Happy birthday to you, Nellie McClung and Tommy Douglas

Yes, those two icons of the Canadian social left were born on October 20 – McClung in 1873, Douglas in 1904.

Those two reformers were products of their time when it came to their approach to public relations: both relied on their capacity to convince and inspire people they met individually, or in groups ranging from a few dozens to large public assemblies of thousands. Some of those gatherings were in the open air, others in the traditional church basement, the factory, etc. They met people were people lived and worked, asking only for twenty minutes of their time.

Since then, the interaction has gradually reversed. Nowadays, the only occasion when politicians get to speak before a large crowd is for that miserable aberration that is the fundraising dinner.

Speaking of public speaking…

In today’s political campaigns or social movements, the political rally is used either as a way to get people to donate money and time to the campaign, or as a backdrop for television. This way of conceptualizing the role of one’s supporters has an impact on how the event is planned and executed. I’ve been to events where a small crowd of people had to wait for half an hour for the show to get going, not because the spokesperson had not arrived (he was backstage the whole time), but because television cameras were on their way.

There are still exceptions within the new mass-media framework. Because of the way Barack Obama relates to people, he can get the best of both worlds: convince and inspire a crowd of 100,000 in person… while being seen doing so by television audiences that reach into the hundreds of millions.


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