Demonstrations: Digging a deeper hole, or a lasting positive legacy?

Sound policy-making requires ability to THINK. More to the point, the kind of thinking I am referring to is following the future implications of your ideas. Have the future leaders of our country–as a group–lost, or never developed, this ability? Possibly. The following editorial is well worth reading. lost art of thinking

One of the best recent examples of this inability or unwillingness to follow the implications, or extrapolate future results, of your actions is the athlete “protests” that started with a guy named Colin Kaepernick (CK)–quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers– sitting instead of standing for the national anthem at a football game. I will use that example to illustrate the pitfalls of emotion as a form of policy-making:

  1. Fail to recognize the actual principles your actions inadvertently demonstrate: CK thought that sitting down during the anthem while all the other athletes and virtually all the fans stood, most of them respectfully, demonstrated his stand that there is too much racial injustice in this country. While that is no doubt true, that truth got lost immediately in all the inevitable counter-narratives.
  2. If a protest is intended to increase awareness of a problem, with the ultimate goal of effecting positive change, then the perception of your action is more important than your intent. (Of course, if the intention of your protest is to signal your virtue, demonstrate your anger, or merely to disrupt the status quo, ten you don’t care about perception, and no logic or reason need apply).
  3. Not only is perception crucial, but so is the venue for protest. If you want to draw attention to injustice AND effect positive change, your chosen venue should be conducive to demonstrating positive solutions AND controlling your narrative. Some venues can be, but are not always, more destructive than instructive–Twitter (unless all your principles can be summed up in 140 characters), (anti)-social media in general, public events where the interviewer and the crowd control the narrative, reactive “off-the-cuff” remarks in response to a reporter.
  4. Extrapolate how your actions are likely to be co-opted and misinterpreted by various self-interested parties, and project the probable consequnces. In this case, the parties who have co-opted, twisted, misunderstood or denied his intended message include President Trump, Black Lives Matter (BLM), some NFL owners, many fans, anyone who has another agenda. All of this was entirely predictable, as were the results: CK has no job (though he did opt out of his contract voluntarily, believing he could get a better one with another team); his intended message has been buried under an avalanche of competing messages; his fellow athletes took up his offenses in ways which were ineffective and ended up casting themselves as entitled, privileged and overpaid; enough fans were turned off by the attitudes demonstrated by the players that the game has become significantly less popular (if the trend continues on the present trajectory all the players livelihoods will be imperiled); the NFL is being mocked by the President of the United States. Good job, Colin….and the rest of you.

Now, for some suggestions:

  1. Whatever your message, write it out, over and over again, until it is refined and unequivocal, and you can deliver it in any venue effectively! This is often called your position statement or more to the point, your “elevator speech.” That means you can interest even a total stranger during an elevator ride to ask you questions. That takes self-discipline, which many protesters lack. CK’s explanations were overly generalized, kept changing and therefore ineffective.
  2. Make sure the method of “protest” or the demonstration of your beliefs doesn’t detract or confuse i.e. make it relevant! As I said, the perception of your actions is ultimately more powerful than your intent. CK’s method showed nothing, was perceived as unpatriotic by the paying customers, and his intent was primarily appreciated by his peer group–who are often perceived by the paying customers as “overpaid, entitled and privileged” athletes–making it appear that his gesture was signaling his virtue to his peers. Warrick Dunn, a former NFL all pro running back years ago, used his money and his platform to build homes for primarily minority single mothers and their children (Homes For The Holidays), scholarships, literacy programs and a training program for volunteers for his foundation (Philanthrogens), all of which are going strong after 20 years!!! warrick dunn foundation
  3. The venue for your demonstration should enhance and promote a clear understanding of your mission. Warrick Dunn is, once again, a prime example of the right venues, so when he was interviewed, it was a time and place he controlled the message (the families moving into their new homes).
  4. If the previous 3 principles are heeded, and your stand improves lives, you can extrapolate a future of being joined in your efforts–because people want to be a part of something great–instead of the mess of more protesting, more confusion, more anger. Did the CK protest produce anything positive? Oh, it got the “conversation” going? No, it got more vituperation going, more polarization.