PBS NOW ran a short story last Friday about the Montana Meth Project. I’ve seen a number of terrifying reports about a Meth epidemic, especially in the rural and small town west. People are actually coming up with effective campaigns to fight the problem head on.
First, there were the Faces of Meth, before and after photos that dramatically show how methamphetamine abuse makes you look old and pathetic in a few months or years. Then, billionaire software pioneer Tom Siebel went to Montana and launched this all-out TV ad campaign to “uncoolify” meth:
I don’t understand why kids would want to do meth, but they do. To fight that, you need a lot more than rational arguments. You need the empathic power of television.
But this campaign illustrates the difficulty and money required to achieve this kind of saturation marketing. These ads don’t do any good on YouTube or some random cable channel. Years of hard work by a billionaire was required to get this stuff out there and build a project that could be replicated in other states. It doesn’t fit any kind of new media citizen empowerment model I’d like to see happening–it is good old fashioned money, power, and dedication to a cause.
I think, however, the media is simply a tool here…and presumably the social networking tools that are out there should be invaluable in helping organize the people to plan and execute these campaigns. But in those cases, I think you are working with people who are already sold on the overall idea. They are living by the “rational playbook” already.
The problem in politics is that elected leaders, no matter how rational they are, have to worry about being reelected by people who are not as engaged on key issues to have invested in a fully rational approach. There is no battle for the minds of the people anymore, only their hearts. So we get videos like this:
and stuff like this in response:
Brutally honest differences? The second video is boring and has been viewed by about 20,000 people. Although, if you watch it, it does get to the powerful statement of “funding the war is killing our troops.” The first video is being broadcast on real television to millions of people who didn’t chose to watch it. Almost instantly, you can feel the percentage of Americans who believe Iraq was behind 9/11 increase by a few points. I mean, it’s right there…”They attacked us.” You can see the twin towers burning. And that guy lost his leg defending his children against terrorists. Bring it on.
OK, before I go off on a total rant about the war…what can we do about it? Suppose, for the sake of argument, that I agree with the pro-war cause. Should I blog and comment about it? Should I write an email to my congressperson? Should I make my own video and upload it to youtube?
I could add my pro war sentiments to a number of websites that promote the neoconservative viewpoint. Then, I could go to commondreams.org and moveon.org and write nasty attacks in their forums against the liberals. I could try to find online discussions that were somewhat neutral and engage people in spirited debate. I could create a clever parody or outrageous video that would leap to the top of YouTube’s popularity contest. But honestly, I should probably just write a check to Freedom’s Watch so they can buy some more air time.
I could argue with my friends. But my friends will either agree with me or become uncomfortable because most people don’t appreciate their friends interrupting a discussion of the Red Sox game with argumentative talk. It is not polite.
So really, what I expect, is that my Representative and Senators in Congress will have those arguments. That is what we elect them to do. So it all comes back to putting pressure on our elected officials to do the right thing. The right thing is to fight for what they believe in and listen to the arguments on both sides to come up with a plan of action.
Pressure to “do the right thing” is harder to exert than pressure to “do the thing group X wants you to do.” It’s subtle, but we need an environment where an honest debate can happen, where misstatements don’t end up all over the news, spinning out of control…where reason is respected. To accomplish that, I think we can participate online…we need to shake off the cynicism that your voice does not matter. If you make one comment on a blog post that causes someone to possibly reconsider their opinion, isn’t that more powerful than waiting until next November to cast a secret ballot and then hope and pray your candidate wins and then hope and pray he or she has the guts to do the right thing?