This week saw the launch of the Rhode Island Foundation’s “It’s All in Our Backyard” campaign, which is targeted at boosting Rhode Island’s self-confidence and “use individual success stories to make points about the Rhode Island economy.” The videos on the campaign’s website highlight businesses and innovation within the state’s economic sector; and as far as advertisements go they’re pretty good overviews of each of the highlighted groups. You can also watch the Foundation’s Neil Steinberg and Jessica David chat with Ted Nesi on WPRI about it (starting at ~12:20).
It’s way too soon to say whether this will have an impact, but I just don’t think it’ll do much to instill the sense of pride of place that it’s aiming for. I’m personally not a fan of the slogan, which is a bit twee for my taste, and reminds me a bit of “NIMBY” (not in my backyard). So while all these thoughts were sort of bubbling around in my head, this popped up on my Facebook newsfeed:
That’s from the Kentucky for Kentucky which is promoting the slogan “Kentucky Kicks Ass” in opposition to Kentucky’s official “Unbridled Spirit” slogan. In the interview with Nesi, David refers to this “very grassroots” campaign when asked what stood out among the different campaigns they looked at.
Personally, I think the Kentucky Kicks Ass campaign is a very effective campaign, mainly because it explores what Kentucky is, rather than what Kentucky has. The (so far) materialist focus of It’s All in Our Backyard won’t inspire reflexive pride in Rhode Islanders. And we need it; watch this clip from WPRI’s The Rhode Show discussing the campaign:
Once he gets past the “it’s small” angle, Will Gilbert just starts listing places we’re close to; New York and Boston. That’s great for New York or Boston, but if I want to visit those places, why am I coming to Rhode Island? there are places in Massachusetts? What’s going to inspire me?
It’s not going to be discussing our economy at all. It’s simply failing too many people for that to ever be a believable message. Especially when facing the doom-and-gloom messaging that gets action on economic issues, “It’s All in Our Backyard” is flying into serious headwinds; as the observers The Journal gathered said. This isn’t going to “move the needle” or change our position on those big business “friendliness” rankings. Of course, that’s more ambitious than what the Backyard campaign is reaching for.
I’d rather we face those issues head-on. Rhode Island isn’t a place that’s afraid to shy from debate. We should acknowledge that we’ve long been a place for the dissident. We should also acknowledge that we’ve faced long odds before and triumphed. That we are even a state is an incredible feat, given the designs Massachusetts had on gaining the Narragansett Bay combined with intrigue among our founders. We were a haven for pirates, and our most celebrated act of rebellion against British authority was aimed at protecting our smuggling operations. It’s often our moments of defiance that define us as a people.
What’s the most prideful moment of the last week? It was August 1st, as Rhode Islanders turned out to watch their loved ones marry, regardless of their gender; and in opposition to what the vast majority of other states allow. Rhode Islanders counter-protested hate group members who flew in. That’s the kind of state that makes me proud to belong to. Other Rhode Islanders may disagree, but it wouldn’t be Rhode Island if they didn’t.
Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on the Backyard campaign. With its limited focus on business, they’ve left a gap for something like the Kentucky Kicks Ass campaign; unofficial, out there, and lower to the ground. One that celebrates Rhode Island while also acknowledging our dark side.