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June 10, 2020


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"My conclusion: Whenever you have to explain a slogan by saying 'What we really mean is…', it’s a bad slogan and you’re losing the argument."

That seems pretty extreme to me. I'm not sure it's all bad, or even that it's not the best available catchphrase.

People have been saying lots of different things about the many interrelated issues, and this is a phrase that has caught on broadly. It may mean different things to different people, but its ambiguity may serve to bring about affinities and generate momentum. While the ambiguity may also leave open the possibility of deliberate misinterpretation by people hostile to the ideas, that sort of thing is going to happen no matter what. (See how Trump interprets actual video evidence.)

I think the naming issue not entirely like branding, because the movement is diverse and decentralized, and it's not owned by one entity with the right to define it. As with language in general, a reasonable idea about the best way to communicate something may not be the one that succeeds best. People will use what works for them, and many people have "spoken."

I think the allusive powers of the phrase are stronger than any specific suggestion. It conveys anger, and it suggests "hit 'em where it hurts." It may sound a bit like "defang the police." (I can almost imagine that phrase being used by some, but only because "defund" is already a thing.)

Thanks, Dan. You're right: ambiguity can be an asset. In Nike's "Just Do It," "it" is ambiguous--which means it can signify the whole range of athletic endeavor. In branding terms, it's extensible.

But the meaning of "defund" is pretty clear: "withdraw financing from." It's when people attempt to split hairs--"we'll only withdraw *some* financing," "what we're REALLY saying," etc.--that the slogan's weakness becomes apparent.

For more on good and bad ambiguity, see this Visual Thesaurus column: https://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/candlepwr/the-power-of-ambiguity/

"Defang the police" is good!

This sweeping change effort needs no-nonsense, simple language and not fluff like "build community", which diffuses accountability. Remember that we are going up against the great "To serve and protect."

Renew Policing.
Revise the policies and processes to deliver effective, responsive and unbiased service.

“It is not just that, in communication as in thought, we must ever strive toward simplicity… It is more than that: it is a determination not to detour around reality." -Saul Alinsky

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