• Reilly Neill

We Can Win with a Vision of Fairness and Justice

What is it like to be a Democrat facing a brutal election year in 2020? What is it like to be a Democrat in Montana? Are we really such a minority here in a red state in the American West?

For years, the Democrats in Montana were the working class, union members and farmers, and some still are, but the Democratic party in the state is splintered and in disarray. Citizens who would be Dems are instead Independent or on the fence and the GOP has created a manipulative machine to keep red votes solid, forcing an effective majority in the State House and Senate for years.

For eight years, every citizen of the state benefitted from Steve Bullock’s leadership and veto power. To replace Bullock’s level-headed governance with a businessman like Greg Gianforte who made his millions exploiting consumer privacy for profit, a person who rejects modern science and the theory of evolution and believes men are superior to women in the eyes of his god, could force a crises in our state.

From ranchers to restaurant owners and wranglers to waitresses, Montanans will face discrimination, exploitation and the end to the protection of natural resources if Gianforte becomes our next governor. The advertising campaign he will launch for the position will no doubt convince Montanans that anyone else will destroy our state. Gianforte’s PR machine is a finely-tuned structure that utilizes marketing strategy, fear, misinformation and computer technology to sell his brand and, unfortunately for unsuspecting citizens, his investment in this type of campaign is very effective at exploiting them for his own gain and the benefit of extractive industry.

Make no mistake, when Greg Gianforte and Steve Daines helped keep public lands north of Yellowstone Park free from polluting gold mines, they did so because it was an easy giveaway, an iconic gesture while they grinned and dreamed of the millions of other acres ready to be sold or mined for profit when they gained more control at the state level. These two computer “scientists” have duped our entire state into believing in their brands regardless of what that brand represents: racism, sexism, intolerance, exploitation and greed in order to return profits to the business sector.

We have better ways to generate income and revenue for our state, including vast stores of renewable, taxable energy. We can insure that the policies in place today will continue to be upheld in order to create a better world for us all. These policies are products of the evolution of thousands of citizens working together and with their elected officials for decades to make sustainable choices for Montana’s future.

Why go backwards?

Why turn away from good progress? Why are people in our state wanting to return to a world where no one is accountable, even a polluter dumping toxins in a citizen’s backyard without their knowledge or a corporation clear-cutting a forest and leaving behind nothing but fire-prone choked stands? Why are people ignoring accountability and giving up their right to fairness and justice and state progress and the investment of time and energy that has created good policy?

Images and imagery rule in the media and on the ground, although some will still search for substance in local experts, trusted agencies and unbiased organizations. I’ve studied media and design and worked in the media nearly all of my adult life. I’ve learned that people will resonate with what is common and familiar to them and what makes them feel right, justified and at peace and that people will connect to these things subconsciously and without intention. When one can appeal to the largest commonality, they receive this market share.

Figuring out what comprises commonality is the trick. Great branding programs stick with you, connect you with images like the Gerber baby or a friendly insurance company spokesperson and make most people feel secure. Companies can now take this information and use it to sell more baby food, or insurance or ideology.

Subliminal advertising is still illegal, but CRM or Customer Retention Management has no standard of ethics from any entity or any independent oversight. It’s a computer-generated wild west where personal ethics are the only check or balance on use of the systems and its compilation of data.

Human nature being what it is, a form or aspect of unethical CRM exists and is termed “dark side behavior.” While this method of gathering and exploiting personal data is frowned upon in the general marketing world of acquiring potential customers, it should be downright illegal in political campaigns.

One of the features of dark side behavior in CRM is walling customers off from other sources. This aggressive segmenting and manipulation of voters as consumers should be an unfair practice in campaign strategy as it is a dangerous restriction of a citizen’s freedom of choice.

Specifically, dark side behavior is subversive propaganda or using marketing materials and processes to manipulate perspectives, both online and off. The varied perspectives now available on the internet make it more difficult every day to determine a proper source for information. Viewers, readers and unsuspecting citizens who just happen to have a phone number are the targets as data is collected and this propaganda is produced and distributed en masse, available like it or not through our computers, our smart phones, our televisions, and now embedded in our culture as reality.

The propaganda of the U.S. President is on display in nearly ever one of his false statements. Thousands of falsehoods are counted and cross-sourced but his words remain true to the faithful. As this man blatantly lies and is called out with proof, what would make citizens lose control of their faculties so as not to believe their own ears, eyes and dozens of solid sources?

Citizens are being micro-targeted for advertising in worse ways than by Facebook or Twitter. At least on social media platforms there is requirement of consent. Data mining programs seeking “potential customers” by gathering data on citizens and using the data to wall off choices and sources should be revealed and banned in all political campaigns.

Gianforte and Daines have built their empires on the technology that turns the “consumer’s interior inside out” and rearranges it to better suit their business or political needs. How do we inform voters that they are now merely a number on a list to be exploited for personal gain rather than a valued constituent? How do we reveal the true nature of the work these individuals do in order to sway voters before it’s too late for our state, our country and its people?

Daines and Gianforte have crafted excellent branding campaigns that stick with Montanans. They have employed a level of brilliance in the constant delivery and reinforcement of the confirmation bias that their brand is the best brand and the only brand.

Never mind that people have been arguing about the morality of contraception for a thousand years or more, Daines and Gianforte have the answer by agreeing with one perspective and ensuring people that it is the only perspective. It’s how Trump won and how he continues to elicit support. But having a democracy means listening to and respecting all perspectives, not just one, and offering respect in doing so in order to live together with those who may be different from us in peace.

A healthy democracy is based in equality, respect and compromise.

Gianforte does not seem to care about perspectives other than his own. He sells his ideology as a brand across the state and has done so for years using dark side behavior of CRM. I suspect that he and/or Daines have even convinced Donald Trump, Jr. that he could win elected statewide office in Montana using this same technology without any regard as to what representation would be best for the citizens of the state.

The Dems seem to avoid using or even publicly acknowledging the use of such marketing tactics by the GOP but they are indeed being utilized in our state. The Democrats may vote count door-to-door but the majority of Democratic candidates are not going to use any means necessary to identify and target likely voters to bombard with subversive, unethical, confirmation-biased advertising campaigns.

If Gianforte lands in the Governor’s seat, he will be poised at the head of the state to sell our natural resources to the highest bidder, allow polluters leeway to poison citizens and force his ideology of religious intolerance on the populace. He will erode our privacy protections and our freedom of choice. Gianforte has no substance. He admits this in his book, “Bootstrapping,” where he advises young entrepreneurs to make up an idea and run a con to sell it before they even have a product.

Gianforte’s leadership provides little more than a foundation of dust and this will be blown away - but not before he can do serious damage to our state. In a two-party voting state, our only hope is a Democrat. Unfortunately, despite the good work being done by individuals in the party, the effort is much less cohesive than the GOP’s.

While fellow Democrats hesitate to critique one another, each knowing the other’s struggle attempting to stand up to nearly insurmountable forces in some parts of the state, I think every Dem in Montana knows we are in disarray and nowhere near as funded or organized as the GOP.

First of all, our contributors are stretched thin with various primary runs in a state of just over half a million active voters. The funds simply do not exist and the money that does come in, aside from a few dedicated organizations, is largely disorganized and per-individual. Federal party dollars are scarce unless Tester is running and Democrats have to seek grassroots efforts which are ineffective against massive, multi-million dollar GOP campaigns headed by public relations experts who see voters as akin to dollars needed for profit and who refuse to lose a dime.

Thanks to Citizen’s United, the GOP is largely bankrolled by businesses and corporations supportive of endless extractive industry. Is this model sustainable for Montana? No. But the GOP sells this future to the citizens in every pop-up ad, every email, in every biased story paid for by a public relations firm and implanted in the local news and reported without sourcing.

Reaching out to people who have been manipulated by insidious confirmation bias is my daily work. Beyond running for office, I attempt to reach beyond the Democratic party base every day. We need to apply real effort as Democrats to reach beyond our base and respect and understand the need to find commonality, not consensus, in the voting public.

Even if it seems unlikely, we can win with a vision of fairness and justice for all citizens of the state because I think we all share this vision in common.

I decided to run for Governor to stand up to Greg Gianforte. He should not be in a leadership position in our state. He built a business on the backs of other people’s private data; he has shown complete lack of decorum as a public official and is guilty of physical assault; he is a valued henchman of the president, who has no problem with how Gianforte made his millions and has convinced his followers the same. Yet, these followers have all been bullied and taken advantage of and the bullies are laughing all the way to the bank while they determine how next to undermine our privacy and our democracy and exploit our public resources for their own, personal profit.

What would Gianforte do if given a green light to pass new laws in our state? I shudder to think.

In order to fight this dark force, we will need to start shining the light. When people ask me what they can do to stand up for justice, I say, “Pull back the curtain.”

Every day I work to pull back the curtain. Until Montanans realize that the GOP is spying on them and using their information against them to guide and manipulate their votes, we will have an uphill battle.

I tell voters to look for ways to expose simple truths. Start with something small, like climate change in Glacier Park. Nearly every Dem in the state knows that this is happening but so many other citizens have no idea, or even think it’s a hoax. This is an example of reaching beyond our base, being open-minded enough to understand the differences in culture across Montana.

Once you can reach someone through facts and data, with USGS and National Park Service information freely available from Glacier Park for example, start there. Even if they deny humans have anything to do with climate change, when they finally agree it’s happening, be accepting and start there. This article, about How to Talk Someone Out of A Damaging Cult provides some solid suggestions.

When an individual starts to open their eyes, they alone will see the truth and can make better-informed decisions at the ballot box.

The Democrats in Montana need to reach beyond their base next year and extend friendship, openness and understanding to their neighbors in hopes of opening their eyes to the exploitation we will all suffer from should the GOP party take control of the Governor’s office. However we can all work to pull back the curtain and reveal GOP motives, we should all be doing our best.

Excluding Independents and Moderates or scoffing at those in the Republican party for not understanding the basic science behind global warming will get us Gianforte for governor. We need to seek inclusion and understanding and come together as Democrats and as the only party willing to embrace everyone in our state equally.

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