Communication skills are crucial to the successful activist. Language communicates a message. A clear message highlights the real issues. Focusing on the real issues with the right message to the right target affects the desired change.
Recently, the Human Rights Campaign commissioned Washington, DC-based Lake Research to find out what language and issues stirred voters. Since the Oklahoma City bombing, activist groups face a unique challenge in defining the "religious right." Voters still do not like the "radical right," but have come to have a very specific but narrow definition of who they are. The conclusions of this research are:
The best way to describe the right is as "religious political extremists." This term is strongly negative for every group of voters, including most religious voters. Some voters thought the term "religious right" meant "the right to choose or follow your own religion."
The best message is that they are extremists who would go too far and would use politics to impose their views on others. Voters believe that religious people can and should be involved in politics, but they dislike the idea of politics being used to try to dictate or impose one set of values on everyone. Voters dislike as well that the "religious right" uses and politicizes the public schools as the battleground to impose its views, and that it often divides and polarizes our communities.
The best vehicles to illustrate this are choice, sex education in the schools, and book banning in schools and public libraries — gay rights works as well. Also, Americans strongly believe in the separation between church and state, freedom of choice, and they resent attempts to dictate one set of views.
The best strategy should include a values-oriented, faith-based response. It is critical that we confront religious political extremists on a religious and values-based terrain, and our response to religious political extremists must include a faith-based response. Reaffirming values is important at a time when America worries about declining morals and family values.