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Don’t take the opposition’s bait: Focus on creating conversations we want to have

I recently wrote in a blog post that to have no-regrets communication, social justice leaders should not take the opposition’s bait. That is a good way to waste energy. 

Here’s the bait. When House Speaker Kevin McCarthy finally bargained enough to win the House of Representatives gavel, he said: “We’re going to pass bills to fix the nation’s urgent challenges — from wide-open Southern borders, to American last energy policies, to woke indoctrination in our schools” (emphasis added).

Unless your mission is to “practice woke indoctrination in U.S. schools,” do not fall for this. As adrienne maree brown advises “As an individual, get really good at being intentional with where you put your energy, letting go as quickly as you can of things that aren’t part of your visionary life’s work. Then you can give your all, from a well-resourced place, when the storm comes, or for those last crucial miles.”

You now know where opposition will come whether you are teaching accurate history in schools; putting on plays about important societal issues as Tony-award-winning “Indecent” does; or simply protecting the mental, emotional and physical safety of all students, especially those who are transgender or nonbinary. (And if you don’t think the opposition is coming, this piece does a great job of making it clear what is at stake for trans students. “Just this year, legislators have introduced more than 300 bills targeting LGBTQ Americans, with many seeking to limit transgender kids’ access to medical care, school bathrooms, and sports teams, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Other proposals would ban books that ‘normalize’ LGBTQ ‘lifestyles,’ restrict what students can learn about sexuality and racism, or require parental permission for kids to choose their pronouns or join LGBTQ clubs. Republicans say the restrictions restore parents’ authority and defend students from indoctrination.”)

What you don’t have to do is accept “woke indoctrination” as the grounds for the discourse that needs to happen. In fact, doing so will put you in a hole rather than on solid ground. Here are three ways to have necessary conversations while avoiding shouting matches.  

Decide on what grounds you want to have your conversation, and stay there. 

Don’t use the opposition’s framing to defend your mission. The opposition wants to discuss your “woke idea.” Do not start with “this is not woke.” You are already giving air to their bad ideas. Instead start with why you believe what you do. Example: We believe theater exists for members of society to explore ideas and make up its own mind. Let your opposition explain why people should not make up their own minds. 

Name the behaviors you want people to engage in. 

We all want our children, our neighbors and our loved ones to live their best lives. That includes bravely accepting, affirming and championing (in a non savior-type way) gender identity and expression. “Bravely accepting, affirming and championing” are the behaviors you are cultivating. “Bravely accepting and affirming” are behaviors we aspire to rather than behaviors we are ashamed of, like being called “politically correct.” The opposition will try and tag those behaviors in a way to get people to eschew it. You have a chance to offer behaviors they will embrace.

Normalize behaviors by showing people from all walks of life engaging in them. 

People look to others within their in-group to know whether those are behaviors “we do.” Often, on issues of human rights and justice, there are many people across society who are role models for the behaviors we want. The opposition trafficking in anti-wokeness wants to make people think being “woke” is bad. That’s not our issue. Being concerned about human rights and racial equity is something we all are concerned about. Note I didn’t use the words “should be.” We are. Now show all the different people exhibiting that, from parent groups protecting children from bullies to policymakers from both sides of the aisle creating inclusive policies for schools.

Speaker McCarthy has stated his intentions to tilt at the woke windmills. He should go do what he wants to do. You should not join him. You should focus on the conversations you want to have and decide the best way to do that so that we get change rather than culture wars.

This entry was posted on Monday, January 23, 2023 at 07:13 am and is filed under Communication planning, Frame, narrative and message development and Opposition containment. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.