AP Stylebook: On Writing As Activism

AP Stylebook 2016 Cover
Any multi-media attack system perfected by extreme groups for the deconstruction of critical institutions, civil rights movements, and fact-based news includes a massive propaganda war that begins with the perversion of a term or phrase, or the rebranding of extremist ideas with new and unfamiliar terms and phrases meant to normalize radical concepts. The introduction of the term "alt-right" by   American Neo-nazi leadership was one such attempt. That attempt, off to a great start when journalists rushed to interview any pro-Trump supporting faction in the wake of the 2016 election slowed down significantly when the AP Stylebook defined and set firm usage standards of the term, and by doing so, slowed the attempted normalization of white supremacist propaganda machine efforts to push their own political agenda into the language of mainstream media. This literally brought equilibrium back in professional journalistic coverage of white nationalism and reminded everyone that journalism has standards that fake news and even independent opinion based content like this blog may not follow. Those differences add professionalism and depth to how fact based news is delivered to us.

The AP Stylebook tweeting about the alt-right:

Maybe readers have already noticed; the war of words is one of the most crucial wars in the fight against extremism and hatred. We have actually already capitulated certain battles by allowing extremists, and their social media troll extensions to define terms in this war because we adapted their terms as they defined them when the opposite should have been the case. This is how the term 'welfare' was made into a dirty word, and food stamps, often the only thing standing between vulnerable populations and starvation, have been firmly placed in the minds of conservatives as vehicles for fraud, waste, and abuse. Poverty has been perverted into a term implying laziness and freeloading.

People with invisible disabilities have been rebranded as scam artists. Autistic meltdowns, in particular, have been deliberately misrepresented as the result of poor parenting. Autism is even being presented as a fabricated disability, and this perversion of how autism is presented and defined has gained a foothold on social media. Autism is also being perverted into a substitute for the r-word as if they were interchangeable. No collective activist action has occurred to counter this subversion of the word autism to date.

Two other heartbreaking instances of this word perversion being successfully done are also recent.
The first is the rebranding of euthanasia at the very moment American society demanded health care for all as a human right. Rebranding hovered at "right to die" (as if dying could be denied when in fact death cannot be hindered), to 'death with dignity.'  This rebranding was accomplished by first compartmentalizing the word 'suicide.' Suicide was bad and required intensive and immediate mental health intervention unless the victim was diagnosed with a lifelong disability or terminal illness. In those two instances, suicide was not to be viewed as a symptom of clinical depression but as an act of seeking death with dignity because no legal options existed. The idea of no options existing in end-of-life decisions is a fallacy, as 'do not resuscitate' orders make clear. If a patient wishes no life support, they can create legal documents and wear jewelry that indicates these wishes. Yet the 'death with dignity' movement, by exploiting people's fear of pain and suffering and their larger fear of interdependent disability presented as a societal and financial burden is now succeeding for the first time in years of building momentum and focusing national corporate media attention on any young person who is terminally ill or disabled and suicidal. The euthanasia movement has succeeded in getting more euthanasia legislation passed in the last few years than efforts have for decades. All with the rebranding of a concept into a term disinfected from the ugly truth of its past.

It happened so quickly that there was not enough time to react. Now activists are in constant damage control mode, fighting with lesser resources against this massive campaign now backed by health insurance companies not wishing to pay to extend the lives of patients who don't want to die when they could live disabled and fulfilling lives. People are now increasingly forced to choose between accepting medications to hasten death and bankrupting trying to meet the cost of life-sustaining medical treatment without health insurance. All beginning with one rebranding of a term.

We have failed to reach enough of the public with the message that people aren't better off dead than disabled, that disabled lives have worth regardless of the degree of disability involved. The concept of family is one of interdependency, but a dependent adult who is disabled is branded a social burden.

The second term has now evolved as the go-to attack on a very successful social action vehicle: running social media campaigns for social justice. Everything from #FreeOurGirls to Arab Spring to the  #AutismSpeaks10 hashtag hijacking to #NODAPL and #BlackLivesMatter was born and sometimes lived exclusively on social media.  Social Justice Warrior, or SJW for short, was a term that appeared in the twentieth century to describe the movements led by Gandhi and MLK.  But in 2011, the term was perverted, and its use as a trolling tool in Gamergate sullied it so completely that it was accepted as a pejorative permanently. I've seen activists using it as such, and each time I do, I cringe a bit. Like other terms skewed away from their origins to be made pejoratives, I should very much like to see SJW defiantly reclaimed, because it wasn't meant to be a trolling insult against a valid form of activist action. That can only begin with all of us who generate content making reclamation efforts at using the term for its original intent rather than allowing trolls with their own agendas to dictate the language of discourse in social justice. We can't just let them continue adding to an ever increasing dictionary of pejorative terms that are actually words that belong to civil rights, human rights, LGBT rights, feminism, and disability rights.

I am already seeing content generated stating the blame for the Democrats' failure in the last election was entirely their immersion in identity politics, where the term identity politics is a bad thing because it is used to imply that white working class identity is excluded and that is patently false. Identity politics, which encompasses civil and human rights including the rights of marginalized groups, will be the new target for a makeover as a  pejorative term. This must not be allowed to happen unchallenged.

We know social media campaigns work and sometimes work on a global scale (as in the change.org petition of a 12-year-old young woman from Standing Rock Sioux community that grew into the global #NoDAPL campaign.)  Why are we allowing this propaganda war to be won without challenging it? We let others take our lexicon, pervert it, and spew it back at us with hatred. It is happening because when our terms are kidnapped, we do nothing to rescue them.

This is where activists and academicians who are bloggers, grammarians, and instructors in English literature and rhetoric can push back. The minute we see the beginning of a term perversion for political attack purposes all of us need to take to our content generation spaces and flash blog against that usage and retain or reclaim our terms. We should definitely not be applying their definition of our terminology as insults to others on social media. That needs to end now.

That greatest war Hitler fought was the propaganda war that preceded all of his crimes against humanity. This is the war we must begin to win in the court of public opinion if we want to preserve humans rights in America. Words matter a great deal. They define public opinion and public policy. We need to let online activists know that what they do is critical to all human rights causes, and we need to act to take our words back and restore the power of terms critical to social justice reform so they work in the service of the causes they were created to serve again.

One of my New Year's resolutions is to read AP's 2016 Stylebook. Join me.


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