The following is from the Sunrise Movement Plan, which I’ve been sharing in this series of posts. It’s a lot of material and I thought breaking it up, and having available online, would help spread the message. This part on adapting the message is really well done, I think. You can find the complete plan here.
You saw the basic message here (Mission and Plan). The message is honest, straight-forward, and if millions of people hear it, we will win. But America is a big country, and not everybody “speaks the same language” – both literally, and metaphorically. So rather than asking you to repeat the message word-for-word (though you can do that if you want!), this section helps you understand its crucial components so you can adapt it to your own context.
A simple, meaningful, and hopeful message. Three of the biggest reasons people don’t take action is that they think they don’t know enough, don’t think the issue matters to them, or don’t think they can make a difference. We need to change this.
We keep our message simple by using terms people are familiar with to talk about what the core problem is and what we can do to change it. One of the ways we keep it simple is using this simple sequence that we’ve found effective in explaining this complex challenge honestly and clearly:
- Climate change is hurting people right now and is getting worse every day
- We have the solutions to stop it and create millions of jobs
- But fossil fuel billionaires are buying off politicians to stall action
- So, we need to build people power and elect honest leaders who will work for us
We make it meaningful by connecting climate change to our life and the lives of people we are talking to. People should feel like this is urgent and important enough for them to take time out of their day to support.
Our message is hopeful about what we can do if we come together to break our country free from the grip of fossil fuel billionaires who are holding us back from a safe and prosperous future. Climate change is scary, so it is important to remind people that we can do this.
We talk about jobs and the economy. If we stop wasting billions in taxpayer money giving handouts to oil and gas CEOs and instead put that money to work helping develop wind and solar, we can create millions more jobs and lower energy prices America. It is important that we make this clear because these issues matter a lot people and fossil fuel executives have tried to deceive the public about the economic opportunity of wind and solar.
This is about the people and places we love. Our message is most impactful when we are talking about tangible things, not abstract ideas and figures (e.g. how much carbon is in the atmosphere). You can do this by sharing about what makes this personal for you, or talking about the local environmental and health impacts of climate change and fossil fuel infrastructure. (Fracking, pipelines, asthma from refineries, drought, sea level rise, etc.)
WE. At the broadest level, we are young people. You can be as broad as that, or get more specific with it. Just remember – we are building a movement for all young people, including people who have never gotten involved in politics before – so don’t describe Sunrise in terms of identities that your audience doesn’t share, e.g. ”activists.” E.g.:
- “Sunrise is a movement of young people here in Wisconsin to…”
- “I’m part of Sunrise, and we’re connecting (high schoolers / young Christians / young Muslims / young immigrants / etc…) here in Florida to…”
THEM. “They” are the wealthy executives of oil, gas, and coal companies, who have spent millions to deceive the public and buy off politicians. “They” are also the politicians who have taken the dirty money to let fossil fuel billionaires craft their policy. “They” is not “the fossil fuel industry” because that includes fossil fuel workers whose labor and communities have been exploited by these same executives. Whenever possible, talk about direct collusion between politicians and executives – this is a powerful message that elicits a lot of anger. E.g.:
- “Corporate greed and complicit politicians are hurting our environment.”
- “We’re challenging Governor Walker (politician) to put the interests of Virginia’s people over that of Dominion Resources (electric and gas company).
- “This decision by Trump is a giveaway to wealthy oil CEO’s.”
This is about a wealthy few vs. the rest of us. Huge majorities of Americans want action to stop climate change, but a small handful of very wealthy people have bought out politicians of both parties to hold back progress. It is much more powerful if we talk in these terms and call out this greed rather than use partisan rhetoric the American people are tired of.
We highlight how fossil fuel billionaires use racism or classism to get their way. Polluting facilities are often deliberately located in poor neighborhoods and/or communities of color that have less political influence to stop them. These same communities are less likely to get government help to protect them from the effects of climate change. This is messed up, and telling this story can be a very effective way to connect with people and get them involved.
Acknowledge differences but focus on similarities. To succeed, our movement needs to engage millions of people from all walks of life. For decades, political elites have tried to divide us by our political party, our skin color, and where we live. We refuse to play into their game. There are differences among us, which we can acknowledge and celebrate, but we focus on what unites us: our shared strategy and vision of an America that works for all us