The progressive resistance: “Woke” on politics, comatose on marketing

Advocates of progressive truth need to realize that we are a savagely outgunned faction.


NOTE: This is Part 1 of a two-part series, “Successful Marketing for Political Revolutionaries.” 

Let’s be clear: Progressive resistance = political revolution

To avoid any possible misunderstandings here, I need to clarify my intended audience for this article. It consists of members of the real progressive resistance forming under Donald Trump, not of the “McResistance” so nauseatingly labeled “the Resistance” in mainstream media. The McResistance is the fast-food, junk-food caricature of the actual resistance that’s needed, and is really just a propaganda arm of Democrats hoping to use the sheer awfulness of Trump to lure voters back into their fold. Without reforming their own corrupt party at all.

I certainly don’t spurn the name “Progressive Resistance” (or the more distinguishing name “real Progressive Resistance”), because those formulas have important rhetorical uses. But we members of the real Progressive Resistance must keep one crucial point clear in our minds: our Progressive Resistance is exactly the same thing as political revolution against a dangerously corrupt system. Unlike the McResistance, the Progressive Resistance would have existed equally as much with Hillary Clinton as president. Even a peaceful political revolution – one based on ballots not bullets – is about toppling oppressive enemies from power. And an indentured Democrat servant of Wall Street and AIPAC like Chuck Schumer – hardly a public servant in any meaningful sense – is as much an oppressive enemy of the common good as any high-ranking Republican.

For me, the self-awareness by members of the real Progressive Resistance that we are political revolutionaries is absolutely critical. For one thing, it sharply distinguishes us from members of the McResistance, who wouldn’t be caught dead dallying with political revolution. But far more importantly, it helps us plan our strategy and public outreach logically, based on the premise that we’re fomenting political revolution. Indeed, our lack of focus on our role as political revolutionaries underlies progressives’ dismal marketing failure with the general public I address in this article.

To succeed as marketers, you need to know 1) what product you’re marketing and 2) that marketing is the job you’re engaged in. “Woke” as member of the Progressive Resistance are politically, we seem collectively comatose as regards political marketing. As founder of Progressive or Bust – which, like its parent movement Bernie or Bust, relentlessly seeks political power for real progressives – I’ve made reversing that failure a key mission for our movement.

But isn’t marketing a corrupt capitalist thing?

Many progressives – especially in the Green Party – take offense at the very idea of political marketing. After all, isn’t the commercialization and consequent cheapening of everything exactly what our revolution is fighting? Shouldn’t truth be able to stand on its own two feet, and with enough people spreading it, simply win through?

While such thinking is admirable in its idealism, it’s dangerously flawed in its realism. Among other things, it ignores the time-tested advice of a certain Jesus, who cautioned his highly idealistic followers to be as “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  In the same Bible passage, Jesus prefaces that remark by explaining to his followers that he is sending them out “as sheep among wolves” – and if there’s a fitter description of real progressives’ position in current U.S. politics, it’s nearly impossible to think of it.

Just to illustrate the “sheep among wolves” position of progressives, consider this: in the United States, having the truth on issues seems in almost inverse proportion to the extent people hold political power. For example, Republicans – the more truth-challenged of our two lying duopoly parties – hold the presidency, both houses of Congress, 32 out of 50 state legislatures and 33 out of 50 state governorships. By contrast, the Green Party, which many progressives regard as the bastion of political truth, holds no federal offices and scarcely any state offices to speak of. If anything should dispel the delusion that the truth will market itself, that statement of cold, hard facts should be it.

What advocates of progressive truth need to realize is that we are a savagely outgunned faction – at least in terms of channels for reaching voters – in a propaganda war where successful framing is everything. Indeed, in emphasizing the importance of framing, cognitive scientist George Lakoff stresses fact that Republicans, more apt to come from business backgrounds than Democrats, are more likely to have studied marketing – which is based on cognitive science – than Democrats; he sees this as a likely factor in Republicans’ greater success at reaching voters.

And for those who mistakenly regard framing simply as spin – i.e., misleading propaganda – Lakoff helpfully critiques “the assumption was that there was no difference between framing and spin, which is utterly ridiculous.” He adds, “You do framing every time you talk, every time you think, because frames are what you use in thinking – they’re neural structures.” Lakoff defends a framing-based notion of propaganda in the sense in which the Catholic Church originally used the term: “in the service of the propagation of the true faith.” Lakoff’s point, of course, is not that the Catholic Church is the true faith, but that its original “propagandists” sincerely believed it was, and tried to find the most effective framing for getting others to believe the same. If learning to frame issues correctly is important for Democrats – who control many high-powered mainstream media messaging channels – it’s vastly more important to a Progressive Resistance confined largely to alternative and social media.

Framing revolution for the “partially woke”

Reverting to this article’s title, I regard the real Progressive Resistance – those of us who see the urgent need for political revolution – as the truly “woke.” Or, in older language, as the politically wise. Since we neither have nor desire the status of “philosopher-kings” – of the wise who get to impose our political will by fiat – we are faced with the necessity of persuading people less “woke,” meaningless politically wise.

Whenever thinking of the wise being forced to persuade the less wise, I’m inevitably reminded of the Jethro Tull song “Thick as a Brick,” with its fascinating, paradoxical line “Your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick.” Fortunately for real progressives, the difference between us and our intended audience – even between us and Trump voters – is hardly as radical as the difference between the wise and the utterly unwise.  The voters we need to awaken are certainly wise enough to resent the corruption of the Washington “swamp,” and to feel fear and anger over their ever-diminishing prospects of economic security and political influence. They are best described as “partially woke”; they are certainly not, from our standpoint, “thick as a brick.”

But in trying win “partially woke” voters to our cause – the cause of peaceful political revolution – I think we the “woke” can learn important things from the Tull line I quoted. What we can learn, above all, is to resist the temptation of the wise to focus incessantly on the attractions of their own enlightened viewpoint: our tendency, enraptured by those attractions, to assume our full package of enlightened views – without proper framing for the “less woke” – will simply sell itself. Our needed framing will inevitably consist in stressing some of our cherished views and de-emphasizing others.

In my next article, “An Umbrella Narrative for the Progressive Resistance,” I will discuss in detail how we members of the Progressive Resistance need to frame our views if we wish to avoid being, from a marketing standpoint, “thick as a brick.”


If you liked this article, please donate $5 to keep NationofChange online through November.