The Turning Point
by Ted Walter
October 16, 2009
NYC Coalition for Accountability Now
In the fall of 2008, the NYC 9/11 Ballot Initiative realized that both strategy and tone were moving its effort no closer to broadening its support. Facing a wary, apathetic public and a stalled momentum, leadership was replaced, strategy was revamped and its mission rebranded.
Launched in early 2009 as NYC CAN, the new organization proceeded to effectively engage voters in a rational dialogue concerning the unanswered questions surrounding 9/11 and the best interests of our country. Our vehicle for engagement was a public referendum to create a real, independent, evidence-driven investigation into those questions that remain, eight years later, unaddressed.
That revamped strategy — focused and methodical, free of divisive rhetoric, ill-advised conjecture and alienating political judgments — succeeded in garnering the support of 80,000 NYC voters, over one-hundred 9/11 family members, dozens of first responders and survivors and leading 9/11 family advocates including ‘Jersey Girls’ Lorie Van Auken, Mindy Kleinberg and Patty Casazza as well as Bill Doyle, Monica Gabrielle and others.
NYC CAN also received backing from the most trusted leaders in the 9/11 truth movement, including David Ray Griffin, Richard Gage, Kevin Ryan, Steven Jones and Niels Harrit; and the endorsement of respected whistleblowers Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer and FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley, TIME’s 2002 Person of the Year.
Universally positive coverage on a cross-section of media platforms including the Baltimore Chronicle, the Newark Star-Ledger, the Villager, and even the New York Post; online outlets like the Examiner and Raw Story; and on-air interviews with France 24, Russia Today, Talk Radio Europe, NPR and Air America all brought our case directly to the voting public.
In unprecedented fashion, the community dedicated to the pursuit of answers demonstrated its dedication to what works by funding what works. Their financial assistance came not through a handful of large donations but in the form of thousands of smaller, affordable donations from across this country and around the world. This outpouring of generosity paved the way to where we stand today and we thank you all.
NYC CAN’s campaign was carefully orchestrated to engage voter support by presenting incontrovertible discrepancies to combat skepticism and create reasonable doubt. We countered objection with fact instead of theory, allowing individual deductive reasoning to poke its own holes in the 9/11 Commission’s story. By doing so we persuaded 80,000 New York City voters to listen, think and act.
Therein lies the template for success in reaching our universal goal.
That success, however, will not manifest itself as the referendum we envisioned on the ballot in NYC on November 3rd. In the process of our petition drive and court challenges, we learned the hard way that public referendums are not the vehicle by which to navigate the byzantine rules that govern the corrupt landscape of New York politics.
Midway through our petition drive we, along with our fellow New Yorkers, who twice voted to limit city officials to two terms, watched in disbelief as our own elected representatives, those to whom these term limits would apply, overturned the will of the people in a naked grasp for power.
Emboldened by this successful slap down of democracy, the City of New York and the State Supreme Court denied the will of 80,000 voters to place NYC CAN’s referendum on November’s ballot. In doing so, the City’s Corporation Counsel — while forced to acknowledge in open court that no investigation into 9/11 of any kind, criminal or otherwise, had ever been conducted by the City of New York — labeled the will of the people “irrelevant”.
A lone Supreme Court Justice, while demonstrating no comprehension or interest in the fundamental aspects of the events of 9/11 or the basis of our case — not to mention justice or truth — sided with the will of the City over the will of the people whose interests he is sworn to protect.
While the petition had its flaws, it was secure enough to be implemented if the City and the Supreme Court were so inclined. It took the petition and legal processes to realize that the current City administration will stop at nothing to keep 9/11 in the rear view mirror. Our best and current expert legal advice indicates that no petition of this kind, however framed, can ever be assured success in New York City. Hence, no more time, energy, or money will be spent on this court action or a new petition effort.
Those who wield political power will be swayed neither by rational dialogue nor the best interests of those they are meant to serve, as their motivation to act is based upon that which it always has — an insulating propagation of self-interest. Only by winning the hearts and minds of the people will our voice be heard in the halls of power that govern this country. Only when that voice echoes our message will it reverberate through those halls too loudly to be ignored. Only when the people wield the threat of their vote will those in power be forced to act.
It is to the people we must make our appeal. Only then will we succeed.
Lessons learned? With the experience gained in persuading 80,000 NYC voters to act, the strategy that will work has become ever more clear: a national public relations campaign to persuade the American public to rethink the bill of goods they were sold and now accept as bible truth. Public relations is a time-tested strategy that has been embraced across the board and through the ages; this proven methodology has been utilized to the advantage of the most progressive elements of society and embedded in the core strategy of every corporation in America. Why?
Because it works.
There is one question we must ask ourselves at this turning point for a movement unquestionably marginalized and discredited, surely by outside forces opposed to any further investigation, but also by its own hesitance to honestly assess what is not working and alter its course. This issue, like the questions to which we all seek answers, remains unaddressed but can no longer be ignored.
What holds our movement back from embracing what works?
Certainly those who give of their time, their talents and their energy to further this pursuit of answers do so with the very best intentions. Best intentions, in light of the progress we clearly have not made, are no longer good enough. Individual agendas, splintered strategies, unfocused action and information overload all play into our detractors’ hands and contribute to the lack of direction that leaves our movement marginalized, our voice muted and our goals unmet.
Our hearts are in the right place; when our message and delivery is, we will capture the hearts and minds of America. We will never silence those who would silence us; we can, however, drown those voices in public outcry if we commit to a voice that America will not only listen to but also hear.
A Multi-Tiered Strategy
The secret to success for nonprofits and social activists lay in the ability to employ the business marketing tools that have proven effective in promoting social agenda and persuading the general public, without whose support such efforts rarely succeed.
Perhaps it is time to acknowledge (and abandon) methodologies that keep our movement marginalized — radical rhetoric, vitriolic accusation and wild conjecture wrapped in off-putting self-righteousness — and embrace a strategy that changes not what we say but how we say it in order to be heard.
The science of public relations — the subtle art of persuasion — is a discipline that must be adopted by our movement. Those who effectively employ public relations to their benefit understand that a bat to the head is never an effective course of action in attaining desired results.
As with any marketing or sales effort or any successful social movement, one must engender trust before one seeks to close the sale. The problem inherent in our movement and its passionate base is the desire to close the sale without making the sale. We need to take a step back, recalibrate, redefine and reeducate. We need to employ persuasion, not pressure, with the right strategy and the right voice.
And who decides whose voice that is?
Reason must decide. The litmus test is simple. Who do the American people trust? Their elected officials? Not since Watergate. Celebrities? Celebrities certainly matter insomuch as they can draw attention to a cause and to its informed and authoritative spokespeople, but they are rarely seen or respected as such by the general public.
So who engenders both the respect and the trust required to begin to awaken an apathetic American public? Oddly enough, that voice comes from high within the very government seen by some to be the major roadblock to attaining our goals, or worse, as the main perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks. Such theorizing is destructive to any effective press for truth and should find no home here. Evidence matters. Facts matter. Image matters. Theories don’t.
This movement doesn’t need a strategy to win your support; you don’t need persuading — you are the movement. We need a voice to engage those without whose support we cannot succeed.
It’s all about perception.
Men and women of unassailable integrity — military commanders, CIA, FBI and military intelligence agents, aviation experts and senior-level administration officials — have already spoken out, putting name and reputations on the line. Men and women with a deep and pervasive understanding of how the United States government works and whose service to our country place them in a position above reproach. Men and women who can create reasonable doubt in the mind of the American public and steer attention to the authoritative voices that can cement that doubt.
These men and women, viewed by the American public as real American heroes, offer the promise of revitalizing our movement and engaging the general public on a level that today lies beyond our reach. Our movement may not perceive generals and CIA agents as the obvious choice, but must understand we could not ask for more effective spokespersons to engage the American public.
Again, we are not talking about the generals currently waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are talking about those who have already spoken out and lent their good name and stellar reputations to this cause.
Despite the presence of such credible voices, our movement has been unable to create a vehicle with which to launch a strategic nationwide campaign that can wrestle momentum from the hands of those who seek to bury the truth and place it in the hands of those who would expose it to the light of day.
There are two available options to engage the general public — advertising and public relations. Advertising space and time in the mass media is extremely expensive and often negatively viewed by the public as an attempt to manipulate. Conversely, public relations carries no cost for coverage and its efforts to humanize an issue and create goodwill in order to gain public support are generally viewed as balanced and believable. In a perfectly funded world both methodologies would be utilized. As nonprofits and social activists rarely enjoy that option, fiscal realities dictate viable action — a public relations campaign.
While effective public relations can be costly, the net benefit in shaping one’s image, promoting one’s cause and garnering the requisite support make it a worthy investment. The right PR firm not only partners in shaping strategy and message to convey the desired image, but also maintains the media contacts to bring that message directly to the public.
The most daunting challenge PR firms face in effectively conveying an image with which the public will identify lies in identifying trusted spokespersons that can articulate message in a manner that engenders their support. Those individuals have already been identified. All that remains is the crafting of the message and the vehicle for the right spokespeople to drive that message home.
Message massage is of paramount importance with any polarizing issue; what you say and how you say it take on an equal importance. While there are those who can follow the existing trail of evidence down the rabbit hole, our target demographic — a preoccupied American public — cannot. Our message must be re-calibrated to begin at the start with the most fundamental discrepancies and omissions in the 9/11 Commission Report in order to begin to chip away at the stone.
The general public’s attention span is short and their grasp of these issues is tenuous at best. Our message must harness and repeat the core concepts undeniable by the most hardened skeptics and that message must be repeated again and again before the onion can be peeled.
We must also bear in mind that while 9/11 changed our world overnight, it will take us considerably longer to change the public’s perception and understanding of the issues at hand. One effective piece in the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune or one interview with Katie Couric or Anderson Cooper, or any one placement in any new media, will not accomplish our goal. Our goal is now multimedia saturation — a consistent stream of stories through a cross-section of print media, regional, network and cable news outlets and their Internet counterparts.
In addition to saturating all media outlets at our disposal, we must provide tangible platforms our spokespersons can use to drive a renewed public interest into action.
Strategic Political Engagement
NYC CAN was the movement’s first step into the arena of electoral politics. The 9/11 referendum afforded NYC CAN a platform to engage hundreds of thousands of voters in a carefully orchestrated dialogue to reshape the public’s attitude toward its government’s actions as they relate to 9/11. Regardless of the referendum’s outcome, the campaign was a success in heightening public awareness of the need to demand answers to the questions our government continues to ignore. As awareness grows, so grows the peril to the elected representatives that refuse to act.
And that is exactly the point.
New York City is only one among countless opportunities to skin the cat. There are 9/11 advocates all across the country, many of which are presently engaged in civic action. While we encourage all groups to continue or begin to act, we would hope that all see the power and importance of those actions when taken under the umbrella of one common strategy, harnessing the strength of a unified, professionally crafted message.
Ballot initiatives, whether meant to enact legislation or to express the will of the people in a non-binding resolution, carry weight both as voter actions unto themselves and as platforms for civic engagement as part of the overall campaign. Their eventual outcome may in fact be of less importance than the civic engagement they engender.
We must also engage in efforts to pass local resolutions calling for further investigation into 9/11 as such efforts also raise the public profile of our mission. We must use that strategy to continue to lobby top officials and district attorneys. In states and cities where ballot initiatives are not accepted, as well as in states and cities where they are, our strategy can lay the groundwork that opens the door to running and supporting candidates on a platform of 9/11 accountability.
Keep in mind that which bears repeating; the outcome of these efforts may prove less important than the civic engagement these campaigns will engender. Much like public relations, saturation is the name of the game. Without tangible vehicles that enable civic engagement, our efforts to reshape the public’s perception will be for naught.
An Untangled Web
The concept and execution of our strategy presents both challenge and opportunity to the movement. As if through the looking glass in a world where bad is good and up becomes down, being too well versed in the intricacies of 9/11 can become a handicap once we acknowledge that our target demographic simply is not.
The average American’s general perception of September 11th can be summed up in five short words: two planes and two towers. It is up to us to reshape that perception using evidence in a manner that will lead to the requisite reasonable doubt of the story the public has come to accept.
There is certainly no lack of credible, well-documented research covering a myriad of 9/11 topics splashed across the Internet on countless websites.
Therein lies the problem.
Too much information, too many details and too many story lines muddy the waters for those too confused to digest the overload of information. In addition, rampant rhetoric and conjecture (for which there is no place) leave our target demographic wary and unconvinced, making it that much easier for our detractors to continue to marginalize our movement.
It’s all about how we bait the hook.
A haphazard dissemination of everything under the 9/11 sun, from credible evidence to amateur analysis, and from half-baked theory to full-blown truth, is not the way to convert the pervasive skepticism we face today. When we learn to control the content, flow and presentation of information in a more simplified and direct fashion we will control its effect.
What is missing is one carefully vetted, content-controlled web presence — a virtual “Citizens’ Commission” containing a professionally designed interactive catalogue of the most legally sound evidence and a video portal for expert testimony to be used in an eventual investigation or court action. Laid out in easy-to-navigate chapter and verse, casual inquiry moves efficiently from the center of the story outward. If executed properly, casual inquiry will work its way to responsible, civic-minded action. But we must begin with the basics.
Every successful salesman understands the value of well-crafted collateral sales material. There is no end to what a true 9/11 homepage, a disciplined 9/11 primer, can become and no limit to its value in reaching our goal.
But we must begin at the start, always mindful that in order to close the sale we have to make the sale.
Our 9/11 Wake Up Call
We are at war against a government that has used the events of 9/11 to hijack a country from her people and placed the interests of the rich and the powerful above justice and truth. Wars can only be won through strategy, commitment and discipline.
Present strategy has moved us no closer to our goal; in fact, some of the actions this movement has embraced hold us back from gaining any real momentum, working to the benefit of the very people who stand in opposition to the truth. Our detractors love those who will carry their water, whether consciously or not, doing real damage to any chance of success.
We know many of you, like us, see our marginalized movement’s stalled momentum as a call to effective action — a call to take the fight to our detractors by using the very tools they employ to promote their own agenda. We must use these same time-tested tools to elevate our own search for answers with a campaign directed at the hearts and minds of the American people:
- a professional rollout of a national public relations campaign and trusted spokespeople to reshape image and regain momentum in order to broaden our reach
- a uniform and coordinated methodology for regional action feeding off and feeding into that campaign nationwide
- a disciplined Internet presence structured in content and tone to reshape public perception and create reasonable doubt
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. As we see ourselves in no position to argue, we would urge all who share our simple goal — truthful answers to reasonable questions — to abandon those methodologies which have proven, over and over again, not to work and come together in support of the time-tested strategies that will.
Let us move closer to our goals by accepting that the only effective path to success is through a course of action that engenders the support of the American public. We are committed only to the strategies that have stood the test of time. We urge the leaders of every like-minded organization to unite in a call for answers that is sure to be heard when we raise our voice as one.
Thinkers think and talkers talk. Patriots ACT.