FRAMESHOP:FRAMESHOP: WAR ON TERROR

[In memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)] ALERT – Since the tragedy of September 11, the Bush White House has used the following phrase—causing Americans to suspect their neighbors, dividing us against each other, and spreading...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 01/17/2005

[In memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)]

ALERT – Since the tragedy of September 11, the Bush White House has used the following phrase—causing Americans to suspect their neighbors, dividing us against each other, and spreading fear about the future:

war on terror

Do not use this phrase.

America is strongest when we all stand together and weakest when we are forced to stand alone. The challenge America faces is the struggle to stand together in the wake of tragedy. America leads the world through the belief that standing together is the key to strength and security. There will always be forces that use tragedy and the threat of tragedy to separate Americans. Unfortunately, the Bush White House has used national tragedy to promote a culture of fear, suspicion and isolation, weakening this country and undermining our national security.

QUICK CHANGE – To stop reinforcing the culture of fear promoted by the Bush White House, make these changes to the words you use:

  1. Tragedy instead of "terror"
  2. Struggle instead of "war"
  3. Standing Together instead of "acting alone"

Frameshop is open

Step 1: Stop Using Their Words
To get a good sense of how the Bush White House talks about the "Wa- -- ---r," take a look at Dr. Condoleezza Rice's Opening Remarks to the Commission on Terrorist Attacks:

The terrorist threat to our Nation did not emerge on September 11th, 2001. Long before that day, radical, freedom-hating terrorists declared war on America and on the civilized world. The attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983, the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985, the rise of al-Qaida and the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the attacks on American installations in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, the East Africa embassy bombings of 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, these and other atrocities were part of a sustained, systematic campaign to spread devastation and chaos and to murder innocent Americans.

OK, take a deep breath at this point and remember that the reason we are reading Rice's speech is to feel what it's like to be fully inside the Republican frame on National Security. Once we rebuild the frame, the way we talk about National Security will be completely different. Back to the Rice speech:

The terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them. For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America's response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient. Historically, democratic societies have been slow to react to gathering threats, tending instead to wait to confront threats until they are too dangerous to ignore or until it is too late. Despite the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and continued German harassment of American shipping, the United States did not enter the First World War until two years later. Despite Nazi Germany's repeated violations of the Versailles Treaty and its string of provocations throughout the mid-1930s, the Western democracies did not take action until 1939. The U.S. Government did not act against the growing threat from Imperial Japan until the threat became all too evident at Pearl Harbor. And, tragically, for all the language of war spoken before September 11th, this country simply was not on a war footing.

Since then, America has been at war. And under President Bush's leadership, we will remain at war until the terrorist threat to our Nation is ended. The world has changed so much that it is hard to remember what our lives were like before that day. But I do want to describe the actions this Administration was taking to fight terrorism before September 11th, 2001.

OK, let's all come back to reality and start our discussion.

That’s the Bush White House frame for National Security. Read it carefully. When we are in that frame, the debate is structured around these words: terrorism, threat, radical, freedom, hate, war, civilization, attack, Al Qaeda, bombing, atrocity, devastation, murder, chaos, gathering, dangerous, ignore, leadership, change, action, fight, September 11, and so forth. Before we can get to a new frame, we need to take all these words that the Bush White House uses to hold their frame and toss them out the window. This is temporary. We may come back and use some of these words again once we have a new Progressive frame, but for now: stop using all the Bush language immediately.

This is going to feel strange, because it may seem like we are ignoring the issue and being weak. That’s not the situation at all. The Progressive frame on national security is going to emphasize strength and security, but from a completely different logic. So everyone take a deep breath, close your eyes, and throw all that Bush language out the window.

Step 2: Go To Another Frame
So…we’ve made the choice to go "cold turkey" and stop using the language of Republican frame. But before we can build our own Progressive frame that will enable us to generate the words and messages that we will use in debate, we need to get ourselves into a frame that will help us think. We need to be somewhere, so let’s choose to be in a frame that will help us think in terms of the values and ideals we hold as progressives. The easiest way to do this is to read a speech given by a clearly Progressive thinker.

On April 4, 1967 the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech in New York City in which he explained why he was against the war in Vietnam. That speech is going to be the frame we will work out of to generate our new frame on National Security. So, everybody take a minute to read that MLK speech. Here’s a quote to get you started:

"Beyond Vietnam"
Speech delivered by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Riverside Church, New York, NY
April 4, 1967

I come to this platform tonight to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation. This speech is not addressed to Hanoi or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Neither is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in a successful resolution of the problem. While they both may have justifiable reasons to be suspicious of the good faith of the United States, life and history give eloquent testimony to the fact that conflicts are never resolved without trustful give and take on both sides.

Remember, we are not going to be talking about Vietnam when we’re done setting up our new frame for National Security. We’re reading this to get inside a new frame that will empower us to think in progressive values and language. Now, back to the speech:

Tonight, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the build-up in Vietnam and I watched this program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem. And so we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. And so we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

Take a minute to gather your thoughts. This is one of the most powerful speeches about war ever delivered.

[...]

The key word I want to focus on this speech is "struggle." The struggle is for solidarity at home, and the tragedy that MLK draws to our attention is the cruel irony of young black people being sent off to work together as soldiers with white people in Vietnam, when that same unity is not possible at home. Moreover, the great cost of not speaking out against the struggle Vietnam comes at the expense of all the programs that were set up to help the poor in this country. MLK does use the language of "war" to remind us of the "War on Poverty"—the use of hat metaphor as a rallying cry to help people, a rallying cry that was so powerful before the Republicans co-opted it as a pretext for invasion.

The great urgency in MLK’s speech is the need to return our country back to the struggle to lift up the poor and the disenfranchised, to extend our arms around those who have been forced to stand alone so that the nation can be strong.

Now, let’s build our new frame.

Step 3: Build Our New Frame
The basic metaphor we are going to use:

[nation] is [group of people standing together]

From this we get a basic conception of strength a weakness:

[strongest nation] is [all stand together]
[weakest nation] is [all stand alone]

From this, I want to draw on FDRs concept that there will always be voices that try to separate us from standing together. "Tragedies" are the moments when these voices are most prevalent.

Finally, let’s pull the word "struggle" from MLK’s speech and use that in place of the other focus words that have been offered in National Security debates.

The end result is this statement:

America is strongest when we all stand together and weakest when we are forced to stand alone. The challenge America faces is the struggle to stand together in the wake of tragedy. America leads the world through the belief that standing together is the key to strength and security. There will always be forces that use tragedy and the threat of tragedy to separate Americans. Unfortunately, the Bush White House has used national tragedy to promote a culture of fear, suspicion and isolation, weakening this country and undermining our national security.

That statement builds an entirely new frame and we can now thank MLK for his help, step out of the MLK speech and into our own frame.

Remember: The frame is not the message. It’s the logic and basic concepts that free our minds up so that we can create new phrases and messages. When we think through the new frame, we are much more nimble, do not need to worry about watching our step so much, and we will invalidate every singe Republican position at once.

Step 4: Break It Down
The hard part is now done and we can turn to the fun, creative work of breaking this large conceptual frame down into bite-sized pieces. These pieces will form the basis of the messages we send out into the media and use in actual debate.

I suggest these three words and phrases as a start:

  1. Tragedy instead of "terror"
  2. Struggle instead of "war"
  3. ""Standing Together" instead of "acting alone"

More suggestions will follow, but once the frame has been set…everyone’s hands are free to improvise, come up with great suggestions and share. Post as many suggestions as you can in the comments.

Repeat Our Words
Enough said. Repetition of the words that evoke our frame is the key to holding debate.

Five easy steps to taking back the debate! Now let's get to work...

© Jeffrey Feldman 2005, Frameshop

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