Essay on Messaging

Taking the Struggle from ‘Us and Them’ to 

‘Community versus Predators & Predator Institutions’

A Hundred Questions in Ten Steps – An theoretical thought essay on messaging, hegemony, ideology, and practice 


During my decades of social activism and political organizing, it has schooled me well. Three lessons I repeatedly learned, investigate, ask questions, and be conscious of the language. I will be looking at the movement of survivors and how to build support and raise awareness.

What are the issues, the contending ideas, the images, the weaknesses? Of our society, local community, and activist movement.  Identifying and being conscious of these elements help us make a compelling argument, raise awareness, mobilize, and engage our community. To do that, we have to know our community and be conscious of the narrative we use.

Awareness, critical thinking, and analysis can increase the effectiveness of our message. The examination of the social, ideological, and political dynamics can guide us in describing contemporary issues. This examination can, in turn, enable us to intervene effectively.

So, how do we learn and grow? Learn from our mistakes and ask questions.

Ten Points of Interest

  1. Who is the ‘we’?

Who do we refer to when we say ‘we?’ Does it refer to just survivors? Survivors and supporters? Social service agencies who advocate on behalf of survivors? Those educational organizations that prevent sexual abuse? The conglomeration of organizations, local and national, preventive, and advocacy?

Will the community identify as part of the ‘we?’ Are we creating another ‘us’ and ‘them’ by only defining the ‘we’ as the survivor movement?

  1. Who is the ‘them’?

Are they those convicted? Arrested? Accused? Institutions who cover for, and nurture, predators? Does the media glorify the commodification of women? What about those who remain silent and neutral to crimes? Are men so wrapped up in the ideology and misogyny that feel it OK to grab and fondle women? Are we acknowledging all the institutions where abuse happens, home, office, school, church, military, etc.?

  1. Who are the narrators, activists, and advocates?

Who tells our story? Is it compelling? Who is the audience? How effective is giving facts, analyses, and statistics? How does the personal story compel?

  1. Who is the villain? What are the threats?

Who is to blame? Media? Those corrupted by power? Gender inequality? Power dynamics in the family? Institutions who cover up and value their corporate worth over that of a victim? How do the threats relate to the ‘we’?  Are they personified? Are institutions?

  1. What is the conflict?

What is the conflict about according to the narrative, and what is at issue? What is at stake? How does the contested ideology frame the issue and thereby decide the answer by the very nature of the question? How does it appeal to the audience values (i.e., to win the audience sympathy)? Is the conflict presented in a matter of common sense? Good sense?

  1. What is the emotional message of the narrative?

Is there an emotional appeal? What emotions and sentiments does the story evoke (hope, anger, sadness, determination, resiliency, etc.)? What result? Effect?

  1. Symbols and Images

Images and symbols are sometimes part of the narrative (survivors holding signs, holding a press conference, in front of church or city hall, reporters as props providing stature and credibility, large crowd, etc.), what is effective?  Do they evoke compassion, pity, credibility, righteousness, etc.? Do they win over the audience? Do they confirm or undermine a contested narrative?  What other images can be invoked?

  1. Assumptions

What do we assume about the beliefs of our audience? How does the consciousness change from community to community? What will they have to believe to be compelled by the narrative?

  1. Vulnerabilities

Where is the Survivors Movement weak? What parts of our narrative are vulnerable to attack? Do we have underlying weaknesses in past practice (hypocrisy, untruths, legal losses, criminals or criminal behavior, unreliable, etc.)?

  1. Deadwood

What is bland or distracting? What happens when we are off message, or we diverge from the mission? How can we assess extolling action without having a plan or means to carry out?

Adapted from the Book Hegemony How-To, A Roadmap for Radicals, by Jonathan Matthew Smucker


The goal of this essay was to alert the reader to the various ideological preconceptions codified in present society and how it frames an issue. Is it ‘child in a sexual relationship with a man’ or is ‘man sexually abuses a child?’ Is it ‘she is an adult and she asked for it’ or ‘she was sexually abused?” ‘He’s a man, he should have fought back.’ ‘It happened when you are a child, get over it.’ ‘The institution (Church, Hollywood, universities, schools, etc) has reformed, the crisis is over.’ 

For instance, naming the widespread sexual abuse within an institution as a ‘crisis’ and not a crime only points to their concern for the institution and not the victim. Social failure to see how poverty and income inequality, racism, immigrant status are fundamental to the vulnerability of victims. Social failure to see authority and status (priest, therapist, parent, professor, police officer, boss, etc.) reproduce the vulnerability of victims. 

What your language! Watch your messaging!


June 29, 2020