Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Blogging on the death penalty, Part One

(First of three parts.)

While at NCADP 2005: Turning Wins into Winning, I had the fortunate experience of doing a workshop on Internet activism, blogging and building email lists. My co-presentors were Scott Henson, head of the Texas ACLU's Police Accountability Project and the owner of Grits for Breakfast and Kathy Mitchell, who is the national director of Consumers Union's e-activism efforts.

Yesterday Scott blogged on our presentation, and on the nature and utility of blogging against the death penalty. Today I offer up his comments unedited. I 90 percent agree with Scott when he argues that abolitionists have yet to develop and use an effective message, or framing against the death penalty.

Tomorrow I will get into the 10 percent area where I disagree with Scott -- and it is a minor disagreement. I think the frame is being developed, with the help of Penn State Professor Frank Baumgartner's research in this area.

Problem is, I just don't think we're using the succesful frame that has been developed.

More tomorrow and again on Thursday. For now, here are Scott's interesting and insightful comments:

Blogging and the death penalty
On Saturday, I spoke at a couple of workshops on the subject of blogging
and web activism at the annual conference of the National Coalition to Abolish
the Death Penalty here in Austin. A lot of what I had to say about political
blogging was included in a couple of pieces I wrote this summer:

a.. Blogs' role in political campaigns, and b.. Blogs, jazz, and
message developmentBut for this particular audience, I felt some additional
suggestions were in order. Of all the criminal justice issues out there,
opposition to the death penalty perhaps remains the one topic most in need of
re-thinking or "re-framing," as the currently faddish rhetoric would have it. In
Texas, depending on how you ask the question, around 70 percent of the public
supports capital punishment. Bottom line: That means that activists haven't yet
found the messages that, if it ever comes to pass, will ultimately will cause
the death penalty to be abolished in this country.

To me, that's where blogging by individuals could be really helpful
reformulating a rhetorical approach toward this complex topic. We need lots of
folks blogging about the death penalty, I told them, from lots of different
perspectives -- libertarian, pro-life, progressive, legal, you name it --
because right now the winning arguments that will convince the public simply
don't exist, yet.

In professional politics, pollsters take "messages," essentially themes and
arguments for and against a proposal, and test them using opinion research to
identify the most persuasive ones. But one can only test messages that one knows
about, and on the death penalty the arguments being made out in the world today
just aren't persuasive to the majority of the public. Abolitionists need new
arguments to be developed, new messages that appeal to widely held values,
"wedge" messages that cut across ideological and party lines. Bloggers could be
a big help in developing those new messages, particularly individual bloggers
not affiliated with organizations who are free to try innovative rhetorical
approaches, make mistakes, and experiment with message in a way that
organizations realistically can't.

Blogging is a media strategy, for the most part, not a vehicle for activism
-- email is much better than blogs at driving people to act. But blogging could
play an important role in political message development, especially on issues
like the death penalty where the terms of debate are caught in deep, seemingly
intractable ruts.

I hope we see lots of new abolitionist blogs cropping up in the future --
the movment's message makers need the help.

1 comment:

Margaret Phillips said...

David, you inspired me--Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty now has a blog: www.moabolition.org and take the link at bottom left.

Margaret Phillips