UPDATE: “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed. Consequently he who molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions. He makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.”
I watched with some sadness today as a number of Idle No More supporters and activists lash out today on Twitter at friend and foe alike. A meltdown, in response to Chief Theresa Spence’s ill-advised decision to respond to the leak of a negative financial audit [see CBC followup here] by ceasing to communicate with the press, even going so far as to have police escort reporters off the Attawapiskat reservation.
There’s a lot that can be said about all of this. But the point I would like to make is this.
Every social and political movement is an attempt to sway public opinion and you need to have a communications strategy. What may seem like a negative story may actually be, and quite likely is, actually a critique that was produced in good faith [Read: Andrew Coyne]. You need to strategize on how you are going to deal with critical stories. If you are taking on power you have to understand power will come after you. You need to strategize on how to deal with a truly negative attack [Read: Everything by Sun News].
Accept that not everyone holds your assumptions or has reached your conclusions and that this doesn’t make them evil. Rarely are things black and white.
Accept you are not perfect and that mistakes are and will be made. Own up to them quickly and forthrightly.
You need to know the players. You need to know there’s a difference between Jennifer Tryon and Ezra Levant, Global News and Sun News.
Now, there’s a lot of growing public mistrust of the establishment media, and rightly so, but alternate media sources still do not have the reach of older outlets. And those alternate sources already preach to the converted. You want to reach those that can be swayed. So, and as of 2012, you still need to talk to the Globe and Mails and CTVs.
I hate to call a hunger strike brilliant but it was, initially, a brilliant tactical choice of civil disobedience. One that carries moral weight, is non-violent, and of which you have total control over. And it clearly rattled the powers that be and explains the real vehemence the Sun News set came after her with.
But it’s clear now Chief Spence didn’t and doesn’t have a communications plan and probably had no idea of the size of the reaction to her hunger strike, both positive and negative. That a movement would rise up around the country and the world or that she and her reserve would be subject of intense scrutiny. Some of which, yes, was not being made in good faith.
It’s a shame, because there are a number of ju-jitsu responses she could have made that would turn the tables. The Harper Governmenttm having financial oversight problems of it’s own, after all. Or that Ezra Levant has, in the opinion of a number of Canadian judges, a reckless indifference to the truth. (And no, activists mentioning this on Twitter doesn’t count. Once again your preaching to your followers. It has to be Spence or other spokesperson in front of the cameras).
Now it’s a lot to ask of a “spontaneous” movement to have a press officer. But something every activist should think about is communications and making sure your message gets out, the way that you want it to.
To put a spin on an old military saying amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk communications.