Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Rhetoric and Messaging for Effective Advocacy

At a big bike and walk conference this week in New Orleans, Places for Bikes (formerly People for Bikes) yesterday presented on rhetoric and messaging for bike advocacy.

"Activating support for bike infrastructure" - slide deck cover
This is a topic a real interest here, and we'll come back to it for sure.

The all-important "don't"s!
The "dont's" were interesting. Among them were:
  • Don't be in opposition to cars.
  • Don't lecture abstractly about the environment.

So there's a clear trade-off here: Cars are very popular, and we secure broader support if we don't slag on them. Climate disruption gets people down, denialism is popular, and again we will secure broader support if we don't push those issues.

Threaded here is a pragmatism that ignores the moral dimension, or maybe more exactly, a pragmatism that recognizes the moral dimension actually impedes progress on the specific goals. People don't like to be told some of their choices might be bad or morally suspect.

But isn't this a kind of "tragedy of the commons"? In order to secure this more immediate benefit, we dismiss the larger problem? So much advocacy right now is micro-targeted on small incremental change and turns away from connections and network/system effects. (Indeed, this is the whole Strong Town's shtick: Why think big when you can think small! As they prefer to think about individual solutions and individual actions, and retreat from any problems with systems, they may be too optimistic.)

I'm not happy about this deliberate refusal to articulate a critique of autoism and the choice to ignore climate disruption. Approaches that have focused on the carrot ("build it and they will come") without giving weight to the stick (ending the subsidies and incentives for driving) have seemed insufficiently powerful to change aggregate transportation patterns. Even the Dutch and Danes have sticks. The goal can't be merely to build stuff, right? The goal has to be to make large aggregate changes to the way people get around in a city, not just to pick up another couple of percentage points in mode share. We should not be afraid to frame up driving as the mobility choice of last rather than first resort.

Still, it is not easy to be anything close to certain on these things. So like I said, they deserve more consideration and we'll come back to them.

You can see:

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