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“Rally to Save the American Dream” remarks

I spoke at today’s Rally to Save the American Dream, sponsored by MoveOn. Here are my remarks:

My name is Chuck Warpehoski, I’m an interterfaith organizer. Some people would have us believe that the only religious voices on faith issues are conservative voices. I’m here to tell you that’s not true.

All the faith traditions talk about caring for the poor. Of course, the best way to do that is to give them good-paying jobs, and that’s what unions are for.

The Torah, the Jewish scripture, teaches that every seven years all debts should be forgiven. You don’t have to be Jewish to realize that this teaching might have a lesson for us as we face the foreclosure crisis.

The Torah also teaches, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” (Deut 16:20) You don’t have to be religious to realize that this teaching is a challenge to a budget proposal that raises taxes on poor families while cutting taxes on businesses.

In Christianity, Jesus asked his followers, “Who of you, if a child asked for bread, would give him a stone.” The point is that we should care for our children and give them what they need. And you don’t have to be Christian to realize that this teaching says something about a budget that cuts funding to our schools.

Jesus also told his followers, “those who are not against us are for us.” That sounds to me a bit like solidarity.

Teachers, are you with us?

Students, are you with us?

Labor, are you with us?

Michigan, are you with us?

Follow up…with a personal touch

Yesterday I posted about the importance of following up quickly. Let me add one more point to that: follow up with a personal touch.

Again to quote from Tools for Radical Democracy, “Adhere to a twenty-four- to forty-eight-hour rule: within twenty-four to forty-eight hours, you call people with potential and have a deeper conversation” (emphasis added).

You call people.

That’s a personal contact. It’s human-to-human, and in this age of electronic bombardment, it’s a rare and valuable thing.

In Milk, there’s a great scene where Cleve is rallying people to come out for a demonstration. What does he do, he goes out to the phone booth and he calls people. They spread the word, and soon the streets are filled.

Follow up. Quickly. Personally. It’s the heart of organzing.

Old media is dying, what do organizers do now?

Within the past few weeks, I’ve had two very different types of conversations.

With activists (especially activists over 40 years old), I’ve been talking about traditional media outreach. Can we get letters to the editors placed? How about Op-Ed pieces? Maybe the radio will pick up our story.

The other type of conversation has been about how traditional media sources are weakening (some would say dying).

I have heard people complain that our local paper is dying, that there’s “no news in the News.”

I’ve told people about how I listen to more podcasts and less radio, and I’ve heard friends tell me that they don’t watch TV as much anymore because they get everything online (so of course they don’t watch the 6:00 News).

The traditional methods of media outreach are no longer sufficient

It used to be there was a script for “media relations.” Send out a press release, try to get radio, TV, and paper. The more press outlets covered your event, the better off you were. If the mainstream ones covered you, then you could assume that you were reaching the people you needed to reach.

If you got on the 6:00 News, or in the local paper, you “won” and you could move on, and if you got picked up on radio, TV, and print, you could feel like you saturated your message and pretty much everyone would see it.

Now, our media landscape is fragmenting. Instead of just local TV, radio, and print media, you have the YouTube, Blogs, social media, podcasting, 100 channels of cable TV, and the ability to TiVo and skip things that bore you.

Younger generations are abandoning print news altogether, and they aren’t necessarily tuning into local coverage on blogs to fill that gap.

Now that saturation effect is almost impossible.

How things work now–the good news

I don’t want to come off like a cranky old man about all this. The same tools that increase the competition to get your message out also open doors to get your message out. While it used to be that you were hostage to the political or business biases of local media, now there are ways to side-step this roadblock.

As with most things, there is both good and bad.

And I’m still confused

I knew the old script for getting a message out, and I was decent at it. I’m still not sure how to play in this new reality.

Part of the problem is there is still no script. Six years ago Friendster was big. Four years ago it was Myspace. Now it’s Facebook, and Twitter is getting bigger yet.

So I’m still learning how to get the word out amongst all the noise and competition that’s out there.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been hearing about this for a while, but I’ve ignored it.

Now that I see how few people I actually reach with traditional methods anymore. Now I can’t ignore the need to deal with the new information landscape.

And if you’re a savvy organizer, you will too.

The Leader: Primal Branding Asset 7

Martin Luther King at 1967 march on WashingtonPatrick Hanlon caps his seven assets in Primal Branding with “the leader.”

I expected that he would proclaim the need for a single, charismatic leader: a Bill Gates, a Steve Jobs, a Jack Welsch.

He lists those, but he also lists more subdued leaders, leaders who base their leadership on their ability to listen, to have vision, to manage multiple skills.

Tomes have been written on leadership, and Hanlon doesn’t dig too deep. He does even give an example of non-traditional leadership such as at the advertising group Mother that has eliminated the role of account executive.

And that’s an important note: just like a brand can have more than one sacred word or more than one icon, it can also have more than one leader.

Indeed, we want many leaders. Our job is to cultivate, train, and empower people to be leaders.

And when we nurture leaders, we give followers and not-yet-leaders something they can connect to, which is what Primal Branding is about.

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post, photo: National Archives)

The Rituals: Primal Branding Asset 4

Chinese New Year ritualPatrick Hanlon takes a broad view of ritual. He sees any repeated process, whether it’s settling an insurance claim, getting married, or using an ATM as a ritual.

So what does this have to do with Primal Branding and making an emotional connection with your audience?

If you take a thought approach to these many repeated interactions, you have the ability to create a powerful, positive, and remarkable experience for your audience.

Here are some examples:

  • Aveda salons have made their “welcome the customer” ritual include giving them herbal tea and a scalp massage,
  • Progressive Insurance has made their “accident claim response” ritual involve sending an agent to the accident scene to write a check on the spot,
  • Lego made their “welcome toy professionals” ritual that reminded the adults what life is like for kids from birth through adolescence.

I can fully see how these rituals would make the customers build stronger connections to the companies.

What does this mean for a community organizer?

Think about some of the rituals you have with your members, volunteers, and activists:

  • What are your rituals for thanking volunteers? For thanking donors?
  • What are your rituals for welcoming new members?
  • What are your rituals for starting meetings? For ending meetings?
  • What are your rituals for starting presentations?

How can you make these experience special and pleasant for people?

Here are a few ways to implement this that come to mind for ICPJ:

  • Begin all our events with something for spiritual grounding. We often do this already. It can be tricky, since “interfaith” isn’t a religion, but offering something to ground our events in a sense that peacemaking is a spiritual act is a way to make a meaningful ritual.
  • Enthusiastically welcome new members. How can we create a process where new people immediately feel warmly welcomed, connected to the community, and invited to get more involved?

What are your rituals? How can you make them more positive for your audience?

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post, photo by ionushi)

The Icons: Primal Branding Asset 3

Primal Branding describes icons as “quick concentrations of meaning that cuase your brand identity and brand values to spontaneously resonate.”

They can be images, sounds, smells, textures, characters, tastes that resonate with your audience. Here are a few examples:

  • The OXO “fins”
  • The VW Beatle
  • The Apple startup tone
  • Mickey Mouse
  • Wedding Dresses
  • Oreos
  • Gandhi
  • The smell of an Aveda salon (yes, they are conscious of it)
  • yellow ribbons

An icon gives your audience something concrete to latch onto. Hanlon doesn’t explain how to create this, it may well be an intuitive process that is more felt than taught. He does share some lessons from some folks in the business of icons. I must admit, though, I’m left wondering what in the world ICPJ could use as an icon.

I’m open for ideas.

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post)

The Creed: Primal Branding Asset 2

The second asset that Patrick Hanlon describes in creating a Primal Brand is a creed.

What is it you believe in? What are you about?

The focus of Primal Branding, after all, it to get people to believe in you. How can they believe in you if you don’t believe in anything yourself.

Hanlon lists some effective creeds:

  • All men are created equal [and women!]
  • Save the whales
  • It’s the real thing

A creed is the thought that lies behind a mission statement, though your creed may not be a long, formal, or stuffy as most mission statements are. It may tie in with your tagline or motto. Whatever it you call it, it’s how you and your audience know what you are about. It ties in with Guy Kawasaki’s call to “make mantra” in The Art of the Start.

At the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, I think there are two elements to our creed, and hashing them out is something we need to work on.

One part of our creed is that we believe that we make peace by bringing people from different faiths and backgrounds together around our shared concern for justice. We are stronger together, and ICPJ brings us together.

The other part of our creed is that we believe that peacemaking is a spiritual act, so we offer “social change with spirit.”

When I speak, I do speak about our origin story, which ties in to our creed of being stronger together. It does help people know where we came from and what we’re about.

What do you believe in? How do you communicate that to your audience?

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post)

The Origin Story: Primal Branding Asset 1

The first asset that Patrick Hanlon identifies in Primal Branding is the origin story.

This tells where the group, product, or person comes from and indicates where it is going. It provides context. It provides something for people to connect to.

Often, a creation story invokes a quest or a vision for the future. For example, Nike’s founding story involves trying to create the perfect running shoe. Starbucks’ founding story is about serving the perfect cup of coffee. MoveOn’s tells of trying to get the country to move on from the attempts to impeach Clinton and get on with the business of the country.

Creation stories also often involve overcoming adversity. FedEx’s founder going on to start the company after his marketing prof. laughed at him. A free South Africa emerging despite the oppression of the Afrikaner minority.

Storytelling guru Andy Goodman recommends that every nonprofit have a bank of stories at hand, one of which is the creation story, and I’ve found it useful to be able to tell ICPJ’s creation story to explain our origins in bringing people together from different faiths and backgrounds to work for peace.

(For more of my thoughts on primal branding, visit the table of contexts post)

Primal Branding: How to get people to believe in you

Primal Branding is a take on how to create something that people connect to on an emotional level–something they believe in.

Whether it’s a product, a cause, a company, a movement, a person, a religion, or whatever, Patrick Hanlon discusses his take on how to make this into a powerful, “primal brand” that people connect to.

Hanlon identifies seven pieces of the “primal code” that help create something (he uses “brand” to refer to all of these) that people connect to:

I’ll take a look at these seven pieces and how Hanlon brings them together in subsequent posts.

But first, does his premise makes sense for community organizations.

It depends.

For organizations like ICPJ, the NAACP, MoveOn, I think it does. Even if we’re wicked-effective, we won’t have funders or activists if we don’t create positive, emotional connections with people.

For some organizations, however, I don’t think it does. I’m not convinced that GetDowntown needs people to believe in the organization to convince people to change their commuting behavior. They do need businesses and employees to believe that biking, bussing, carpooling, walking, or telecommuting are good commuting choices, but they may not need a “primal brand.”

Do I HAVE to spend more time on Facebook? I guess so.

If Peter Brinkerhoff is right, I sure do.

That is, if I want to reach younger audiences. In his latest Mission Based Management Newsletter he writes,

My daughter Caitlin, who is a college sophomore and 19, informed me last summer in no uncertain terms that “no one uses email, no one listens to voice mail, Dad.

And this is a story I’ve heard from other people in higher ed.

Last night, ICPJ hosted a Dinner and a Movie, and let me just say that the crowd was decidedly not of the Facebook generation. So, if we want to stay relevant (or maybe become relevant) to a younger generation, this tells me that we’re going to need to actively invest in working with them on their terms, using their technology.

Facebook it is.

Just don’t make me twitter.