Disclosure: For large chunks of my life, I've never bought into political partisanship, polarization, or the imaginary left-right divide. My positions tend to be issues based, and more often than not, I tend to not have solid made in stone convictions. I'm a big believer of the Socratic method - asking all sorts of questions, even when (and actually especially when) I am already on that side. With that said - An important distinction to make is that my discussing something should never be interpreted as my endorsing something.
As much as I'd like to think of myself as being unbiased, I've come to recognize that I naturally tend to be more left or centered (am aware of the irony of my using a system that I just discounted above). To compensate for this, I've spent the last couple of years trying to be less defensive with positions presented by right-wing people. It's not easy, but it is rewarding in various ways. Instead of getting angry and defensive, I would try to get a better idea of where they were coming from. What is it that makes them think the way they do? What are they really looking for?
I'm from Etobicoke (gasp), and I strongly believe Rob Ford must go (chuckle - this felt like that funny point of a movie where they name drop the title within a benign conversation). While I am not by any means an atypical person from this area, I'd like to share my thoughts and observations on things we might wish to consider if we are interested in swaying over citizens of suburbia.
For now, I am going to paste in an email that I sent to Chris (edited slightly), which was based on my very brief experience with the sit-in on Saturday (I arrived with less than an hour remaining in the day).
In advance, I'd like to apologize to the participant that is referred to in the email, and make clear that I was more using the participant as an example to prove a point as opposed to anything I felt personally. That is to say - I mean no disrespect to the participant, and would very much agree that it is in poor taste for me to make large assumptions about an individual from such a brief encounter.
One piece of advice would be to keep the movement as grassroots as possible.
By this, I mean more focus on regular citizens, and less on people who are already hard core activists.
This is the key to defeating Ford Nation.
One of the pillars of Ford Nation is the whole elitist resentment thing (which resonates on all levels of gov’t).
Many of those swayed are strong believers that municipal gov’t should be about covering only the bare essentials that allow a city to function. This is why the whole “Respect for Taxpayers” resonates so strongly with them. His support stays strong because more often than not, those who believe that gov’t must do all sorts of other things tend to marginalize, or look down on those who disagree with this functional view. It is by and large a perceptual problem that Ford exploits masterfully. While you may not agree with their interpretation of citizenship, you need to recognize that it is very unlikely that you will get them to sway on this, for a wide range of complex reasons. Remember - the goal here is to sway them towards "Rob Ford Must Go" and NOT to force them to accept a particular definition of citizenry.
I personally loathe the idea of people being reduced to mere "taxpayers", but I recognize that the tactic resonates, and I am more interested in subverting the power and support Rob Ford gets with this approach.
My brief experience from the sit-in can exemplify the feeling of alienation that the burbs feel.
Without a doubt, for the majority of the time that I was at the sit-in, one participant was dominating the conversation.
On several occasions, interjections were made so as to distribute the discussion, but the passionate participant kept taking it back.
Out of the experience, not only did I feel that I didn’t get a chance to share much, but more importantly for me, I didn’t get a chance to hear from other people, which was my main goal for being there. Just a reminder - I'm not laying blame here. The participant was very passionate about the issues in discussion, and I think we can all relate to such when it comes to Rob Ford.
This isn’t to say that the participant opinions were wrong or invalid.
It was the approach that weakened the argument, and this is one of those things that turns people off in the burbs, and makes them buy into the whole mistrust of elites position point.
This is a great metaphor for understanding Ford’s success in the burbs, and why many identify with him as being a victim.
Most are people that are busy with work, family, and zillions of other things that keep them from being knowledgeable about politics.
Most are people who would struggle with naming any counselor, never mind the one that serves the ward that they live in.
As such, when someone comes in and is both strong and knowledgeable on issues, they (most often subconsciously) turn their guard on, and tune everything out.
While we may mock Ford for how we see his “customer service” (in that he should be doing other things), he wins people over because his concern comes off as genuine. When you go and see a doctor, besides the knowledge and skill that is needed for someone in that field, a strong bedside manner is the big difference maker. This is because psychological reassurance is one of the main needs that people crave all the time, whether they admit it or not.
When Rob is out there meeting people, more often than not, he’s not pushing complex ideas or great debates. He limits himself to a few catchphrases, and spends the rest of his time listening. This is how he wins people over.
The key to defeating Ford Nation is to respect them, and not treat them like second class imbeciles who are too stupid to understand what is best for them. When you can identify what it is that draws people to him, only then will you be able to brainstorm and discover a way to subvert this process. The challenge is to be able to understand how they think, and recognize that your process of decision making and valuation is not necessarily universal.
In short - You’re not out there to convince yourself (chances are, like minded people are already on board with your position) – you want to sway people whose mindset is different.