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Rockridge Institute

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Note: Rockridge closed it's doors on April 30.

The Rockridge Institute is an out world progressive think tank co-founded by George Lakoff (in world GeorgeLakoff Schmooz]. It's Senior Fellows include Glenn W. Smith (in world GlennSmith Republic) and Eric Haas (EricHaas Tigerpaw). They and Public Affairs Director Sherry Reson, will be joined soon by Executive Director Bruce Budner.

What We Do

The Rockridge Institute reinforces progressive values and brings progressive ideas into greater prominence in the political discourse. We aim to democratize knowledge about politics and to deepen and broaden the public's understanding of the political world. Rockridge studies the worldviews, values and ideas behind conservative and progressive policies, issues and political discourse.

Using the tools of neuroscience and cognitive linguistics — combined with decades of practical political experience — Rockridge promotes the effective articulation of progressive values. We do this by monitoring public debate and suggesting both long-term and short-term options for framing that offer a progressive perspective. We work primarily at the deep level of values and ideas across specific policy areas. At the level of language, we point out ineffective word choices and suggest argument forms and phrasings that better express progressive values.

Rockridge serves these goals in a variety of tangible ways. We create campaigns on the prominent issues and ideas of our time. Health care is the first of these, but six to eight more will follow this year. We have created an online community, whom we communicate with in a variety of ways on We write articles on a range of timely topics and publish them both on our website and in various online and print venues. We speak to groups around the nation and the world to promote our ideas. We are beginning to offer live training sessions to progressive leaders and advocates to sensitize them to the importance of framing. And in October 2006, we published our first book Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision, which has now been translated into Spanish and Korean.


America needs to renew its moral vision, to reestablish its fundamental principles, and to redirect its public discourse in order to realize a progressive future. That’s why America needs a Rockridge Institute. (Rockridge Institute has Key Influencers and members of its Rockridge Natiion Community from many nations.)

Rockridge serves major purposes:

Scientific purposes: To discover how unconscious thought, including the framing of issues, works in social and political discourse; and to publish the results openly and widely.

The democratization of knowledge: To make whatever is discovered freely available to the public in a form that is understandable and useful. For social purposes: To use this knowledge to improve the lives of Americans by showing how to better understand and communicate progressive American values over the full range of present and future issues.

Organizational purposes: To help spread the use of this knowledge by working with issue-oriented groups.

Political purposes: To make the results of our research freely available to the voting public and all candidates for public office, regardless of party affiliation.

None of these purposes can be achieved by any one person working alone. It takes an Institute, freely functioning outside of any university or other constraining institution. And within the Institute, it takes teams of people working together. We need researchers and writers, but also an administration, a web presence, targeted public outreach, and a fundraising capacity.

The need for teams is especially true of research. As an undergraduate at MIT, I learned early that science is done by and in teams. The idea of the isolated investigator working alone is a myth, especially today when knowledge of many sorts has to be brought together to bear on any complex problem. The cognitive structure of social and political discourse is an enormously complex problem and can only be addressed through team effort. As a senior fellow, I contribute to that effort and bring to it whatever special skills I have, but the team effort is essential. Ideas come from many sources, and our team members have their own special areas of expertise. The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. We have put together an extraordinary team here, but it is small. In order to address a far greater range of issues, the Institute needs to grow.

Just as we need a team within the Institute to achieve our purposes, we need a community. We need key influencers — knowledgeable individuals and organizations who inform the content of our work and link us to those who find our work useful. We need ambassadors who introduce us to people and organizations. We need financial supporters who make sure that we have the necessary resources. And we need a growing community of people who give us feedback and new ideas, and who find our work enlightening and helpful both in their social and political endeavors and in their daily lives.

Rockridge is about far more than messaging. It is about the American vision, the ideas needed to carry it out, and the language needed to make those ideas come alive.

Rockridge Campaigns

ROCKRIDGE CAMPAIGNS Rockridge campaigns develop the cognitive dimension of policy, politics and governance and lead to cognitive policy. Starting from a policy arena, like health care, Rockridge Fellows apply findings from cognitive science research to the language and thinking used in public discussion to understand and articulate the deep frames and their interconnections across issue areas. A month or more of investigation by one or more Fellows, aided by a research Intern and informed by any number of key influencers, will lead to a clear and coherent analysis, presented in a briefing paper.

Each policy arena includes experienced activists, policy makers and legislators. From among them, we identify people who seem to share our values and invite them to be “key influencers,” to both inform and utilize our work.

The briefing paper, while a starting point for a series of text, audio and graphic products: op eds, articles, training materials, etc., concerned with a particular policy arena, is not limited to it. For instance, in “The Logic of the Health Care Debate,” we explore habits of mind, which can be found in most, if not all other areas of policy, politics and governance.

Finished products are distributed to a widening group of “key influencers” and a growing list of opinion and news sites.

2008 Scope of Work

Don't Think of a Sick Child: The Logic of the Health Care Debate Work on the health campaign continues. Watch for new thinking on the Cognitive Dimension of Policies and Practices: Immigration, Energy, Climate, Education, and Social Justice and Democratic Processes.

Immigration This campaign builds on the major paper we published in 2006. Link to come. New key concepts: Immigration is not an issue of physical security for our nation; so when progressive politicians emphasize “securing our borders,” they are surrendering to a conservative frame. A fundamental distinction in the ways progressives and conservatives discuss immigration is the conservative focus on legality as a silver bullet to overcome all other issues. The distinction between legal and illegal immigration is exaggerated; an immigrant’s legal status doesn’t determine her material impact on American society. The legal status of an immigrant does not provide protection from abuse. Progressives see the focus on “illegal” immigration as willful distraction from the reality that these problems exist despite the legal status of immigrants.

Our 2006 work on immigration is already widely circulated among members of the Spanish Parliament, through the offices of Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

The Minister of Labor, Jesus Caldera, told George at a Ministry luncheon that our 2006 paper (by Lakoff and Ferguson) on immigration is the "single best piece he has ever read on immigration" and that he would incorporate it into the PSOE Party Manifesto in time for their national elections in March. (At the same event, Myria Vassilidov, the Secretary General of the European Women's Lobby, spoke about the importance of Don't Think of An Elephant to her campaign to safeguard legal and safe abortions for women.)

Congressman John Salazar’s legislative staff has circulated our existing work to staff and members of the Ad Hoc Immigration Task Force of the House Hispanic Caucus and Blue Dog Caucus. They recently approached us to organize a briefing for the Congressman and his colleagues.

Energy/Climate Link to come. Key concepts: making the commons as tangible as possible, redefining the relationship between markets and society, thinking strategically about the psychology of loss, reframing human nature in an ecological context, incorporating the positive and negative emotional pathways of human reasoning into policy-making, transcending the false dichotomy between environment and economy, merging progressive notions of ownership with shared responsibility and common wealth.

Key Influencers include: Peter Barnes, Tamales Bay Institute; climate scientists at NRDC, journalist Michael Pollan, Bill Walker, Environmental Working Group, Brad Johnson, Hothouse (Climate Blogging Group) Erik Olson, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The Promise of Popular Democracy: The Cognitive Dimension of Universal Suffrage

Rockridge Nation

1. Community
2. Key Influencers
3. Ambassadors
4. Advisory Group

In World Staff

1. EricHaas Tigerpaw
2. GeorgeLakoff Schmooz
3. GlennSmith Republic
4. Widget Whiteberry

In World Events & Partnerships

February 19, 2008, in a unique collaboration with The World CafeIn World guests of Rockridge Institute explored the unique applications of virtual reality to create powerful metaphors to illuminate progressive values and ideas.

Feb 19 Agenda

The World Cafe Design Principles

Table Host Instructions

Notes from the In World Cafe - 2/19/08

January 3, 2008, Rockridge Fellows were the guests of Virtually Speaking, a public affairs program of InWorld Studios. They set new attendance records. scroll down for the podcast.

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