Moving the Overton window

The Overton window is a concept that really doesn’t have the appreciation it deserves within progressive circles.

Basically it boils down to what ideas are acceptable in mainstream political debate, and what are considered ‘crazy’, ‘radical’, ‘extreme’ and ‘fringe’. Everything within the Overton window gets treated as a legitimate public concern or position by the media, politicians and most of the public, everything else gets ignored or mocked.

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I’m a millennial but even I remember when not too long ago, the idea of gay people getting married was seen as a radical fringe idea, but today being homophobic is seen as well outside the norm. Liberals in Hollywood, musicians and activists slowly moved the Overton window for LGBT rights. We also saw this happen with neoliberal economic policies in the 80s, and more painfully with the election of Trump. He smashed through the Overton window and made many ideas that would have seemed like political suicide a year ago, a political reality today.

A year ago anyone who suggested registering innocent people in a govt database because of their faith would be considered a fringe lunatic. Regardless if that idea goes ahead or not, the window of what is acceptable has moved quite far to the right.

A good campaign, in the right place and time, has the potential to move the Overton window very quickly, changing political discourse for a very long time.

Sometimes these ideas can take decades of hard work before things reach the tipping point, as we saw with climate change from the 80s till about the mid-2000s, or with Brexit since the formation of the EU.  If you’d like to see what the Overton window looks like from the perspective of someone pretty far out on the opposite end of the political spectrum, here’s a great video by American right-wing shock jock Glen Beck.  (formerly right wing at least, by not supporting Trump he’s now “left-wing”)

A large part of the failure of progressives in recent years has been our lack of vision and “radical” ideas to move forward. Most campaigning effort goes into keeping things from getting worse, rather than opening the window to bold ideas to transform reality. In many ways, the 48hr campaign competition was created to move that Overton window towards progress on social, environmental and economic fronts.

We have to take the long view and bring our ideas for a better world into the mainstream.

Especially right now when the world seems to be screaming for a change from the status quo. We’ve seen the results of the failure of progressives to offer a credible alternative with the rise of Trump and Brexit. With an election on the horizon next year, a government suffering from a severe case of third-termitis, and a country looking for alternatives, now is the perfect time to move that Overton window to include some bold new ideas for the future.

So sign up now, either yourself or as part of a team. We’ve even got weekly workshops if you want to brush up on some of your campaigning skills.

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ActionStation is an independent, member-led not-for-profit organisation that uses technology to enable people power.

This week we’re collaborating with Laura O’Connell Rapira from ActionStation to focus on Digital skills and tools. Laura will be presenting a digital campaign toolkit and sharing information on what works to move your tribe to action.

We also have Sunil Williams who will share a toolkit for the rapid development of inexpensive campaign websites.

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Posted by Kirk Serpes

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