Geof (a new commenter on PT, I think – welcome!) responded to this post taken from the Mayors’ Council, with some good advice on a better way to talk about (and name) the referendum campaign (emphases mine).
We face a choice.
Metro Vancouver will grow by one million people in the next 30 years. Our region is already congested now, and this will get worse if we fail to act.
We need to get ready for growth.
Fortunately, there is a plan. Metro Vancouver mayors came together to agree on a plan that meets the needs of the region today and into the future.
The Mayors’ plan will cut congestion by providing improved transportation and transit choices to people everywhere in Metro Vancouver.
I am afraid this is framed poorly: It is expressed in terms of a negative (congestion is bad), and it is implicitly about a laundry list of individual interests. Finally, it avoids the elephant in the room: we are being asked to pay a tax.
A negative campaign works for the No side: as Jarrett Walker says, No is the default option. Individualizing costs and benefits fragments support into thousands of calculations of self-interest. This allows Jordan Bateman to set the terms of that debate: the highest principle is to keep our money to ourselves. We can do better than that. We need to give people something to vote *for*, not a fear to vote against.
I believe the campaign needs to do several things:
1) Present a positive vision. The rational argument (for efficiency, pollution, etc.) is important, but it’s not enough.
2) Make voting a meaningful act. It should not be a duty or a calculation: it should make us feel good about being part of something larger than ourselves.
3) Own up to the fact that this will cost money, if possible turning it almost into a positive.
As I see it, in voting Yes we express who we are. We stake a claim to the future of our city. We are not just building buses, trains, and roads: we are laying the foundation for vibrant neighborhoods and communities.
Until now, transit has been at the whim of the government in Victoria. They pay the tab, they pick the megaproject, they own it. We are voting to raise taxes voluntarily *on ourselves*. We know that building a great city takes commitment and sacrifice. We choose to make that sacrifice because we want to take ownership of our future.
We have focused on how a No result would be a disaster. But a Yes victory would be a triumph, achieving far more than another edict from Victoria. It would transform what we are capable of. I think we should take care not to be seen to complain about the plebiscite. I do not think it reasonable that only transit should be subject to a vote, but that is water under the bridge. We should seize democracy with both hands. An effective Yes campaign will be a victory regardless of the outcome of the vote.
The difficult problem remains, which is finding the right way to communicate that vision of the future. It does little good that I can see it in my heart. Communicating with the heart is what good rhetoric and symbolism do. Think the slide carousel in Mad Men. Think of JFK’s speech when he said, We go to the moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard. (Imagine if he had made it seem easy: We go to the moon to humble the Soviets and hey, we can afford it.)
I have been trying to think of a name for that vision. The best I’ve come up with so far is the Evergreen City, encompassing the whole region (and borrowing the Evergreen Line’s name, now that it’s about to be branded Millennium instead.) But it’s not a name that matters, it’s the image it arouses: seeing it ourselves and sharing it with others.