Updated: Jul 11, 2021
Pres. Barack Obama recently gave an interview in which he expressed disapproval for the term “Defund The Police” because of the belief it turns away a significant portion of our nation through its simplicity. First things first, the interview was on Snapchat, which confused the hell out of me. (Do I lose my Millennial card now because that bothered me?) But more importantly, was he right? Do “snappy slogans” like "defund the police" actually harm movements and limit their ability to reach a large audience to promote the change we need? I, a veteran and mediocre graduate student, clearly possess a similar resume to Pres. Obama so I'm confident in my ability to argue this.
But I wont because I agree with Pres. Obama to a degree. Snappy slogans on a whole are not the most effective way of communicating an argument, and they can turn away chunks of the population. Nuance is hard to find with three words. But slogans can serve purposes that I believe provide more value then harm.
"Defund the police" is far from the first slogan used in American politics. Presidential campaigns always have them, "I Like Ike" for Pres. Eisenhower campaign, or "Putting People First" during Pres. Clinton's run for office, for example. These are all Snappy 3 word slogans that contain almost zero useful information. Putting people first in what Pres. Clinton? A line at the mall? And "I Like Ike"? Yeah, no kidding, he beat the Nazis, he's the original ANTIFA. There's no message in these slogans, but it sticks with you. Eisenhower ran for president well before my lifetime, but I am still very much aware of his snappy slogan. Whether they agree or not with the sentiment behind Defund The Police, the awareness the slogan created is there now and it will be a foremost issue moving forward.
Today, these slogans are more than just something we can put on a button or bumper sticker. Defund The Police is a slogan and sure its catchy but #DefundThePolice has power in the digital age. Far more power than #WeNeedToAddressTheFundingIssuesInOurPoliceDepartmentsToPlaceAGreaterEmpathisOnProgramsLikeDeescaltionTrainingAndNonLethalTactics #AdditionallyWeShouldIncreaseFundingForAlternativesToPoliceResponseForCallsRelatingToMentalHealthCrisis #WeDontBelieveThatTheAbolishmentOfPoliceIsAViableSolutionInTheShortTermAndEncourageDialougeAndCommunicationSoWeCanEnsureASafeFutureForAllMembersOfOurCommunities.
Those probably wont start trending anytime soon.
The capability for these “hashtagable” slogans to go viral, and the power influencers on apps like Twitter and Instagram have is a power I do not believe the political establishment has fully comprehended yet, but they are coming around. AOC is playing the popular video game Among Us on Twitch. President Obama is giving interviews on Snapchat, which does not have a very Boomer heavy audience. The parties couldn't always get the youth out to them with the traditional methods, so they are going to where the youth are, which is on social media and games like Among Us and not reading Politico (Here's the Politico article on Pres. Obamas interview if you're interested). And when politicians try to reach out to the public on social media they sacrifice a great deal. A tweet is only 280 characters, not quite enough to make a policy statement, but it can reach a far larger audience. We sacrifice nuance for length, which will turn away groups, but we gain access to a far larger audience for that price. Not to mention writing all of this on a sign for a protest would just be a lot of work.
Yes both the power and use of snappy slogans and the stance of defunding the police are immensely complicated issues. I know some readers might disagree and say that they really do believe defunding the police is as simple as it sounds. I disagree, and feel free to write about why I'm wrong and we will share it. It's ok to disagree about these things, but we should not equate disagreeing over the best way to communicate our stances with support for the status quo. We are seeing the dangers of that play out first hand in the Republican Party as its members are so mortified to express even the slightest disagreement with Pres. Trump that they are willing to sacrifice their own values and the stability of our nation for the comfort of not being a victim of his mood swings. It's a dangerous and unproductive trend to lash out at every person who expresses disagreement over complicated issues (I can say that because I have 33 Twitter followers so good luck canceling me). I would hazard a guess that Pres. Obama is not one of the people that reads our blogs. I would also guess though that he would not take to Twitter to eviscerate my character and that of Continue To Serve if he read this because our ability to communicate and respect others stances effectively is critical in progressing the nation. Yes it's discouraging to see Pres. Obama is not supporting Defund The Police like we would like, but we live in a democracy (at least we did at the time of writing this) and political stances are a spectrum, not absolutes.