Harder Than Sympathy for the Devil?

“Why would I want to free congress? They would be the last people that needs freeing, no?”

I get two common reactions when I tell people about Let’s Free Congress. The above is the more cynical one. Even Larry Lessig warned me, “I think you’ll have a hard time eliciting sympathy for this Congress.” So I want to articulate a little about why I want to frame the project this way.

I believe the “let’s get the electorate really really angry” angle is overdone, and has essentially failed. My intuition is that anger motivates a vocal minority. To build a broad majority that cuts across various divisions in society, however, a movement cannot rely on outrage alone. We have a lot of social movements that are built on anger and outrage, the majority of people tends to tune them out as simply angry people.

When I look at the Civil Rights movement, I see sentiments of righteous anger, but also hope, sympathy and a passion for justice. I see people talking not about assigning blame, but affecting systematic change. That’s what the movement to fight corruption needs.

Which is why I want to start with empathy. To getting the citizens to empathize with Congress does two things:

One, it gets rid of this “us-versus-them” dynamic, giving members of Congress room to become partners in the fight against corruption. Members of Congress are people too, and to earn their cooperation we must treat them as people.

Two, it focuses the solution properly on the system. What we need is a systemic change, and punishing people is a distraction from systemic change. By getting people to empathize with the dilemma that members of Congress faces, we illustrate how the system is the core of the problem.

I also believe that sympathy and love is simply a longer lasting and more resilient motivation. Anger may lead to a burst of action, which, if ineffectual, leads to apathy. In a fight against a systemic, entrenched corruption, a more resilient motivation is needed. I think we can only inspire it with hope and love for the country.

So yes, the empathetic framing, I am stick with it. Let’s Free Congress.