It’s been 50 years since 1968, the year in which protest found its voice and an awakening of the people’s power shaped public policy.
As we enter the second year of the Trump presidency, there are some obvious parallels, including a federal administration hostile to equity and inclusion, and an energized community of activists working for change.
Of course, there were no “social change agencies” back then. Fenton didn’t exist. But 1968 is in our DNA. Some of our us were on the front lines of movements back then. Others weren’t born. And much of Fenton staff is two generations on, a new wave of activists using multiple instant communications platforms and tools to make change.
2018 will be a frenzied year in the public arena, with a cacophony of causes vying for attention during year two of the “resistance.” Here are a few trends to watch:
The fight for the Dreamers is on. The cruelty shown to “Dreamers,” those eligible for DACA renewal, was at the heart of the recent government shutdown. This will continue to be a significant issue in 2018, and one that has been exacerbated by a lack of credible information. Most dreamers did not receive any notification from the government alerting them of their status and opportunity to renew, instructions or deadline. They also received mixed messages on whether renewal would be a safe step for them given the current anti-immigrant environment.
Women are storming the House. 2018 has already been called “The Year of the Woman,” with nearly 400 women planning to run for the House of Representatives. The 2018 election may reach a fever pitch usually reserved for a Presidential election year, with a major shift towards digital advertising and online video.
We’re already seeing the rise of organizations like Indivisible, Swing Left and Run for Something. We’re also seeing an emergence of organizations explicitly working to build political power for people of color and women, like Sister District, Black PAC and Vote Pro Choice, who helped women candidates run on reproductive rights — and win — in 2017.
Organizations are mobilizing to stare down racism and anti-semitism. Facing a wave of racism and anti-semitism, many organizations are looking for ways to use communications to challenge hatred. One of the most remarkable organizations is Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit that for 30 years has helped schools teach children about racism and anti-semitism and whose work is as urgently needed now as ever before. We are creating strategy and messaging for Facing History in 2018, which includes supporting a community-wide teach-in on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of MLK, hosted at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN.
Rising anger over conservation. In December 2016, after years of consultation with five tribal nations, President Obama designated the Bears Ears region of Southern Utah a National monument. Last year President Trump gave most of the land back to mining interests, rolling back protections for most of the land in Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, another national monument that has stood for over 20 years. This is part of an overall effort by the Trump Administration to undo almost every environmental protection on the books, including a recent decision to open up both coasts to offshore drilling.
More fake news. Little threatens the integrity of our clients more than the lack of credible news sources and the proliferation of bots and trolls. As an industry, we will need to contend with “fake news” on an ongoing basis in 2018. All brands are at risk — not just political causes. As PR professionals we have a choice: use fake news and obfuscation to help our clients at the expense of our democracy, or do our work with integrity. At Fenton, we’re part of a group working to create an “ethical engine” to spread facts and opinions of real voters on social media, as an antidote to the attacks we’re seeing on meaningful public discourse. It won’t be easy.
Fifty years ago, a year like no other roiled American history, with breaking — and often genuinely shocking — news each day.
In the second year of the Trump resistance, we are inspired by that history. And we’re expecting a year like no other in the public debate.
Ben Wyskida is CEO at Fenton