If you know me, you know I’m an extreme optimist about the potential for progressive activists to take advantage of the game-changing advances in video that are just starting to get going.
I was likewise quite glad to explore what comes next at a rootscamp session that I put together with the act.tv team entitled Winning Video for Candidates and Causes. Our panelists included occupier Alexis Goldstein, who is a frequent guest on MSNBC’s All in with Chris as well as the Communications Director of The Other 98% not to mention my fellow Occupy Network team member, Joseph Lamour who is an editorial curator at Upworthy specializing in TV, and John Neffinger who is President of the Franklin Forum which is a new communications group that provides media training and messaging support to progressive advocates.
The session dove deep into how progressives of all stripes can best leverage video, focusing predominantly on Elizabeth Warren and Occupy Wall Street as case studies. Below you’ll find the full video from the panel as well as some shorter clips and analysis:
Early on we dove into Alexis Goldstein’s transition from working on Wall Street for seven years before quitting and playing a prominent role in Occupy Wall Street. We discussed her jump into media through a highly acclaimed appearance on Democracy Now acting as a launchpad for now regular appearances on television, including joining a panel with Jay Z and Barney Frank on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. In addition Alexis has launched her own web video series with the Other 98% called Alexis Breaks It Down as well as a podcast with Jesse Myerson named Disorderly Conduct.
One point Alexis made that stuck out to me was how she tries to use her financial literacy and general expertise to help fill the gap between perception and reality. Alexis felt a sense of shock from others saying to themselves “Occupy knows how to read and write, what?” Considering we’re in a world where the mainstream media so often does not accurately reflect reality, it sure becomes that much clearer why activists creating our own media can be viewed as activism in and of itself!
We also spoke more broadly about the difficulty of making wonky issues compelling, which Alexis described as her “perpetual quest to figure out a way to explain this stuff where people’s eyes glaze over.” Being prepared and poised on camera are crucial assets, but the vast background knowledge required is something the everyday person doesn’t necessarily have in combination innately.
It was within this context that we segued to a discussion on what we depicted as a video-centric ‘Elizabeth Warren model’ for making these kinds of wonky topics accessible to the everyday person. Below you’ll find a compilation of all the varying points where Warren and the burgeoning model she is exhibiting came up:
The importance of video to Warren’s rise cannot be understated, to the extent that the New Republic refers to how such video clips have “bonded her to the Democratic left.”
At our session John Neffinger employed his decade of experience coaching political figures and expert guests on national TV programs to pick out points for what a ‘Warren model’ might entail. John emphasized how video is everywhere now that seemingly everyone has a camera in their pocket by way of their cell phone, representing both a risk and an opportunity for communicators who must be prepared to have a camera in their face at any moment.
On key example we dove into in this vein was from an otherwise normal campaign stop where Warren was speaking with supporters and explained how "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own."
That video irrevocably changed the national debate, but it was not only Warren’s experience with complex financial matters that made it possible. Rather John described how integral it was for Warren to come across as a Midwestern soccer mom who -- with a smile on her face -- can slice and dice Wall Street. That demeanor acted as the “spoonful of sugar that helps people take in the message.”
Joe Lamour similarly had much to say on this point from the perspective of what does particularly well after being shared from Upworthy. For added context Upworthy was the fastest growing media company in the world even before recently announcing that they just about doubled(!) their previous record for unique visitors with 87 million this past November.
Based on that purview Joe discussed how Warren has certain keys that she hits on disproportionately to other politicians, and how important emotion is for inspiring someone to share. He also emphasized how Warren often makes it clear that there is a specific villain who she is talking about, and largely “knows how to use the opponent to her advantage.”
That is a difficult proposition, however, as there are starkly different audiences that are best reached by different messages. The most valuable content for an activist audience is not the same at all in comparison to what would necessarily be most likely to go viral. For that matter Adam Mordecai, Upworthy’s editor-at-large, spoke during the Q&A portion of the session and specified that Warren’s video about how no one gets rich on their own in fact wouldn’t have done well on Upworthy because it was "too partisan and rah rah.”
I find that fascinating given the undeniable impact that video has ultimately had, and believe the contrast between a video designed to go viral vs one to inspire action and mobilize supporters cannot be understated. Moreover, it makes me that much more committed to our goal at act.tv to help further fuse great activism and video into an increasingly powerful force, as it is clear that insofar as video is concerned, progressives are but beginning to discover what we can personally and collectively accomplish.