Training & Coaching

Mainstream Messaging On Rule of Law Is Helping Orbán and Kaczyński: Guide For Activists

How we talk about issues like rule of law and democracy is playing into the hands of authoritarians. Here’s how to change that.

by Israel Butler

If supporters of the rule of law keep talking in legal abstractions rather than focusing on what this principle delivers for people, they will continue to play into the hands of aspiring autocrats. These politicians are playing to voters, and they’re counting on our support. How? When we use terms like ‘rule of law’ or ‘EU values’ without explaining what these terms mean to the everyday lives of people, we can’t connect with voters.

That’s why Liberties has created a new guide showing people how to talk about these issues effectively. Instead of saying ‘rule of law’, explain that it means that governments fund the schools, hospitals & roads our communities rely on instead of pocketing our contributions for themselves. Instead of saying ‘EU primacy’, say what that means: no matter where you are in the EU, you get freedoms that can’t be taken away on a political whim. That’s something everyone can connect with.

Our guide also tells readers how to avoid certain traps, like dead cats. That refers to when populist politicians distract public debate from news that is damaging to them, by doing or saying something outrageous hoping attention will shift onto the latter. To counter this, build truth sandwiches: a) lead with your own message; b) explain why your opponent is misleading the public and allude to (but don’t repeat) the lie; c) return to your message.

Our guide applies lessons and research from communicators promoting causes in the field of social justice and human rights. In order to be successful, we need to reach people, and talk in terms they can understand. Authoritarians have been doing a better job of this, but that can change.

Download our guides on effectively communicating about human rights and democracy:

A Short Messaging Guide For Proponents of The Rule of Law

How To Talk About Ethnic Profiling

How To Talk About Human Rights Under The Pandemic

Civic Space Policy Paper 2022

Civic Space Needs Our Protection

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