The waking amid the woke

Notes from a book by Anand Giridharadas, called “The Persuaders: Winning Hearts and Minds in a Divided Age”, and in it the author interviews an activist called Loretta Ross.

p36 But the question for you is not whether you disagree with me. It’s whether you think that I’m a threat to your humanity. And that’s the question I want you to answer.

p41 transformation comes from relationships

p54 Ross’ theory of “circles of influence,” – a guide for navigating coalitions and alliances of the imperfect without blowing it all up. It was about how a political actor should deal with differences with people she called their 90-percenters, 75-percenters, 50-percenters, 25-percenters, and 0-percenters.

Ross defined her 90-percenters as people who shared most of her general worldview: “that capitalism is problematic, that racism and homophobia and transphobia and anti-immigrant bias are bad,” and so on and so forth. The problem she observed with one’s 90-percenters is that instead of focusing on the vast area of overlap, they fixated on the 10 percent divergence. “I think that the 90-percenters spend too much time trying to turn people into 100-percenters, which is totally unnecessary. I mean, there’s certainly enough oppression to go around that we can all work on it in our own different ways and never run out of oppression.”

Why,” she asked, “are we trying to get everybody to work on the thing we think is most important when there’s a lot of stuff that needs to be changed?”

75-percenters: “These are people who probably share a good portion of our worldview, but not totally.” For an activist who works in coalition, 75-percenters require a further skill beyond what 90-percenters do. You don’t merely have to tolerate others focusing on different things, attacking a broadly similar vision of the problem in their own, distinct way. You have to accept large islands of disagreement in a sea of assent. With your 75-percenters, there is still so much you can get done together. But Ross observed an excessive interest in that nonoverlapping 25 percent. It was a scab people wanted to keep picking instead of doing the things they could do.

p55 50-percenters. The circle of agreement has shrunk drastically. “They’re my people who share values with me, but what makes them 50-percenters is that they could use these values to go to the left or the right.” Ross hadn’t had to look far for her first 50-percenters: they were her parents.

You approach such people by first accepting they don’t want the world you want. Their vision is different. But if you can understand their values and needs and look for openings, as when Ross’s father fell into dread about his health care, you can, in addition to helping them, pry open a closed mind.

25-percenters: In the realm of electoral politics, these are people on the diametrically opposite side from you. They don’t share a vision with you, nor even a basic worldview, nor even necessarily fundamental values or language. They may use the exact same words and mean completely different things by them. “When I talk about patriotism and wearing a mask to keep my neighbors safe, they talk about liberty or their freedom to go get a haircut,” Ross said. “We don’t have enough common ground.”

You may or may not need your 25-percenters; it depends on the situation at hand. If you do, there is, in Ross’s schema, one valuable thing you have to work with: your 25-percenters still want to be seen as, and see themselves as, good people. “One of the things I learned in working against hate groups,” Ross told me, “is that most of them start off every conversation with a Black person saying, ‘I’m not a racist, but …’ Internally, they actually do think they’re good people, even though they’re standing there in Klan robes. Part of my calling-in strategy for them would be to help them lean in to that internal exploration of themselves and show them how to bolster that self-perception of them being good people by walking them through examples: ‘Well, if you saw a Black person that needed a kidney donation and you were a match, would you do it?’ That kind of thing. Make them really question that interior set of values that they think they have and see if they’re willing to actually go down that path of exploring those values. I find you don’t make a lot of headway trying to convince them that they’re racist, because they’re just not willing to accept that about themselves at that time. But you can convince them, ‘Well, if you want to be a good person, you’ve got to do good things.’”

p56 For this group, there was one further prerequisite for success, Ross said. You had to take the fears of your 25-percenters seriously, even if you were appalled by those fears. “You have to spend a lot of time on the concept of fear, because a lot of people, particularly in that 25-percenter category, operate from platforms of fear,” she told me. “Fear of immigrants, fear of queers, fear of this, fear of that. And so you can have really productive conversations talking about their fears, but you have to take their fears seriously for them to even be able to listen to you.

“The movement is not therapy,” she told me. “It is not going to be your healing space. The job of social justice activism is to end oppression, not to make you feel safe, comfortable, and loved. You need to get that somewhere else, preferably in a therapy session.”

p57 “We told people, particularly rape survivors, that we could create safe spaces, when in fact all we can do is create spaces to be brave together.”

To call people into a brave space was to summon everyone to try something together. To promise people a safe space was to make everyone a promise about everyone else that was impossible to keep.

p58 There was a fine line between “here is what you’d see if you were me” and “you will never get me because”

Ross worried about a tendency toward lumping the awkward together with the truly dangerous.

p78 What masqueraded as a culture of brave stance taking was, Garza argued, often just showboating.

“Critique is important,” she went on. “It can make us sharper. It can make us more effective and better. But criticism is also a skill. It’s not just about throwing out the first thing that makes you mad or that you thought about in your mind. It requires skills. The skill to boil it down to the essence and not make shit personal. The ability to make room for growth and assume that growth is possible, and really be grounded in a desire for growth and not just a desire for punishment or revenge. And it requires the ability not only to give it but also to receive it.”

p81 “The more that we root in relationship, the more that we realize that our ideas about how the world works get shattered by the humanity of people,” she said. “That is a fundamental tenet of organizing, and it’s a fundamental tenet of how we find room for the waking among the woke.”

“An organizer,” she continued, “builds a base and understands that in building that base, you’re actually bringing together people who may agree on one thing, but they might not agree on a lot of things. Your job is to figure out how to keep those people woven together in order to accomplish a goal. Part of that weaving is making space for the waking among the woke. That’s important. That’s actually, I think, the locus of change.”

“An activist’s perspective is different,” Garza continued. “An activist’s perspective is fundamentally individualistic in that they speak to a collective that is wide but not deep.”

p83 When some spoke of “cancel culture,” they were, Garza said, describing “the process of the discomfort that comes with being socialized into a new way of being.” If that was cancel culture, sign her up.

p100 thoughts lead to feelings, which lead to actions, which lead to results. Erica added that stereotypes lead to prejudice, which leads to discrimination.

p101 It was important, according to Adele, to hold two rival truths in one’s head: “I did not create this system,” and “I’m responsible, moving forward, for the way in which I show up and the impact that I can make.”

p116 “How do you create some sense of urgency, some desire, some curiosity, not necessarily an immediate shift in belief, but create some fertile grounds for people potentially to think about things differently?”

p157 Whenever you confront somebody and you win, don’t walk away from the table. Always give them the golden gate of retreat.
The point was not that you let the other side advance. The word “retreat” was key. That was the intransigent part. You needed your vision of progress to prevail over theirs. What was up for grabs was how it would go down. Retreat itself was not negotiable, but there could be ways of their retreating that bred resentment and made the conflict live on forever and other ways of retreating that made those who had lost or had changed their mind feel considered and seen, feel that they still had their dignity intact, which allowed them to let go of having to be right and having to win.

p218 “Paint the beautiful tomorrow.” Don’t merely criticize the status quo; don’t merely theorize about the world you’re fighting for. Help people see it.

p225 empiricism is the cure for ego.

p232 “engaging the base to persuade the middle.” You didn’t conquer the moderates by reaching out toward them and watering down your ideas beyond recognition. You won moderates over by so jazzing the base that they wanted to have what it was having.

p233 Persuadables were hungry for clues from the world about how to think about the problem.

p235 what makes people want to repeat a given message over and over?

p242 ‘What do I need this person to believe, and what do I need them to do?’ as opposed to ‘I need to tell them this terrible truth.’

p243 “You’ve got to sell people on the beautiful tomorrow.” “‘Say what you’re for.’ The rest is commentary.” [this reminds me of Tim Minchin’s epic speech where he says “Define yourself by what you love.” – around 9min]

p245 “Sell the brownie, not the recipe.”

p248 “What you fight,” Shenker-Osorio likes to say, “you feed.”

p276 Where cults thrived, something in the society wasn’t working right.

p279 Benscoter set up a nonprofit called Antidote, and these days it is in the early phase of a potentially vast project on how societies can vaccinate citizens against the virus of cults, disinformation, and manipulation.

p281 The resistance of the cultlike psychological manipulation that flourishes on the internet needed to become a rudimentary part of human development.

p286 Communicating the truth to people didn’t work if people were already sceptical of the source—perhaps in turn because they were sceptical of the people who believed the source.

p288 Don’t fight disinformation with better information. Counter it by showing people how they’re being conned.

p289 Whether interpersonally or at the level of the system, John Cook argues, the rather common practice of making manipulated people feel stupid is a terrible way to fight these forces.

Humor, for example, has been shown to be an effective way to reveal the moves of science deniers, lowering the stakes of changing one’s mind. Simplification can be effective, too, because it can reduce the shame many feel in not understanding, a feeling that can foster proud resistance to changing one’s mind. “As my boss, Ed Maibach, says, ‘If you don’t simplify your own research, someone else will,’” Cook said. He also thinks scientists need to grow more comfortable bringing personal revelation, story, and emotion into their communication. “One of the principles of debunking is you need to fight sticky myths with stickier facts,” Cook told me. “We need to make our facts even more sticky, more compelling, more catchy than the myth that we’re debunking.”

p316 Deep canvassing methodology:

  1. Make contact
  2. Create nonjudgmental context. Yes, declare the issue you want to talk about up front, and only then ask your participant for their opinion on the topic. But keep poker-faced, don’t respond with either being pleased or displeased with any particular answer. Appear genuinely interested in hearing the others ruminate on the question. Curiosity is one of your best tools.
    if you want to change someone’s mind, you need to have patience with them, ask them to reflect on their life, and listen. It’s not about calling people out or labelling them.
  3. Exchange personal narratives, share where you are coming from.
  4. Invite analogic perspective taking. Can you put yourself in the position of where the other person is? Can you invite them to see the issue from your point of view? Example questions: Was there a time you needed support? Was there a time you were counted out because of factors beyond your control? The goal of this stage is to get participants to speak about implications of the narratives that ran contrary to their previously stated exclusionary attitudes. In other words, to sow cognitive dissonance of the highly generative kind.
  5. Make an explicit case. Here, after doing much listening and eliciting, speak more openly of your own feelings about the subject at hand.
  6. Having sown some cognitive dissonance, help your participants wrestle with it out loud. Having first listened non-judgmentally, now we can point out contradictions. For example “It sounds like, on the one hand, you think that […], and, on the other hand, you think it is more important to […] What is on your mind now that we have been talking?”
  7. Seventh, and only seventh, we can respond to participants’ concerns with talking points and facts.
    To be fact-checked, in other words, had prerequisites. It helped first to feel heard, cared for, respected, seen in the fullness of one’s complexity and even, yes, confusion.
  8. Reflection: ask the participants about their opinions again. Has our conversation changed your opinion? This is “active processing” of our own ideas and stories and background and the cognitive dissonance that might have surfaced. The theory is that opinions are often hastily formed from scanty information. Carefully constructed conversation encourages people to think more slowly about whether their view comports with their deepest values, with what they know to be true, with their sense of themselves, with their experiences.

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