So why am I talking about this now? Bernie so well demonstrates much of what we are going to be talking about. Bernie (I can call him that because we are close personal friends. At least, he leaves everyone feeling that way.) He was born in 1941 in Brooklyn, New York to a working-class family. He went to the University of Chicago and while there cut his teeth as an organizer and civil rights advocate. In 1963, he traveled by bus to Washington DC and heard Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
After graduation, he moved to Vermont and started an initially failed political career. He supported his growing family working as a carpenter and as a small business owner. Bernie owned a company that made educational filmstrips. If you remember filmstrips, congratulations, you are officially an older adult. A filmstrip is a series of slides looped together and projected onto a screen. The soundtrack would include beeps so that the audiovisual student would know when to advance to the next slide. Bernie’s website avoids the need for that explanation by calling him a documentary filmmaker because what’s important about this is the foundation of his ability to communicate comes from this experience. Creating educational material that was informative as well as interesting and engaging in the filmstrip format must have been quite a challenge.
Bernie Sanders can provide data, numbers, and graphs while making them interesting and relevant to the people he’s talking to. Look at the issues section of his website. Many of us liberals and progressives alike, often think that if we just give people the facts, all will be well. Once everyone understands what’s going on, they will all see things the way that we do. For reasons I will explain in later posts, it just doesn’t work that way. Bernie gives the facts, and he contextualizes them. He doesn’t just tell us about income inequality; he explains why income inequality matters for all Americans. He tells us how income inequality impacts our lives personally. He, further, explains why the ultra-wealthy are not entitled to all the riches. I have been reading a lot about income inequality and how the system is rigged in favor of the wealthy. Given enough time, I could probably explain it to you. Bernie’s genius is that he can do it quickly. The reason this is important is that we are all busy. Few people are busier than poor people. It is not that they are unable to understand how income inequality impacts their lives. They just don’t have time to think about it; accessing social services, availing oneself of available charitable organizations, caring for children when every night involves the search for a new roof over one’s head leaves little time for understanding macroeconomics. That is part of what made 45 so appealing as a candidate.
So, your mission should you choose to accept it is to check out the link and see what Bernie says. I understand that not everyone reading this is necessarily going to fall squarely in the progressive camp. Just notice how he uses simple language to express complex concepts. He offers a complete explanation of the issues in just a few paragraphs. As we talk about other concepts related to messaging, we will be returning to look at some of the other tricks that Bernie uses to get his point across. No matter what our message, we need to learn to be just as clear, just as precise, and just as passionate in our concern for the needs of our audience.
Be sure to share and comment. If you have anything you want to share about your experience with Bernie, please comment below. Also, sign up for our newsletter. Special thanks to Heather from Indivisible of Central Contra Costa County for being our first subscriber.
Sanders, Bernie. Our Revolution: A Future to Believe in New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2016