Advocacy Journalism, The Least You Can Do, and The No Confidence Movement

With the support of Mayor Bob Ornelas, on July 7, Arcata, CA will be the first US city to consider passing a No Confidence resolution on the validity and legitimacy of US elections. This essay describes the origin, methodology and aims of the No Confidence Movement.

Advocacy Journalism, The Least You Can Do, and The No Confidence Movement

By Dave Berman


The No Confidence movement began informally, almost off-handedly, when I created the GuvWurld blog on April 3. My first entry was about a debate in Florida regarding whether manual recounts will be allowed for votes on touch-screen machines:

By choosing to debate this question, the certainty of uncertainty is strengthened. This joins the long list of reasons to expect a lack of consensus to follow the next election. This is worse than willingly walking into a minefield. This is being "brave" enough to play Russian roulette with a bullet in every chamber.

American democracy empowers leaders through the consent of the governed. Who is willing to consent to elections where the preparation consists of making sure the will of the people will be reasonably called into question? We can see the setup from a mile away - the so-called opponents are "debating" the rules of their contest. This is simulated competition, in the grand tradition of professional wrestling and the Harlem Globetrotters.

It is an insufficient response merely to refuse to participate in the charade - I do not advocate boycotting elections when they are held. We need the determined resolve to stop the charade itself. Politicians on the local level must be encouraged to pass resolutions (ala the 270 anti-Patriot act resolutions) that voice a "Vote of No Confidence." The first one may be mocked or ridiculed, but by the 50th or 100th No Confidence resolution, the crux of the debate will then have become the line in the sand at which this administration loses its legitimacy (such as it never was).

I wrote this without actually contemplating implementation. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we no longer have a BASIS for confidence. I figured that anybody who could remember the uncertainty following the 2000 election could imagine another uncertain outcome this fall. But could anybody imagine it and then dismiss it completely as impossible? So far not one person has taken that position. I haven't found anyone who claims they can't imagine another uncertain election outcome. If anybody does want to take that position they must be prepared to explain the basis for their confidence. There is none.

In the week that followed, I developed a list of points that showed "We have no BASIS for confidence in the validity and legitimacy of the results reported in United States elections." This became the premise for the first draft of the No Confidence resolution. After two months of seeking community input and generating local media attention, a much improved, narrower focused, consensus-driven resolution has been submitted to the City Council of Arcata, CA. Mayor Bob Ornelas recently informed me that the Council will consider the resolution on July 7, and that he was “prepared to lend his voice and name to the No Confidence movement.”

Regarding the media, I hope to foster a better understanding of “advocacy journalism.” This phrase tends to get twisted in a way similar to the patriotism slander aimed at those of us willing to say we’re not going to allow ourselves to be lied to anymore. In my view, there is only one criterion for successful advocacy journalism and that is to generate tangible change. To paraphrase Gandhi: we must be the media we want to see.

Tangible change doesn’t have to mean manipulating the public. But this is the way that America’s corporate media demonstrate mastery of advocacy journalism at our expense:

  • We now know that over 50,000 people were illegally disenfranchised in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. But in the time it took us to learn this, a window of opportunity had closed and legitimacy was bestowed upon the Bush administration.

  • By definition, a story of 19 Arab hijackers from an international terrorist network reflects a conspiracy. Questioning bald-face lies is a core function of the fourth estate yet contradictory and scientifically impossible statements remain unchallenged. How do we really know what to believe about 9/11?

  • The US went to war with pre-emptive protestors unable to convince their neighbors that even the New York Times was shaping their opinions with false propaganda.

Classic tenets of journalism call for objectivity and neutrality. These are antiquated principles no longer universally observed, as shown above. We must absolutely not feel bound by them. If we are ever to create meaningful change, advocacy journalism will be the single most crucial element to enable the necessary organizing. It is therefore very important that we learn how to be successful advocacy journalists. For many, this will require a different way of identifying and pursuing goals.

I like this meme: "identify the least you can do, and commit to doing at least that much."

I have heard this phrase has a familiar feel, like the many sayings reflecting the notion: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If this makes it easier to remember, so much the better. This is a practical mantra that works on various levels. When new people learn of the No Confidence movement, they are asked to tell one other person. When this essay is published, at least one other person will pursue advocacy journalism differently. Even the city of Arcata, in the grand scheme of things, is doing the least it can do as a first step in a national strategy:

Be it also resolved that while we are but one remote community and the first to collectively make such a declaration, we anticipate similar resolutions will follow. Whether it is the fifth, 50th or 100th such resolution, the cumulative impact of each such statement warrants renewed consideration of whether the Consent of the Governed has been withdrawn;

One of the things I learned from the presentations I've made is that explaining the big picture vision of the No Confidence movement requires building a bridge from "No Confidence" to "Consent of the Governed." It usually goes like this:

The National Priorities Project has a website with very detailed information on the US federal budget. I have been trying to persuade their director of development, Phil Korman, to add a feature to the site. Imagine if visitors could take the amount of taxes they paid the year prior, and indicate line item by line item how their money should be spent. When millions of visitors have participated the aggregate numbers would reflect "The People's Budget."

Presented side by side with the actual budget, my audiences have unanimously agreed there would be huge differences. This demonstrates that the Consent of the Governed is not even being sought. There are many other examples that would prove that same point. But showing it just once makes it possible to suggest that withdrawing our consent is not really a stretch:

Be it further resolved that the Consent of the Governed remains as it was at the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, a self-evident truth from which Government derives just Powers;

So let me put in a recap here to make sure the pieces are clicking properly. One community will make a statement, the least it can do, a symbolic gesture with no teeth and no commitment to any action or expense. Keep in mind there are now 300+ anti-Patriot act resolutions that have passed. These haven't restored our rights. What's different here is that we are triggering a domino effect. We're not just hoping other resolutions will follow; we're encouraging it with a mechanism for cumulative impact. When Arcata passes a No Confidence resolution, the world will not think the Consent of the Governed has been withdrawn. But when the same question is repeated with each new resolution, "has the Consent of the Governed been withdrawn, yet?", the series of no's will eventually end. When the answer becomes yes we will have arrived, consciously, at what our society has come to regard as a "Tipping Point."

"The Tipping Point" is a book by Malcolm Gladwell published in 2000. I get the sense that The Tipping Point is a phrase that many people have heard, but not quite as many understand. It seems to me that The Tipping Point is just thought of as a time when a massive change began. This can be true. But to understand why I'm talking about this book at all, consider the subtitle: "How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference." Think literally about the metaphor, "the straw that broke the camel's back."

It is imperative that activists and others working for change make the most of their limited resources, and plan their moves for maximum impact. That may mean scaling a goal way, way back so that instead of a massive demonstration that produces no tangible change, there is a small, solid victory. A series of small successes will create momentum. I have observed that others often perceive momentum as potential. People invest in potential. If each person who becomes aware of the No Confidence movement tells just one other person, you'll each have done the least you can do and the word would get out in no time. Those perceiving the momentum as potential are top candidates for the movement.

At this point I am usually asked two things: how will we know when we're at the tipping point and what happens after? We're at the tipping point as soon as we say we are. Right now, we're just not saying it loud enough. As community after community passes a No Confidence resolution, the cumulative impact will have the effect of amplifying our chorus. As for the post-tip era, neither one man nor even one community should determine what that looks like. As the series of resolutions emerges, new leaders must build consensus on a national level.

So while we won’t presume to speak for everyone, Arcata’s No Confidence resolution does offer these specific suggestions that are fundamental to the core of operating a representative government:

Be it ultimately resolved that when a sufficient number of No Confidence resolutions have passed, and the domino effect hereby triggered has reached its tipping point, the Right of the People to alter or abolish its Government shall be accepted as decreed by our nation’s Founding Fathers. To implement a new democracy in America which encourages competition in "the free market-place of ideas," the following should be enacted: designation of Election Day as a national holiday, instant runoff voting (IRV), proportional representation, state by state elimination of the winner-take-all system (or the entire Electoral College), public campaign financing, national standards for uniform election machines (or no machines at all), and an explicit determination that money does not equal speech and that corporations do not have the same rights as humans.

This is the tangible change that I want to produce. I'm pursuing it as an advocacy journalist focusing on "the least I can do."


Dave Berman is in relentless pursuit of the nexus between philosophy, strategy and action. He insists it is public service, not activism. Everything you need to know about the No Confidence movement is at This essay may be freely copied, posted and circulated provided this blurb remains at the end.


add a comment on this article