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Principles for Promoting Social Change



Establish a favorable climate for discussion and lay a foundation for further communication.

Accessibility. It is essential that your audience has access to your message. This means making it visible, be it in the form of catalogs, speakers, road trips, or otherwise. For example, the Pueblo to People catalog illustrates the life of rural women in Central America. In the Central American Speak-Out Week Campaign, the plight of Nicaragua was addressed in an action-packed week accompanied by dense media coverage. Speakers were brought to conservative states and into as many towns, hamlets and cities as possible to express their concerns about the situation. Breast cancer was brought to the forefront in hundreds of cities, towns and hamlets when two women bicycled from Massachusetts to California as an educational and fund-raising tool. The complexities of peace and the nightmares of war were highlighted for people in many parts of the world by the Auschwitz to Hiroshima Peace Walkers, who traversed Bosnia and the Middle East as a chapter in their walking story.

Entice your audience to come to you when you cannot go to them. Good music draws an audience as does food. Outdoor fairs are a place to get attention from people who had not intended to come your way, and free movies can bring out a point as well as a crowd.

Facilitate their journey with a clear set of instructions and place signs in strategic locations to assist people in finding a building or a room. Providing wheel-chair accessibility and child care is also an added incentive in attracting and keeping an audience.

Listening and Learning. Once you have obtained the attention of your audience, you must listen to the people to whom you are speaking and acknowledge what they have to say. When you empathetically listen to their view on a topic and the rationale behind it, their need for rigid defense decreases. In that way, they are apt to feel free to explore your stance as well as their own. This is also your opportunity to learn what they really feel and why -- information that is relevant to framing your own message during and after the discussion.

For example, when pacifists Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner of Colrain, Massachusetts, refused to pay federal war taxes, the IRS attempted to take their home. Their supporters, however, made a real point of listening carefully to passers-by. As a result, they discovered a misunderstanding that could have potentially caused a hostile situation. Many thought Randy and Betsy were personally benefiting by keeping the unpaid taxes. Learning about the misinformation helped the organizers underscore more sharply the fact that these tax resisters had, in reality, donated all the taxes they owed to charitable causes.

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The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues / / last updated May 10, 2000