On attention and activism

I came across a recent interview of Rachel Maddow over at Lenny and her comment about what makes for successful activism caught my attention —

RM: Yes. I did my doctoral dissertation on social movements around prison reform, AIDS, and health reform. One of the things that I wrote about is that there are some political issues where mainstream press attention only hurts. We think about activism as being this generic model of consciousness-raising, then hopefully media attention, attraction of new people to your cause, building public support for your cause, then decision-makers reacting to that change in public opinion. That’s true for some types of activism, but it is not true for all of them.

If you’re working on better conditions for prisoners, if you make that a popular issue and you invite mainstream media to weigh in on that subject, you’re going to end up with a much more regressive public-policy environment than if you approach it in a quieter way. It’s not because the public is stupid, it’s just that people with only a cursory interest in something are going to have a knee-jerk reaction to it. That’s impossible to explain in a cable-news media … it doesn’t make sense.

[emphasis added]

Parallels to migration issues? Perhaps. See also: her fascinating conversation with Ezra Klein

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