Yesterday I had the fantastic opportunity to give a brief presentation on mass incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline and exalt to the staff of Purpose’s New York office. Founded in 2009, Purpose has quickly become a leader in what they term “movement entrepreneurship.” By bringing their expertise in leveraging new communications technologies to strategic partnerships with groups across the globe working on particular social/political/economic change initiatives, Purpose, in co-founder Jeremy Heimans’ own words, “shows how individuals can work more effectively with organisations and progressive companies to help mobilise large-scale, purposeful action.”
I love this mission and their ability to attract some of today’s most creative, intelligent talent to it. It gives me some inspiration and hope that perhaps up and coming generations have a huge potential to meaningfully disrupt the way large scale social messaging has historically happened. That perhaps young people, who trend towards being progressive, more open minded than their older counter-parts who run government and big corporations, might finally have a chance to viably compete with the establishment’s agenda. I know that makes me sound like I’m 20, but it’s refreshing to be reminded of how 20 year-olds see so much potential in what they and their peers can achieve.
I’ve been speaking and writing about how the Reagan administration’s launch of the War on Drugs was a deliberate strategy to decimate what remained of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements (both of which had evolved into global-reaching economic movements) since living through the 80s as a teenager, seeing it all unfold. It was validating to read some of the facts that shine a light on this critical and typically misrepresented era in recent American history in Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow. Here are just a few that I’ve been sitting with recently, particularly in the context of visiting an organization like Purpose:
• Reagan launched his presidential campaign at a county fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi “the town where three civil rights activists were murdered in 1964 – he assured the crowd, ‘I believe in states’ rights’ and promised to restore to states and local governments the power that properly belonged to them.” (p48)
• In 1982, at the dawn of the War on Drugs, “less than 2% of the American public viewed drugs as the most important issue facing the nation.” (p49.)
• (“Between October 1988 and October 1989 the Washington Post alone ran 1,565 stories about the ‘drug scourge.’ Richard Harwood, the Post’s ombudsmen, eventually admitted the paper had lost ‘a proper sense of perspective’ due to such a ‘hyperbole epidemic.’ He said that ‘politicians are doing a number on people’s heads.’” (p53)
• In 1989 “64 percent of those polled – the highest percentage ever recorded – now thought that drugs were the most significant problem in the United States.” (p55)
Talk about powerful and effective messaging.
exalt’s work is to help catalyze a new movement. With the help of innovative and passionate campaign-builders and message-movers like those at Purpose, perhaps it won’t be long before we see a similar spike in the percentage of Americans who believe that mass incarceration is one of our most pressing epidemics. When mass messaging is designed by people driven more by empathy and connectedness than greed and divisiveness, the result should be a public not paralyzed or demoralized by fear of the problem, but one inspired to participate in solving it.