“How do you think the Liberals will do in the last election? Personally, I think they’ll sweep Ontario.” Or, to put it another way, welcome to the world of backcasting, where you can confidently predict what has already happened, and give your reasons why. The future is notoriously murky, isn’t it? But the past is clear. You can look back for miles.
I was recently invited to become the director of Campaign Life Niagara in Ontario, and agonized over the decision for about 30 seconds. All of the volunteers quite sensibly greeted the news by leaving, so I direct nobody at the moment. However, I backcast that the new Campaign Life Niagara was the first step towards a new abortion law that was finally passed in the year 2010.
Backcasting allows you to do that, you see. You can stand at the top of the hill today – that is, in the future year 2010 – and look back at all the things you had to do along the way in order to achieve the new law. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how the new Campaign Life Niagara achieved its goal.
First, we reframed the abortion debate. Why on earth did we ever get bogged down with the fixed notion that abortion is just a religious and moral issue? A more certain road to defeat one cannot imagine. There simply are not enough decent people out there to swing things, especially given the underwhelming support of organized religion for the pro-life struggle.
“Tell a man abortion stops a beating heart,” I say in a letter to one of my as-yet-invisible band of supporters, “and he will shrug. After all, it’s not his heart.” We cannot reframe the debate as a matter of legality, because there is no law, and even if there was, the opposition has the bigger guns.
What I found as I stood on the mountain top in 2010 was astonishing – we had reframed the abortion debate in terms of the economy, and in particular, that part of the economy that lies in a man’s back pocket. We told people that abortion was wrecking their prosperity. In other words, a pro-life philosophy means prosperity.
As my second letter to nobody said breathlessly: “Tell a person that abortion is picking his pocket and he might listen. We talk self-interest to greedy people.”
How did we get the message across? Looking back, it’s so very clear. Starting in 2001, we began to use the slogan “Pro-life means prosperity” relentlessly on everything we put out. And we put out lots.
Using direct mail and hand-delivered flyers, we strategically targeted recipients – business owners, lawyers, bankers and all the centres of influence in the Niagara Peninsula – to send that one message – bang, bang, bang – until they finally started to get it.
Under the banner “Pro-life means prosperity,” we pointed out that abortion has stripped our nation of some two million taxpayers, consumers and skilled workers. “Who will pay the taxes now?” we asked. “Who will buy the stuff you make? And who will make it?” They were real-world money questions, directed at people who cared only about money. You will be pleased to know that we won this reframed abortion debate quite handily.
Every story needs a villain, and for our abortion story we cannily chose neither the abortionist, nor the mother, nor the moral vacuum. Instead, we chose the politicians we sent to Ottawa. It took a long time to do all this, even with one simple message. Rome was neither built nor destroyed in a day, after all.
But backcasting from my mountaintop, I saw it all and I saw it plain. And by golly, it worked.