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Manifest Positivity: Talking with Dave Berman

Manifest Positivity: Talking with Dave Berman

By Joan Brunwasser
November 7, 2009

I first encountered Dave Berman after the 2004 Presidential election. He had been writing about election integrity - and the lack of it - for years. I've invited him to talk about what he's up to now. Welcome to OpEdNews, Dave. The subtitle of the second volume of We Do Not Consent* is "Advocacy Journalism for Peaceful Revolution." Could you please define advocacy journalism for our readers? And peaceful revolution, for that matter.

Advocacy journalism means transparent use of media as an organizing tool to create the change we want in the world. The transparency is really key as it sets apart true advocacy journalism from the propaganda of the corporate/military/government/media juggernaut that pretends to be neutral and objective ("fair and balanced") while actually deceptively advocating for parameters of acceptable debate and even the nature of reality. The juggernaut has made truth into a wedge issue by creating a rift in the perception of reality.

Peaceful revolution may sound grandiose but can actually be rather small, sometimes on the individual personal level. With credit to Rebecca Solnit's "Hope In The Dark," I define it as a change in the relationship of power between We The People and the juggernaut. The success of advocacy journalism should be judged entirely by its ability to create the change aimed for. So when we use advocacy journalism successfully, empowering citizen journalists and independent media makers and even communities, we are changing that relationship of power with the juggernaut. In other words, advocacy journalism is inherently a peaceful revolutionary tactic.

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Let's go back to something you said about wedge issues. What do you mean exactly by that?

Wedge issues are usually thought of as things like flag burning, affirmative action, gay marriage and abortion. These are reliably trotted out to divide the public and I think this is well understood now. Truth as a wedge issue is more insidious because people on both sides of the rift in the perception of reality are convinced the other side is being deceived. Information falsely sold as “fair and balanced” (it goes way beyond just Fox) is being intentionally used to create the rift as a means of keeping us divided and therefore less likely to unite in peaceful revolution.

Some examples of issues that help create the rift in the perception of reality: election results that can't be proven, yet get reported as fact; the official story of 9/11, which is full of contradictions and scientific impossibilities leaving unasked questions a greater enigma than unanswered ones; devolving matters of science into differences of opinion, such as denial of climate change, the health risks of tobacco, and the health benefits of marijuana. This is all historically classic as the function of propaganda, which is never expected to convince everyone of the same thing but rather to leave the public divided about what is really going on. This is at the heart of what I have called the Cold Civil War.

Can you give us some concrete examples of the ways advocacy journalism can make progress towards peaceful revolution?

Consider the phrase "weapons of mass deception." Say that to anyone and they know you are talking about the corporate media and consolidated control of information. Recognizing that media are being used as a weapon against us, we must then protect and defend ourselves by turning that weapon around and using it as a tool for our own good. Like I said, advocacy journalism is inherently a peaceful revolutionary tactic. Perhaps that is more conceptual than concrete.

More concrete would be the Project-Based Format. This is how I think an advocacy journalism talk show should be run. Ideally it would be web-based video and audio, integrating all available media and social networking tools in an interactive and collaborative program that actually does organizing work, completing public service projects, especially ones that help people and communities create sustainable and equitable ways of life independent of the corporate/military/government/media juggernaut.

I've been talking and writing about this vision for seven years, including in We Do Not Consent, Volume 2. During this time I didn't have the means to directly pursue the talk show so the least I could do was write. I wrote about the work I was doing for election integrity, peace, veterans issues, media reform, and generally strategic thinking about peaceful revolution through advocacy journalism. I recently exited a business partnership that is allowing me take this all to the next level now through my new video website, ManifestPositivity.org, which aims to turn itself into this talk show.

I can't wait to see how this spins out. Let's back up a bit. Could you talk about how you came to activism in the first place, Dave?
I suppose it started for me on November 28, 2000. The Gore/Bush election results were still in the air and I wrote an essay saying the process had made any eventual outcome illegitimate, concluding: “either foreign powers will choose not to recognize our next government or the entire world will be complicit in our illegitimacy. Either way, it would not only serve us right, it will be what we deserve.” Those words were seeds that rooted subsequent years of focus on election integrity, particularly emphasizing the meme that election conditions give us “no basis for confidence” in the reported results.

I co-founded a citizen watchdog group called the Voter Confidence Committee and wrote the Voter Confidence Resolution, which was adopted by the City Council of Arcata, CA. A version derived from that was also adopted in Palo Alto, CA. I worked with election integrity advocates throughout CA and across the country, doing lots of writing, public speaking, and media appearances, my earliest advocacy journalism efforts, chronicled on my first blog, GuvWurld, and distilled into the first We Do Not Consent book. I became a big fan of the Declaration of Independence, which says government legitimacy derives from the Consent of the Governed. Our Consent is now being assumed and taken for granted, rather than sought and given. So We Do Not Consent, my second blog, was always about shattering the assumption of our Consent, and working to withdraw our complicity from the things that do us harm.

Ultimately, this includes staying in a perpetual state of fear and anger, which is constantly stoked by our corporatist, militarist culture of sensationalized consumerism. With inspiration from people like MLK, Gandhi and Michael Franti, as well as personal growth from reading books like Eckhart Tolle's “A New Earth,” and Rob Breszny's “Pronoia,” my work for peaceful revolution now comes from a place of love at ManifestPositivity.org.

Do you feel that the public is frustrated enough to actually see that we have legitimate grounds to disengage from this government which does not represent us? Is that why you include the Declaration of Independence in your book? It's so eerily similar to our present situation.
I agree the patterns of abuse outlined in the Declaration of Independence resemble today's America. I've seen this connection for years, and have been writing and talking about it since I started to see it that way. That's why the Declaration appears in both of my books.

As far as public sentiment, I want to believe enough people have “had enough” to be ready for peaceful revolution on a large transformational scale. Ready or not, climate change and a completely unsustainable economic system requires fundamental change right now. There is a saying that when the people lead, the leaders will follow. So as a matter of strategy, we are better served changing what we ourselves do, rather than continuing the unsuccessful and essentially futile task of asking or lobbying or even demanding change from the corporate/military/government/media juggernaut. A leopard can't change its spots and you can't get blood from a stone. Insert your own metaphor here. Just don't keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Tell our readers about the "least you can do" challenge.
It is really more of an operating strategy than a challenge. The idea is that big picture goals are achieved in a series of steps so plan campaigns and choose tactics by identifying the least you can do, and committing to doing at least that much. When I have a daunting task, or I'm juggling too many things at once, I often pause to find clarity this way about what to do next. It is a great simplifier.

This is also part of getting people involved, overcoming apathy or complacency. You can't ask any less of someone than the least they can do. Now I'm seeing a movement toward “micro-actions” at sites like The Extraordinaries (BeExtra.org) and IfWeRanTheWorld.com. I think this stems from the same premise, asking people to fill their sporadic idle moments with quick acts on cell phone apps. This could represent back-end infrastructure for the type of talk show I'd like to do.

Many people know the name of Malcolm Gladwell's book “The Tipping Point,” but perhaps do not recall the subtitle: “How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.” The least you can do is a strategy meant to consciously cultivate a path to a tipping point. This also involves the three principles of a well chosen goal, meaning choose “least” acts that will: create an immediate tangible impact; cause ripple effects of future influence with a cumulative impact; and address the relationship of power between We The People and the prevailing power structure. As almost a bonus, my experience has been that using this approach repeatedly results in my “least” increasing.

Thanks, Dave. Let's pause here. When we return for the second half of our interview, Dave will explain the philosophy behind Manifest Positivity, how to avoid burnout, and more about withholding consent.

*both volume one and two are free downloads and available for purchase as paperbacks at ManifestPositivity.org


Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which exists for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. We aim to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Electronic (computerized) voting systems are simply antithetical to democratic principles.

CER set up a lending library to achieve the widespread distribution of the DVD Invisible Ballots: A temptation for electronic vote fraud. Within eighteen months, the project had distributed over 3200 copies across the country and beyond. CER now concentrates on group showings, OpEd pieces, articles, reviews, interviews, discussion sessions, networking, conferences, anything that promotes awareness of this critical problem. Joan has been Election Integrity Editor for OpEdNews since December, 2005. Her articles also appear at RepublicMedia.TV and Scoop.co.nz.

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