I have a dear friend who is a community organizer for Planned Parenthood. How did she get her start?
When she was a college student, the Genocide Awareness Project came to campus. This is a group that tries to build opposition to abortion by comparing abortion to genocides such as the Holocaust and the Rawandan Genocide.
With my friend, this tactic backfired.
She had always been pro-choice, but the hyperbole of the Genocide Awareness Project’s claims spurred her to action. She called up a pro-choice group and they sent someone to train her as a campus organizer.
Soon she was organizing bus trips to the March for Womens Lives, and now she’s a full-time paid organizer for Planned Parenthood.
I don’t think that’s what the Genocide Awareness Project meant to do.
There are plenty of cases like this of earnest people hurting their cause:
- The hard-core McCain supporters that talked about killing Obama turned off moderates from McCain’s campaign;
- Some anti-drug messages actually lead to an increase in drug use (source);
- The anti-abortion guy who told me “Obama is almost as bad as Hitler” because of his support for a woman’s right to choose convinced me to volunteer with Planned Parenthood’s get-out-the-vote campaign.
Of course sometime you need to take strong stands that do mobilize your opposition as well as your base. That’s part of engaging in contentious issues.
What you also need to do is really think carefully about who your audience is and how they understand the world. If you are trying to convince a moderate swing voter that Obama is dangerous for America, then talking about killing Obama won’t work.
If you’re trying to convince a peer-conscience high school student not to try pot, then you don’t want your marketing campaign to give her the message that all her friends are doing it.
Think through you message and tactics, not just from your point of view of someone who is already conviced, but from the point of view of the people you are trying to convince.