Onion Theory of NVDA

Comment by Sojourner:

Too often, I think, activists judge the success or failure of an action entirely in terms of media coverage — if there was no coverage, the action was a “failure,” if there is little chance of coverage we shouldn’t do it. But media is just one audience addressed by nonviolent direct-action, and often it is not even the most important audience. 

The goal of Nonviolent Resistance is to affect and change peoples’ thinking. In a sense, the impact of direct action is like the layers of an onion, with each layer representing a different audience. When looked at this way, demonstrations address four distinctly different audience layers:

  1. Participants. The nonviolent resistors engaged in the protest.
  2. Targets & Observers. The individuals, businesses, institutions, and bystanders who personally encounter or observe the protest.
  3. Hear Abouts. Those who hear about the protest from someone else via word-of-mouth.
  4. Media Consumers. Those who learn of the protest through the media.

One of the things we know about direct-action is that intensity of effect and breadth of numbers are usually inverse to each other. A protest most intensely affects those who participate in it, secondarily those who directly encournter it, and thirdly those who hear about it by word-of-mouth. But compared to those who learn of it through the media, the number of participants, observers,  and hear-abouts is small. Conversely, the number of people who hear about a protest through the media is much larger than those who directly exprience it or hear about it from others, but the effect is limited, diluted, and distorted by the media.

People are far more influenced by what they hear from a friend about something by word-of-mouth than from any TV sound-bite or newspaper article. So an audacious or humorous action that gets people talking (“Did you hear what they did…“) may be quite effective even if the media covers it not at all. Yes, media coverage will reach far MORE people than word-of-mouth, but if the word-of-mouth is positive and supportive it’s effect is GREATER than a diluted and distorted third-hand or fouth-hand (actor-reporter-editor-consumer) media article. During the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, for example, 80-90% of the protests were not covered by the media at all, no reporters, no TV, no nothing. But they were still hugely effective in changing the consciousness of their communities.

Which is why audacity and humor are so important. Audacity because that is what gets people talking and spreading the word from person to person, and humor because people love, and react positively, to humor. Particularly humor that is aimed at the high and the mighty.

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