Preaching to the Choir

By Mike Kaulbars


“I do not want to rise above the working class, I want to rise with them”
Eugene Debs

In the Many are One I make the case that progressives are not dealing with many issues, but rather one single issue that manifests itself in multiple ways. This fact is no mere intellectual curiosity, but rather has implications for organizing and how we approach bringing about the change that we work for.

We tend to use the term “preaching to the choir” as though it were a waste of time because the audience in question is already “on side.” In fact every faith group puts considerable effort into preaching to the ‘converted’ because ‘converted’ is a broad category that spans everyone from the life committed hard core to the tentative recent recruit. Everyone can do better, and faith communities understand that ongoing support is critical to making that happen.

The same is true within issue groups, and most invest some time and energy in newsletters, websites, etc to educate people about the issue. An often overlooked fact is that these passive media can only ‘preach to the converted’ because anyone who is not already on side is not going spend time on them anymore than I will check out monster truck racing websites.

The only way to reach the ‘unconverted’ in any meaningful way is through active means, talking to them directly one on one with their permission. In this regard the most influential people in our lives are our friends. In terms of actual behaviours and ideas our friends influence us far more than family, co-workers, or any other group.

For all of us our most valuable resource to access the unconverted is our ‘congregation’, IE the members, volunteers and supporters of our organization. While we tend to supply them with educational material of one form or another, we tend not to think of them as active agents of education in turn. Further, we don’t tend to think very deeply about who they might educate and how.

We all tend to have friends that are like us to an extent, and in that regard we can assume that most of our supporters have a circle of friends that are more progressive than the average person. Progressive, but not necessarily on side when it comes to our particular issue. These people are predisposed to being supporters and accessible through our current supporters; how many of us take advantage of that fact?

Now we may take it as a given that our supporters already share their passion with their friends, and that to the extent that it is possible they have ‘converted’ some of them. I would like to suggest that we aren’t as effective in this regard because we consistently frame our message in terms of why our issue is important to us, rarely why it might be important to someone else. By this I mean doing more education  with respect to the linkages between the issues, particularly using a proactive tone that encourages and supports our supporters to understand those linkages.

Of course in bringing our message to fellow progressives it is necessary to fully understand how the issues are  linked and how we can support each other. The agenda must not be to attempt to co-opt anyone else’s issue, but rather to create a mutually supportive, unified political movement.

For example, articles on gender and climate change must not simply be meant to get those who care about women to also care about climate change, but also as far as possible, to make climate activists into feminists as well. The same is true across the full spectrum of the issues. The more clearly our own supporters understand how intimately linked our issues are, and how we cannot make real progress on any one issue if the others do not advance as well, the more effective they will be in advancing our issue with their friends.

This is critical because, paradoxically, we cannot be self-serving unless we are selfless. The climate activist  who really understands labour, peace, and race issues, and how they affect and are affected by climate change, will be credible to people concerned with those  issues. Someone seeking to co-opt will be dismissed for what they are. We can only create such effective activists by being sincere and wholehearted in our commitment to fully integrating those other issues into our own agendas.

This is not a call to lose focus, but rather to gain depth. It is not necessary that a group working on climate change have large sections of their web site devoted to every other progressive issue. However, it is necessary to do more than have the odd token article on ‘Environment and _____.” Further, it is necessary that it be from the perspective of those concerned with the other issue, and that there be a clear expectation that those who support the one need to support the other as well if they wish to be truly effective.

The work is not so much that of creating links as taking off blinders. Since war, poverty, and all of the forms of injustice and oppression contribute to environmental degradation, no one can be a truly effective environmental activist until they have understood that and made the appropriate changes in their ideas and behaviour. Equally, since environmental degradation is a significant cause of war, poverty, and injustice, no one can be a truly effective activist for any of those causes until they have done likewise with respect to environmental issues.

As with any political work, it starts with the personal. If you do not really understand the way your issue is linked to some other progressive issue, at least take the time to ask one of your friends to explain their issue to you fully. Let them talk until you get it. Then turn around and explain it to your friends in turn. Your passion for whatever your issue is will not diminish because you have gained a deeper understanding. Rather your clarity about how to move forward will improve.

So by all means preach to the choir; they are the ones singing our song and the better they are the more effective we will be.
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This is the second week of a new daily series on News Junkie Post known as the Progressive Unity Project. Every day, there will be a new article published from the perspective of the environment/ecosystem, labor/unions, LGBT, immigration reform, science, legalization of marijuana, or secularity.

Eco Monday Mike Kaulbars is an environmental activist and writer on the science behind global climate change. He trained as a research biologist (entomology, systematics, ecology) and now directs a small NGO active on environmental and social justice issues. Climate Change was one of the big reasons he left research to get involved in public education and activism. He also teaches political action. He is the main author of Greenfyre’s, a rich resource with excellent documentation.  Mike online Twitter Digg

“We already know more than we need, it’s long past time to act”.

Editor’s Note: Please follow The News Junkie Post on Twitter.


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One Response to Preaching to the Choir

  1. Rosanne February 8, 2010 at 6:23 am

    You are quite right. They are all the same social justice issue which answers the question: “Who is my brother, Who is my sister?” every person, said Jesus, not just those in your immediate family. For that reason, I made my business OPEN to both sexes, for feminism will not work if men are not onboard.

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