Posts Tagged ‘Dissent’

Dissent Strongly — and Strategically

Posted on April 17, 2012 at 12.41 pm

Q. What is the most effective way to frame dissent? I hear often that ‘dissent is patriotic’ but I am no fan of the state…– oneeyesun, from tumblr.

A.  The best way to frame any dissent is, most basically, going to depend on the subject of your dissent — that said, I can provide some general guidelines.

First, since you mention it, let’s discuss patriotism and dissent.  You’re thinking of the quote from Howard Zinn about dissent being the “highest form of patriotism.”  Personally, I’m not really patriotic.  The more I know about the U.S. government, the food in other countries, and — frankly — God as revealed in Jesus, the less I can be loyal to any one country.  I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance and I plan to spend significant time living and/or traveling overseas in the future.

Most people, however, do not share this sentiment, and in most conversations (and most instances of dissent) changing that mindset is not my goal — and it should not be yours.  In fact, it may even be advantageous to allow your dissent to be perceived as patriotic if it helps those doing the perceiving join your cause.  In most instances, that will be a matter of marketing more than principle.  In this regard, I think occasional use of this quote from G.K. Chesterton is never amiss:  “My country, right or wrong is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying My mother, drunk or sober.”

I mentioned marketing, and that’s really the overall theme here.  When dissenting, consider what you’re trying to accomplish.  Consider your intended audience.  Consider how your opponents will respond.  Consider how you would respond if the same dissent was directed at something you support.  The answers to these and other questions you’ll consider will, as I’ve mentioned, differ for each issue.

My preference, however, is to go for broad-based support.  If you’re dissenting on Issue A, there is probably no need to mention Issue B.  There are probably a lot of people who can be persuaded to join your protest of Issue A, but if you mention Issue B, they’re out.  If Issues A and B are not vitally related, don’t connect them.  Make friends in weird places.  Be friendly and diplomatic.  Never compromise your principles, but be aware that you’ll be more persuasive with a smile than an attack.

This is what’s so great about health food stores, for instance, which are their own sort of dissent by virtue of existence.  In health food stores, you will find homeschooling mothers who are in church five days a week and vote straight ticket Republican.  You will also find, at the other extreme, vegan, communo-anarchist, animal rights activists.  But, in the health food store, they are delighted to see each other and share gluten-free cookie recipes.  It is a common ground.

Whenever possible, model your dissent with common ground in mind.  You don’t need to find 100 million people with the same opinion as you on every issue; you need to find 100 million people willing to join this specific project of dissent.  As a very experienced dissenter I know likes to say, build a movement, not an empire.