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The more I read about the history of social justice activism, the more I realize that the holy grail of success for any activist movement is gaining the support of the middle class.  In every era activists bemoan the apathy of the middle class in the face of so much corruption and injustice.  Many have used all manner of disparaging adjectives to condemn them.

We are all familiarized with the reasons for the apparent apathy.  On the one hand, people in the lower economic spectrum of the middle class are consumed with their efforts to stay afloat, trying to avoid falling into poverty, and so they don't have the energy or inclination to get involved in social activism.

On the other, people in the upper middle class are pretty comfortable with their situation in life, which gives them an incentive to try to maintain the status quo, or at least be very careful about upsetting the proverbial apple cart.

And this happens regardless of the level of corruption or oppression in society, as long as it does not affect them (too much) directly.

Then you have those who fall through the cracks into poverty or become victims of the corrupt system, and others who for some reason or another become marginalized from the mainstream (mainly through the effects of propaganda).  In this space, you also have hard-core social justice activists who are mainly motivated purely by altruism, humanitarianism, and their uncommon understanding about the consequences of not confronting corruption and oppression.

Because of the years I've been interacting online with others here at Daily Kos, my impression is that most users are middle class people, with middle class sensibilities.

This diary is an attempt at identifying ways to bridge the gap between hard-core social justice and anti-corruption activists and the middle class.  Hence, your ideas and suggestions are welcome...

Here's a case study... I visited the Occupy Oakland website and on the home page I read about a "Debtor's Assembly," whose goal is "to educate and mobilize around the issue of debt."  When I study the website, I see emphasis on many other important issues like environmental justice, foreclosure defense fund, fighting patriarchy, and other social justice issues.

When I visit other Occupy Wall Street websites around the world, and study what they are doing, I come away with similar conclusions about their agendas.

Again, I don't for one second criticize what they are doing, nor do I question whether they are actually able to effect change and put pressure on the corrupt system.

I'm just concerned that given the level of energy, knowledge, and commitment shared by all these good people, this piecemeal and disparate approach undermines their true potential for success, if success is measured by the eventuality of taking down the corrupt plutocracy.

Why?  Because the causes they are rising against are related to injustices perpetrated against mainly marginalized people: the poor; minorities; debtors; the sick and infirm; the young; the old; the native peoples; etc.

Thus, regardless of how many Occupy Wall Street chapters are around the country, or the world, in any given neighborhood they will be seen as a fringe group.

This of course is mainly the result of the control of the mainstream media by a handful of corporations, which use that control for propaganda purposes.

Drawing on my experience in advertising, marketing, technology, and product development, I'm inclined to deduce that the best way to reach the larger number of middle class people in order to gain support for the goals shared by social justice and anti-corruption activists is to deploy mainstream media campaigns mimicking the same approach used by typical business advertisers.

This would have to be carefully-calibrated to first, find the right type of messaging (using a standard advertising, public relations, and marketing approach) to gain the attention of the target "consumer," and make their participation as easy and risk-free as possible.

Here's a specific idea... First, I'm under the impression that the average middle class person with liberal tendencies feels pretty comfortable with PBS programming.

I have identified two recent documentaries which I think meet two important requirements: they were produced by well-known media personalities/entities; and their exposés are truly scandalous and shocking in the level of corruption they reveal.

(1). THE UNTOUCHABLES: FRONTLINE investigates why Wall Street’s leaders have escaped prosecution for any fraud related to the sale of bad mortgages.

(2). United States of ALEC: Revealing the hidden world of ALEC — corporations and state legislators colluding to write laws and remake America, one statehouse at a time.

I happen to think that these two documentaries go straight to the root of almost everything that's wrong with our system...

The idea would be to produce an event around these two documentaries.  The events would be held at a very nice venue, like a theater or hotel conference room.

The program would include a screening of the two documentaries, and perhaps a panel or a presentation by well-known liberal media personalities.  For example, people like Thom Hartmann, or Norman Goldman, or Rachel Maddow, Big Ed, Bill Moyers, or Daily Kos diarist, social activist and researcher Bob Sloan, could be invited to talk about the content of the documentaries after the screenings.

The event would be totally mainstream, providing a comfortable space for middle class people.

I would take a standard approach for the marketing of the event(s).  I would do a media buy, including print advertising (a half of full color page in the San Francisco Chronicle, for example), and if possible, TV, and radio.  People in event marketing usually suggest that you give yourself a minimum of three or two months of advertising prior to the event.

This would be a great opportunity to bridge the gap between hard-core activists and average middle class people, where there could be a cross pollination of ideas and ideals, all of which would serve to strengthen the social justice and anti-corruption movement.

One of the best examples of this type of idea (actually, I got some inspiration from it), is the Abolitionist movement, as depicted in the PBS American Experience Documentary: THE ABOLITIONISTS.

Abolitionist allies Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, John Brown and Angelina Grimké turned a despised fringe movement against chattel slavery into a force that literally changed the nation.
Of course, a more recent example is the Stephanie Miller "Sexy Liberal Show" tour.

The only difference with this idea I'm proposing is that my intention is to find a way to help spread the social justice and anti-corruption movement to every corner of the country, and bridge the gap between hard-core activists and more mainstream activists, all working together against the imposition of the nascent plutocracy.

Finally, by making this event as mainstream as possible, my idea would be to also try to reach as many moderate Republicans as possible, and even some people from the Tea Party: San Francisco Chronicle: MoveOn founder, Tea Party figure meet.

Please let me know what you think about this idea... This morning I've been emailing different Occupy Wall Street chapters suggesting this approach.  Hopefully, I'll hear back form some of them.

I have a whole "project plan" ready for this, so if anybody would like to collaborate, I can be contacted at

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Comment Preferences

  •  You Have To Make The Topic Relevant To Them (6+ / 0-)

    I actually got my father, a very rich Republican behind the Occupy movement. See he is a major shareholder of a small, community bank. They are the only one left standing. All the others been bought and gutted.

    I explained to him the Occupy folks where on his side and he should care. That his bank didn't give out bad loans. They didn't need a bailout.

    Clearly he knows I am a hippie liberal. He also knows I have no problem with banks nor upset if they make money. But right is right and this isn't right.

    He isn't going to "occupy" anyplace, but he at least got my point.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 02:30:06 PM PST

    •  Thank you so much for sharing that. It confirms (3+ / 0-)

      my theory.  Yes, it has to be relevant; it has to speak to their interests, values, worries, aspirations, sense of fairness and justice.

      I think doing something like this is reaching for the low hanging fruit that we're failing to see, somehow.

    •  I'm also from a family of community (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      webranding, misslegalbeagle, VClib

      bankers.  they hate the tbtf banks but also hate the community reinvestment act and the regulators.  so while they agree with occupy on the narrow issue of the big banks, there's little agreement on other issues.

      re: activism and the middle class: most of us agree broadly with the Enlightenment hypotheses of the individual as autonomous, generally rational agents.  I think a lot activism arises out of Marxian and post-Marxian thought which puts itself against Enlightenment models of the self. (hence your emphasis on "propaganda" as constitutive of beliefs) Any attempt to make that sort of activism appealing to most people is bound to founder and fail as a result of that failure to bridge these incommensurable ways of seeing the world (or ways of worldmaking!, Nelson Goodman might say)

  •  Lets See I Can Explain This (4+ / 0-)

    my gut is why more movements don't take off is that most of the public don't have any clue what is doing on. I can spend several hours a day reading about what is going on in the world.

    Most people, not so much.

    My brother and his wife. Both college educated. Smart. They both work 10+ hours a day. When they are not working they are taking care of their three year old. When they are not taking care of their three year old they just want some time together.

    I am willing to bet you could mention Occupy to them and they wouldn't know what you are talking about.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 02:50:55 PM PST

  •  Most Educated Upper Middle Class People Are (4+ / 0-)

    comfortable with PBS style programming. Not the broad middle class or middle income Americans. We need something on the level of soaps and sitcoms. Not the vapid content, but mass appeal and accessibility.

    I've said before that I helped change a worldview, and one of the first things I learned was that you can't drop a truthful worldview onto people who are deluded and immersed in a well knit culture of delusion. I'm not talking about the evangelicals, but by the perspective of what science and historical economics among many things are saying, even moderate mainstream Americans are badly deluded in some ways.

    So it's critical to think about how far you want to try to move their Overton window in one pull, without having them break away and lose your credibility for years.

    And a lot of mainstream outlets won't carry progressive content either. We can't get progressive talk radio onto 10% of outlets, or Marcos onto MSNBC for example.

    I think what you're talking about is an approach that could be successful but I fear it requires waving hands at half a dozen fundamental obstacles after half a century of rightwing conquest of the discourse and intellectual infrastructure of society.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 03:59:38 PM PST

    •  I'm very patient. I've been at this for years now (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Words In Action

      and will be until the end of my days.

      Over ten years ago I used push ideas about Occupy-style protests; about the need to do a sustained and coordinated peaceful uprising, etc.  The reaction was always the same: there is too much apathy; it will never happen; something about extremist views, etc.

      I know this stuff is like tilting at windmills, and I don't mind.  Sooner or later, and idea breaks through.... Many like-minded minds pushing forward, reaching others, and all of the sudden, something happens.

      One thing that drives me is that I'm an eternal optimist.  I will always believe that together we can help bring about a better world.  I will believe this no matter the circumstances.  Because it's true.

  •  Great post and comments! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ray Pensador, sfinx, midwesterner

    I too work in advertising and usually have a browser window open all day to watch what is going on DailyKos.

    To make matters even more interesting my company is in the same building as CurrentTV (soon to be Al Jazeera) and I often see Jennifer Granholm broadcasting or even Al Gore walking by.

    I too am frustrated that the nifty techniques my company uses to sell running shoes and video games don't seem to get much traction in the political world, at least not in a way that supports progressive causes.

    Your project plan makes sense to us in San Francisco because of the large number of like-minded people here and the relative scarcity of born-agains and rednecks.  Groups like the Commonwealth Club already offer a heavy schedule of events similar to the one you describe.  

    But still, the average middle class/professional person is apathetic or pretty low-information politically.  This last election positively shocked me at how many bright, young hard-working people here in SF thought Romney was a better alternative, based on some scraps of Fox News propaganda or lingering beliefs they still carried from their upbringing, including thinly-veiled racism.

    To reach these people here in the Bay Area and more broadly across the country, the information presented must be personally relevant to people's busy lives to get any attention, and there needs to be an incentive/reward for their investment of time and attention.

    In other words these battles should be fought in the trenches of consumerism, as it is the national religion that encompasses nearly everyone.  Almost everyone is affected by student loan and medical debt, affordable housing, high gasoline and  energy prices, job insecurity and deteriorating working conditions, social anxiety and loneliness, and health issues around nutrition and exercise.

    The genius of the right wing is that they have hammered the message into people's heads that everything that has gone wrong in their lives is the result of government and "special interests" like unions and minorities.  Progressives need to sell the countervailing truth, that most of the cause of the decline of the middle class is due to the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of the few, who are refusing to shoulder their fair share of the cost of maintaining our society, while they squeeze every penny of additional profit they can from the lower classes.

    And the way to do that is through a series of "teachable moments" where people are offered solutions to their problems wrapped in a progressive explanation that things do not have to remain as they are.  Marketing these ideas directly though social media, music/hiphop, video games and graphic novels, and Extreme sporting events.  The web meme phenomenon is amazing for getting messages spread by way of Facebook, and is a good model to look at for capturing attention and shaping opinion with brief, easy to consume and share bits that take on a life of their own.

    This comment is running way too long, but I'll wrap up and post it anyway.  I'd love to keep discussing these ideas with like-minded people and find a way to help put some of the ideas into action.  Thanks for starting a conversation on something that has been eating away at me as well!

    "Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it." ~ Mark Twain

    by wonkydonkey on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 04:50:40 PM PST

    •  I will just say, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wonkydonkey, Words In Action

      Hear, hear.

      Babylon system is the vampire... ~Bob Marley

      by sfinx on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 06:37:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm so glad to hear from you. We are definitely (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wonkydonkey, Words In Action

      on the same page.  It's great you're in the SF Bay Area.  I've been trying to connect with people in advertising and marketing to develop this idea.

      I know we're very busy working on our businesses and jobs, but hey, if we can spare a few minutes here and there to put something like this together, I think it could turn into something very impactful, and fulfilling.

      Also, we could start a new advertising concept by using the same tools the corporatist propagandists use, but for good.

      I got a couple of emails back from Occupy Wall Street people expressing interest in developing this concept (I've been sending emails to different OWS website about this).

      Why don't we start an informal group to bounce off some ideas, and then see where it goes?

      I think we can do it via email.  I'm going to contact webbranding as well.  He's also in advertising.

      My email is:  I will keep anybody's email address in strict confidentiality.

    •  Great comment. (0+ / 0-)

      Both true and practical.

      The Class, Terror and Climate Wars are indivisible and the short-term outcome will affect the planet for centuries. -WiA "When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill..." - PhilJD

      by Words In Action on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 12:50:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks, Ray. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ray Pensador, Words In Action

    I really like the Culture Jam idea, but the disruption needs to be followed up with positive communication.

    If you're keeping a list of interested folks/potential allies, put me on it.

    Babylon system is the vampire... ~Bob Marley

    by sfinx on Sun Jan 27, 2013 at 06:39:54 PM PST

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