Ask any Democrat what we need to win and our “message” (or lack of a message) will probably top the list. To win in 2020, we need a values-based message and we need to blast that message throughout every crevice of our party and beyond.
The question is, who are we as Democrats? What are our values? First, Democrats have empathy. Everyone cares for their own people, but Democrats care for other people, including people who may be different from them and people they have never met. Second, Democrats believe in responsibility for themselves but also responsibility for each other. Finally, Democrats believe in the common good. We believe that good government has the power to make people's lives better.
I’m sure you're wondering how to fit that on a campaign button or a bumper sticker, but I’m not talking about a slogan. I’m talking about overarching, universal principles that explain what we believe and are the foundation of our party’s policies.
George Lakoff, cognitive linguist and author of Don't Think of an Elephant has written extensively about values messaging. In 2017, as a leader in Indivisible District 11 I brought Lakoff’s value message framing training to Dr. Kumar’s house. We brought in George Green and Julie Ethan of Connections Lab of Minnesota. People came from out of state, Dem clubs, Indivisible, Fems for Dems, and more and we trained over 100 people. This values framing continued through an active Facebook progressive framing group, Northville Dems digital campaign and rebranding, and 500 value signs that were spread throughout Western Wayne and Oakland Counties leading up to the 2018 mid-term election.
How does values based messaging work, and more importantly, how does it differ from the policies that our elected officials advocate for? Our values are the foundations of the policies that our party puts forth. However, policy can divide us when we don’t all envision the same solutions to our problems, but values are unifying. You can choose any topic or policy and talk about empathy, responsibility for ourselves and each other, and government for the common good. That is our message. That is our strength.
Here are a few examples:
Democrats believe that taking care of one another means that we view healthcare as a right, not a privilege. We believe we should take responsibility for others, and we know the government can help to increase access to healthcare and make it better, more efficient, and more affordable. When you are talking about a healthcare guarantee we should emphasize the importance of caring and good government.
Democrats know that water is life and that the government can help preserve our Great Lakes for future generations. When talking about water, we should discuss providing clean, safe water for ourselves and each other, and protecting one another from the dangers of pollution in our waterways.
While our opponents always mention the financial cost of taking care of one another, Democrats understand that the bigger cost is in compromising the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of our people. We care about all people, are responsible for each other and know that the government plays an important role in protecting our resources, our workers, and our society as a whole.
Values-based messaging helps us connect on a deeper level with our voters. I’ve seen it in action, and the results were incredible. As President of the Northville Dems, I developed our message to be values-based and I re-branded our club based on our values. We trained on it, created a new website, ran a digital campaign and distributed values-based lawn signs. We flipped five seats from red to blue in a notoriously tough district, and I can’t stop smiling. As Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, my vision is to create a broad, values-based message, provide comprehensive training in that message, and execute an overarching media campaign based on that message. I know with the right preparation, we can succeed again on a bigger scale this time.
I love the Democratic Party, but I love it enough to know we can do better. I am asking you to believe we can do more if we have a bold, unifying, and values-based message.
I’m asking for you to support my candidacy for MDP Chair because United we are Democrats – and united we can win.