LE CHÉILE SPRING 2010
LEARNING TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE OF POLITICS
the big picture
“Change”. Politicians adore the word. President Barrack Obama won an election on the back
of it, Tory leader David Cameron is willing the British electorate to “vote for change”, even our own Enda Kenny is beating the drum of change: “I don't want Fine Gael to simply talk about change. I want to demonstrate that we mean what we say. To persuade the electorate that we are serious about change, we ourselves have to embody that change,” he recently said.
But, what exactly does “change” mean? The answer is of course that it means different thing to different people, and that's exactly why politicians love using the word!
Ambiguity is a key feature of political communications. For instance a politician might say: “I opposed taxes that hinder economic recovery.” Some will think he opposes taxes in general, because they hinder economic recovery. Others may think he opposes only those taxes that he believes will hinder economic recovery. The politician hopes that each constituent will interpret the above statement in the most desirable way, and think the politician supports everyone's opinion.
The writer George Orwell railed again what he called the “erosion of language for political purposes”. He argued that ambiguous words (such as “change”) contribute to what he described as “fuzzy ideas and a lack of logical thinking”. In his famous novel 1984, an authoritarian regime use Newspeak, a simplified and ambiguous language, to brainwash the population.
I doubt that our own politicians are intent on creating an oligarchic collectivist society, à la 1984, but whatever their motives, it is clear that politicians use language as a tool to get what they want.
As a sector we are also adept at using language to achieve our objectives. We use it to build support, solicit funding and build relationships with people who can help us to achieve our goals.
In fact language and politics have a lot in common. We use language to express and fulfil our needs; politics can be used in a similar way to express our values and achieve our goals.
Many of you may be hesitant about the idea of 'fraternising' with politicians. But, engaging in the political process does not necessarily mean you have to sip Dom Pérignon in the Fianna Fail tent at the Galway Races!
Many community and voluntary organisations have embraced advocacy as a means of influencing public-policy and decisions on the allocation of public resources.
The Community and Voluntary Pillar of the social partnership process is an example of a group of organisations working together to influence government policy. The Pillar was instrumental in the development of various national agreements, and is currently developing an alternative national economic recovery plan.
As a sector we can no longer afford not to engage with the political establishment. Government has already stated that Budget 2011 will see a further €4Bn fiscal adjustment (to comprise of a combination of expenditure cuts and increases in the tax take) - so the process of ensuring that vulnerable people are protected from the effects of this adjustment has already started.
If we are to avert further funding cuts we will have to make an honest, factual and realistic case to the right people at the right time, while demonstrating public support and a concern for the wider public interest. We also need to forge constructive long-term relationships with the people who can affect change.
That does not mean that we have to sacrifice our values or 'side with politicians'. It simply means that we have to learn to communicate our needs and ideas in a language that politicians understand.
It can be as simple as writing a letter to you local TD,
petitioning a minister or calling a public protest. Alternatively you can link in with other organisations and groups (e.g. unions, employers' organisations or The Wheel) to collectively lobby decision makers.
However, it is important to remember that advocacy is not just about highlighting shortcomings. It is about offering viable solutions. There is no point in criticising unless you can provide a realistic and achievable solution. After all, politicians love ready-made solutions - the easier you make it for him or her, the more likely they are to support your idea!
It is no use shouting from the sidelines. Community and voluntary organisations need to engage with the political process and provide viable solutions. If we can't beat the politicians we have to join them.
The great Dr Martin Luther King said: “I refuse to accept the idea that man can not influence the unfolding events that surround him”. Let us not be overwhelmed by the challenging situation we find ourselves in; we can and will bring about REAL and lasting change by embracing the power of politics.
Chief Executive Officer, The Wheel
Vol 9 • Issue 1 • Spring 2010
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