are segmented – separate environmental, gay rights, pro-choice, social justice, etc., groups – we can’t frame issues in the holistic way that is needed to capture the hearts and minds of Americans.

I wasn’t certain I even understood his argument until he provided a eye-opening illustration.
For example, we might be less sanguine about leaving the issue of global warming to the environmental experts if, instead of understanding it in terms of too much carbon in the atmosphere, we thought about it in terms of solutions, including:
· The potential for a transition to a clean energy economy.
· The creation of millions of high-skill, high-wage jobs.
· Taking responsibility for our common future.
· Developing and sharing new technologies with the developing world.
· The transformative effects of energy democracy versus energy domination.
Now, that makes sense. And, it does it in a way that is politically viable by giving all segments of our society a reason to pay attention. You don’t care about the environment? OK, but look at how this will help you economically.

The idea of creating a frame around a public debate isn’t new. I first came across it in the early 1990s while researching tactics as a media relations consultant to political groups and non-profits. However, the idea wasn’t popularized until recently when the work of George Lakoff burst onto the scene. Now, I can’t even go to a political meeting in small-town Kansas without hearing someone discuss the importance of framing an issue in a particular way.

If we are truly going to reach people, we have to go beyond the old ways of thinking, even the “old” year-or-so ways of thinking about framing. Teague’s argument makes sense. As a leader of an organization advocating for fairness for LGBT Kansans, I can already see how my organization’s mission can limit how I frame an argument. A hat tip to Teague for seeing what I couldn’t.

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