There we stood in our dog and cat costumes, waiting for even one reporter to arrive. This was early in my tenure as a communicator for a labor union many years ago. We represented workers at an animal shelter who were being treated terribly by their employer – low pay, irregular schedules, lack of health benefits. We thought it would apply pressure to the employer to hold a rally, pointing out that the shelter espoused care for animals but clearly didn’t care for its staff. We thought we could get attention by dressing up as cats and dogs and pointing out the shelter’s hypocrisy.
It didn’t work. We got no media attention (and this was back when local news was actually robust.) Soon after, I attended a labor communications training and learned that the hypocrisy frame is almost never useful. People expect bosses to be hypocritical. So what? I can hear the assignment desk editor: “and you think this is news?”
Had we instead focused on the need for family-supporting wages – or better yet, had we built alliances around the common goal of quality jobs and thriving, healthy communities and brought a ton of diverse stakeholders to our rally – we would have gotten more attention and probably won the campaign more quickly.
I’ve been thinking about this rookie mistake because I see it playing out in some of the messaging around the SCOTUS fight. Yes, it is a crying shame that Republicans can’t be held to their word. Yes, it makes my blood boil. But since when are politicians not hypocritical? And, wouldn’t you be hypocritical if you believed there was a higher-order principle at stake?
That’s why we need to talk about our higher-order principles. Instead of arguing that water is wet, we need to talk about what’s at stake if 45 is able to appoint another justice. Health care. Keeping Americans safe. Fixing the economy. These are the shared values people in our country hold dear, which are in jeopardy if another justice is rushed onto the court.
Here’s a message from our wise colleague Anat Shenker Osorio that brings it all together:
Americans are pulling through this pandemic by pulling together, while Republicans have put our lives on the line. They failed to prevent and protect us from COVID and sat on legislation to ensure our families have what we need, while handing billions to corporations. Now, suddenly in the midst of the election, they’re at full speed ready to appoint someone to our Supreme Court who will destroy health care in the midst of this pandemic. We need the leaders we elect this November to decide who will preside for life on the Supreme Court.(source)
Whether you care about health care, the right to vote, reproductive freedom, LGBTQ+ rights, a return to normalcy, or restoring balance – the majority of Americans are with you. So say it loud!
And save the dog and cat costumes for Halloween.