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Wisconsin matters 3: Language moderation

February 20, 2011

Flying Whale has already covered a lot of what I might have to say regarding the protests in Madison, Wisconsin, and our experience there on Saturday.  A few straggling thoughts of my own:

As news reports of the protest outside the Capitol have shown, the favorite chant of the protesters is “Kill the Bill!”  alongside the old standards: “This is what democracy looks like!” and “Aint no power like the power of the people…” and “What’s disgusting? Union busting!”

But inside the Capitol building, where things are a little easier to control (where the crowd was 5,000 instead of 50,000 or more), there was an incredible effort made to moderate language by everyone in possession of a bullhorn.  Any time a chant of “Kill the Bill!” started up, organizers would shout “STOP the Bill” and within a couple of rounds, everyone would be switched over.  Despite the constant rotation of protesters inside the Capitol, people seemed to catch on pretty quickly.

Around noon, as the voices of the organizers gave out, they began encouraging others to give brief testimonials.  Even here, there was a gentle moderation of folks’ language.  One woman spoke passionately about having fought for the right to collectively bargain using a fair bit of violent imagery.  When the organizer took back the bullhorn, he affirmed her sentiments while reminding everyone that the right to collective bargaining was won by “raising our voices together” and not by any physical violence.

In fact, the reminders that “This is a peaceful protest” and to “Stay calm and protest on” were everywhere: on people’s signs, taped to the wall, and on fliers being handed out as you entered the area explaining in detail what to do if someone tried to provoke you.

I have no doubt that the careful attention to language is, at least in part, in response to the shooting in Tucson last month.  I’d like to think they mark a permanent step forward in acknowledging that words matter and that it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone who hears our message knows exactly what we do and don’t mean.

Now, if only we could get the rhetoric to reflect that public employees ARE taxpayers and union members ARE voters

Jonas

(note: photo above taken by Flying Whale)

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