Democracy Won’t Die in Darkness If ‘Purple Project’ Has Anything to Say About It

Adweek spoke with Bob Garfield about the network of media companies, ad agencies and nonprofits

Purple Project for Democracy
The project hopes to bring democracy to the forefront.
Purple Project for Democracy

A new coalition across industries aims to educate people on the role (and importance) of democracy and what that type of government could, and should, be. The so-called Purple Project for Democracy has been more than a year in the making.

What started as a phone call 19 months ago among concerned parties about the mindset and understanding of democracy has grown into a full-fledged network of media companies, ad agencies and nonprofits whose goal it is to put democracy at the forefront of the national conversation. The first part of the project rolls out Nov. 1.

In a spin on the line popularized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, that friends don’t let friends drive drunk, the Purple Project for Democracy intends to teach friends not to allow friends to “check out.”

Adweek caught up with Bob Garfield, who in his day job co-hosts the award-winning podcast On the Media, helps organize the Purple Project. Adweek caught up with Garfield ahead of the program’s rollout to find out how it’s gone so far and why this project is especially timely.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Adweek: Tell us a little bit about the project.
Bob Garfield: It was a grandiose idea, an utterly quixotic tilt. And we set a preposterous goal. And, lo and behold, a very significant network of media channels is going to publish various content on democracy themes in November. [This is] content of their own design and reporting and so forth.

To say that there have been false starts and blind alleys and complete fiascos along the way is an understatement. Our original goal of creating a national conversation about democracy and its future seems to be within our grasp. It’s our first goal: to start a national discussion, create a brand for civic participation and be a rising purple tide [referring to the combination of red and blue] that lifts all ships. That includes 200 different NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] that have all been doing very good work for decades but under a cloak of invisibility. We’re trying to make them visible and relevant and resonate.

Take us back to when you first had that initial phone call. What led you to come up with this idea?
I have a colleague, Yoram Wind [Lauder professor emeritus and professor of marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania], and he had been talking to one of his colleagues, Rebecca Winthrop [senior fellow and co-director of Brookings’ Center for Universal Education]. They had seen some data points and survey results from five different surveys, which all got to the same fundamental, horrifying problem, which is that Americans across the board, to a staggering degree, have deemed American democracy a failure and are prepared to consider alternative forms of government, including army rule. We thought that was bad news.

But the only way to do anything about it is to have a national conversation. How do we do that? Because the media are hyper fragmented; people are trapped inside impervious filter bubbles of their own world views. Political polarization has seldom been higher in the history of the republic. How in the world, can you ever have a reasonable, rational conversation about this stuff?

What if we could be in so many places at one time for a finite period where we could command a conversation? And if it were unavoidable, if it were everyplace, it would not be invisible. On the other hand, it would be ubiquitous. And we would have to, as a society, start to talk amongst ourselves, right? That was the idea. And again, in this media ecosystem, borderline insane, but that’s what we’ve been trying to do.

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