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Category: messaging

The theory of basic values

We have seen in a previous post how social psychologist Jonathan Haidt attempts to classify values into 5 major categories: Care, Fairness, Liberty, Authority and Sanctity.

Shalom Schwartz from the University of Jerusalem has later on developed the theory of basic values, by which he identifies 10 clusters of values:

Self-Direction – Defining goal: independent thought and action–choosing, creating, exploring.

Stimulation – Defining goal: excitement, novelty, and challenge in life.

Hedonism – Defining goal: pleasure or sensuous gratification for oneself.

Achievement – Defining goal: personal success through demonstrating competence according to social standards.

Power – Defining goal: social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.

Security – Defining goal: safety, harmony, and stability of society, of relationships, and of self.

Conformity – Defining goal: restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.

Tradition – Defining goal: respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that one’s culture or religion provides.

Benevolence – Defining goal: preserving and enhancing the welfare of those with whom one is in frequent personal contact (the ‘in-group’).

Universalism – Defining goal: understanding, appreciation, tolerance, and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.

These values can be mapped out according to how they relate to one another as neighbors or opposites:

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This framework has been extensively used in order to identify the frames by which a target group can effectively be reached by campaigns.

Two institutions have done extensive work on how this: The Public Interest Research Center (UK) and the Frameworks Institute (USA). Ttheir websites should be on whatever is the equivalent in any campaigner’s bookmarks of a  bedside table.


Show, don’t tell – Embody the message

“Actions speak louder than words” is a well-known saying. This counts for campaign tactics too.

When a campaign has analyzed and chosen its core action message (what is known by theorists as the “meta-verb”, such as “disrupt”, “resist”, “confront”, etc.), the best campaign tactic is to not only say it out loud, but find a protest action that actually EMBODIES this verb.

Die-ins are a good example of embodiment of resistance, but there are many more examples.


Another good example is when protesters surrounded Walmart stores in toxic waste suites and cordoned them off, to represent big corporate stores as a  disease.

In a similar perspective, activists have chained themselves to prison gates to ask for an innocent’s liberation.


When a giant fence was built in Quebec city to protect the negotiating conference of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, back in 2001, protesters underlined the situation by building a mock medieval siege in front of the fence.

More recently, WWF used Snapchat, an instant messaging service where messages are erased after a very short moment, to create a powerful campaign alerting on the fact that some animal species too are being erased rapidly.


In all of these cases, the format of the protest action carries in itself the message of the campaign.




Tips for respectful persuasion

From Newtactics.org

How to be respectful AND persuasive

1. Tune in and connect. Use the weather, the environment, any element of communality to create the initial contact. Start with small talk or rituals. It helps create that tiny bond on which to tie your message.

2. Pace the energy. It’s hard to say this without sounding esoteric, but there’s an energetic quality to the art of convincing. Adjust yourself to the other person. One trick is to subtly mimic their body position. It creates an unconscious feeling of association.

3. Take in the cues. If the person is smiling and leaning forward, he’s showing some interest and you are making progress. Likewise, if she is pulling back or looking away, slow down your spiel. Take the time to pull them back in. Check up on how you are doing. Sprinkle in some questions such as “Does that make sense to you?”, “Do you see this also?”.

4. Be transparent. Be yourself. You are not peddling junk or selling used cars. You can let the other person know how you feel, your doubts. Let your humanity show through. If you create the opening, you stand a better chance the other will lower their guards.

5. Listen carefully. Most people assume being persuasive is the capacity to hammer your points forcefully. On the contrary, being persuasive actually has a lot to do with shutting your mouth, at times. Hear what the other person is saying, verbally and nonverbally. Persuasion is an exchange.

6. Stay humble. You may be right about some things. You may be wrong about some other things. Recognize you don’t have all the answers. Practice humility. Be willing to learn from the interaction.

7. Go, then let go. Give it your best shot, but respect the fact that the other person may indeed have no time (or patience) for you right now. Persuasion is rarely achieved in a single encounter. Picture that person being more open later. Your interaction may have opened a window for the future. Let go and be at peace. You did your best.

Persuasion is not easy. Make sure to practice often. If the other person doesn’t come out with a flat, inflexible NO!, that means there’s still hope for progress. Someone could even put an an adamant NO and change their mind later. You never know. Anything that creates an opening is a small victory. Celebrate it!

Respectful persuasion is powerful. And so are you.

— Philippe Duhamel

What values are we talking about?

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt theorized that people have two minds: one intuitive (that generates reflexes, or “gut feelings”) and one rationale, that produces reflections, thoughts, etc.

In practice, people often make a decision about right and wrong based on their gut reactions, using the intuitive mind, and then use their rational mind to produce a rationalization for the decision.

But what determines a person’s gut response? Haidt says six “moral foundations” influence human judgments about right and wrong. He argues that each moral foundation has an evolutionary rationale, and he and his collaborators have carried out ingenious experiments to show the influence of each moral foundation in people today.

These are the six basic factors that shape human judgments about good and bad: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity.

Some reflections on the importance of each in terms campaigning for sexual and gender minorities:


“In evolutionary terms, care for children was essential for the survival of human groups, and this care response has become generalized so that many people care about strangers and about nature…. Politicians, corporate executives, religious leaders, advertisers, and all sorts of lobbyists and campaigners seek to direct the care response to serve their priorities. Many political struggles thus involve continual attempts to trigger the care response for desired goals and to inhibit it for undesired ones.»

Indeed most strategies to marginalize sexual and gender minorities rely on proving that these groups don’t deserve care. This is done by:

  • identifying them as not being part of society (either because they are unwanted, or because they come from ‘outside’)
  • labeling them as dangerous

This strategy often goes with the promotion of “care” towards members of society which are seen as in need of protection. In this case mainly children, hence the often raised argument about “protecting children from propaganda/enrolment”.


Cross-cultural research has shown that everywhere children develop very early a sense of fairness when they are treated worst than their peers. They somewhat later develop a consciousness of fairness even when they are treated better.

This value is obviously central when appealing to people to think or act differently.

Fairness has been a real major argument in the same-sex marriage campaigns, which have insisted a lot on the fact that it was “fair” and “just” to treat people equally.

The principle of fairness is important for campaign tactics, as it implies that the public needs to have a high moral assumption of the target group. To generate this assumption is difficult with highly stigmatized groups like LGBTI people

A lot of LGBTI campaigning aims at generating this sense of fairness by elaborating on the human rights abuses suffered by people, so creating a sense of unfairness. But the big question is whether it is possible for the sense of fairness to develop outside of the care value, i.e. if people only feel unfairness if the victim is someone in the “care” sphere. If so, it seems ineffective to portray LGBTI people as victims in order to generate care. It would seem that good strategies would generate a desire to care first.

This is all the more important as victimization strategies tend not to work well when it comes to changing moral perceptions.

Actually, some research has shown that in the US (and this might not hold true in other settings), that the more people perceive victims as innocent, the lesser they value them.

Nick Cooney in his book “Changing hearts” reports on a simulated jury situation where the victim was a woman who had been raped and was said to be either a virgin, married or a divorcee, the victim was seen as more at fault if she was a virgin or a married woman (and therefore by the conventional standards of the time more innocent and pure) than if she was a divorcee (Jones and Aronson 1973)

When wondering why people denigrate victims more when the victim seems most deserving of sympathy, he points to what Melvin Lerner calls this the « just world hypothesis ». People, he argues, want to believe that they live in a world where individuals generally get what they deserve, people are reluctant to give up disbelief and are troubled by evidence that it isn’t true.

In the simulated rape trial, because the women who are virgins on married were perceived as more innocent, the idea that they could be raped was more of a threat to the « just world » belief than the idea that a divorcee could meet the same fate. Therefore, when the rape victim was a virgin on married woman, fault had to be found with her in order to keep the world seeming just.

So, interestingly, the fairness value is a double edged sword: it can trigger change when people perceive the sense of unfairness, but it can also lead to denigration of the victims when people react with a kind of “they probably brought it on them somehow” reaction. I tend to think that the difference between the two reactions is brought by the level of empathy towards the victim: if we can identify with the victim, we probably sense unfairness and want it corrected. If we don’t we probably reject the person even more.


The value of liberty, and resistance to oppression, is a strong value and it has been a strong angle in campaigning for sexual and gender minorities. Indeed, many campaigns have used the “freedom to love” argument, and it can be argued that the whole concept of Pride marches mainly rests on the value of liberty.

The difficult thing with “liberty” is that it has a high degree of variance amongst societies and that it also fluctuates a lot within a given society. The more a society rests on economic and social cooperation, the more the value of liberty will be counter-balanced by the value of “loyalty “ (see below). Hence its variation in times of crisis, when obedience towards a leader will be placed more highly than liberty on the value scale.

So again, we have a double edged sword here: liberty carries a very strong emotional potential, but it can backfire badly if this liberty is sees as working against the common good, which is very easily achieved when the campaign focus is a group perceived as socially marginal (which our opponent will do everything they can to ensure)

So campaigning around liberty arguments should probably associate systematically the notion of “no-harm”.


This foundation stems from the need to form and maintain coalitions to compete with other groups for resources that can help assure continuation and success.  It drives group members to value loyalty, patriotism, sacrifice, and trustworthiness and to loathe those who betray the group. It leads people to be team players, and it is triggered by perceived threats or challenges to the group. Associated emotions are group pride (for country, sports team, ethnic group, or platoon, etc.) and hatred of traitors.

Loyalty is obviously connected to the value of care, in a reciprocal relationship: you are loyal (only) to the ones who care for you and you care (only) for the ones who are loyal to you.

But loyalty has this additional dimension of obedience and it is therefore a central value for all societal construction and it is centerpiece in many campaigns, from political elections to brand promotion. Essential to the notion of loyalty are therefore the existence of a community, and the existence of leaders.

“Loyalty” has understandably been used much more by the opponents of sexual and gender diversities in order to cement the social “in-group” but it has also been used creatively in LGBTI campaign, eg in the marriage referendum campaign in Ireland, where patriotism and loyalty to a certain image of Ireland has been hugely helpful in driving voting participation.

But the value of loyalty has a strong implication for LGBTI campaigners not so much in terms of messaging but in terms of mobilization tactic: many campaigns will feature participation to a campaign as an act of loyalty to the group.

The value of loyalty also has obvious implications in terms of leadership management and movement building and campaigns without a charismatic leadership (whether people or brands) will find it difficult to mobilize.


This foundation evolved from the need to maintain social order and create beneficial relationships through hierarchies. It drives people to be aware of and respect rank and status. This foundation is triggered by anything that is construed as an act of obedience, disobedience, respect, disrespect, submission or rebellion, with regard to authorities perceived to be legitimate. It is reflected in, for example, the elevated status given to acknowledged experts and professionals and in the deference shown to superiors. It is also triggered by acts that subvert traditions, institutions, or values that provide social stability.

The value of authority relates to obeying tradition and legitimate authority.

Again, a principle that will work much more often against sexual and gender diversities, especially when they are framed as a challenge to the authority of a system.

I would argue that the major driver of the opposition to same-sex marriage, at least in France where I have witnessed it most closely, was that it undermined the authority of the majority group.

This is in my view what drove the strategy of the opponents to same-sex marriage who constructed a big part of their campaign message about the fact that there was a risk to the authority of the majority social model.

But the entry point for LGBTI campaigners could be to reclaim the notion of respect, very closely related to the notion of authority, for example by

This notion of respect can be used to reposition the notion of authority and its repository, i.e. to “divert” the authority of the people to somewhere else, beyond their control. This has be widely used by placing the authority within the medical profession (eg by flagging high the 1990 WHO decision to take homosexuality out of the list of mental disorders).

This shifting of the authority can also be used for religious targets, as the notion of authority of the individual is highly controlled, as all authority derives from a higher order. These approaches are very well illustrated (involuntarily?) with Pope Francis’ now famous “who am I to judge?”

The notion of authority is also very important in contexts where legal or judicial changes were secured in socially hostile settings, and where social transformation campaigns could base part of their messaging on the authority of the State, the Congress or the courts.


This moral value is the lesser known

Haidt postulates that cultures invest certain objects and ideas with irrational and extreme values.  Some objects and ideas are regarded as sacred while others are intuitively repulsed as disgusting and abhorrent. According to Haidt, the evolutionary origin of the Sanctity/Degradation foundation was the need for an instinctive mechanism that would lead early humans away from parasites and pathogens — in other words, away from rotting food, human waste, decaying corpses, etc.

Haidt argues that religion and the concomitant creation of sacred symbols served to bind individuals into large cooperative societies. The notion of sanctity is therefore closely linked to authority (it takes a source of authority to define what is sacred) and to loyalty (obedience to the sacred is the expression of the loyalty towards the group)

Sanctity is important for LGBTI campaigners, as it lies at the heart of the stigma that has been built against us. A lot of our opponents’ strategy is to generate and maintain a feeling of dislike or disgust. So we are constantly confronting the notion of sanctity.

I would argue here that our best chance here is not to fight the value of sanctity but to influence what it contains until we are included in what the society considers “sacred” (e.g. inherently good)

There are two important lessons from Jonathan Haidt’s research on intuitive moral psychology. The first is that most people are primarily driven by automatic reactions, what Haidt calls the elephant; these reactions are then justified by the rational mind, the rider that usually goes along with the elephant’s preferences. The implication is that activists need to recognize intuitive responses and build campaigns taking them into account.

When planning actions and campaigns, it is worth paying attention to the six moral foundations — care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity — that are the criteria people use to make judgments about right and wrong. However, the application of these foundations is constantly being shaped by “moral entrepreneurs,” including governments, advertisers, media and religious leaders, who seek to mobilize human feelings for their own advantage.

Three of these foundations — care, fairness and liberty — are a natural fit for nonviolent activists, and deserve attention to ensure they are used to maximum effect. Three other foundations — loyalty, authority, and sanctity — are more likely to be obstacles when activists challenge repressive systems. The challenge is to know how to counter the manipulation of these responses to serve oppression and whether it is worth developing alternatives.

Some core notions of persuasion science

With references from Nick Cooney’s essential book “Change of Heart”

1       Putting in context

A core concept of behavioural psychology is that we don’t know what we want until we see it in context. Everything, including our judgements on how much something is worth, is relative and can be shaped by perceptual contrast. This principle is almost universally used in commercial promotions, as prices are set between one lower and one upper reference to guide consumers choices. You can do this in various ways. For example:

  • Highlighting the ‘dispersal’ of the norm within the reference group (e.g. ‘most Wolof men are against wife beating under any circumstances)
  • Highlighting the direction of change within the reference group (e.g. ‘more and more Pashtun men are challenging violence against women – are you?’)

2       Anchoring

Anchoring works in similar ways. Anchoring is the principle by which we set a reference to guide people’s choices : for example in an experimental option testing, people who were asked to write high digits on their bidding cards ended up bidding three times more than participants who were asked to write low digits on their auction cards. what this principle means is that we can influence peoples’ behaviours by providing a reference for their action, a kind of pre-paved way or blueprint.

3       Priming

While anchoring deals with dollar amounts, the phenomenon of priming puts the same principle to work in a broader context. Priming involves giving cues meant to influence peoples perceptions and behaviours. Priming can be done with words, images, and questions, amongst other things. In a study, Asian-American women were divided into two groups. One group was asked race related questions, while the other was asked gender related questions. Both groups then took a maths test. Those who had been asked the race related questions did better on the test, living living out the stereotype that Asians are good at maths, than those asked gender related questions who lived out the stereotype that women are not good at maths. Researchers were able to influence participants’ performance just by asking questions that primed them in a certain way.

4       The foot in the door technique

works by altering self-perception. As was mentioned with the cognitive dissonance, people often look at their own behaviour to decide what their beliefs are. In getting someone to agree to your small initial requests, you’ve helped shape their self perception to include the belief that “I am the sort of person who         “. They are then much more likely to comply with other request. Asking a person to wear a small pin about breast cancer awareness does little on and off itself, but the person who agreed to wear it is now more likely to believe “I am the sort of person who cares about breast cancer” That belief makes it easier for breast cancer groups to later sollicit that person to volunteer time or donate money to combat breast cancer.

The foot in the door effect is hotly debated in the world of advocacy. With some activist arguing that encouraging small changes is bad because it makes the public complacent and dissuades them from more meaningful changes. Others argue that not only do small changes produce immediate good, but they make it more likely that people are willing to engage in larger changes. So, which side is correct? First the foot in the door only works if the second request is actually been made. We shouldn’t assume that people then go to take further steps on their own.

Second, there is a threshold over which this effect doesn’t work anymore.

5       Conformity effect

In an experiment researchers changed the environment-focused towel reuse signs in a hotel room to a message that simply noted that the majority of guests reuse towels. After switching from an environmental message to social norm message, the reuse increased by 26%. When the sign noted that most guests of that particular room reuse towels, reuse increased by 33%

The conformity effect also means we should be careful when exposing negative behavior, as this may lead to reinforce its perceived acceptability.

6       Reciprocity effect

A study examined what happened when a hotel posted signs in each room saying donations had been made to an environmental group on behalf of its guests to thank them for reusing towels. The signs asked to reciprocate by reusing towels and the hotel succeeded in increasing re-use by 45%. When instead the signs offered to donate to an environmental group if guests reuse their towels, it didn’t bring any increase in reuse. By donating first, the hotel invoked the rule of reciprocity.

We will be more influential if we let people know we like them, so they will reciprocate by liking us. We can also make them aware that we changed our minds on sthg, so they will reciprocate by changing theirs.

7       Door in the face

The door into face method means we start by making a very big request that is likely to be turned down. We then follow up asking for something similar but much smaller. Because the person feels bad for rejecting our initial request (slamming the door in our face), and because we where willing to reduce our request, the person feels compelled to reciprocateby agreeing to our second request . Door in the face also works because of framing :compared to a very large request, a subsequent small one sound more agreeable.

For the door in the face request to work, the two requests have to be made by the same entity

8       The law of association

By pairing ourselves with pleasurable stimuli we can become more persuasive.

This is known as the good mood effect or the law of association. Peoples enjoyment of something else gets paired with us and our message, and they come to associate us with a positive feeling. This law obviously also works in reverse.

9       Don’t deny it.

When trying to correct a misunderstanding that the public holds on an issue, it is a bad idea to deny something.. Denials and clarifications that are meant to clear up rumours can actually bolster them because they require repeating the false information. This makes the false information more accessible in people’s minds, and as we discussed earlier, the more accessible a thought is, the more likely people are to believe it to be true. Instead of denying a false statement, we should simply assert the truth.

SOGI focus; How can we share problematic statistics without producing more problematic behaviors, or reproducing problematic norms? Describing a favorable direction in which a norm is moving is another option: students are starting to drink fewer drinks per week

10    Come without warning

Telling people in advance how you want them to change is unstrategic: no one likes to know they are being changed. So communications that clearly state what change you seek are probably going to raise defensiveness.

11    Argue against yourself

This provides credibility to your process and allow to voice opponents reluctance, so this is part of the journey modelling. Provide concessions (eg war in Afghanistan has brought some good effects, but….)

12    Create Minority message

presenting a minority message can get people to re-examine their beliefs without needing to adopt the one you are promoting. One of the reasons some people will make this alternate change is the desire to do something easier than what is being promoted. adopting a similar but distinct change is also easier because people have not raised their defences on those other issues

Effective campaign messengers

Often, the public representation of organisations in the media in carried by the people who the organisation sees as legitimate: either the people in power (for example the CEO, the founder, the charismatic leader), the experts (the scientists) or the people the organisation works for/with.

While this perfectly makes sense for the organisations’ policies, this can prove totally ineffective to influence people outside of the organisations’ current constituency.

While it’s nice to have likable or familiar messengers, credibility is most important. People listen to the messengers that are knowledgeable and trustworthy in their eyes, and this is likely to be very different from yours. It might even get you to chose messengers that you don’t particularly feel related to. Again, what matters is not what you and your organisation think of the messenger but what the target group thinks.

Like in so many aspects of a campaign (visual, slogan, alliances, etc.), this is likely to trigger harsh debates or even disputes between the campaign team and other parts, for example the grassroots volunteers. So a good analysis of what messenger has the best impact will prove very useful.

Stories are of course best delivered by the people who lived them. But even so, there are many choices to be made as regards to who will carry the story.

Studies in the US for example have shown that on issues related to LGBT parenting, it is a bad choice to choose gay dads and feature them with their kids. It was also analyzed that featuring messengers as isolated people was reinforcing the stereotype that LGBTI people were living in isolation and rejection.

[box type=”bio”] TIP for campaigners

Advice from the Movement Advancement Project:

*Try to develop a pool of spokespeople who can speak to various audiences on various topics

* Unlikely messengers can be particularly effective in persuading an audience to reconsider an issue

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For messengers, the Frameworks Institute proposes the following checklist:

* Who is both knowledgeable and trustworthy on the issue?

* Who is likely to be perceived as an honest messenger by the target audience?

* Who is likely to be able to satisfy these criteria AND generate media attention?

 In order to make strategic decisions on your messenger, it is also essential to analyse what your opponents are doing, as they are also bound to pitch their own sympathetic messenger. In case of SOGI issues, we’ve been confronted to anti-lgbt campaigns carried by children, “nice” families, peaceful old people, etc….

As noted by by  and  on the Beautiful Trouble website:

” Power holders understand the importance of deploying sympathetic characters. For instance, welfare cuts get presented as benefiting working mothers, or corporate tax cuts sold as job-creation tools to help the unemployed. Time and again, the powerful play one group of sympathetic characters off another, or argue with Orwellian duplicity that the victims of a policy will actually benefit from it. In these cases, a campaign becomes a contest over who gets to speak for those suffering. With whom do we sympathize, and are those characters actually given space to speak for themselves? A showdown results between messengers jockeying to represent themselves as the authentic representatives of the impacted constituencies.

How to frame effective messages

In our previous post, we have given an overview of what framing is and why it matters.

We continue this exploration with additional extracts of the excellent report done by the Movement Advancement Project.

So, how do we do framing?

“Frankly, it’s not easy to effectively frame an issue. Why? Because good framing starts from the perspec- tive of the target audience—people whose mindset, values, and patterns of reasoning are often very different from your own.

Here’s a brief step-by-step guide to framing.

Step 1. Understand the Mindset of Your Target Audience

Good framing means understanding how your target audience thinks.

What do they care about? How do opponents, the media, and the LGBT movement encourage them to see LGBT issues? What are the consequences of their existing beliefs around LGBT issues? How can you reframe the issue to encourage them to think differently? What are the larger values you should frame your issue around?

This requires market research.

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Don’t make assumptions based on your “natural” knowledge of your target group. Sometimes you could be wrong, or stay stuck at superficial arguments.

Or you could focus on what is most important for you, rather than what makes most sense to focus on for your target audience, because you haven’t listened to them carefully enough.

Step 2. Know When Your Current Frames Aren’t Working

You can tell you don’t have the right frame when the following happens:Your opponent uses two words (e.g., “special rights”) while you require five minutes to explain your position. If you’re launching into long explanations to defend your side, you’re not appealing to an established frame.

Step 3. Know the Elements of a Frame

An effective frame includes the following:

  • Credible messengers (check out our special post on messengers)
  • Attention-getting visuals (check out our special post on visuals)
  • Friendly priming (check out our special post on Priming)
  • Numbers in context (Facts alone aren’t compel- ling. Unless numbers tell a story, they won’t mean anything to your audience)
  • Show how things connect (Draw clear and concrete connections between a problem and its cause. People are more engaged and supportive when they understand the causes of, and solutions to, a problem.)

Step 4. Speak to People’s Core Values

Drop the language of policy wonks. Remember that voters vote according to their identities and their values.These don’t always coincide with their self-interest. (for more on this, see the previous post on Framing.

Step 5. Avoid Using Opponents’ Frames, Even to Dispute Them

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The more you repeat a negative frame, the more you reinforce it.

While you shouldn’t repeat negative frames, you should make an effort to understand where your op- ponents are coming from. Know what you’re arguing against and why your opponents believe what they do.

Step 6. Keep Your Tone Reasonable

In order for people to change their opinion on an issue, they need to be open to new information.
A reasonable tone keeps them open.

Step 7.  Build a New Frame

Build your frame by describing what the issue is “about” in a way that ties to deep-seated American values and beliefs. For example, don’t talk about mar- riage as a set of benefits. Mainstream America doesn’t think of marriage as “about” benefits.

Instead, talk about how marriage gives committed couples the social and legal protections they need to take care of each other emotionally, financially, in sick- ness and in health. Explain how the lack of marriage makes it harder for gay couples to do this. It’s easy to be against “redefining marriage.” It’s harder to be against giving committed couples the legal protections they need to “take care of each other.”

Step 8. Stick With Your Message

Remember, the public needs repeti- tion, repetition, and more repetition before it can internalize what you’re saying. Don’t allow opponents to bait you into getting off message.

Choosing …no choice

One of the arguments against sexual and gender diversities that we hear most frequently the world over is that they are “choices”.  This argument implies that people who don’t conform to social norms are personally responsible for it. Not only does it imply that there is a responsibility, hence a fault, but it also takes this responsibility totally away from society, the family, etc. It loads the burden on the shoulder of the person, while erasing all other potential forms of “responsibility”.

More subtle versions of the same argument focus on the choice to “act out” the difference: while recognizing that sexual and gender diversities are not choices per se, but that expressing them is. This argument invites sexual and gender minorities to shut down their feelings and conform to mainstream social norms.

Understandably, a lot of campaigns for sexual and gender diversities have tackled this specific angle, as a cornerstone of dismantling public stigma against sexual and gender minorities.

The core strategy by claiming that sexual and gender diversities are “not a choice” is to shut off the notion of fault/guilt. It therefore implies that there is no possibility/need to “fix” it.


There have been critiques of this approach though. One of them being that the slogan “it’s not a choice” repeats the words of our opponents and results in unconsciously reinforcing the parallel between sexual and gender diversity and the notion of choice. Basically hearing”homosexuality” and “choice” in the same sentence is bound to reinforce the mostly available idea (that it IS a choice), whatever the sentence actually says.

Another more conceptual argument is that this approach disenfranchises sexual and gender minorities and makes them “passive” objects of their desires.

But the most often cited opposition is that the “no choice” argument mechanically reinforces the biological argument: if sexual and gender diversities are not choices, then they are inborn. This paves the way for very questionnable strategies to find the biological determinants (including with the objective to “rectify” them). Making sexual and gender diversities a biological pattern further reinforces the notion that they are pathologies.


This argument nevertheless supposes a “mechanical” correspondance between the “choice” and the “biology” sides, which has the big weakness of excluding other forms of beliefs as regards sexual and gender diversities

Campaigns focusing on the “no choice” argument have sometimes used the parallel with heterosexuality, to drive the point.

An interesting video experiment conducted in 2008 asked people first if they thought being gay is a choice. They then asked them when they themselves chose to be straight. The contradiction that people realise is an interesting illustration of a campaign tactic.


At the end of the day, it is clear that our sexualities and our gender identities are shaped by a constant interaction of social, cultural, historical and, sometimes, biological forces. And it is equally clear that no one “chooses” their sexuality and feeling of gender, in the sense that no one makes a rationale conscious decision as to whom they are attracted by or they related to the social gender they are assigned to. The only thing that IS a choice, is how we express what goes on inside us.

Being homosexual or transgender is not a choice

Being proud is

And for our conservative opponents, that’s the trouble.


At the end of the day it is nevertheless doubtful whether the “not a choice” argument alone can win people over. In most people’s minds, there has to be some form of explanation of sexual and gender diversities in order to justify the existing social order. If people get convinced it is not a choice, they will default on other “explanation”. Biology in indeed the most easily available “offer”. Campaigners who are rightfully wary of this might need to consider developing alternative messages that respond to the “vacuum” that a successful “not a choice” campaign generates.


ps: an interesting, albeit questionnable, argument that we found in favour of the “choice” argument is that a wilful choice to open up on our desires, explore the reasons for their limitations, proactively try out new sexual relationships or gender expressions might liberate new desires and might in the end affect our sexualities and gender expressions. In that sense, our sexualities and gender expressions could be the result of choices. But again, it is in that case not so much our desires that are choices, but our decision to liberate, explore, innovate.


Changing hearts and minds? Sure, but what exactly do we want to change?

Campaigns often aim to change “hearts and minds”. But these vague notions offer little help in identifying and designing what the change objectives exactly are.

So what exactly are we trying to change? How people think? what they do? what they consider right or wrong? what they believe others think?

Every campaigner needs to have a clear vision of the various levels and areas that we can aim for, knowing of course all of these are intimately intertwined.

In this post we’ll have a look at some notions:

Attitudes are evaluations of objects as good or bad, desirable or undesirable. Attitudes can evaluate people, behaviors, events, or any object, whether specific (ice cream) or abstract (progress). They vary on a positive/negative scale.

Beliefs are ideas about how true it is that things are related in particular ways.  Beliefs vary in how certain we are that they are true. Unlike values, beliefs refer to the subjective probability that a relationship it true, not to the importance of goals as a guiding principles in life.

Norms are standards or rules that tell members of a group or society how they should behave.  More generally, because norms are social expectations, we are more or less inclined to accept them depending on how important conformity vs. self-direction values are to us.

Traits are tendencies to show consistent patterns of thought, feelings, and actions across time and situations. Traits vary in the frequency and intensity with which people exhibit them. They describe what people are like rather than what people consider important.

Behaviors are sheer facts about what people do.

Confusions about these different categories, specifically between behaviors and attitudes, lead many campaigns in wrong directions as they focus on what people say rather than observe how people act.


With inputs from The Online Readings in Psychology and Culture

Fashion-Conscious Activism!

Great read for any fashion conscious activist, from Racket.com

Activists Are Targeted For Their Beliefs — And How They Dress

“There is no contradiction with fabulous shoes and serious social justice work,” Melissa Harris Perry wrote in Elle

Patrisse Cullors and Tanya Bernard stand before a tense crowd at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Both artists are leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement — Cullors is co-founder and Bernard is art and culture director.

They’re at MOCA on a somber evening to give a lecture on art and activism. For two days straight, the public has watched the macabre but familiar footage of black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, shot dead by police.

The killings prompt Cullors and Bernard to abandon the program planned for July 7th, the same night a Dallas sniper will kill five police officers. Instead of discussing art and activism, the women ask each other to envision a future in which blacks have true freedom.

Bernard (L) and Cullors. Photo: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Photo by Casey Winkleman.

“I think about how much we’ve allowed for our imagination to only believe in black death and how much we need to actually imagine black life… thriving black life,” Cullors says. “Like black folks running in fields, dressing how they want to dress, in all types of ways.”

Wearing Birkenstocks, fabric hoop earrings and a sleeveless sweatshirt proclaiming, “Black Girl Magic,” Cullors looks as if she’s already dressing how she wants. The same goes for the Black Lives Matter members who halted the Pride Toronto parade July 2nd wearing matching face jewels and capes. Their ensembles brought to mind Beyonce’s “Formation” dancers channeling the Black Panthers at the Super Bowl in February. But the boldness of their outfits belied the fact that critics of activists — be they in Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, or the radical and counterculture groups of the 1960s and ‘70s — have long been targeted for what they wear.

Dress too extravagantly and a protester risks being characterized as a hypocrite. Dress in striking colors and a protester risks being singled out by law enforcement. Wear a T-shirt with the name of a cause on it and risk confrontations with school officials, employers, or strangers. Even the people protesters rally for have come under fire for their clothing choices.

Activists and scholars describe this trend as a witches’ brew of bigotry, victim-blaming, and respectability politics.

Expensive Goods Make Activists Targets

When Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson visited “The Daily Show” in January, he explained the goals of the movement and discussed misconceptions about police violence. But as the interview wrapped, host Trevor Noah landed a surprise jab.

“You’re wearing an Apple watch and talking about oppression.”

“You’re wearing an Apple watch and talking about oppression,” he quipped to McKesson.

Although Noah’s smile suggested he was joking, it was hardly the first time an activist’s credibility had been called into question for a fashion choice. In October 2011, at the height of Occupy Wall Street’s popularity, British newspaper the Daily Mail published an article pointing out that not all protesters were as aggrieved as they appeared to be.

“The flash of a designer belt, a watch or even, in one case, a huge wad of cash reveals many activists are not quite so hard done by,” stated the article.

The Washington Post reported that actual Wall Street bankers dropped by the Occupy protest in Manhattan’s Zucotti Park to scold demonstrators for protesting income inequality while wearing designer clothes, using iPads, and daring to have enough money for food.

“There is no contradiction with fabulous shoes and serious social justice work.”

Protesters at a recent Black Lives Matter rally outside the Los Angeles Police Department headquarters could be attacked on similar grounds. Some wore the kind of flowing sundress protester Ieshia Evans dons in the iconic July 5th photo of her face off with riot police. Many wore Dashikis, bold prints, and T-shirts inscribed with political messages, like “No Justice! No Peace!” Others clutched Louis Vuitton purses and Marc Jacobs backpacks.

Wake Forest University Professor Melissa Harris-Perry has challenged the idea that protesters must be impoverished to fight oppression.

“There is no contradiction with fabulous shoes and serious social justice work,” she remarked last month in Elle, where she’s editor-at-large.

And others agree with her — to an extent.

Joshua Miller, a professor in the government and law department of Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, authored the research paper “Dressed for Revolution: Fashion as Political Protest.” He says he found the criticism of the Occupy Wall Street protesters condescending and “an easy way to dismiss activism.”

A protestor at a BLM rally in LA. Photo: Nadra Nittle

He balks at the suggestion that the privileged should sit out protests.

“Why should well-off people not take part in movements that go against their own material interests?” he asks.

People of privilege supported Occupy Wall Street and currently support Black Lives Matter — and they often pay a price. A lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio, was sentenced to five days in jailfor wearing a Black Lives Matter button, and three teams in the Women’s National Basketball Association were fined $5,000 apiece because players wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts during warmups (the fines have since been rescinded).

While Miller supports people of all class backgrounds protesting inequality, he says, “There is something strange about protesting inequality in a society while wearing high fashion.”

Cullors is more concerned about the production of clothing than she is with its cost.

She says protesters should be aware of where their clothes come from and how they’re made and processed.

“I think it’s nuanced,” she says. “I think that it’s okay for us to decide what we want to wear and how we wear it and that we have a particular responsibility, especially in leadership, that comes with being mindful of what we’re buying and where we’re buying it from.”

Policing the Other

Cherno Biko, a Brooklyn-based activist who created Black Trans Lives Matter, shows up to protests in black cocktail dresses, head wraps, and heels. She often wears all black to mourn her ancestors and to lessen the chance police will notice her. She says that head wraps prevent the authorities from grabbing her by the hair.

“I’ve been arrested in my head wrap, and I was able to take the head wrap down and use it as a blanket, so I didn’t have to sit on the nasty floor of the jail cell.”

“Many of the activists are so intentional about how we express our fashion,” Biko explains. “There are so many reasons that inform what we wear. I’ve been arrested in my head wrap, and I was able to take the head wrap down and use it as a blanket, so I didn’t have to sit on the nasty floor of the jail cell.”

Unlike DeRay McKesson, she can’t afford an Apple watch. But when Baton Rouge police arrested McKesson on July 9th for obstructing a highway while protesting Alton Sterling’s killing, Biko suggested the activist, who’s gay, was targeted partly because of his sexual orientation.

McKesson has adopted a uniform of sorts at protests, a blue Patagonia vest and bright red gym shoes. In Baton Rouge, he ditched the vest, but his trademark footwear caught the eye of a police officer.

“You with them loud shoes, I see you on the road,” the officer told McKesson, who live-streamed his encounter with law enforcement. “If I get close to you, you’re going to jail. You better keep walking.”

“When will they stop policing what #FolksLikeUs wear?”

Dismayed police singled out McKesson this way, Biko took to Twitter.

“Even without the blue vest they still noticed him bc of the ‘loud shoes,’” she wrote. “When will they stop policing what#FolksLikeUs wear?”

Members of the LGBTQ community, especially those of color, are vulnerable to being stopped by police because of their clothing. The book Queer (In) Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States discusses the history of sumptuary laws, which until the 1980s allowed police to arrest people for not wearing a minimum of three clothing items associated with their biological sex.

While arrests for gender impersonation are no longer commonplace, transgender women of color continue to be police targets. The term “walking while trans,” a play on the term “driving while black,” describes the discrimination trans women encounter from law enforcement.

A protestor at a BLM rally in LA. Photo: Nadra Nittle

“Transgender women often cannot walk down the street without being stopped, harassed, verbally, sexually and physically abused, and arrested, regardless of what they are doing at the time,” states Queer (In) Justice. “Gender nonconformity is perceived to be enough to signal ‘intent to prostitute,’ regardless of whether any evidence exists to support such an inference.”

What LGBTQ people wear has been policed so steadily over the years that Biko can’t tolerate anyone being faulted for a clothing choice. She says activists can wear what they like and still be engaged protesters.

“I am so over people coming after folks for choosing to express themselves,” she says. “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.”

The attacks on what activists and politicians wear often target women, making them misogynistic, according to Caroline Heldman, an associate professor of politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles.

“It’s another way to dismiss women’s work,” she says. Heldman calls the focus on fashion a distraction from the real enemies, which she characterized as state sanctioned violence, killer cops, and multinational corporations exploiting workers. She says the enemy is not the soup kitchen volunteer in an Armani suit.

“We use dress to delegitimize women and their expertise, be they women activists, female leaders, or even rape survivors,” Heldman says. “It’s just tired, old patriarchy, and it’s especially true for women of color.”

Victim-Blaming and Respectability Politics

The clothing Trayvon Martin wore when a neighborhood watchman killed him in Florida four years ago played a central role in the public’s perception of him. Martin’s killer, who said the teen looked suspicious in a gated community, described the youth as wearing a hoodie to a police dispatcher. The mundane form of outerwear has been linked to Martin ever since.

Activists staged a Million Hoodie March in solidarity, but others criticized the teen for his apparel, arguing he’d caused his own demise by wearing it.

Protestors at a BLM rally in LA. Photo: Nadra Nittle

“He wore an outfit that allowed someone to respond in this irrational, overzealous way and if he had been dressed more appropriately, I think unless it’s raining out, or you’re at a track meet, leave the hoodie home,” Geraldo Rivera said on “Fox & Friends,” sparking outrage.

In fact, it was raining when Martin was killed, but including that detail would have made Rivera’s argument even less compelling. His finger-pointing at the dead teenager resembled how rape victims are shamed and blamed for their dress after attacks.

It’s because of how people perceive we wear our blackness that makes our hoodie look like gang attire. It’s not just about clothes.

Cullors says the clothes black people wear don’t make them targets; blackness makes them targets.

“Black people are hyper criticized and we are criminalized,” she says. “That happens when we wear a hoodie or if we wear suit. It’s because of how people perceive we wear our blackness that makes our hoodie look like gang attire. It’s not just about clothes.”

Biko says that respectability politics — the effort to look respectable and behave as such at all times to avoid oppression — won’t save the marginalized. Three black congressman acknowledged as much when they appeared on CNN to discuss race relations after the Dallas police killings.

The problem, they said, is that they don’t look like politicians all the time.

“You take off the suit and put on a T-shirt, and we could be going through what Alton or Philando were going through,” said Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison.

Texas Rep. Marc Veasey said he feels anxious about being pulled over any time he’s not in a suit, whether he’s in the South or the nation’s capital. And Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond revealed that when he’s dressed down, he’s treated much differently from how he’s treated while wearing his suit and congressional pin.

Protestors at a BLM rally in LA. Photo: Nadra Nittle

But a suit is no remedy for racial profiling and anti-black violence. The Rev. Martin Luther Jr. wore a suit while fighting for civil rights yet still died at the hands of a vigilante, Biko points out.

“We have to push a counter narrative,” she says. “However we show up, whatever we wear, whether we’re in a mini skirt or gray sweatpants or a hoodie or nothing at all, our lives still matter.”