Friday, November 6, 2009

Recipe for social change

Wikipedia defines Social movements as a type of group action. They are large informal groupings of individuals and/or organizations focused on specific political or social issues, in other words, on carrying out, resisting or undoing a social change.

It’s not a big mystery that people (media, politicians, corporations) benefit from a population of ignoramuses. The media is full of soundbites, little tidbits of manipulated facts that pull at the public’s heartstrings, and create an unfounded culture of fear. I’m convinced that our “soundbite” media culture has gridlocked our political culture.

I was discussing the impact of California’s three strikes law on our economy with a friend the other day. I felt compelled to find a solution to the problem, and as always, (naively) concluded that any solution involved educating California’s voters about the expense and futility of the law. He adamantly insisted that it will never be repealed: Citizens are too consumed with a fear of violent crime, and most voters are too insulated from poverty, and poverty-driven crime to repeal the law.

I understand his point: voters are a dangerous combination of scared, ignorant of the issues, and apathetic. I also, albeit optimistically, believe that people are logical, interested in the economic success/affluence/efficiency of their communities and state, and (somewhat less) interested in the ethics of “fair” incarceration. Obviously our system isn’t working, but convincing the populace of a need for change from within the current culture of fear is too difficult. I, therefore, propose a new recipe.

Recipe for Social Change

Serves: Californians interested in the state economy


· One dynamic leader.

· A large group of politically minded individuals, willing to donate time. Ie: undergraduate students willing to work for school credit, law students (un)willing to work for free, individuals who just really, really care about this stuff.

· At least three groups negatively affected by the Three Strikes Rule. Ie: people with 2 strikes (or people who know others with 2 strikes) who are contemplating moving out of California; Furloughed state employees ; Groups for the legalization of marijuana, etc.

Set aside:

· A small amount of educational literature, not to exceed 10 pages.

o Strain all complicated legal jargon

o Season with plain language

Fold together:

· Dynamic leader, volunteers, and literature.

· Let dough rise in an atmosphere charged with potential change and a plan of action.

Grease pan with mindboggling stories of three strikes gone wrong

Bake in stagnant social climate until imperative.

Serve in small portions to all that will listen, starting with groups that are already politically engaged, and moving onto less politically active groups as the word of your delicious social movement catches on.

1 comment:

Anon5 said...

You raise a really important point about the "soundbite" media culture in the United States. If you aren't already familiar with it, Noam Chomsky delves really deeply into the function of the American media in his book "Manufacturing Consent." There is a documentary by the same name as well. Both are little dated, but I still think they are really helpful in understanding how and why the media set the agenda for what is and isn't newsworthy.

Specifically relating to the soundbite idea though, Chomsky argues that the media like soundbites because they meet the need for concision. Anything that you say on TV news has to be said in small, easy to digest soundbites. Chomsky asserts that the reason for this is that speaking in soundbites is only possible if you say things that don't challenge conventional thought. So, you can go on TV and say that we need the three strikes law in order to be "tough on crime," without offering any detailed argumentation why, because that represents the status quo position, supported by powerful groups in this country.

On the other hand, if you wanted to go on TV and challenge the three strikes law, that would require the introduction of some evidence and more complex reasoning to back up your arguments. But since doing so flies in the face of the concision requirements, you aren't fit for television.

Maybe Chomsky is right in that the requirement for concision is part of a concisous effort by the giant media corporations to exclude challenges to the status quo, or maybe concision is required because the media thinks anything more complex would cause viewers to change the channel. Either way, I agree with you that the solution will have to start with a recipe for grassroots activism.