At a recent “town hall” in London, President Obama was talking about how activists can go about creating change – like that is even a thing! I guess he figures he knows something about it because he was a community organizer or something.
Anywho, here is what he had to say:
“As a general rule, I think that what, for example, Black Lives Matter is doing now to bring attention to the problem of a criminal justice system that sometimes is not treating people fairly based on race, or reacting to shootings of individuals by police officers, has been really effective in bringing attention to problems,” Obama said.
He went on to say, though, that before your ultimate goal can be achieved, you have to compromise with the other side. And for that, he caught some hate! What else is new, though, amirite?
“One of the things I caution young people about, though, that I don’t think is effective is once you’ve highlighted an issue and brought it to people’s attention and shined a spotlight, and elected officials or people who are in a position to start bringing about change are ready to sit down with you, then you can’t just keep on yelling at them,” Obama said.
President Obama went on to say, activists have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable… sometimes need to take half a loaf that will advance the gains that you seek, understanding that there’s gonna be more work to do, but this is what is achievable at this moment. That didn’t sit too well with the purity caucus. But, science fact: to convince the majority or those in power of your point-of-view, you will have to compromise. All too often, though, in our current social and political climate, compromise is a dirty word.
There are two pertinent principles that apply here: first minority influence and second groupthink.
The minority really can convert the majority if they follow these four weird rules! A fellow by the name of Moscovici – I know, right? Sounds like a communist to me, too! – conducted a series of studies from 1969 to 1980 widely known as the Blue-Green Studies. In short, he gathered a group of French women – I KNOW, right? French women can convince me of almost anything and usually all I do is lose money without getting a whole lot for it. And, all these French women wanted was for you to call blue, green? Hunh? He sat four French women who were participants down with two French women who were confederates and showed them a bunch of blue color swathes. The two French women who were confederates, called them green! A third of the French women who were participants, called at least one blue swatch green! And they didn’t get nothin’ for it, either! At least I’ve always given those French women money, too! Oh, wait. Never mind.
But, we’ve two recent real-world examples of how it works. Pretty exciting stuff!
The Four Weird Rules
(1) Behavior style: The main thing here is that the minority is consistent in their message. Obama was talking about BLM, and they are very consistent in their message: police treat black people much more violently than white people. My first awareness came when Trayvon Martin was murdered, and since then, the message has been that the police and their surrogates have killed black people far more often than white people and with far less provocation.
The minority also has to be confident in their views! How much more confident can you be than BLM when we have a long long litany of black deaths at the hands of police: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott… Shooting people within seconds of arrival (Tamir Rice and john Crawford); shooting a shopper in Walmart who has holding a BB gun (John Crawford), shooting a fleeing person in the back (Walter Scott), or choking a man to death for selling illegal cigarettes (Eric Garner). Jeez, you don’t have to go too far down the long list of black people murdered by the police to be confident that you’ve got a trend going here.
The minority cannot appear biased. Luckily, we have tons of video footage shot by phone cameras of many of these murders. You cannot lie about Walter Scott being shot in the back or Tamir Rice – a fucking 12 year old for fucks sack – shot as soon as the cop jumps out of his car or John Crawford who was talking on his cell phone in an aisle of Walmart. It is enough to make you cry watching these murders. Contrast the reaction to those murders to those murders where there were no videos. In the murders of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, it was argued that they deserved using spurious information (he was thug, he bullied a store owner, he fought with me) and viola! doubt was sown. But, that damning video cannot be argued with. It is a gut punch and you experience an emotional outpouring when you see police shooting people in cold blood.
The minority has to endure resistance and abuse. Good god almighty. We don’t need to say anything more about BLM, amiright?
(2) Style of thinking: The minority has to engage members of the majority in deeper thought. They cannot allow the majority to brush them off without giving it a lot of thought. The videos of the police murders has been one of the chief ways that the majority has been forced to think deeply about police murders of unarmed black people.
As the NRA spokesass, Wayne LaPierre, demonstrated so eloquently after Sandy Hook, being able to brush the minority or opposing views off without any thought is one of the most effective ways of resisting change.
While some have tried to exploit tragedy for political gain, we have remained respectably silent. Now, we must speak for the safety of our nation’s children…
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Can you imagine being so callous as to dismiss the deaths of 20 six and seven year olds? How was it that the nation did not respond in some meaningful and constructive manner to the massacre at Newtown? One reason was, Wayne LaPierre was able to blunt the outrage after Sandy Hook and demands for gun regulations with one simple line. That simple line felt satisfying. That simple line gave an answer, and with that satisfying answer, people stopped thinking about it.
It is the same with police murders: the officer feared for his life; the kid had a criminal record; he smoked dope. Dog whistles and racial innuendo – thug, anyone? Anything to blunt the engagement that the fury that these blatant murders have caused and keep people from thinking about it more deeply.
It is imperative for the minority to engage the majority in debate. So, watch the news shows and web sites. How many stories address BLM issues and how many politicians are being asked to respond? How many stories are there about police brutality, police shootings, mass killings, and other violent crimes. If these news items increase, then the majority is being engaged, but if they decrease, then they are not.
(3) Flexibility and Compromise: As Sun Tzu once said, always leave your enemy an escape route, otherwise they will fight to the death. The majority has to feel that the minority is willing to accept compromise. Once the majority is engaged and thinking and the message of the minority has been clearly and consistently made, then it is possible to begin a negotiation. Once you’re negotiating, then you can make progress.
That’s Obama’s point.
Identification: As celebrities, politicians, and regular people come on board with BLM, then it is easier for white people to agree. Those early supporters provide the cover for others to follow.
One of the best examples of how minority influence works is marriage equality. HIV forced gay men out of the closet. When a young man would fall seriously ill in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the whispers would begin: Do you think he has AIDS? Do you think he is gay? When Rock Hudson died of AIDS, how many people were shocked to learn he was gay? How many people asked, how can you tell? Suddenly, people realized how many gay men that they knew.
Gay men began appearing in TV shows – Will and Grace? Acceptance of these shows encouraged more gay men and lesbians to come out and be public. It was a small small step to go from there to marriage equality. It snowballed – not that kind of snowball, you perv!
LGBT were consistent with their message – we are people and deserve equal treatment. Deep thought occurred: everyone knew a gay man or lesbian! Everyone saw gay men and lesbians on the TV! Compromise happened – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and recognition of civil unions. And, many people – celebrities – were for marriage equality, but then Old Handsome Joe outed President Obama as a supporter of marriage equality. It pulled the rest of us along. Only those who can resist engagement, Kim Davis, on the issue by maintaining the stereotypes and biases (Kim Davis) are still against marriage equality and, now, transgender bathroom use.
So, that’s how it’s done. It works. BLM is literally at the last step: be flexible and compromise. To all the haters out there, it works and is necessary at this point in time.