Defund the Police, Critical Race Theory: Progressives used to be better messengers

by Bob Schwartz

It is essential not just to pick your battles. You have to define and describe what you’re fighting for or against.

In 1957, after the testing of world-destroying hydrogen bombs began, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was organized. Its tools included a slogan, Ban the Bomb*, and a now-famous symbol of peace, both of which swept the world with a concise and pointed message. (That the movement failed is not the fault of messaging, just the fault of greater misguided forces.)

The civil rights movement, and its later partner the Vietnam War protest movement, are known for good messaging, especially musical. These movements had more success than Ban the Bomb, though much is left unfinished, or is sliding backwards.

The first big sign that progressive messaging had lost its way is Defund the Police. On first hearing, I mumbled WTF. The long and complicated explanation, at least from some quarters, is that this means reallocate funds to initiatives that will improve justice in law enforcement. Not take away all money from police, which is exactly what it sounds like to normal English speakers.

Now comes Critical Race Theory. We do desperately need better discussion and understanding of American racism, and appropriate action in response. But I guarantee that having that discussion revolve around a topic that sounds like the name of a college sociology course is not the way to get that going.

Messaging requires collaboration, not dictation. It appears that so many smart and well-meaning people are so stuck in their own heads and good intentions that they’ve lost the ability to listen and hear what they sound like. Because if no one else is listening, or is questioning you because your messaging sounds messed up or dangerous, you are not doing good and you are doing no good.

*Bob Dylan never missed a chance to make fun of America. Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream (1965) is a funny slice of history and commentary (Columbus, Moby Dick, etc.):

I went to get some help, I walked by a Guernsey cow
Who directed me down to the Bowery slums
Where people carried signs around, sayin’, “Ban the bums”