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Quick Guide to Answering Objections

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The following steps can help you deal with resistance to “speaking American”:
l. If people say, “The American story is all bad, a lie, just the oppressors’ version, and ‘speaking American’ is just using the oppressors’ language”:

Make clear that you are talking about an ideal American vision, how America should be, not actual or recent history, and that at this point in your organizing process you are aiming to reach the mainstream audience of American people and its elected representatives.


Remind your listeners that our ideal values come from our national contract documents, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. Note that American social change activists of every kind have always worked to expand the actual expression of those values in American life. It’s our turn now.


Show that unappealing elements of the American cultural story can be corrected by bridging selected aspects to other story elements that do work for us. For example, we can use the individual hope part of the Horatio Alger story (or individual responsibility frame) and combine it with the ideas of fairness, and equality via the cooperative sports metaphor of “level the playing field.” [See Speaking American (Detailed Version) for an example.]

 2. If they say, “we need a new story,” the old story is bankrupt, a lie, and the oppressors’ version:

Explain that when trying to persuade, studies show that the best results are obtained by presenting new ideas using value language familiar to mainstream audiences, and that well-known American words, phrases, images or metaphors will convey this best. For example, a Sierra Club activist in the South recently gave a speech about how patriotic it was to preserve our natural areas.

3. If they say, “we need to be speaking for the planet or for the global audience, and not catering to American “exceptionalism,” the idea that Americans are different from everybody else:

Meet the concern expressed by some international activists about “speaking American” instead of “speaking International,” by quoting Martin Khor, Director of the Third World Network. He has said that the most important thing we as Americans can do is change American behavior.

Point out
that the best way to do that is to appeal to Americans’ best ideas about themselves, as reflected in the finest core American values.
These include freedom, equality, opportunity, setting a good example for the rest of the world, doing the new thing, and so on.

 Explain that just exhorting our neighbors to give up their national identity as expressed in American exceptionalism won't work. Working to improve the way the American identity operates in the world is the only effective route.


As Warren Buffet famously advised Bono in his effort to get more American aid for Africa, “Appeal to American greatness, not American conscience.” 


Documentation for the points made in this essay can be found in the AMERICAN STUDIES section of Selected Sources and Links on this website.