Saturday, June 23, 2012

Framing as a Martial Art

With almost all of this year’s GA workshops focusing on techniques of activism, I am hearing a lot about frames. Each thing I am hearing makes sense in its context, but I’m having a hard time making a Big Picture out of it.

Friday, at a workshop sponsored by Starr King Divinity School, I heard Helio Fred Garcia (who is usually given credit for framing the “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign) say that “you have to meet people where they are”, talking in terms and metaphors and frames that make sense to them. When you talk only in your own terms and use only your frames, you are preaching to the choir, or perhaps just talking to yourself.

Former UUA President William Sinkford used almost the same phrasing in “The UU Social Gospel” workshop in the next time period. So many of our potential allies use theistic and specifically Christian imagery that we would be foolish to avoid it or protest against it, even if we do not entirely agree with it. Reclaiming our Christian heritage and asserting our own right to quote and interpret the Bible gives us access to this powerful language and the frames that go with it.

In these two talks, I began to picture the ideal activist having the adaptability of water, able to flow into the available spaces in the worldviews of the people s/he needs to convince. And I thought: People who can adapt and flow like this must have a tremendously strong sense of their own identity. Otherwise they will enter into other people’s worldviews and get lost there.

And that leads to this question: We can teach techniques of framing and reframing. But what are we doing to help UUs build a correspondingly strong sense of their own identity?

Then today (Saturday), in the “Ten Elements of the Doctrine of Discovery” workshop, I saw Tupac Acosta demonstrate the power of not meeting people inside the frames that make sense to them. He refused to acknowledge that Arizona’s controversial S.B. 1070 is an immigration law. “Indigenous peoples are not immigrants,” he said plainly.

I feel like I’m learning a martial art. You have to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. And somewhere in the background is a know-when-to-hold/know-when-to-fold wisdom that no one has yet managed to put into words that I understand.