Previous month:
August 2010
Next month:
November 2010

Eschewing the politics of fear

A few weeks ago, I got involved in a neighborhood effort to stop some high rise development. Yesterday, I officially unjoined the group because of a matter of principle--I eschew the politics of fear. At the center of this decision was the making the flyers for group, which was an exercise in how design makes values tangible to people. In this case, it was my values versus those of the group's leadership.

My values are to approach people from a position of what is best in them. This means their empathy, sense of caring, etc. I also believe that you should give people the facts, indicate your bias, but then let them decide for themselves. This was the approach I took to developing the flyers for the group.

As part of my process, I had read through all the documents and gathered the facts about the development, which had changed from the original group meeting one week before. I realize now that this was not appreciated by the leadership as they kept saying that the facts do not matter (I assume because it was no longer their facts). I then developed two flyers and one poster that took a measured tone and laid out all the facts of the development (980 new residents, 480 dwellings, 10 towers, and 2400 new vehicular movements per day) which was scary enough given it was on only 2.5 hectares.  This is not what the leadership wanted. In fact, although I had volunteered to make the flyers and provided the deadline for when they would be done, a member of the leadership had gone ahead and made his own flyer, which had lots of fear-mongering language, "Fight the Towers" "Kiss your parklands goodbye" "Kiss your property values goodbye." This raised a red flag for me because it broke the cardinal rule about the management of a volunteer labor force: do not waste their time.

My participation blew up when the leader had asked me to misrepresent the facts about how many residents there would be to make it more scary, 1500 new residents  instead of the listed 980. I tried to explain that anyone who would have access to the facts would mistrust the group if they exaggerate their claims. This is where I was told the facts don't matter, that it was more important to get people agitated.

So their values lay in inciting pure NIMBY fear among the residents regardless of the facts and ignorant of the process by which they could really change things: putting more constricting language into the zoning document, not just focusing of the visual plan. The fact that they sent out the leader's fear-mongering flyer confirmed my sense that our values were not aligned. It also confirms the discomfort I felt  in the first meeting because there was a lot of "stranger danger" language about all these new people moving into the neighborhood. As a person of color, I am always on high alert for this kind of language, which does not have to be racist per se, but is definitely zenophobic. So while I am for appropriate development anywhere, I am not for fear mongering, which means this is one fight I will not join.

Beyond this incident, I have come to an ethical decision to not involve myself in agendas that seek to persuade through the politics of fear. Fear is such a base emotion and to use it for any "noble" goal besmirches its nobility. All the political shenanigans in the U.S. and Australia has to do with politicians engaging in the politics of fear, especially when their rational arguments will fail under scrutiny. So many people operate on a platform of fear, but a platform of hope has to be the value system of any group with whom I get involved in the future.