Know your values and frame the debate

There’s been a lot of debate about whether the Occupy Wall Street movement has made it clear exactly what they’re protesting, or whether they even should articulate it. Instead of being defined by one issue, and having your perceived success pegged to that one thing, one argument goes, it is better not to make specific demands.

George Lakoff, who wrote Don’t think of an elephant: Know your values and frame the debate – and much more on the subject of “framing” – argues that what’s important is establishing your moral message. He says while it’s good the demonstrators haven’t specified exact demands, it is time the budding OWS movement framed their message, before someone else does it for them:

“It seems to me that the OWS movement is moral in nature, that occupiers want the country to change its moral focus. It is easy to find useful policies; hundreds have been suggested. It is harder to find a moral focus and stick to it. If the movement is to frame itself, it should be on the basis of its moral focus, not a particular agenda or list of policy demands.

“If the moral focus of America changes, new people will be elected and the policies will follow. Without a change of moral focus, the conservative worldview that has brought us to the present disastrous and dangerous moment will continue to prevail.”

One example of a simple, moral, effective frame he suggests is: “We Love America. We’re Here to Fix It.”
To create that frame, the message must be repeated over and over. He encourages people to keep the message positive. (See George Lakoff’s article here.)

I think, besides framing the message, however, at some point, a few very basic demands do need to be articulated. To not do so, I believe, is a waste of the momentum being created.

Now, it’s easy to get mired in the debate over specific demands. Therefore, only the most fundamental, democracy-saving items need to be agreed on for this movement to succeed.

That said, I’d like to humbly propose what I believe is the most basic tenet of all. Without this one thing, not much else can be accomplished, on any issue:

We absolutely must get the money out of politics: local, state and federal. We must find a way to have publicly funded elections.

Without this most fundamental change in our politics, our elected representatives will forever be serving those who paid their way, and not we who elected them.

If we fail to do this, try as we might to affect change, we are only spinning our wheels. If we do succeed, on the other hand, it’s a whole new ball game. And anything is possible.

James Israel
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