Something local, with friends or meeting new friends, that involves connections to larger organizations but is more than a gear in a large machine. Many small projects with human connection.


That's not an easy fill-in-the-blank. I think effective activist culture might remind us more of the percolating young component of startup culture — thinking hackathons, not billionaires.


Information flow isn't "it," isn't the answer to your question, but is key: People who want this need a frame in the sense Lakoff talks about, where with a word you bring to mind many longer conversations. The information architects, I think, want to create memes and habits of interrupting every g.d. liberal whining fest, ideally we'd be organized enough to make it a ritual, where one person says "What are you doing about it?" and other people take that as their cue to list a half dozen projects, so every progressive sees an engaged community.

Stephen Sun, 01/21/2024 - 14:28

"Woke" used to be a word with a meaning, in African American vernacular. Critical Race Theory used to mean something. Politically correct (though that word has a complicated history!) Privilege no longer holds the eye-opening meaning that was it's original purpose. 

After GOP messaging:

  • Woke means abolish the police and Biden is woke ... even if Biden doesn’t want to abolish the police.
  • Nationalized healthcare like they have in Sweden is Communism like Stalin ... not like Sweden. Twisting words back and forth between extreme and moderate definitions in order to make the moderate version as scary as the extreme, while also removing anyone who has a radical viewpoint from the conversation entirely. 

This happens over and over, turning words meaningless, and gluing the most extreme examples overtop the main message. Progressives have tended to fail to counter this communication technique, until we lose the words and frames that we originally developed. 

How do we counter it?

1. We need a frame for this. We need a word and hashtag — I don't think "gooey" is the best word, help me think of something better?
2. We need a way to respond when the right does something like glue Biden to "Defund the Police." Right now, they're successfully making Biden seem radical while also erasing any actual radical voices — people keep hearing about "Defund" from Republicans and then Democrats who oppose it, everything is defensive and reactive. I've seen moderate-progressives often desire for the "Defund" message to go away. I think this is the wrong approach entirely, and plays into conservative hands. I think the best counter message is to create a left flank to the Overton window. The counter message should look like this: "Biden doesn't believe in Defunding the Police, here is an article by someone who does...."  

Please jump in and leave comments and examples and ideas. What is your proactive definition of woke? 


Stephen Mon, 03/20/2023 - 19:44

We are probably about to see a few quite progressive candidates in a primary against each other in California.

Let's start imagining what it would mean to not burn through good will and progressive money, but instead use the election to generate healthy and educational elections: to consciously push politicians to keep egos in check, and to disagree in a way that people hearing the debate come to see Adam Schiff to Barbara Lee as the "Overton window" of reasonable debate.

Help launch the new Scaling Communications for Progressives and building a "counter-algorithm" membership that pushes back at our own leadership in interesting ways, and let's get ready to make this election a learning opportunity for the country.

Stephen Sat, 02/04/2023 - 15:00

As Feinstein hopefully retires, some great progressive candidates are running: and about to spend a ton of money trying to win the primary against each other. 

This would be a great time to experiment with alternatives. Here's my first brainstorm, imagine people posting like this:

"I gave $100 to Sister District in _______'s name because I hope you'll vote for her in the primary, but I want my money spent electing progressives in swing districts. So I hope my $100 convinces you to take a good look at _______.

...And if you support one of her also great opponents, maybe donate to a swing district in their name.

Stephen Tue, 01/31/2023 - 14:33

This, to me, was an amazing learning moment. It needed desperately to be a calling-in and not a calling-out.

People making an error and being willing to listen and agree that the other viewpoint makes more sense — that’s us at our best, and it’s a huge help to actually changing more minds.

Everyone with the same viewpoint watching her change her mind is more likely to change their mind; everyone watching us punish her for their shared viewpoint is likely to feel other’d by us. The twist to be punitive and judgmental is frightening to me. How did we become this, that we are so derisive to someone who is an ally but not in perfect viewpoint harmony?

There are moments like this when we need to look at our own movements. To completely put aside the question of what has happened to our opponents, and decide if we are ok with what we are becoming, with what social media is doing to us and to our movements.

Stephen Mon, 02/07/2022 - 08:39
The left generally sees Trump's movement as unmoveable, I've long disagreed: imho it has always been fragile: it will never bend, given the right push it will shatter. Until it shatters, it is solid. The right wing often has conflicts: Trump voters watch these conflicts and wait to follow the new consensus. Liberals often point out hypocrisy: the obvious response from Team-Trump is to see an opposing team calling you hypocrites, calling you liars, so you give the opposing team the finger. This seriously distracts from the in-fighting. What if, instead, we take a page out of more therapeutic techniques that encourage asking questions with real curiosity to get people talking, thinking beyond their pre-ordained talking points? What if, instead, we ask questions that cause people to start to *identify* with one side or the other in an intra-right conflict? It's important that the goal be about self-identity, "which team are you on?" — otherwise, as always happens, the voters are an audience to a fight but not participants, and they support the winner. I never see progressives using these techniques, and I think they would make quick work of movement that is as habitually as nasty to out-group members as MAGA is, if we ever get two identities seeded at the same time. Tonight, I'd like to play at meme-creation around the Alex Jones vs Trump fight in a way designed to put a chisel in a right-wing crack, instead of putting pressure on the whole right-wing which helps hold it together. Anyone want to explore with me?
Stephen Mon, 01/03/2022 - 22:22

We tend to argue back against lies: it is absurd to think that Democrats cheated in Republican-run Arizona and Georgia. Arguing back on social media often just drives attention to an issue, making it clear what the sides are.

On social media with short attention spans, a more powerful technique may be to further draw outrage within the world of delusion: encourage Trumpist voters to ask why their local representatives allowed themselves to be so badly tricked by Democrats. We could be feeding petitions into these groups, encouraging the idea that easily hoodwinked Republicans need to be primaried. Make Trump-style politics dangerous to the politicians who use it.

— If a politician talks against the vaccine AND takes money from Pfizer or Johnson and Johnson, make sure the people they're rallied into an angry mob turn on them.

— The Trump movement gathered many people who honestly hold a strong aversion to war, usually a progressive opinion. Saying that Trump doesn't seem safe won't convince someone who trust Trump. But we could use this moment to demand budget cuts to the military. Pacifist-leaning Trump supporters should not be supporting militaristic Republican senators and congressmen: it would be a big deal, and perhaps not that hard, to make sure this becomes reality.


The techniques used here are a mix of active listening and using questions to draw people's stories out, getting them to go beyond the talking points. Often this technique helps people find reality again: when you don't have a ready-to-go answer, and someone is honestly listening to hear your opinion, that can cause people to think, where before they were just repeating their team's lines. But it's possible to turn it in another direction, and get people "Doing their own research" in ways that damage the propaganda.

Stephen Mon, 09/13/2021 - 17:06

Someone asked about debunking their Mom's belief in chemtrails. This blog explores talking with family who believe false ideas generated by communities that welcome them:

I think direct debunkings often miss the psychology of why people believe things like this. I find my liberal and science-minded friends take to fact-based counter-approaches to all the beliefs people pick up when they are feeling disempowered or lonely or overwhelmed by modern life — and having people tell you you are stupid (it's only worse when they are right) worsens the underlying and real sense of disempowerment and broken communities.

For your Mom? You might try "I think the chemtrails conspiracy theories are nuts but I love you anyway." If you want to "debunk" theories that come from isolation and disempowerment, then help people realize that they are seeking community, help them realize they don't believe these non-science things but that they enjoy the community, and try to get them to see it with clarity without asking them to leave a community full of nice people. Especially, don't ask them to choose between nice friends and rude debunkers: you will lose, and make things worse.

In other words: some of my friends might be arguing in all "seriousness" whether Batman or Godzilla would win a fight. Comic worlds are a place of community and escape... it's ok that folks get lost in their imagination and friendships around it for a while. The way to de-cult the cults, imho, is more to get people to stop taking the "facts" seriously.

Don't argue about chemtrails: Ask your mom which of her friends also believe in chemtrails, and whether she has good connections with them about chemtrails. Help her, slowly, become conscious of what she is actually doing, what she is actually getting out of her system with the scientifically-crazy theories. Listen.

You might try talking about your sillier hobbies that bring you joy and community when she talks about her unfortunately-less-light-hearted hobbies. Stay connected. Remember that the goal of conspiracy-thinking organizers and cult leaders at the top levels is to tear our communities apart: keeping communities together is fighting fire with fire; debunking is secondary.

If you want to debunk the facts rather than help someone navigate the real needs in our hyper-commercialized and isolating world — (I do. Do you? That always seems to be my go-to, but I'm not sure I've chosen my goals well.) — then I'd say don't start with chemtrails. Go to an aerospace museum together and learn about flight in general, with "chemtrails" being one piece of knowledge you accumulate as an experience that is empowering and not purely "bash her favorite ideas."

If you want to debunk the facts rather than help someone navigate the real needs in our hyper-commercialized and isolating world — you might bring up the idea of asking a pilot or flight attendant next time you fly together. For a lot of people, part of their mind can see an idea is false, and part of their mind does not. If you have Trump supporters or Q supporters in your life, you probably can't get rich betting them that Trump will not come back by August. People who fly can't really hold their vast conspiracy theories together alongside the obviously friendly and bored airline staff. Mix curiosity and questions to get people talking beyond their usual talking points, ask questions that get them thinking, and let people debunk their own bunk.

Stephen Tue, 06/15/2021 - 10:58

A Small Brazilian Town Is Beating Covid-19 Through a Unique Experiment describes the benefits of getting vaccinated early.

This is a great article to share in vaccine-hesitant social media circles. I'd recommend not blasting your opinion: make the goal that a few people read it, rather than telling people which team and which side the article supports before reading it.

The perhaps add a comment at the end that empathizes with the people you hope to reach:

We were all nervous whether the vaccines would work: it's been long enough that now we see the results."

The metaphor is that you are on a shared journey: You and the reader start together nervous if vaccines will work, and then journey to a new conclusion together. No one was "wrong," no team scores points off another team.

Stephen Mon, 05/10/2021 - 21:10

The media has difficulties countering lies.

George Lakoff recommends countering lies with "Truth Sandwiches" —

START. Start with the truth. MIDDLE. Indicate the lie is a lie. FINISH: End with the truth. If you don't do that, if you just repeat a slogan and say it is false, it tends to become even stickier in listener's minds. It becomes a stronger suspicion as they hear it over and over, even rebutted.

The media also has difficulties reporting fairly in unbalanced situations.

Reporters want to come across as unbiased and balanced: they want to examine both sides, to be seen by viewers as having examined both sides. What if the news isn't balanced? What if one side does all the lying? What if in a debate, one side starts out interrupting and being rude? Reporters look biased if they report the truth; centrists feel biased if they acknowledge what they witnessed. And so we get false equivalencies — when the truth is one-sided, reporters report in a heavily biased way just to look not biased. How does media make it clear they are being even-handed at the same time they call the truth? It seems like a complex thing. In the same way that lies have to be countered with a "truth sandwich" that doesn't start with the obvious "no (what you said) is wrong and here's why" — media can't seem to be taking a side, even when one side holds the temper tantrum. My idea, what's yours: Perhaps like a Truth Sandwich, we need a "Standards Sandwich" — the reporter starts by saying a neutral standard, and then judging the candidates: START: "Let's look out how much each candidate interrupts the other...." "Let's look at how many times each candidate answers a question vs going off topic..." MIDDLE: Report on what happened, as objectively as possible. Apply the standard with a balanced hand; don't reach a balanced conclusion. FINISH: We just reported our count on each time the candidates interrupted each other. The next standard we planned to apply to this debate was whether candidates lied... Reports could even prep some standards before an interview or debate. To show people you're not biased, announce ahead of a debate that you will report on the amount of time that each candidate talks during the other person's time, and who starts interrupting first. Then report, then remind people you had unbiased standards.

Spread This

Media that targets liberals often does a mix of throwing us news we want to hear — which makes the mainstream corporate media look like it is owned by liberals, instead of something closer to the other way around. Or it produced false equivalency gobbledygook and repeats right-wing lies in a way that gives them more traction. We should be pushing back on media that wants our viewership to up their quality: to know how to handle lies as toxic without spreading them, and to be able to report in a way that both is objective and feels objective.

Stephen Mon, 10/05/2020 - 11:25

I hear questions:
Should you respect Nazis? Should you punch a Nazi?

Questions like this get us in trouble. "Who cares? — wrong question" is my answer.

The original Nazis (rank and file, not leaders) in 1931 were often non-union, struggling, isolated and fearful people: treating them as if they werewcapable of being worthy of respect (which is not the same thing as handing over the respect) might have changed their votes and changed the world. Tons of votes went to the Nazis when people saw chaos on the streets, were afraid of the Socialists (with more reason than today, but basically the same fear that Fox fakes up), and closed their curtains to it all and voted law and order. Some of those voters could have been reached. In 1941 we "respected" Nazis as capable fighters while we bombed them. Same Nazis: reach them, fight them.

Respect isn't an angle people would have taken with the original Nazis. It is part of the performative and judgmental modern politics — an overwhelming wave, a sea we swim in so much we don't see it — where we spend our time doing "politics" by judging. Politics is about organizing for power. Today we are doing a lot of performance with Nazis — often, actually, with them, like putting on a play together. No: Find their weak points and destroy their movements. Sometimes that means suing their organizations, filming them in the act of a crime; sometimes that means reaching an individual as a human being who is being pulled into a cult-like organization, and with compassion helping them find their heart. Fight on all fronts.

Nazis, imo, should be dealt with by deciding which of these questions is most active:
What would Gandhi have done? What would Eisenhower do?

Low level violence, like punching, imo is usually playing their game — neither Gandhi nor Eisenhower. Proud boys like a brawl; it moves the world closer to the world they want. Move off questions of facebook-judgment and towards mobilization and coalition building.

Partly inspired by / Recommended Reading: Politics is for Power by Eitan Hersh.

Stephen Tue, 09/29/2020 - 13:49

Progressives: In the New York Times report on Trump's taxes: what in it would disturb a possible Trump voter (not necessarily a core Trump voter) the most?

What in the report disturbs you the most? Odds on, that is probably not the right answer for a possible Trump voter! Think of whose self image is that they work hard for their money and would enjoy gaming their own taxes if they could.

Take what you think is the most disturbing thing in the in the report, and turn it into a non-leading question. Aim to have the reality of the situation, rather than your opinion, get people to see things as you do.

Please put your ideas in the comments.

Suggested Framing, After Trying This Exercise:

As the day goes on and ideas collect, I think the direction to go if you still have swingable people in your life or media stream is to affirm that many people voted for Trump knowing that he admitted to abusing the system that helps the rich at the expense of the rest of us BECAUSE he claimed to be the candidate who knew the swamp well enough to fight it. It's an argument that I think many ~conservatives might remember. {Technique: Listen} And then followup by asking the question:

Years ago Trump was able to write off $75,000 in haircuts from his taxes, part of the swamp in DC. This was no surprise: Trump told us the system was a swamp, and that he was rich enough and connected enough to benefit. He promised us that if we elected him President he'd use this knowledge to drain the swamp — and he got many votes from good people hoping he knew the swamp well enough to drain it. So, did he? Do you think that today rich people are still writing off bullshit like haircuts, or did Trump fix it? What's your opinion?

Stephen Cataldo Mon, 09/28/2020 - 11:18