Get to know this word – because it’s the thing that may eventually cause your movement to fail. It’s a German word for the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. It’s why TMZ is so popular, and it’s why – despite evidence that the economy is leading us directly towards a civil war – some folks continue to post snarky comments about the Occupy Wall Street movement on Facebook, Twitter, and giggle while the nightly news shows recaps #OWS arrests.
Let me be clear here: I do not want you to fail. I do want you to get a hell of a lot more organized so you can do this thing right.
Schadenfreude only comes into play when there’s an “us vs them” mentality. Our enemy slips up. Someone much more wealthy or powerful than us gets caught doing something naughty. We’d never be that silly. We could never do those things. But when something happens to mom, dad, or our little sister, suddenly we can empathize. It’s personal – it’s just as bad as if it happened to us.
While almost everybody could empathize with the feeling of not being able to pay a bill, losing a job, or thinking that it’s time to whack some high-level bankers like piñatas until no more money falls out, here’s the problem you’re facing (and it’s a big one): occupying a park is not something that everybody can do. Most of the 99% still has jobs (they might not be the best jobs, but we still have to work). A lot of the 99% run their own businesses. And trust me, while I’d have no reservations about chilling in a park all day, working on my laptop – a lot of folks don’t have that kind of time or luxury. Meanwhile, we wish we could do something to help, but we don’t know what – and then we get on with our day while you’re getting zip-cuffed in the park.
So, while we should be empathizing with you, we end up dissociating from you instead. You become “the protesters” and not Mary the 32 year old spinster who barely scrapes by in her apartment on Prospect Road since losing her job at the bank while her former CEO decides whether or not to buy a third gold-lined umbrella holder at Bed, Bath, and I’ve Got Too Much Fuckin’ Money. And it’s not the media’s fault. Got it?
Don’t believe me? What did I just say about a banker piñata? Didn’t you get that, “Hell yes” feeling? OK, how about if our banker’s name is now Gary from Littleton, father of two and avid donator and volunteer to the foodbank? Now it’s a little harder to justify whipping out the whiffle bat, right? He might be a rich prick at work, but I can’t shake down a volunteer dad of two.
Schadenfreude is what enables us to disconnect from our morals and justify harm to marginalized groups. It’s why ordinarily rational white folks did nothing while black folks were getting firehosed for sitting in the wrong chair. And it’s why folks who should be supporting you may just be changing the channel instead.
While a mass occupation is great and all – hey, it worked for Woodstock, right? – you’re running out of time to make this personal. You have a serious marketing problem.
You desperately need a leader. Someone who can stand up – someone well-spoken – and deliver a speech that makes these things personal. Remember Obama’s 2008 campaign? He took this country by storm, and there was nothing anyone could do to stop him. Why? Because he was the guy who understood our problems. The guy who told us stories about people just like us – who came from roots just like us – and had a plan to try and fix the problem. You need an Obama. And you need a plan.
What’s #OWS’s plan? I’ve been watching for a while now and I don’t see one. If you (and even if you aren’t a part of the #OWS) want to get sh!t done, you have to get activation.
The public’s lack of activation for your cause is not a sign of laziness, but instead a lack of clarity on how to help. Any project must have that clarity to succeed.
So here’s a plan of action for you – and anyone else who wants to make something happen – because you need it:
– Get Your Message Straight and Align it with What Your Audience Wants to Hear: Stop the political preaching on your blog. We get it. Instead, I want you to start posting the personal stories (video if you can) of every single person you can – always include a photo – hopefully of the person with their family. Once a day, non-stop. Use a secondary Tumblr blog if you have to. Make this thing personal. For the titles of those blogs, first name, town name, age, and family stats.
– Get Your Message to the Right People and Be Consistent: Send these out as press releases. Flood the media with them. Give Obama-type online talks and post them online for all to see once a week.
– Develop the Right Platforms and Design a Clear Path: Create a newsletter. Your website is not enough. Get people to sign up to your newsletter and give them a weekly course of action, not just events or marches, but 5 small things they can do that week to help the movement and raise awareness.
– Make Spreading the Message Simple: Create a guidebook that you can use to educate the general public with stats directly from the Government on why things are so bad. I’m also working on an ignite-style video with those same stats. Release everything you do under Creative Commons so anyone can reprint and share it without asking for permission.
– Generate Sympathy and Camaraderie: Nominate a leader in each city who can speak for their movement. This person should be well-spoken, well-groomed, and very sympathetic. No political preachers, no lecturers, just a plain-jane-family guy or gal. Then have them share the stories that came out of the occupation that day. Have them give a speech twice a week to rally support, to give followers a list of tasks to take on that week.
– Find Allies to Help You: Start courting small businesses. Don’t expect handouts or freebies, but promise to shop in their stores in exchange for spreading the word or standing by you if they get interviewed (or, better yet – ask them to do a video interview for you and post it on the blog: the more business support you have, the better you will do).
– Change Your Tactics to Leverage the Element of Surprise: Silence works better than any other method of intimidation. Instead of loudly protesting outside of a bank, instead, line up, side-by-side, five rows deep, and *stare* at folks who cross the line. That’s creepy as all hell and will get you all sorts of attention.
– Engage the Desire to Belong to Something: Give everyday joe’s an ability to show solidarity. A bumper sticker, a t-shirt, something… and a check-list of activities to perform (ie: join a credit union, don’t shop at xyz) so that we can help you, even if we can’t occupy with you (as an aside, this will help you raise some money to afford to sit around in a park all day).
With all that even marginally attempted, Occupy Wall Street (and all the other Occupy movements) would become an unstoppable force, so what’s stopping you?
This post is part of the October Word Carnival on productivity. Check it out for more great advice on being productive!
(Header photo: Occupy Wall Street)