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Some have begun talking about the ways we deal with theists and the press. The discussion heated up after the action against the Promise Keepers in Eugene, which featured offerings from folks with very different attitudes toward activism.
At the rally, the activists from Eugene stood unoffensively to the side, waiting for PK people to approach them. USA members from Portland stood right in line with the main exit during a break and literally forced people to go around them if they wanted to avoid them.
Eugene's people were laid back and cordial; Portland's took the offensive with a classic in-your-face presentation.
The Eugene group invited the press to observe the action against the Promise Keepers, but it was one Portland Atheist who got all the coverage.
Nobody appreciated the newspaper's silence on our fears about the Promise Keepers' message. Instead, the paper contrasted the shock-value message of one sign with what it portrayed as an innocent, healthy religious meeting.
Is it time to take a hard look at how we, as activists, are seen by others? Do we, as a group, need to clean up our act? I hereby risk my reputation among the other USA members by shouting a resounding yes.
I don't think we would be "stooping to their level" to learn a few things about media savvy from the likes of the Christian Coalition. Journalists often seek out the most offensive sign or act and run with it, painting an entire picture based on a single cathartic act of carelessness. The Eugene Register-Guard did just that.
A more media-savvy way would have been to spend some time learning more about the Promise Keepers themselves. Then we could design signs and write statements that focus only on the issues at hand. Statements that are rich with information and are designed to be understood cannot be misrepresented by even the most biased of journalists. This works only as long as we omit everything that does not meet these standards.
If a group distributes carefully prepared press packets in advance of the action, and our group is seen as jumping up and down, we will get backhanded by the press every time.
As for the Eugene group, I have no idea what they did except stand off to the side. The papers made no mention, good or bad, about what went on in the shade of those trees. They made no impression.
We need to be noticed. But we must consider the impression we make once we have the spotlight. This takes lots of planning long before the light comes on.
See also: "Fallout Over Cliff's September, 1998, Column" (Report)
Copyright ©1998 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon