Frank Luntz did the Occupy Wall Street movement a great service last week. Luntz, founder of right-wing messaging firm Luntz Global, circulated advice to GOP strategists for how best to use specific phrases and terminology to hinder the efforts of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Fortunately, word got out.
How we present ourselves as Occupiers, particularly before cameras, will play a critical role in determining whether we are successful at broadening our base of support. The whole world is watching, and spectators will take their lead from how they identify, or fail to identify, with Occupiers they meet and see on TV. This primer, beginning with some of the most subversive strategies and finishing with general word-choice, is aimed at helping any who seek to defend the Occupy Wall Street movement in conversation.
1. Never Drop the “Wall Street.”
Luntz: Tell them, "You shouldn't be occupying Wall Street, you should be occupying Washington. You should occupy the White House because it's the policies over the past few years that have created this problem."
This is a very important diversion. Luntz is suggesting that the GOP work to deflect attention from bank bailouts, insider trading, and the derivatives market trading that crashed the economy, and toward government bureaucrats. Luntz has used these words in the past to speak of this foil: "This is your critical advantage. Washington's incompetence is the common ground on which you can build support."
How We Win: Washington is a problem, but it is not “the” problem. Right vs. Left is a shell game; it’s a false narrative designed to divide and conquer. Washington is a problem because representatives in Washington no longer pay heed to the will of the people. This is because players on both sides of the traditional Right vs. Left “Washington” dynamic have been bought by special interest money. These special interests are the hands of the puppet master, and Washington is caught within the web of strings. By debating societal issues using the typical Right vs. Left dynamic, peoples' arguments fall within this web of strings as well. The only two groups of people presently outside of the web are the hands holding the strings and the Occupy Wall Street movement. We are outside of the web because we refuse to engage the powers-that-be along these traditional lines. Any attempt to get the Occupy Wall Street movement to take its eye off of Wall Street is an attempt to funnel the Occupy Wall Street back into a system where it can be rendered powerless. The goal of the Occupy Wall Street movement should be to help as many people as possible find their own way out of the rigged game that exists within the web of strings, and never to engage within it.
Takeaway Point: We are not merely Occupying, we are Occupying Wall Street. Even from Los Angeles. Because Congress is in Wall Street’s pocket, we can take action against Congress as much as we like. But we can never let ourselves take our eyes off of the root of the problem: money, and those with their hands on humanity’s purse strings.
2. Use Outrage Carefully.
Luntz: "First off, here are three words for you all: 'I get it.' . . . 'I get that you're angry. I get that you've seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system."
Luntz is encouraging the “compassionate emptiness” strategy thus far embraced by President Obama and others around the nation. Luntz then encourages that opponents of Occupy Wall Street offer solutions to "the problem."
How We Win: Stay calm! One of the silver linings of this strategy for the opposition is that it threatens to frustrate the Occupier. There is nothing more obnoxious than a hypocrite being patronizing. However, if you lose your cool you marginalize yourself in the eyes of the real audience: everyone who is watching. This person you are speaking to is not the target for your words, just like you are not the target for theirs! They are speaking to the audience. We must do the same.
If an individual simply says, “I get it,” without follow-up, simply ask them what it is that they “get.” Force them to keep talking, listen to the errors in what they say (there always will be), and use pointing out those errors to keep them defending themselves. If they do offer things like “I get that you’re angry,” refuse to let these statements stand! “I am not angry; angry is what I got when my 401(k) was decimated. What I am is aware. I am aware that the land of the free has been taken over by financial interests. I am aware that the middle class has been destroyed. I am aware that human beings have been reduced to commodities with values determined by the market. And I am motivated to help others discover this for themselves.”
Anger is a passing thing; awareness never dies. If we can remind the person sitting on their couch watching the broadcast, or standing in the wings listening to the conversation, that they are not in fact angry, but instead are learning a new truth, it will lend lasting power to their emotional response. But you must stay calm throughout delivery; the audience will usually side with the “grownup in the room,” and that is the individual who remains calm.
Luntz: "If you talk about raising taxes on the rich," the public responds favorably, Luntz cautioned. But "if you talk about government taking the money from hardworking Americans, the public says no. Taxing, the public will say yes."
Luntz: "They cannot win if the fight is on hardworking taxpayers. We can say we defend the 'middle class' and the public will say, I'm not sure about that. But defending 'hardworking taxpayers' and Republicans have the advantage."
Here some tricky maneuvering is shown. With these two independent statements, Luntz has merged the wealthy elite with the middle class. By rebranding both the middle class and the rich as “hardworking Americans,” Luntz has found a way for the GOP to talk about the rich while pretending to talk about the middle class.
How We Win: This is a perfect moment to use a little bit of controlled outrage to the benefit of the movement. For instance, someone asks you: “Why do Occupiers want to raise taxes on hardworking taxpayers?” an appropriate response might be, “Are you talking about rich people? Because it sounds to me like you just used ‘hardworking taxpayer’ as a fancy term for ‘rich people.’ I don’t want taxes raised on hardworking taxpayers; that’s the middle class! I want them raised on extremely wealthy individuals who have benefitted the most from the advantages American society offers. And frankly, I resent the notion that because I am not worth a million or more dollars I am not a hard working taxpayer. I pay taxes every time I make a purchase, every time I receive a paycheck, and every time I file my income tax return.”
Takeaway Point: The words “middle class” are now so toxic to enemies of Occupy Wall Street that every attempt is being made to stop using them. Use them. Every person on every couch throughout America knows the middle class has been destroyed; fit it into every statement about economic inequality and you will win the minds of those who are listening.
3. The Subject of ‘Waste.”
Luntz: "It's not about 'government spending.' It's about 'waste.' That's what makes people angry."
This, just like converting “the rich” into “hardworking Americans” is about manipulating the emotion of the audience through word choice.
How We Win: Remind that corporate waste is much more pervasive than government waste. Underscore that most government waste exists within the bloated military budget that now comprises more than half of the United States Federal Government discretionary spending budget. Finish by reminding the audience that corporations govern life more than any government, now more than ever.
“Trap” Words Luntz Floats to Coerce Occupiers into Using:
Capitalism -- Luntz: "I'm trying to get that word removed and we're replacing it with either 'economic freedom' or 'free market,' " Luntz said. "The public . . . still prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral. And if we're seen as defenders of quote, Wall Street, end quote, we've got a problem."
Any attempt to criticize Capitalism will still be used to paint the criticizer as “Socialist.” Many Americans still consider Socialism the automatic alternative to Capitalism, and Luntz knows this. Most Americans will not be thinking that the Occupy Wall Street movement may desire to forge a path that does away with all the “isms;” many have not even considered whether this is possible.
Tax: Although the phrase “taxing the rich” has become markedly more popular, it should be noted that the word “tax” is still a wedge designed to separate the Right from the Left. The Occupy Wall Street movement is about ending Right vs. Left in favor of Corrupt vs. Non-Corrupt. Any usage of wedge-issue words like “tax” reinforces the dichotomy we seek to end. It’s not about taxes, it’s about reciprocity or fairness. The wealthiest of Americans have benefited the most from American security, infrastructure, and workers. It is only fair that the folks who have benefited the most from these areas be supporting them adequately.
Words and Phrases Opponents are Powerless to Stop:
Most importantly: This is Not About Me! Detractors of the Occupy Wall Street movement have a single favorite strategy: Painting occupiers as selfish, young, lazy people looking for handouts. This is not about handouts; this is not even about the present day! This is about the future, and this is a struggle to ensure not only that our children will inherit a better world than the one we presently inhabit, but that they have a world at all to enter.
Words have incredible emotional power. We have justice on our side! If we remain true to this, and prepare ourselves to communicate properly with our audience, charlatans like Luntz and other enemies of justice will inevitably betray themselves and crumble.