How To Project: How To Frame A Debate using Chick-Fill-A Protests

This post is a part of the How-To Project over on Tumbler inviting female bloggers and writers to write their own How-To articles on whatever we are good at.  The inspiration for this Tumbler project comes from the excessively gendered articles by the few female writers featured in the New York Times How-To issue.  

I do policy, and as a political geek nothing irritates me more than seeing a cause I want to fight for go down in smoke.  Most often this has little to do with the real issue but more to do with the quality of the debate. I can build a solid argument and deliver a speech like nobody’s business; some say this is talent but I don’t think so.  I learned this in freshman English in college and zero hour honors English in high school. This article was made possible by all my excellent English and social studies teachers and professors through the years.

A frame is how you see the debate: it’s your perspective.  All good arguments start with a sturdy frame to shape how the public will see the issue. In a debate, you want the public to see the issue your way. If you lose your frame, you lose the debate because no matter what arguments you have tucked away, they will refer to something outside the scope of the argument.  Your frame is essentially the “bones” of your argument.  A solid skeleton makes a good argument and your supporting facts are like the clothes. Do not let anyone put your clothes on their skeleton.

I’m going to use the Chick-Fil-A example because it’s currently in the news. Also, I think those who started this debate have lost.  Why did they lose even though a bunch of the public are with them?  Well, because they lost the frame of the debate, or their argument against CFA was poorly framed in the first place.  (I am sorry to whoever started this, go back to freshman English and blame your English teacher.)

1.  Define your problem.  It seems this debate started over some anti-gay marriage remarks made by CFA’s founder.  This sparked the idea that the LGBT community and those who support them should then boycott CFA – because the founder doesn’t support gay rights (which are human rights).  Okay, this is a good starting point.  Instead of immediately rushing to Facebook, proceed to step 2.

2.  Research your problem.  In this case, the “problem” was not just that CFA’s founder opposes gay rights.  The founders with CFA as their main source of income, have a charitable organization: the WinShape Foundation which donates money to anti-gay causes.**  Some of the organizations WinShape donates to include Marriage and Family Foundation ($1,188,380) and Family Research Council among others.*  Additionally, it’s not just the founders using their earnings off CFA; the CFA corporation directly donates to WinShape.  The sizable donations from both the founders and CFA corporation make it clear some of the profit from your chicken sandwich went to this organization who turns around and funnels that money to other foundations some who may use your money in ways you aren’t happy about. It appears some of these organizations use their money for lobbying, and some use it to directly negatively impact the well-being of LGBT persons through sexual rehabilitation camps and preaching outright hatred, shunning of LGBT youth by their families, etc.  That’s some pretty hateful and heavy stuff.  In my opinion, that isn’t worth a chicken sandwich that is pretty overpriced for fast food in the first place.

3.  Re-define your problem.  After research we know that CFA is directly and indirectly contributing profits to organizations that directly negatively impact the well-being of the LGBT community.   To add another layer of “problem” to the CFA situation, the new court ruling has given corporations like CFA and those the WinShape Foundation donates to, free reign over political contributions.  Many other organizations lobby and put money into political causes, but 501c3 foundations are somewhat limited.  What they do to get around this is create other nonprofit foundations who are not 501c3s to do their lobbying and political work for them.  Many organizations of the Right and the Left have these shadow organizations.  This angle seems to be left unaddressed in even some of the best framed CFA articles, and I think this was a missed opportunity.  The problem no longer lies with a corporation’s founder having some unsavory views and freely voicing them (free speech) it’s also about the “free speech” of corporations and how they utilize this right as well.  In this case, a corporation’s free speech is being used to harm actual living LGBT individuals and curtail their rights as humans to enter into (and fail at) civic insitautions like marriage and some interfer with their rights as a person to exist without having their sexuality and psychological well being harmed.  So should corporations, with much more money and therefore more power, be allowed to have this “right” or are these rights something you have to be an actual living, breathing person to possess?

4. Know your opposition and know your audience.  In this case your opposition is the Christian Right, homophobes, and the far Right.  Your opposition is going to defend CFA and its founders rights to say and spend their money however they want, especially since they will agree with it.  The Christian Right will claim you are infringing on their religious freedom and has proven themselves more than willing to put their money into the debate. (Do corporations have religious freedom or should corporations, since they do not have a soul, not be given any kind of right to practice their religion as they choose?)  Anti-gay factions will be vocal in their support of CFA and founders in any way possible with the ferocity only deep seeded psychological trauma can muster.  You need to frame the debate in a way that is impervious to these demands.  To do this, you need to steer clear of making it about religion and focus on how the corporate money directly impacts harming LGBT individuals.

Your audience is the LGBT community, allies of the LGBT community, Libertarians, the middle, and the Left.  They will get on board with LGBT rights, but you may gain ground with the middle with illustrating the impact of newly minted corporate foundations giving unlimited funding to political causes especially when certain organizations exist with the sole purpose of funding corporate money into causes like this working around any remaining traceability and accountability like the CFA protests. In any debate, you want to be able to “win” as many people over to your side as possible.  Finding the most far-reaching accessible frame is important.

5.  Re-define your problem.  Make the heart of your case the corporate funding that directly impacts individuals.  Pointing out bigotry is always important and has a place in debate, but you will need to re-define the problem and bring it back down to the facts when the Religious Right tries to send this back to a religious freedom debate.  You are not telling them how or what they can believe you are asserting your right to not support their business based on how they hurt LGBT communities.

6. Give a solution.  In this case, the boycott of CFA stores and products.  If you take your money out of their equation, their stores fail, and they will not be able to support these causes.  The key is getting other folks to go in with you on more than the basis of religious ideology.  Additionally, while I like the street theater aspect of the “kiss-in” at CFA locations frankly you aren’t helping the case as long as you give them your money.  Corporations don’t care what you do as long as you give them your hard-earned money.

7.  Be prepared to re-assert your frame.  Don’t get lost in details, don’t let them detract you.  Your opposition in this debate and always will be hateful, and full of fury; don’t let it derail your train.  Once you get derailed you’ve lost the battle.  You may be able to lose the battle and win the war, but it’s not good for morale.  Ultimately, I believe those of us on the side of human rights will win the gay marriage rights and this will go down like segregation.  The truth is, racism is still out there and some folks will always be ugly like that.   It’s our job to keep the debate on track to win the war with policy and overall public opinion.

In the future, frame your debates before it gets to social media.  Fight better, fight harder, fight smarter.

*All information on CFA’s contributions can be found through WinShape’s 990 (an IRS form filed by all nonprofits) available online.  I accessed mine through Guidestar.

**I fount out about WinShape from Snopes.com.  I don’t consider them a reputable source but when I googled WinShape and found it, it states who founded it additionally backed up by the WinShapes 990s.

Edited in the wee hours of Saturday morning: Chick-Fil-A.  I finally got the name right.  Proof you can focus too much on fact checking and not enough on details.

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About Pixie

I'm just your average 20-something trying to figure it out. I am also a theologian, yogi, witch, pagan, dirty hippie, activist (progressive politics), feminist, knitter, environmentalist, and friend. I've also been accused of being a hipster - I am not sure about that. I am sometimes happy to be Gen Y (go Harry Potter) and most of the time confused (seriously guys... ) by everyone else. My hobbies including knitting (and maybe crochet), quilting, recycling, cooking, writing, reading, and biking. I'm finishing up a masters in public policy and when I worked worked in political nonprofits as an activist.
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