14 Sep

George Lakoff: ‘Conservatives don’t follow the polls, they want to change them … Liberals do everything wrong’

An interview of George Lakoff, professor of cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley, by The Guardian. Lakoff’s research on moral frames investigates politics and families. “How the progressives have got it wrong and if they don’t start to get it right, the conservatives will maintain the upperhand.”


24 Feb

It’s now or never on RTW…change the conversation, change the vision for the future!

As SB 44 goes to the State Senate floor this afternoon, it is critical to effectively communicate to moderate Republicans the truth about the bill, and change the conversation, change the vision for the future.

The question to ask is, “Why are you betraying the trust of the people who elected you by destroying democratic institutions that protect the profit creators from corporate greed?”

There is always hope – to change the conversation and present a completely different vision for people to identify with and believe. It is something we MUST ACCOMPLISH if we are to avoid living out the Albert Einstein definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. The current defensive template playing out on Corporate Greed and Wage Theft Legislation (SB 44) is identical to Act 10.  It’s not too late…here’s what progressives need to begin communicating to their State Senators and Representatives on both side of the aisle. Critical points are highlighted.

This is fundamentally about two critical truths, which must be effectively communicated to people. First, there is the basic truth about the relationship and roles of corporation and worker. Second is the basic truth about The Public.

1. A private corporation is a form of governance created and existing for one reason – the pursuit of profit. Beyond that, there is no moral mission that it serves. To that end, the corporation hires workers to create profit for the corporation. The workers of Wisconsin are the profit creators. Take away the workers, and you take away the ability of the corporation to generate a product of service from which they profit. It’s that simple – “Workers are profit creators.”

A union, therefore, is the democratically elected representation of those workers who have a MORAL right to receive a living wage portion of those profits – which they create. The union protects and empowers the profit creators as their voice, making certain that they receive that living wage portion of the profit which they have created. Without the union, the profit creators will be subject to corporate greed, never receiving their fair portion of the profits they have worked to create. This truth ought to be the basis for a general strike in Wisconsin!

Any legislation which takes away the right of the profit creators to receive a living wage portion of profit, opens the door to corporate greed and servitude, and contributes to Wage Theft.

2. The Public (government), unlike corporations, exists with a moral mission to protect and empower the people it serves. Legislation which does the polar opposite of that mission represents a betrayal of trust on the part of legislators who support such a measure. Why? As shown in point 1 above, such legislation opens the door to corporate greed and wage theft, and impedes the right of the profit creators to receive their fair portion of profit.

Most importantly, it is critical to communicate an honest vision of what is happening in Wisconsin. Extreme conservative ideologists are pushing on Wisconsinites a corporate form of governance. In direct contrast to Public governance, Corporate Greed and Wage Theft legislation represents one step closer to a corporate form of governance where the sole mission is profit.

The Public is all of us, acting together to protect and empower each other, expand freedom and opportunity for everyone, and calls on us to take responsibility for each other. Unions are consistent with that model, democratically elected and representative to protect and empower private sector profit creators. Every worker who creates profit for their employer is helped by a union. Conservatives would have you believe that The Public (which is all of us) is evil, immoral, and that it must be destroyed. This belief guides every one of their policies – including Corporate Greed and Wage Theft legislation.

Since when is it immoral for people to come together, take responsibility for each other, and help expand freedom and opportunity for all? If you value and want that for your family, why not everyone else? And why do you want to destroy the institutions (The Public and Unions) that empower and protect people from corporate greed and servitude?

These are the questions to ask of Republicans. This is the vision to change the conversation and the status quo.

04 Dec

Conservatives and “Right to Work” – It’s a trap!

Conservatives have set a linguistic trap for progressives – and they are taking the bait. The trap is the metaphor “right to work,” which even progressives are using again and again. As we know from cognitive science research, even negating the “right to work” metaphor will reinforce the conservative message and entire frame, thereby strenghtening it in public discourse. Here’s an example from Michigan that unconsciously reinforces the conservative frame:

When we use the term “right to work” or “job creator,” it activates the conservative frame physically present in your brain, without you even knowing it. The critical moral principle in this frame is that of personal success through pursuit of self-interest and profit gained from being disciplined. Anyone who is not successful deserves their punishment (poverty or unemployment) as a result of being undisciplined, and is therefore immoral. The “Market” itself is considered a moral actor, the ultimate decider, where the wealthy and successful are the most moral. The Market punishes those who are undiscliplined, and unions and The Public are immoral in that they interfere with the pursuit of one’s own self interest (profit). One can see how “right to work” directly evokes the conservative frame of economics.

In the conservative frame, corporations (and the wealthy) have the moral right (liberty) to employ, pay, and fire whomever they see fit, with no regard for anything but their own pursuit and maximization of profit. A profitable, successful business is moral in the conservative frame. Labor unions and The Public (government) are immoral, as they inhibit the pursuit of profit. “Right to work” is about the “rights” of corporations, the “job creators,” to maximize their pursuit of profit – considered to be moral in the conservative frame.

Conservatives hide and ignore the truth that without The Public, our private prosperity and freedoms would not be possible. Consider everything we do through government (all of us) for each other, providing us all with greater opportunity as “We the People.” Granted, we have a long way to go…

As progressives, we must find effective language to evoke OUR frame of the economy instead of always evoking and reinforcing conservative ideas. Here’s how:

Start with a simple, fundamental truth about our economy that is systemic. “Workers are profit creators.”  No one is hired by a business or corporation who does not create profit for that business. Jobs are not created out of thin air. People are employed because businesses have the opportunity to increase profit from the work performed by employees. This is 100% true! Say it over and over again.

As profit creators, workers deserve (and corporations have a responsibility to pay) a fair, living wage portion of those profits they helped to create! Further, unions provide those workers protection from greedy corporations, and provide workers with a way to organize and negotiate for their fair portion of profit. Without a union, the individual worker is functionally a serf, having no power to negotiate – especially in a down employment economy. A corporation will always minimize the workers’ portion of profit without a union!

A more important truth about unions, is that the rights they protect and freedoms they provide apply to everyone. Consider the 40 hour week, overtime pay, fair wage standards, protection to uphold standards, etc. Our state and communities are far better off with unions who can fairly and democratically represent the profit creators, so they have a fair, living wage to pursue a prosperous and happy life. So that workers and communities are protected from corporate greed. Just as the Public is necessary for freedom and democracy, so are unions…so say it and express it effectively!

What do we call this pending legislation then, so as not to reinforce the conservative frame?

Never say “right to work” again! Call it what it is. It’s a “corporate greed and servitude bill.” It’s also a “wage theft bill,” in that it takes away the right of the profit creators to receive a fair wage portion of profit they helped to create!

Say these things in interviews, letters to the editor, to your friends and neighbors, to get it into public discourse –

Workers are profit creators!

This is a corporate greed and servitude bill!

This is a wage theft bill!

Consider how much more powerful this FRED graph is, in the context of the “workers are profit creators” frame of economics:

The above graph now demonstrates a morally intolerable situation, where the workers who are creating the huge spike in profits (red line), are denied a fair living wage portion of those profits as wages (blue line) because of greed. How can we tolerate legislation that would further encourage corporate servitude, greed, and wage theft!

These values-based principles and ideas are critical to get into public discourse now! It will take a concerted effort from anyone active on this (and every) issue, as they are all connected.

17 Nov

Critical to Public Education – define the frame, communicate the vision

Public education advocates have shied away from taking sides in the political battle for the future of education. “We shouldn’t be mixing our kids’ education with politics ….. it’s unseemly,” the theory goes. “Besides, we don’t want to make the other side angry.” Get over it, folks. That boat has sailed.

It doesn’t matter whether you are Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, red or green, public education in your hometown is at a crossroads. Recent Wisconsin history shows what could happen, and the most recent election only solidified the grip on our public schools of their most strident critics and powerful opponents.

You don’t have to join a political party to influence change, either. All you have to do is act on your instincts that Wisconsin’s public schools are the heart of every community in the state. They anchor our local economies and provide a “sense of us” for everyone. Public schools show young adults what’s possible and help them figure out how to make “the possible” happen.

Right or left, public education is the foundation for what is good about the Badger State.

Our future—and the future of every one of our public school children—depends on us effectively defining the debate and discussion in the coming days, weeks, months, and years based on our common values and the moral imperative of educating future generations.

Most public education advocates understand the crisis. For example, we have borne witness to the rapid march of privatization through the expanding taxpayer-subsidized private school scheme.

What is different now is that anti-public education forces are even more entrenched and powerful. They have public schools in their sights and the ability to pass whatever legislation they see fit. While we all stand at the door to stop them, we must ask ourselves if we are prepared—as a loose organization—to counter the well-organized and funded forces arrayed against our children, our public schools, and our communities.

The lack of a cohesive and positive message and vision led to the continuing disaster for Wisconsin’s public schools. The failure was recently well documented by George Lakoff. The post-election vacuum Lakoff describes will be filled by whoever acts first. Our first job, as public education leaders and advocates, is to fill it with positive messaging and framing that will define the upcoming discussion around public education.

This memo will give public education advocates the frame and message necessary to fill that void. In order for us to be successful, we must follow some fundamental guidelines that are critical to elevating public discourse on this critical issue:

  • We must all be immediately consistent, repetitive, and collaborative to get this message and our core values into public discourse. This will provide needed context for our stories, anecdotes, and facts.
  • We must avoid giving in to fear and vitriol. It is our responsibility to provide a positive, constructive, and progressive vision to our communities as an effective counter to the anti-public education forces. It is important to listen carefully to “the other side” in order to find their vulnerabilities and where they share our progressive values. Remember, Republicans and Democrats share progressive values—especially about their public schools. If we fail to listen, we miss opportunities to connect with them.
  • Use the ideas, language, and values below to evoke the unconscious core values most people share. Then follow up with personal, local, and truthful stories and examples consistent with those ideas, language, and values. It is important to realize that people understand government and policy at a basic, very personal level.

Based on those ideas, how do we retake the high ground and save our public schools?

If we are to lead against privatization we need to use the best tools we have. We can and must present a completely different moral vision of education ….. a vision that is MUCH MORE important than saying “education only exists so people can be career ready and get a job.” We have a responsibility to plant a tree in whose shade we will never sit. It is our moral obligation to invest in our future by investing in our children and their public education.

  • Public education is a moral issue and we should talk about it in those terms. All politics are moral and as public education advocates we are “moral actors.” Our schools are what is good and right for Wisconsin, so talk about it in those terms. People will respond to our leadership and vote on our shared morals and values. They will not respond to or vote on a laundry list of facts and issues. Take the moral high-ground and elevate discourse above that old politics of fear. Connect with your friends and neighbors of all political persuasions about their local public schools.
  • Express WHY public education matters to your community. You need to express positive and proactive visions and ideas that retake the moral high ground and put us on the offensive. It’s time to force those who want to privatize public education and rip out the heart of our communities to defend themselves on OUR terms.
  • Keep using the message that public schools are the heart of our communities. This has been effective in elevating public schools to be about what is good in their families and their lives on a daily basis. For many, “their schools” helped to make them a success. Keep reminding folks of the fact that great public schools make for great communities. You can’t have one without the other!
  • Talk about public schools as a moral obligation that provides opportunity and freedom for all children. Public education is the only institution where all children learn necessary skills and knowledge. Remind people “their schools” are where youngsters become young adults ….. where they learn what is meaningful and what is possible in their lives, just as their parents and grandparents have. Who among us have not had their lives changed for the better because of their public school experience? Reinforce the philosophy behind public education and that without it there is no democracy and no freedom.

These four “thinking points” give you the tools to consistently and effectively express why public schools are the heart of your communities. They are values that the majority of people will agree with, regardless of their political affiliation.

Now that our quiver has tools, it’s time to use them to undermine the views of those who would privatize and destroy public education ….. while staying positive and expressing our core, community values.

So, how do we undermine the “voucher” frame?

First, it is imperative to stop using the terms “voucher” and “choice.” Both of these terms, in today’s usage, have achieved metaphorical status: People unconsciously think of the words as positive/constructive, conservative, and that reinforces their very values and existence.


  • Call them “subsidized” or “taxpayer-subsidized” private schools. The strategy behind this is based on sound science and research. Most anti-public education people also dislike subsidies of any kind. This then differentiates between the “public” and “private.” In the context of public education (effectively communicated as above), subsidizing a private school is unjust and most importantly, immoral.
  • Constantly point out that research proves that “taxpayer-subsidized private schools are systemically destroying our public schools.” Based on all legitimate research, subsidized-private schools are able to skim students and skim money from our community schools–stealing these critical assets and contributing to systemic destruction of “my child’s public school.” Milwaukee is a perfect example of this systemic causation.
  • Be smarter than “they” are. Don’t use their language and their stories. Create stories based on our core values and views of public education ….. stories that also undermine anti-public education views and values. For example, “Subsidized private schools are a cancer destroying the heart of our communities.”

This metaphorical statement, when it reaches the public discourse, will be very powerful. It effectively reinforces the “heart of the community” metaphor, which is already accepted, along with providing negative images to associate with the destruction being caused by subsidized- private schools.

If we are going to save public education as we know and value it, we have to think about what we’ve done in the past. Based purely on results, our strategies and tactics haven’t worked. By almost any measure, the schools in our communities—and more important, the children in them—are worse off than they were a decade ago.

A good place to start is to set aside our territorial dust-ups and work together discussing our core values, working out a common message, and going on the offensive for a public education system that is necessary to freedom, opportunity, and community.

Authors: Scott Wittkopf, Tom Beebe

Questions: scott@forwardinstitutewi.org, tomb@forwardinstitutewi.org

06 Sep

New Messaging Campaign Unveiled at Fighting Bob Fest

You are invited to visit us at Fighting Bob Fest 2013 this weekend, where we are unveiling the Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign…

“We CAN win the messaging war!” 

Forward Institute is spearheading a new, collaborative effort with progressive organizations and grassroots groups to take back Freedom for Progressives.

“What is this campaign all about?”

            The Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign (WPFC) is a broad effort that has no precedent in Wisconsin or the US. For decades, progressives have been mere observers as conservatives have dominated messaging and communications on politics and policy. Through the WPFC, we will counter that dominance, and reclaim a value that has always represented progressives – Freedom. 

“Who is involved?”

Forward Institute is partnering with progressive organizations, individuals, and statewide grassroots organizations to create a long-term, multi-pronged structure for communications and values-based messaging on progressive issues. Consulting is Cognitive Science and Messaging expert George Lakoff from the University of California-Berkeley.

“How will it work?”

WPFC creates a four-pronged structure to address significant needs in progressive policy messaging and communications. Each will serve internal and external needs for partner organizations and all progressives statewide:

1. “Framers and Trainers” – Core group trained as messaging experts and trainers for work with grassroots and policy organizations statewide.

2. “Research” – Unique capacity to conduct independent, academic quality research on progressive policy issues to ensure accurate, authentic messaging. Also serves as resource for grassroots groups without research capacity.

3.”Strategic Communications/Booking Agents” – Creates capacity through multiple media formats to disseminate values-based messaging. This segment works to educate key media in progressive values policy language. Assemble and train issue experts on progressive values language for media appearances and contact.

4. “Social Forums/Donor Development” – Creates and plans social event forums with featured speakers to engage the public on progressive values and issues. Engages donor development through direct interaction with the WPFC, potential donors, research, and messaging on policy issues.

“How can I help?”

1. Donate to our secure pay pal account below to support this critical and progressive effort. Forward Institute is a 501(c)(3) organization.

2. Follow Forward Institute to stay informed about this important campaign, and check our website often – look for the “Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign” tab.

3. Email us to get involved with the Wisconsin Progressive Freedom Campaign:             info@www.forwardinstitutewi.org

4. Visit us at Fighting Bob Fest to get more information!

Through a collaborative, consistent, authentic, and values-based messaging campaign – we WILL reclaim FREEDOM for PROGRESSIVES!

Donate Button with Credit Cards

02 Oct

A New Way of Messaging

The Forward Institute is going to change the way public policy messaging and strategy in Wisconsin is developed. The Wisconsin Retirement System is a current issue we are developing research and messaging around. The facts come first. Unlike some “think tanks,” we don’t create the message and cherry pick the facts to suit our informational campaigns. We don’t consider the media to be a source, unlike some other “think tanks,” unless it is a noted expert that can be sourced back to original material.

Forward Institute draws on factual information and data to build a messaging framework that people will understand and relate to. Background research and sources can be found on the “Research” page. These are issues that directly affect everyone in “Our Wisconsin.” For example, the promise of security after a lifetime of service.

Wisconsin’s public employers help workers save for retirement by deferring part of their compensation to a retirement fund. When you choose a career in the public sector, you understand that your wages will remain modest. But you get a promise in return—that the money taken out of your paycheck will be there when you retire. You deserve the income you were promised to meet your needs?  In our Wisconsin, we don’t break our promises. We honor dedication, honesty and fairness.

Our Wisconsin Pension system is sound, and responsibly managed. Wisconsin’s pension fund is uniquely designed for stability. The risks and rewards of fund investments are shared between employees, retirees and taxpayers, with taxpayers bearing only 25% of the risk.  For the past four years, retired public employees have gotten less and employees now pay more.  The Walker administration’s own study concluded that changing the system could raise costs for everyone.  We don’t need higher brokerage fees and more fund administrators. Our state retirement system is working—for everyone.

Our Wisconsin Pension system should be available to all – to strengthen the system, lower the risk, and continue to strengthen investment in Wisconsin. Unlike private investment companies, our pension fund commits to investing in Wisconsin companies, ranging from start-ups to those employing 20 or more—to the tune of $12 billion in 2010.  Jobs are also created by retiree spending. Each dollar invested by taxpayers provides $6.22 in economic activity—a ripple effect that supported more than 35,000 jobs in 2010—the difference between an unemployment rate of 8.5% and 9.6%.  Why ship our money to Wall Street brokers?  Our communities suffer when we spend less. In our Wisconsin, what’s earned in Wisconsin, stays in Wisconsin.

Sources can be found on our Research page. Comments are welcome!

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