The Science of Resistance: A Vibrant Forum on Effective Advocacy, Organizing and Conversations

On March 8, Joining Vision and Action (JVA) welcomed guests and panelists to the latest “Conversations that Matter” event at JVA offices, 2465 Sheridan Blvd. in Edgewater. Conversations that Matter is a series of salon-style forums hosted jointly by JVA and Social Enterprise Alliance on the second Wednesday of every month, enabling deep-dive conversations on important, current issues. The subject this evening was The Science of Resistance: exploring what science tells us about how we can be most effective in our civic efforts and movements for social transformation.

Roughly 40 people filtered in throughout the first 30 minutes of the warm evening, where they enjoyed snacks, mixing and mingling with the other participants. Assembled guests represented a wide mix of ages, professional backgrounds and interests in the subject of how we can be more effective in the broad task of “resistance.”

“We have limited time, we want to do what’s effective…”

Janine Vanderburg, president and CEO of JVA, opened the panel discussion section of the evening by contextualizing the importance of “implementation science” to everything JVA does. “We are inundated with urgent requests for action: call your senators today, download and send this postcard here, sign this petition now. … We have limited time, we want to do what’s effective, so, how do we know what’s effective? What does science tell us about what’s effective? What can we do to make a difference in this serious situation? We hope you take what you learn tonight and put it into action.”

Adam Brock, director of social enterprise at JVA, explained that the topic of “the science of resistance” came to them from an outpouring of public interest of wanting to get involved in civic action over the past three months. The changes in the political landscape recently have been a “blessing in disguise,” considering people are more engaged today than we’ve seen in decades. Adam shared a story of his own commitment to action: He made a bet with his friend for $200 that he’d call his senators and representatives every day for 30 days, and if he failed to fulfill, his friend could donate his $200 to a Republican politician of his choosing. Some pointers for “what works” in getting your message heard when contacting your congressman or congresswoman are shared in this New Yorker article, “What Calling Congress Achieves.”

Jayson Sime

Jayson Sime, Colorado state director of America Votes, a coalition of organizations dedicated to promoting progressive policies and turning out the vote for Democratic causes, spoke of his dawning realization as a long-time professional political activist that the need for “self care” is paramount to mounting sustainable, durable social movements. He also emphasized the importance of connecting personally with people you may disagree with politically in building lasting movements: “Not ‘you’re wrong I’m right,’ but telling you why I care, and listening to why you care. ...The more I understand you, the better I can influence you.”

Sophia Guererro-Murphy

Sophia Guererro-MurphySophia Guererro-Murphy, organizing manager for Protégete, the Latino grassroots organizing branch of Conservation Colorado, shared her understanding of the “three pillars of progress for political resistance”:

  1. Mobilizing–which includes direct action, marches, civil disobedience, essentially “tons of people turning out in one place or collectively in many places to be loud, vocal and taking one action together”
  2. Grassroots advocacy–which is where her work, community organizing, fits in
  3. Engagement with elected officials–which consists of reaching out to your representatives at various levels of government

Sophia then shared about her experiences of success in the realm of community organizing. Her work centers on and consists of “stories, connecting to people, and creating a sustainable distributed community infrastructure of leaders and activists,” which is achieved through activating and leveraging people’s personal stories and identities. It requires “bringing people up the (leadership) ladder” over time, building on their strengths and successes to “escalate” and increase their impacts. She also echoed Jayson’s comments about the importance of self care by sharing some stats about her workplace: “There are 35 employees at Conservation Colorado; 27 are under age 35. That’s because people get exhausted!”

Ruth Kebede

Ruth Kebede, research and evaluation associate with JVA, shared a compendium of great information on the science of persuading and opening people’s minds. She summarized research from the field that indicates people tend to respond favorably to messages:

  • From an authoritative figure
  • From charismatic/likeable people
  • Of scarcity (i.e., limited time/supply)
  • That are frequently, repeatedly mentioned (agenda control)
  • Negatively toned (i.e., “don’t do something because…versus “do”)

Ruth also spoke of the psychological model of the central route by which the brain thoughtfully digests information, versus the peripheral route, which involves reacting to environmental cues and automatic judgments. She further explained strategies for moving people into a more central-thinking mode when engaging in a persuasive debate or conversation. Stay tuned for a more in-depth blog on these subjects!

“Fear burns bright, hope burns long.”

In closing, Adam offered a quote from his upcoming book that sent a palpable buzz through the audience; the reminder that “fear burns bright, hope burns long.” If we want to sustain our movement into a raging fire that lasts a long time, we can’t just use the rapidly exciting kindling of fear; we also need the sturdy logs of hope as our fuel.

There were so many good takeaways from at this event–stay tuned for blogs in the coming weeks that will further delve into the insights shared by panelists Jayson Sime, Sophia Guerrero-Murphy and Ruth Kebede!

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