Celebrate the Victories—and “Inject Backbone 3x a Day”!

As progressives and liberals breathe a big sigh of relief this morning after racking up victories in yesterday’s election, my Facebook feed is full of chatter about how the Democratic Party is not dead after all, though it’s still very ill.

I responded to one such post thusly:

Curable. Inject backbone 3x/day until they run candidates who stand for the people, give them the support to win, and stop backing down at the first hint of disagreement. Dems should have learned this lesson in 1988 from the disastrous Dukakis campaign. I kept waiting [after George HW Bush kept repeatedly accusing him of being a liberal] for Dukakis to say, “Yes, George, I’m a liberal. Liberals brought us the 8-hour day vs. 10 or 12 hours. Liberals protect the rights of people of all colors and gender identities. Liberals fight for the planet so we can all live healthy lives. Why aren’t YOU a liberal, George?” I think he’d have won with that approach. Instead, he kept doing this horrible, “Gee, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be a liberal” crap.

Yup. That time, as so many times, the Dems slunk away with their tails between their legs to count their losses and blame it on not being centrist or rightist enough. And they still seem to believe that rot.

When ordinary people can’t easily tell the Democrats from the Republicans by their positions, the Republicans will win, because being a true  Republican is more convincing than being Republican-lite. But being a true Democrat who is seen as standing for the people (rare thing!) generates far more excitement than being a true Republican and a toady to Wall Street and the ideology that puts money ahead of people, rights of the already privileged above rights of ordinary people, and voter suppression ahead of real democracy.

Despite his centrism, Obama was able to portray himself as a man of the people and generate that excitement. And he won, twice.

Gore, Kerry and Hillary Clinton never got this, despite pressure from the Left in the form of mass defections to Ralph Nader, Howard Dean, and Bernie Sanders. Sanders was able to move Hillary and the party platform well to the left, but she was unconvincing. And even when Sanders beat her by 13 points in the Wisconsin primary, she still took the state for granted (never campaigned there in the general election).

The lack of candidates with actual spine and the ability to energize the masses will continue to be a problem until the Dems remember their working-class roots. When they run charismatic progressives in places where the ballots are counted fairly and the populace is not prevented from voting, they tend to win. We get the Cory Bookers, the Barack Obamas, the Elizabeth Warrens.

When they run nonentities, they lose, even in my own very liberal state of Massachusetts. Martha Coakley ran a terrible campaign to keep Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat Democratic, and it went to Scott Brown. But then along came Elizabeth Warren, and boom! Brown ran a nasty campaign, Warren portrayed herself as a people’s champion on economic issues, and she won. And she has kept her promise, expanding it as one of the most pubic opponents of the current regime.

For the most part, the Dems’ lack willingness to take bold positions. Worse, they also lack the spine to challenge Republican-initiated disruption of the electoral process—which is the Democratic Party’s hospital bed, and could become the party’s grave. After narrowly stolen elections in 2000 and 2004, the party didn’t fix the plague of voter suppression in 2009 when it had the chance. And thus the election was stolen again in 2016.

The new governor-elect in Virginia is a centrist who probably won largely on the basis of being far less bad than his openly Trumpist opponent—and because Virginia went back to paper ballots, which cannot be so easily hijacked as electronic-only votes (unlike the recent Congressional race in Georgia, for example). How much stronger the victory if there had been a candidate who truly engaged the populace?

A voter marks a ballot. Photo by Kristen Price.

A voter marks a ballot. Photo by Kristen Price.

Today is not only the morning after the election. It’s also the one-year anniversary of the theft of our democracy in the 2016 election. While some of the loss is because Clinton was uninspiring, tainted with scandal, and vulnerable to accusations of her loyalty to Wall Street, at least as much was the result of a failed constitutional process that allows candidates with fewer votes to win, big-time voter suppression of likely-Democratic voters, probable fiddling with the results in electronic-only ballot areas, the interference of a foreign government, and other factors that seem to add up to a big fat case of fraud.

I will commemorate this disaster at an impeachment rally in downtown Amherst, Massachusetts, at noon on the corner of Amity and Pleasant Streets. Hope to see you there!

Posted in Activism, Democracy, Diversity, Ethics in Government, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Marketing Trends/News, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns, Psychology Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

A Non-Christian’s Perspective on Christmas

Here it is only just past Halloween, and already the cheering section for Christmas is getting in gear. A friend posted on Facebook that she wished Christmas music was all year long.

That touched a nerve for me. I was raised in super-multicultural NYC, but when I moved to Western Massachusetts in 1981, I felt intensely isolated in a community that at that time felt almost entirely white and Christian.

My birthday happens to fall on Christmas Eve. I will never forget going out into the streets that year trying to find a place where my wife (girlfriend, at the time) and I could eat out on my birthday. I think we ended up at a Christmas dinner for the homeless and downtrodden because no restaurants were open. It was a bitterly cold, windy evening and there had been snow a day or two before, which was already dirty and blowing around. The streets were almost deserted, except for someone driving around in a pickup truck shouting “Merry Christmas” through a megaphone when she saw one of the rare pedestrians. I felt like I’d moved to a foreign planet.

A few months later, we got involved with a group of progressive Jews that among other things, took on the cultural identity problem. Two years in a row, we organized a Jewish Cultural Festival that created a lot more visibility for us. I also started freelancing for the local paper, and made it a point to cover a number of stories of Jewish interest. Also, over time, the community became more diverse. And the pressure gradually eased.

But still, as late as 1988, I felt a need to write an op-ed that got published in several newspapers around the country over the next few years. Our local paper ran it first, under the headline, “When Christmas Becomes Oppressive.” Here’s are a few excerpts (with the then-current spellings):

Imagine for a moment that Ramadan, the Moslem holy month, is the major cultural holiday of the United States. For three months before the holiday, every radio station plays Ramadan music; the newspapers and TV are full of special Ramadan sales; and all over town are pictures and models of the Prophet Mohammed rising up to heaven.

A mosque at night. Photo by Ramzi Hashisho, freeimages.com

A mosque at night. Photo by Ramzi Hashisho, freeimages.com

As a non-Moslem, you are offended by all this. But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Ramadan is so much a part of our culture that even the most religious symbols associated with it have become secular. Therefore it is not a violation of church and state separation to display them even in front of government buildings…

You’ve just experienced a taste of how non-Christians experience Christmas. Christmas has been transformed from a religious holiday into a mass celebration of both commercialism and Christianity. It is ever-present, unavoidable, and total.

And the message it gives to others is, “You don’t fit in. you’re an outsider”…

Ultimately, [Chanukah] decorations are tokenism. They say, “You don’t have to be Christian to participate in this orgy of buying.”

Mind you, I’m not suggesting that anyone abandon Christmas. I have been to many of my friends’ Christmas parties and enjoyed them. But these gatherings are celebrations of a personal religious holiday in a private home. I enjoy their traditions, just as I enjoy sharing my own culture with non-Jewish friends on “Rosh Hashana or Passover. And that’s how Christmas should be celebrated—in homes and churches, not as “secular” symbols thrown into the faces of nonbelievers.

29 years later, I still think it’s great when Christians celebrate Christmas. I attend the neighborhood Christmas party every year unless I’m traveling, and I happily go to Christmas events. What I object to is the assumption that everyone is Christian, that this is a universal holiday, and that other cultures don’t count (or are tokenized with e.g. a menorah in a store window along with a dozen or more Christmas symbols). Thus, even in 2017, when I saw my friend’s post, I felt I had to respond with this comment:

Not to be the Grinch here, but as a non-Christian living in a largely Christian community, I feel very marginalized at this time of year and don’t need it to start any earlier then it does. I get annoyed when I hear Christmas music before Thanksgiving is over. I would have a higher tolerance if more Christmas music was less sappy and commercialized. Or if there were more acknowledgement of the many non-Christian holidays this time of year, including the rather minor but 8 day long holiday of Hanukkah that I celebrate. I do get happy when I hear a good old carol done in an authentic and acoustic rendition, or silly ones like Blue Christmas. But I could totally live my life happily without ever hearing Jingle Bell Rock or some of the really schmaltzy Santa stuff.

Interestingly, I haven’t felt oppressed by Christmas when I’ve spent the season in overtly Christian Latin America. Maybe some of the reason is that the music is better. Instead of sappy commercialized crap, the airwaves a full of carols and church melodies that are pleasant to the ear.

And maybe it’s also that Christianity is the official religion in those countries, and I get to visit Christianity on its own turf. But if the US celebrates the separation of church and state, why is it OK to have creches on courthouse lawns? How does that do anything other than establish a connection between Christianity and government? I raised that point in my 1988 article, and have seen nothing to change my mind.

These days, I as a Jew can walk down the streets and see many acknowledgements of Chanukah (a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, despite its eight-day run—made important in the secular world only by its proximity to Christmas and its adoption of the custom of giving gifts). Yet, obviously, I still feel like an isolated minority. Imagine, then, how it feels to be Muslim, or Wiccan, or celebrate Kwanzaa. After all these years, the US still has to do a much better job of acknowledging and celebrating its pluralism. As militant, violent white separatists become emboldened by a president who openly ran a hate campaign, this is more urgent than ever.

Posted in Activism, Branding, Demographics/Psychographics, Diversity, Ethics in Government, General Commentary, language, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Let’s Make Puerto Rico The Poster Child for 100% Fossil-Free

Seize the opportunity!

Tragic as it is, the wipeout of Puerto Rico’s fossil-based infrastructure via Hurricane Maria creates a powerful opportunity to do it right the second time. With its vast solar and wind resources, why not make this sunny, breezy island the pilot project to develop 100% renewability in buildings for a populous island—using microgrids to build in resiliency, so if part of the system goes down, the rest still delivers power?

A storm-damaged pier. Courtesy freeimages.com

A storm-damaged pier. Courtesy freeimages.com

There’s already at least one island country we’ve all heard of that is near-100% renewable if you don’t count vehicles: Iceland (hydro and geothermal). Solar/electric entrepreneur Elon Musk has already converted several tiny, obscure islands, like Ta’u in American Samoa, and he says he can scale up to serve the 3,670,243 Puerto Ricans.

Of course, converting PR to renewables requires the re-invention of funding. We need mechanisms that allow a bankrupt country (technically part of the US) to front-load a huge infrastructure and then repay out of savings even when many pressing needs will be competing for those funds. The private sector won’t step up if they don’t have complete confidence that they’ll get paid back. Eco-economists, this is your moment!

But also, justice demands that a big chunk of financing come from outright grants, from the US government and various foundations and disaster relief agencies—just is occurred in storm recovery after other superstorms like Katrina, Rita, Sandy, and Irene. Even the heartless occupant of the White House, possibly the least compassionate and least competent man ever to hold that office, must not be allowed to marginalize Puerto Rico just because the population is Latina/Latino and the language is Spanish.

And wouldn’t it be cool if someone (Elon Musk perhaps?) stepped forward to fund a switch of the vehicle fleet to non-carbon-emitting sources? If the island had solar on every sunny room, it would be easy enough to supply the vehicles as well.

In some ways, converting the entire island to clean, renewable, resilient energy would actually make rebuilding cheaper and easier. Fossil fuel infrastructure is expensive, complex, and subject to environmental catastrophe. But if the money that would have gone to build tanker ports and refineries went to establishing on-island solar panel factories and training installers and to bringing in the raw materials to make millions of high-efficiency panels to deploy in every neighborhood in the Commonwealth, it’s doable.

I’m not the only and certainly not the first to say this. In addition to Musk, Time Magazine, Renewable Energy World, safe energy activist/author Harvey Wasserman, the deep-story news outlet Democracy Now, to name a few, have all said this is possible and desirable.

Posted in Abundance and Prosperity, Corporate Social Responsibility, Eco-friendly, Energy & Sustainability, Entrepreneurship, Environment, Green Business, Green Living/Green Lifestyles, Innovation, People Helping People, Politics, Social and Economic Justice, Socially Responsible Investing, Technology Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

Melania, Dr. Seuss, Racism, and Class Issues—What a Kerfluffle

This post was going to be about political correctness overreach and a children’s librarian calling Dr. Seuss racist.  That’s the story as a lot of right-wing bloggers and media outlets tell it.

But the real story is about something even bigger: the need to discover the truth. And sometimes that means we have to go to primary sources. Several pieces are in play here, and most of the news coverage is focusing on only one (different sources, different pieces). I thank my journalism training for preventing me from embarrassing myself

Yes, A Librarian Refused the Donation

Melania (the current US First Lady) donated books to one school in every state.

Melania's letter accompanying the book donation

Melania’s letter accompanying the book donation

Most of us will agree that’s a good thing. But as Newsweek reports,

Liz Phipps Soeiro, the school librarian for Cambridgeport [Massachusetts] Elementary School, announced in an open letter to [Melania] that she would not be accepting the gift because her school was not in need of the additional books, also telling the first lady that “Dr. Seuss is a bit of a cliché.” Dr. Seuss!

But Soeiro Had a Good Reason to Refuse the Donation

But here’s the part where I agree with Soeiro, and I had to go to the original Horn Book post to find it: Melania selected only one school in each state. Soeiro found the criteria on the White House website:

“working with the Department of Education to identify schools with programs that have achieved high standards of excellence, recognized by State and National awards and Blue Ribbon Awards…”

Soeiro quite appropriately criticized this process, noting that it transfers more resources to those who already have the most, while schools that would be desperate for books and thrilled to get this donation—schools that are educating their kids with a fraction of the resources wealthy Cambridge (home of Harvard University and MIT) can deploy—are left out because they don’t win awards for excellence. In my opinion, this is like so much else in the DT family agenda. The rich get richer and the poor have 30 or 40 kids in a class and low-quality instructional materials.

Soeiro says,

Are those kids any less deserving of books simply because of circumstances beyond their control? Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos? Why not reflect on those “high standards of excellence” beyond only what the numbers suggest? Secretary DeVos would do well to scaffold and lift schools instead of punishing them with closures and slashed budgets.

And she mailed back the books to the White House.

But wouldn’t it have been more effective to mail those books to one of those deserving schools that don’t win awards? Soeiro could have mailed them, just as publicly, to one of the districts she cites as suffering—Philadelphia, Chicago, or Detroit—or to an underserved community right in Massachusetts, like Holyoke, Springfield (whose mayor said publicly they’d be glad to have the books), or Lawrence. She could have been just as public and gotten just as much attention. Melania will just give them to the next rich runner-up.

Yes, Soeiro Claimed Seuss Promoted Racism

That Newsweek article doesn’t quote another part of Soeiro’s letter, published as a blog on the Horn Book children’s lit site (though this article attributed to Newsweek but published on Yahoo does)—but this is the part that has conservatives in a dither:

Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes. [emphasis mine]

OK, let’s talk about the difference between opinion and fact. A fact is something that can be proven (and there’s no such thing as “alternative facts”). A person may have a viewpoint about that fact, and that’s opinion.

Sometimes people discover that their “facts” aren’t actual facts. When my house was built in 1743, the accepted wisdom among colonists of British ancestry was that tomatoes can be lethal, and nobody can go faster than a horse. Anyone stating otherwise would have been called insane.

Of course, these turned out to be opinions. Wrong ones. We know now that tomatoes are not poisonous—and humans can fly around the earth (in the space station) at more than 17,000 miles per hour.

The fact: Seuss’s post-WWII illustrations demonstrate a wide diversity of races and cultures, including many “races” that he made up entirely. Taking his work as a body, humans are only a modest portion of his characters, even his main characters.

Soeiro says his books are based on stereotyping. That’s her opinion and that of the scholars she cites. My opinion is that his books were promoting cultural diversity, acceptance of differences, and a society based in cooperation. I base this on reading many of his works. I’ve read Dr. Seuss books that ridicule…

  • Racism (The Sneetches and Other Stories, published way back in 1953)
  • Dictatorships (Yertle the Turtle)
  • Conformism (Horton Hears a Who)
  • War (The Butter Battle Book)

I’ve also read a number of Seuss books that defend underdogs and the environment (The Lorax)—to name just four of his many books espousing a progressive agenda.

And just as Soeiro cites sources that bolster her opinion, I can cite sources that bolster mine. For example, this profile of Seuss in Tikkun highlights many of his progressive activities and works (although it acknowledges that during WWII, his drawings for adults had a distinctly racist cast when it came to the Japanese. I’m not excusing that but the evidence is strong that he grew out of this attitude, especially in his horror over the Hiroshima bombing).

One not-so-nice thing about our world is that things get all out of proportion because the Internet amplifies opinions better than it amplifies facts. But one very good thing is how easy it is to go to the primary sources. Even if Newsweek hadn’t included the link, it was easy to find Soeiro’s original piece in Horn Book (it came up in the same search results page as the Newsweek article, in fact). And it was just as easy to find the Tikkun piece that mostly supported my position.

So…in any controversy, before you jump up and down and wave banners, take a couple of minutes to determine the facts. Look for coverage in reputable mainstream media whose trained and experienced reporters are vetting stories. Use a fact-checking site like Snopes. And do your part to keep the society-wide conversation focused on the truth and not on wild accusations. Often, as in this case, things are much more nuanced than they seem.

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Diversity, Environment, General Commentary, language, Politics, poverty, Protests and Crackdowns, Psychology, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Is Your Advertising or Marketing Working AGAINST You?

I received a fund appeal from a climate-change nonprofit asking for money to put this ad on the air. I was so appalled that I sent this letter:

[Subject] THIS AD WILL DO THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE WANT Re: Enough tiptoeing around it

[Body] No, and here’s why: This ad shows an astonishing ignorance of the deep triggers that change or reinforce behavior.  You pit an audio track that is 100% climate-denier against visuals that fail to make a connection between the catastrophes shown and climate change.

For climate skeptics, this will not only not change their mind, it will REINFORCE the idea that climate change is a hoax. They will focus on the audio. Those of us who understand that climate change is real will focus on the visuals, and will be able to make the connection that climate change worsened the storms—but we’re not the ones who need to be convinced.

As a marketer with over 40 years experience who believes strongly in the ability of marketing to create social change, I think this ad will do more harm than good and should not be released.

Please don’t run it!

We’ve known about the difference between how the brain processes the obvious and the subliminal  messaging in an ad for decades.  I think I learned about this when I started reading a lot of marketing books, back in the 1980s. We’ve also known about “social proof” (the idea that because other people are doing something, you should too) going back to early-20th-century advertising geniuses like John Caples and Edward Bernays.

Edward Bernays' secretary Bertha Hunt smokes in public at Bernays' 1927 "Torches of Freedom" march

Edward Bernays’ secretary Bertha Hunt smokes in public at Bernays’ 1927 “Torches of Freedom” march

And we’ve known about the negative impact of negative images about the environment since at least the Cialdini study of 2003 (which showed that people are more likely to litter after watching an anti-littering video showing lots of people littering) and probably much earlier. So why would any marketer script an ad like this?

By contrast, consider how the super-successful anti-littering campaign “Don’t Mess With Texas” rallied people around state pride. Cleverly, the ad agency didn’t even announce it as a clean-up-the-state program at first. Aiming at the demographics that were most likely to litter, they handed out bumper stickers with just the slogan, then later introduced commercials that tied it to the real purpose: stopping littering. And Texan litter rates went way down!

We’ve also known for many years that cultural and language differences have a lot to do with any marketing piece’s success. I’ve written often about the way companies sometimes market the same product differently to different nations or subcultures, or how a company can even change up its whole product line for different markets. Here are two examples from very different industries (breakfast cereal and luxury cars) in an article I published five years ago on an Australian website.

Don’t make the mistake that Chevrolet made when it tried to market the Nova in Latin America. In Spanish, “no va” means “it doesn’t go.” Oh, and look at every possible way to break up a website or product name into separate words. Unintended consequences of a badly-chosen name are still consequences, as that link demonstrates extremely well.

Have you examined your own marketing to make sure the subliminal message, the obvious message, and the goal are all aligned? Do this right away—or contact me. I’d be happy to do it for you, at very reasonable prices. I’ve written eight books on marketing including several that won awards, were translated and republished overseas, and/or made some best-seller lists—note that I’m using social proof here ;-)—and have studied marketing for more than 30 years.

Posted in Advertising, Branding, Copywriting, Demographics/Psychographics, Eco-friendly, Environment, Green Marketing, language, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Marketing Trends/News, Politics, propaganda, Psychology Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Harvey, Irma Prove Humans are Hurt by Catastrophic Climate Change

My heart goes out to all those impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the flooding in Bangladesh and other parts of Asia (not much in the US news but also very severe), or the out-of-control fires in the American West (a friend in Oregon told me, “the whole state is on fire. I can’t go out of my house because of the smoke.”

Every bit of research I’ve seen concludes that all these catastrophes are far worse than they would have been without human intervention. Humans have raised the temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico through our industry, agriculture, and architecture, and those warmer waters vastly increased the severity of the storms. And because of numerous social choices over decades if not centuries, disaster impacts tend to fall most heavily on those who can least afford it.

Storm Flooding. Photo by Gabriel Bulla, freeimages.com

Storm Flooding. Photo by Gabriel Bulla, freeimages.com

This pattern has been increasing dramatically since at least 2005, starting with the Asian typhoon and continuing through Katrina and Rita, Irene and Sandy, and now Harvey and Irma. Humans have built flood-vulnerable buildings in low-lying places where flooding, sooner or later, is inevitable. So not only are the storms more severe measuring just their force, but they impact the human-built landscape where that humanscape ignores nature’s principles.

To think of it another way, the planet is fighting back against the human assault. The planet doesn’t really care about humans as a species, or even individual ecosystems. The planet just wants to survive, and it acts to protect the “macro-ecosystem”: the planet as a whole. It has already survived extinctions of millions of species, including some that were the dominant lifeforms before earlier, non-human-caused catastrophic climate events. If humans are wiped out and cockroaches rule the earth, Earth won’t care.

But we care. We want a world whose treasured heritage and powerful promise we can pass on to many generations.

Please talk to your friends, colleagues, neighbors, and especially your legislators. Help them understand that human-caused catastrophic climate change is real, and that *there are things we can do to mitigate the impact and even reverse the terrible trends.*

We can take individual actions, from switching to organic foods and eating less meat to insulating our homes and workplaces and using LED lighting. And we can also take action as a society. With no help from the US federal government, individual cities and states can still participate in the Paris Accords (and many have). For bottom-line revenue-building and expense reducing reasons, companies can design buildings that create at least as much energy as they use, from clean renewable sources (and many have).

But still, government must have a role: in funding not just disaster relief but preventive measures such as dam inspections and humane ones such as fair labor practice enforcement (both stripped of much of their funding by the current administration). In encouraging clean energy. In understanding that foreign policy needs to factor in who uses what resources in which ways, and that domestic policy has to focus on creating jobs in industries that will remain relevant (unlike, for instance, coal and nuclear, neither of which are economically viable in the current world).

I could go on for much longer, but I’ll just say, thanks for listening, talk to your network, write letters to the editor, and contact your legislators.

Posted in Activism, Energy & Sustainability, Environment, Green Living/Green Lifestyles, People Helping People, Politics, poverty, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,

10 People Who Changed My Life

There are hundreds more I could honor. These 10 are all people I knew personally. I chose them somewhat randomly, basically who came top of mind first. I am grateful to all of them even if the interaction was painful when it happened.

  1. My mom, whose commitment to racial justice extended to desegregating the apartment building we lived in. She was also a tester for the Urban League, making sure that when a black family was told an apartment was already rented that it was really rented—by applying to live there.

    Walking my mother, Gloria Yoshida, into her 65th-birthday surprise party, 1998

    Walking my mother, Gloria Yoshida, into her 65th-birthday surprise party, 1998

  2. The speaker I heard when I 12, at my first peace demonstration, who told me the Vietnam war was undeclared—and brought my false reality crashing down around me.
  3. The idiot who made me sit in the children’s section of a movie theater with my full-price adult ticket (also age 12) and gave me my first experience of discrimination-based injustice (for being part of a class of people). I started a boycott of that cinema that has now continued for 48 years, and thus had the first experience of recognizing that I had power to change things.
  4. Mrs. Ehrlich of the Bronx High School of Science English Department in the 1970s, who believed the lie I’d told that I had turned in an assignment. Horrified, she said she’d never lost a student paper before. I felt intense guilt and realized that my action had hurt someone innocent. I’ve done my best not to repeat that and to take responsibility for my actions even when I don’t like the consequences.
  5. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Gross of Westchester Day School in the 1960s, who recognized that I was already a good reader and sat me in the back of the room with a 4th grade geography text while she inflicted Sally-Dick-and-Jane on the rest of the class. I still love reading, still love maps, and that was probably the first time I recognized how fascinating the world is, how people lived so differently in different parts of it.
  6. The college classmate who yelled at me that I was extremely and consistently selfish. It hurt like hell at the time, but on reflection, I realized he was right. And I changed my behavior! (Years later, I went up to him at a reunion and thanked him. He didn’t even remember the incident.)
  7. Dr. Jeffrey Lant, who was the first person to help me discover you-centered, benefit-focused marketing.
  8. Dean Cycon, CEO of Dean’s Beans, who combined the strongest moral compass and the best sense of humor of any business owner I know. (I never got to meet the late Ray Anderson; he might have topped Dean in his commitment).
  9. Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, who started a whole social movement after mandatory retirement forced her out of a quiet job within the Presbyterian Church.
  10. Pete Seeger, who was probably the first to show me that the arts could change people’s minds and create action for social and environmental justice.
Posted in Activism, Copywriting, Democracy, Diversity, Environment, Events, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, Peace and War, People Helping People, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Nonviolence is the OPPOSITE of Passivity

In the run-up to the enormous Boston counter-rally against white racism, someone complained that nonviolence is ineffective and passive—and mentioned his desire to go out and slug a few Nazis. This provoked an extended discussion with several people participating. By the time I saw the thread, he had actually said he’d welcome the chance to get trained in nonviolent action.
That thread sparked a desire in me to do some education about the history and power of nonviolence (I wish it were taught in schools!):
First, I totally support this activist’s decision to get nonviolence training. Every person should have nonviolent conflict AND nonviolent de-escalation in their toolkit, and especially every activist.
Second, it’s important to understand the enormous difference between active nonviolent resistance and passivity. Nonviolent resistance has been a successful tactic for centuries, and even Forbes noted that it’s typically twice as effective as violent tactics. It’s been used to great effect by:
  • Gandhi and the struggle for Indian independence
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., and the American Civil Rights movement
  • Activists of the Arab Spring
  • The safe energy/no nukes movement in the United States, Britain, and Germany
  • The students who mass-rallied in Tiananmen Square, Beijing
  • A large majority of the South African freedom fighters who reclaimed their country, and the many Eastern European movements who reclaimed theirs

The first recorded example I’m aware of goes all the way back to the Old Testament Book of Exodus: the midwives Shifrah and Pu’ah refused to carry out the Pharaoh’s order to murder all the newborn Hebrew boys. Nothing passive about this! Those two women risked their lives to create resistance to a murderous dictator’s “ethnic cleansing” plan.

Yes, there are some who practice nonviolence in ways that do nothing more than mildly irritate the power structure. But Gene Sharp has documented something like 193 active nonviolence tactics that are actually effective in creating social change, and he was writing in the pre-Internet era. I recommend his From Dictatorship to Democracy as a very readable introduction. It talks about how to get rid of dictators, nonviolently.
Sharp and many others have documented effective nonviolent resistance to the most oppressive totalitarian governments, including the Nazis, Stalin’s Soviet Union, the extremely repressive British colonial government in India…
Third, I have personally participated (and sometimes organized) numerous effective nonviolent actions with a vast range of scope, tactics, and goals. In one case, I was the only person doing the action on Day 1, and I watched the tide turn by Day 3.
The single most effective of all the actions I’ve been part of was probably the Seabrook nuclear power plant construction site of 1977. The state was forced to feed and house 1414 incarcerated protestors, most of whom did “bail solidarity,” refusing to post bail and becoming an enormous financial burden on the state, which also had to pay the salaries of the National Guard reservists who guarded us in their armories. They finally released everyone after 13 days.
Not only did we bring both the NH government and the power company to their knees, but by the time we all got out, a national safe energy/no nukes movement had sprung up, copying our structure, tactics, and goals.
And this movement managed to essentially freeze out nuclear power as an option in the US. Richard Nixon had called for 1000 nukes in the US, but I don’t think the number ever got past 104, nearly all of which got their permits before the Seabrook occupation—and all before the Three Mile Island (TMI) accident two years later.
Directly and indirectly, that movement can take credit for:
1) media coverage of TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima accidents while earlier accidents had been ignored;
2) a national and global shift toward safe energy consciousness, leading to much wider development of solar, deep conservation, and other clean energy technologies;
3) numerous new methods of organizing that were used by other active nonviolent movements such as Occupy and Standing Rock (both of which managed to last for many months despite enormous pressure)
Nonviolent occupiers approach the construction site of the Seabrook nuclear plant, April 30, 1977. Unattributed photo found at https://josna.wordpress.com/tag/anti-nuclear-movement/

Nonviolent occupiers approach the construction site of the Seabrook nuclear plant, April 30, 1977. Unattributed photo found at https://josna.wordpress.com/tag/anti-nuclear-movement/

I write in more detail about some of this in part 4 of the four-part series I did this spring, reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the Seabrook action: http://greenandprofitable.com/40-years-ago-today-we-changed-the-world-part-4-shifts-in-the-culture/ (if you want to read the whole thing, Part 1 is at http://greenandprofitable.com/40-years-ago-today-we-changed-the-world-part-1/ , and each part has a link at the bottom to the next one)
And fourth, nonviolent resistance works better than violent resistance. If we engage in violence, we play to the strengths of the opposition. The government has highly trained military and police forces able to inflict extreme violence on us. The fascisti have less to lose in attacking a violent mob and of course the police will be far less interested in protecting us from violent attackers if we ourselves are violent. The public loses sympathy for us and supports the repression.
But if we maintain nonviolent discipline in the face of violent attacks, the public swings rapidly to our side, and some even start thinking about how they can help the resistance. They may not put their bodies on the line, but they can be powerful allies in 1000 ways, if not chased away by political purity hawks who want all or nothing and forget that they, too, evolved their commitments over time.
Change happens when we reach a tipping point, when these folks have enough voice that they cannot be silenced, and enough influence that mainstream populations start to support them. And as noted above, throughout history, history, far more struggles for justice have been won in this way than through physical violence.
Posted in Activism, Democracy, Environment, People Helping People, Protests and Crackdowns, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Best Response Ever About Why Guilt and Shame Don’t Work

This Facebook Live video by Brené Brown, “We need to keep talking about Charlottesville,” posted August 15, might be the best thing I’ve ever come across on how to combat oppressive language without heaping guilt and shame on the other person, building bridges instead. I’d known her name but not her work. This video made me a fan. Strongly recommended.

She has an unusual perspective: a white anti-racist raised in the South, often mistaken for black by people who hadn’t met her, on the basis of her full legal name.

Can we create a world where these girls will be judged "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"? Photo by Anissa Thompson, freeimages.com

Can we create a world where these girls will be judged “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”? Photo by Anissa Thompson, freeimages.com

I’ve been saying for many years that guilt and shame are not effective in making change (and in my work to create social change in the business world, I do my best to harness other motives, like enlightened self-interest). The example she gives of the young man confronting his father shows exactly why they don’t work. Not to confront racism or other isms, and not to protect the planet.

Brené is a better communicator than I am. As I engage in dialogue with “the other side,” I will do my best to remember her communications lessons, and those of Van Jones, whose wonderful riff on how to talk to Tea Partiers I wrote about several years ago.

For more of Brené Brown, visit her website.

Posted in Activism, Diversity, Environment, Events, language, Marketing Techniques and Philosophies, People Helping People, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

Where Do We Find Our Courage?

In the aftermath of the Charlottesville Massacre (a massacre that kills one person is still a massacre in my opinion, if deliberately intending to harm many—19 were injured by the madman’s car), an activist friend posted a cry for help. This is a piece of it:

…how can I fight this if I’m scared? And if I’m scared and it immobilizes me then who else will be able to face that fear and take action? And we must take action. We white people must take action. We must be at the forefront of this fight. With our sisters and brothers of color.

All my life I have fought for justice, for people, for equity. How do I step up to this fight with my full self and do what has to be done? How are you doing it?

Here’s what I wrote (slightly edited):

Singer, actor, activist and athlete Paul Robeson. Courtesy NY Public Library Digital Collections.

Singer, actor, activist and athlete Paul Robeson. Courtesy NY Public Library Digital Collections.

It’s OK to be scared, and then do the work anyway—that’s what courage is. I know you already know this, but maybe others reading here will take inspiration.
The times in my life when I’ve done this, and there have been several, have been among the most meaningful moments of my life. But I’m no great hero—and the times when I failed to step up and do the right but scary thing are some of my few regrets. Here are two successes and one failure that I’m thinking about in particular.
1. In 1975 and 1976, I ran the Gay Center (that’s what we called it back then) at Antioch College. I left when the semester was over and began a summer-long hitchhiking trip. A few weeks later, on July 5, 1976, I stopped by for a short visit. I still had the Gay Center key and was crashing there. During that visit, some creep threw a rock through the center’s window, wrapped in a vile hate-speech note with a swastika drawn on it. I not only went to the police [and the campus authorities], but I wrote a letter to the school paper, including the full text of the foul note, and called out the perpetrator. Nobody offered any protection [nor did I request any] and I kept sleeping there until I pushed west.
2. When the US bombed Libya in the early 1990s, I called up [local peace activist] Frances Crowe and asked her where and when the demonstration would be. She said she didn’t know of one. I said “noon at the courthouse.” I was out there by myself the first day, and the passers-by were hostile enough that I was worried for my safety. But I was back the next day with a handful of others, and the day after that with about 20 folks, and I watched the tide turn. By that third day, supporters passing by far outnumbered hostiles. I felt my actions had made a real difference.
The regrets are mostly about not having the strength to verbally interrupt oppression. I’ve gotten better at this over the years. Many of the incidents were when I was a child or teen and didn’t have the strength or the skills to do this in a positive way. But I particularly regret one incident in 1986 when I should have been able to think and act differently: I failed to interrupt a neighbor’s racist comment. We had just moved in next door and I was in his living room at that moment, getting acquainted. I let the comment go by as if I hadn’t heard it. 31 years later, I still feel shame about that.
As an activist for more than 40 years, I’ve been very lucky. I’ve really only risked my life or serious injury a dozen times or so. I’ve never had to spend time in a real jail; my one and only arrest (Seabrook, NH, 1977) was part of a movement too big for the state’s corrections system, so I spent a week in a large National Guard Armory room with 700 other comrades and we made it a school of nonviolence theory and practice.

But my greatest successes bore no personal risk. I faced no serious repercussions when I started the movement that saved our local mountain, or when I set the wheels in motion for the first nonsmokers rights regulations in the city where I was living. Nobody was going to crack a nightstick over my head while I was being paid to organize the Gray Panther chapter in Brooklyn, NY.

I realize just how privileged my place of activism has been when I think of the nonviolent warriors who fought for their rights in places like Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa, and the American South in the 1950s and 1960s. I think of my long-dead friends and comrades Dave Dellinger and Wally Nelson, who served had time in prison for refusing to fight in World War II. I think of another dead friend, Adele Lerner, who came to the US to escape the Nazis and who was present at the Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill, New York that when the Klan attacked—and who was responsible for a lot of my political and cultural awareness in the early 1970s.She turned me on to Leadbelly (who’d been a friend of hers), Malvina Reynolds, and real cheese, to name three among many. I think of labor organizers, LGBT activists, and so many others who gave their lives so that my generation could have our freedom to protest. Their actions give me the courage to continue to work for a better world.
And I think about the power of ordinary people to step through the door that cracks open for a moment, to step into their greatness and change the world. The seamstress, Rosa Parks. The shipyard electrician, Lech Walesa. The activist serving a life sentence, Nelson Mandela. The humble priests Daniel and Philip Berrigan, who spent so many years in jail for direct action against the military. These and many other heroes put their lives on the line in a way I never had to.
Mind, I’m not beating myself up. I’ve chosen a path of “easeful activism” (as my yoga teacher might call it). I’ve found plenty of ways to be an effective agent of social change without getting beaten, killed, or thrown in jail. I haven’t found it necessary to be a martyr, but I deeply respect those who do. And I am prepared if the day comes where I am called to do as much or more. I will not allow fear of my own death to keep me from doing the right thing. I will continue to follow the path of nonviolent action for deep social change.
impact in the world? Please post your comments below.
Posted in Activism, language, People Helping People, Politics, Protests and Crackdowns, Psychology, Shel's Personal Life, Social and Economic Justice Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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