Food for Thought: The Provocative, Patriotic Perspectives of Author Anand Giridharadas on the Life and Death Fight for Hearts, Minds and Democracy

Investment activist and author Nathalie Molina Niño interviewing author Anand Giridharadas at the ASBN Conference in San Diego last week. Credit: Terry Gips

By Alliance President Terry Gips

It’s unusual that business leaders would give a standing ovation to a speaker that fundamentally critiqued their capitalist model. But that’s exactly what in your face Winners Take All author Anand Giridharadas did previously at the American Sustainable Business Network Conference in his “passionate plea for real change” as opposed to “billionaire fake change.” In his third encore return to the conference, Anand again awakened and empowered his audience with a profound re-framing from his new book The Persuaders in an interview with investment activist and author Nathalie Molina Niño.

Basic Fatalism

Anand began with a fundamental critique of the “basic fatalism about the possibility of changing anyone’s mind. There’s an anti-persuasive culture that has taken hold. We often say, ‘They’ll never get the vaccine’ or ‘They will never defect from Trump.’ But there are examples of where that’s not true like LGBTQ winning marriage equality. If you’re going around and saying people can’t change it’s because you’re not willing to do the work.”

He made an urgent plea: “We need small e evangelical movements. We need the pro-democracy side to not only be more correct, but to decisively beat back the authoritarian movement. Sure, we may win 51% to 49%, but I’m not dancing because half of this country wants fascism. I believe half of us are being offered fasc. My kids and your kids aren’t safe.”


He called for a very different “organizer’s playbook” than what “others like the Democratic Party is doing. It’s here and clear. Many are doing parts of it. You can’t do a Pro-Democracy Movement that refuses to persuade. We need to circle the wagons. I’m not interested in national healing. I just want us to crush fascism in this country. To do that we need more strategy, empathy and patience. In my book I wrote about people who are doing that.”

Anat Shenker-Osorio

He pointed to Chapter 5 on The Art of Messaging in which he highlighted Anat Shenker-Osorio, who he called “the leading person in the movement on the left” for political messaging. He said, “She’s doing a one-woman insurgency against the left’s normal way of communicating. Democracy is talking to voters. She is trying to move the establishment left away from focusing on white people in a diner” because “otherwise you moderate the dreams you want in order to win over the diner Pennsylvanians so they won’t think you’re a Communist.”

Instead, she calls for people to “Say what you’re for” and “Paint the beautiful tomorrow.” Anand made a clarion call to “Stand bravely for big bold things, like John Fetterman. He stood for the most progressive things except for a few issues. You reach out by reframing.” He said rather than saying “Health Care for All” we should call for “Freedom Care” to move away from using “human rights language.” He said we need to “Hook the ambitions we have into a realistic vision of what people want.”

Anand said, “We live in reaction. Look at Nick Fuentes and his anti-Semitic comments.” A private three- person dinner between Trump, Nazi-backing Kanye West and white nationalist Fuentes got amplified so that that “now 30 million people know. We’re amplifying people whose entire purpose is to be heard.”

He went on to say, “Anat is very careful to say pay attention to whose conversation you’re having. Biden said cities are burning. He was consenting about how to have a conversation about law and order. It’s not Democrats’ issue. Instead, ask ‘How can we thrive?’ If the question is how we stay safe we lose. All of us make the mistake every time we quote those people or define what we want in terms of what they’re doing. Say what you want and are for.”

Refuse to Concede Patriotism

Nathalie asked Anand about his speaking about “not ceding territory” but pointed out, “We’ve ceded ‘freedom’ as a camp for the right. I see people with the US flag because it’s been ceded so I feel unsafe. We’ve allowed others to define that. We’ve ceded a lot of territory.”

Anand gave a surprising and powerful response: “I am a patriot. I love America. I refuse to concede that to men who shoot bottles to prepare for revolution or to the guys with the pick-up trucks. We should feel patriotism for the remarkable institutions we’re trying to defend. It’s dangerous to concede the flag to the people who besmirch it. It’s dangerous to cede reproductive freedom to people who want to send women to reproductive gulags.” He added, “I refuse the idea that people who believe in violence and are essentially scared of equality…can own the meaning of love in this country.”

Reaching Moderates

He discussed an engaging process for organizing by reaching out to moderates: “They are gettable. The belief that all moderates are sitting in the place at the mean is not true. They don’t have a fully baked view on every issue. All of us overestimate how many people have a baked world view. It’s how strongly your opinions are held. 25% on the left and 25% on the right have deep roots. They won’t be casually talked out of their perspectives.”

However, he emphasized that “50% of people have fragile roots. It’s kind of an openness. Moderation is a situation and not an identity. Unhoused is a situation, not an identity. We see this all the time. They can be toggled to the left or right. They have the ability to be swayed by arguments based on the intuitions they have. People can get toggled into a place of wanting a strong border. But family separation was a big red line for most. They felt, ‘This is not who we are.’” We need to address them.

“Once you get over the fallacy of moderates in the middle,” it opens up new possibilities. He said that too often we offer moderates what he called, “a pizza-burger.” Most people “don’t know what they want. Don’t offer a pizza-burger and then offer them half of either. I need to surround that person with what they don’t know they want.” He emphasized the need for a “visceral, non-science stand, a guttural, socially informed choice. A lot of us vote on vibes or emotion. Stop giving them pizza-burger and instead surround them with the joys of pizza.”

Victory is possible

Nathalie pointed to Anat’s comment about Dr. Martin Luther that in his famous I Have a Dream speech, “He didn’t begin by saying I have a complaint.” Anand responded: “That speech had a lot of complaints but Dr. King knew how to frame it. Look at the Declaration of Independence. It’s 98% complaints. It’s the part no one reads, like ‘The Tea tax won’t stand.’ But the preamble at the top changed it all. Start with that and then enter your complaints. The Declaration began with this inspiring thing we’re still chasing. We’re still falling short of it. It was illusive” but we are still moved by it, not the complaint.

It’s AOC who thinks about describing the kind of society you’d get if we win. We forget to show that victory is possible. There would be a new world. We don’t know what it’s like to have Medicare for all as they do in Europe,” he said. “No one has shown the beauty of the wildness of that idea. There’s no video on ‘Freedom Care.’ It could be done with a $5k video to show the world what we’re for.”

He emphasized that even though “this anti-democratic movement feels big and formidable,” it’s “a reactionary movement. The progressive movement doesn’t need the other side to legitimize its agenda. The right is parasitic on progress. It’s their oxygen. It’s a boil on the body politic. They opposed the war on poverty, medicare, gay rights, etc. They have never won any of these battles in the long run. They’re not offering a bold movement of the future.”

Ditch the despair

He called on everyone to “Ditch the despair. They will lose again. If we want to have that happen rather than decades of backlash we need to change people’s minds. Make movements more fun and easy to join…movements that can go high or low. Drive the conversation and reclaim the idea of persuasion. You have to believe that people can change.”

The playbook

So, what’s his playbook for doing this? “Command attention. Look at what AOC does. She and the far right know how to command attention for more than 24 hours. Another core is meaning making. The far right understands politics is 24/7 365. Their theory is that people experience stimuli from the world.”

That’s why he’s optimistic: “We’re neck and neck with fascism without playing on the elemental aspects of the playbook.”

In response to an audience question, Anand said “It’s ok to have an emotional and psychological lens. Like Harry and Sally. I’ll have what she’s having. We need to have people want more of what we have. What’s the analog? We need a movement that is the more fun party with cocktails and dancing. We need to create a more exuberant, joyful and transcendent space. No church rests on the laurels of the texts being true. They’re afraid the word of God isn’t enough. You need guitar music or a chorus.”

Anand emphasized, “It’s not enough to be right. You have to offer the more compelling offer. We have a story of a country that is trying to get better that began with very powerful ideals it failed to live up to. A country improved by people who had an unrequited love. It’s a great story that everyone should be able to see themselves in. No country in the world is trying to do the specific thing we’re trying to do. Those countries are staying safely at 70% white, as Eric Lu wrote in Chinaman’s Chance.”

Anand concluded, “We are doing something great and remember that and don’t get into despair and reaction mode. We’re trying to build a movement of progress. Make them so dazzled that they want to have what we’re having.

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