Thursday, September 13, 2012

Act Like You Give A Damn

There were some complaints about the effectiveness of OSSTF in presenting our side of things in the media last night at our school meeting.  I tried to explain (maybe using a few to many expletives - I've spent the summer trying to make D18 OSSTF more visible in social media and it irked me to get criticized by someone who hasn't lifted a finger) that the media will always go to flashy, emotional appeals, even (or especially) if they are factually wrong.

If someone lies, professional journalists no longer feel it is their duty to fact check and call out the discrepancy, they just quote the person and call the quote a fact.  Cynical right wing interests know this and constantly present calculated, manipulative, often complete inaccurate emotionally charged comments that they know will get air time.  The poor right wingers eat this up.  The unions reply with calm, reasoned, accurate information and then wonder why they aren't broadcast.  We need to take a page from Winston Churchill, some powerful rhetoric and emotionality would help our cause.

"...we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender..."  
Winston Churchill, 1940.

Love that speech.  It's passionate, it's powerful and it enables an underdog to get back on its feet in the face of a terror much stronger than it and face the fight.  But at its bottom it's a speech about commitment and belief.  If you believe in what you say, instead of trying to cynically manipulate words, you will have out.  It's that kind of belief and commitment to action that I'd love to see from teachers.

What has hurt OSSTF's (and the other union's) ability to affect real public change is the centralized structure they still cling to.  It makes them appear closed, which the media loves to jump all over.  Unions are still clinging to a single voice with a single message.  The mediascape is changing, and I hope we're willing and able to evolve with it.  We have a fantastic resource in our members, who if only used to silently back a single (simple) message, are woefully underused.  We need participation, passionate participation.  When teachers and friends of education passionately present their side of the case online, in letters to the media, in letters to their MPPs, in conversations with friends, it becomes a lot easier for OSSTF to gain the attention of mainstream media and have some hope of tipping the scales of public opinion.

I know this is a change - the union, like most traditional institutions, prefers a single voice with silent support.  That doesn't jive with the social mediascape that is evolving around us, and it's not particularly democratic either.  We need to get used to the idea of many voices, otherwise we aren't leveraging the power of our educated, savvy members in social media.

Anyone watching mainstream media has noticed the change in how they address social media, they are trying to integrate it.  If you want to influence media, speak out in social media.  But do it passionately, like you give a damn.  The only thing better than a cynical, targeted emotional plea designed to attract media attention would be an honest, passionate emotional plea based on the truth of your work.  You're using the same mechanics in a more honest way, and you'll get your sound bite.

What we have instead are passionate Tim Hudaks getting sound bites on media because they are emotionally charged.  The media will always take showy, emotionally charged nonsense, even if they are outright lies, over a reasoned, logical and accurate argument.  If more (all?) teachers and their families and friends communicated passionately about what they do and how this summer has treated them, it would give we communications people much more wood to throw on the fire.  This isn't only a matter of social media.  If you've ever just shrugged and said, "yeah, we have it easy" at a dinner party when the resident jackass goes off on teaching, you've chosen to hurt our position.

Is the dark side stronger? Nonono. Quicker,easier, more seductive.
In short: you can't whine about how OSSTF is presenting the case if you're hoping everyone else will present it for you.  It's your profession, your work, and I hope your passion.  If we got a bit more of that out of membership, we'd have a multitude of teachers' voices echoing about in the media, and the forth estate wouldn't be monopolized by cynical, well rehearsed, angry, manipulative, right wing voices.

Now I have to ask the hard questions.  Have you written your local newspapers, your MPPs?  Have you contacted your favorite radio program, TV news program?  Have you been forthright with friends and family about what your job is and how you feel about the media's portrayal of you and your work?

Find your voice, express your passion for your work, it doesn't even have to be in a political context, but act like you give a damn and do something to get us out from behind this image of a walled garden that the politicians, the media and our own union habits have painted us into.