the leap manifesto: how is it going?
Recently in one of my communications courses we were studying the how’s of modern political communication, through the lens of Lazarsfeld’s 2-step flow theory. For the layman: in a nutshell this theory argues that rather than the media affecting consumers directly, consumers are more likely to be affected by peers they admire because they are considered more knowledgeable than they are in the particular area (such as politics or planted aquariums). That is to say that we trust our own “real” sources, such as family members, coworkers or friends who have studied the subject formally or informally, to make sense of what the media is trying to feed us, so that we don’t have to know everything. These individuals are called opinion leaders when they put on their “I’ll tell you what’s going on” cap.
Two-step flow and political communication
When you apply this theory to political communication, things get more interesting because political parties aren’t the only parties trying to get our attention — what about political protesters? This is the other side of the political coin, the people who want to raise awareness against the government and the elites. They try to do illegal (or not-so-legal) things as publicly as possible, but without getting caught.
Police vs. mainstream media: by whom who would you rather be caught?
I was surprised to find out that experienced protesters are often more afraid of mainstream media coverage than of the police. I would have assumed that the more coverage they had, the better. Apparently not. You see, the media often frames protesters negatively. Journalists discredit anybody who thinks too differently from the norm, and regular citizens are usually relieved to believe that they needn’t bother themselves with protesting. However, when the mainstream media frames a protest negatively, the protest loses its credibility, its own voice, and control over its own message. In order to survive these predatory mass media reports, protestors and campaigners try to look beyond the media to touch as many people as possible directly (rather than through the media filter). This means contacting opinion leaders directly, via a variety of media, and the more extensive a groups repertoire of communication is, the more they can adapt to circumstances and limitations, and get their message to the right people: T-Shirts, website, social media, in person (face to face), at conferences, or through strategically placed literature or swag. For example, a student union at one university might leave pamphlets on the coffee table or billboard in the student lounge at another university, or local labour union. Just as often, the leaders of similar groups in a given region will get together and discuss their plans, perhaps organizing a conference together in order to share stories and plans. This technique reminds me of the myelin sheath on a neuron because information travels more quickly when it can jump from group to group rather than from individual to individual.
How does the leap manifesto communicate?
So after having thought about how protests and dissidents communicate, I looked at the leap manifesto online. This is a manifesto organized and signed by Canada’s leading thinkers and artists, demanding a leap from a high-inequality, high-carbon economy to a low-inequality post-carbon economy. In this case, the organizers did make a press conference, but then again, this is not a protest but a manifesto with demands, and it is put forth by famous people. These famous people act like a kind of first line of opinion leaders for the country, and then through their own Facebook and Twitter accounts they are hoping to influence their followers, who are opinion leaders in smaller communities. I think that the other reason they are all celebrated and successful Canadian leaders is that they have the experience and the resources to make sure that their voices won’t be drowned out when the press tries to take their credibility away. Mainstream media has been ominously quiet about the leap manifesto, waiting for it to go away on its own, I think. But the leap manifesto has its own website, Facebook Page and Twitter account, as well as presence on other websites such as appropedia.org and commondreams.org. It doesn’t have a Wikipedia account (I was sure it would). On its website, they have the list of signatories front and centre so we can all be duly impressed, as well as the “sign up” button and the manifesto itself, in PDF format. There is also a “news” section. A Google doc on the website provides information on how to join or host a leap event, providing guidance on how to deal with the local press with a pre-written press release and a dozen shareable images.
I find the lack of information available on the internet frustrating. What are the founding members doing to support the cause now? When is their next meeting together? Why don’t they have hyperlinks to the statements and activities of the different organizations and famous people who support the cause? I will have to go to an event and find out for myself how strong this movement is.