The goal of most political activism is to get attention and then deliver a message. In the digital age, attention may last 30 seconds. When you get it, use it.
“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”
When Andy Warhol said that in 1968, it seemed outlandish. Now, it seems, anyone with an internet connection believes fame is attainable.
Fame = Attention.
On July 30, Governor Chris Christie gave an activist heckler, Brad Joseph, about 30 seconds of attention.
Christie has been governor of New Jersey (NJ) since 2010. NJ (unofficially “the Garden State”) still has farms, suburbs and densely populated urban areas.
Due to a state law on term limits, voters are prevented from extending a NJ governor’s 4-year term more than once. Christie and his family are scheduled to leave the Governor’s Mansion in January, 2018.
During Christie’s time in office, he has demonstrated an ability to throw his considerable weight into turning matters of substance into issues about himself.
For example, earlier this summer, he used his political acumen to distract people from budgetary problems by enjoying a beach house NJ has for the governor. The beach was closed to the public for budgetary reasons. Issues of governmental management turned to focus on the image of Christie’s family. The legislature took decisive action and passed a law prohibiting a Governor from using the beach house when the beach is closed. I do not know how many people remember the budgetary crisis.
Some may see Christie as a successful politician and office-holder. A team leader with a delegator-style who entrusted his state to his bureaucracy-administrators while he left to chair the RNC, run for president and attend the Brewers-Cubs game.
At the baseball game, Christie did not enjoy the exclusivity of a private box with security guards and servants. No, he did not. Instead, he was in the stands mingling with the fans.
Lessons for Activists
Get Attention/Deliver Your Message
Christie was leaving the game when, according to the Washington Post, quoting Brad Joseph, “I yelled his name and told him that he sucked.” Later, as Christie was returning to his seat with a bowl of nachos, Joseph resumed. “I called him a hypocrite because I thought it needed to be said.”
Joseph succeeded in getting the Governor’s attention. This, by itself, is an activist achievement in an era when lobbyists are highly paid to get governors to return their calls.
Governor Christie personally returned to Mr. Joseph, got in his face and, according to Joseph, yelled:
“‘Why don’t you have another beer?’ which I thought was a decent comeback, and I thought that was kind of funny.”
The Governor did not stop. Playing on a Jersey stereotype, the Governor demanded to know “What are you going to do now, tough guy.” The story went global.
Mr. Joseph was tough enough to exercise his right to free speech and question authority. He was unprepared to reply to the Governor’s response to his challenge.
It was Twitterish to say someone sucks and is a hypocrite. It would have been more meaningful if, once he got the Governor’s attention, Mr. Joseph gave his “why” and showed respect for the office by telling the office-holder the basis for his conclusory statements.
Moral: If you achieve a random 30 seconds of fame, keep your eyes on the prize. Express your primary talking points, even with a big tough-guy Governor yelling in your face.
Deliver Your Message to Your Intended Audience
Mr. Joseph did not feel his story was fully told by the world-wide coverage of time-sensitive and space-limited media.
At 10:35 AM, July 31, Joseph went on Facebook to represent himself. He succeeded in keeping the story in the news (as demonstrated by Business Insider), prolonging his fame and delivering his message.
Mr. Joseph apologized for yelling “You suck!” Though, further in his Facebook post, he analyzes the Governor’s reaction and concludes that it proves “he does, in fact, suck.”
More importantly to Mr. Joseph is that the Governor has not responded to the allegation that he is a hypocrite because he campaigned against corruption, got votes because of his stand against corruption, and then wielded the power of his office corruptly.
I do not know whether Chris Christie reads and responds to hecklers’ Facebook stories. I do know Mr. Joseph had the Governor’s attention and did not seize the moment.
Waiting to write a Facebook post got Joseph’s message out to his friends and the media. It was not targeted to Gov. Christie, the audience for his original message.
Mr. Joseph had the opportunity to make a simple statement to Gov. Christie, to his face. The Governor asked him what he was going to do. Joseph said nothing of substance.
Moral: When you have an invitation to begin a civil dialogue, start talking.
Hutchison, Ben. [BennyHutch Tweet].
— Ben Hutchison (@BennyHutch) July 30, 2017