From Tactical Messaging to Leveraging Narrative to Govern
We only need to look at how the governing consensus of our country has changed over the last 50 years to see how much narrative, and therefore, power, can shift through deliberate political effort in the worldview arena. There once was a broad consensus that the wealthy should pay higher taxes than working people in order to pay for public infrastructure and a more robust safety net. But today, while our schools, health care system, and infrastructure crumble, politicians debate whether taxes can be raised on the wealthy at all. The very idea of the “common good,” and the role the government should play in defending it, has been racialized and devalued. In its place, the “market” has been raised up as the supreme solution to all of society’s problems, including the very inequality it has created. The narrative has clearly changed, and as a result, the political terrain has shifted.
As organizers, we need to do at least two things to exercise our power on the terrain of narrative. First, we need to deepen our ability to make meaning of the broader dynamics in the world around us. This means understanding and exposing the dominant narratives that benefit the 1% so that we can connect them to the policies and actions that harm us. It also means identifying the values and beliefs that we share within and across communities that inspire us to act and that align us ideologically. Through this process, we will get clearer about what we are fighting against and what we are fighting for.
Second, we need to invest more in the work to reshape the narratives of the larger world, especially around the economy, the role of government and race. This means more than coming up with the right words or frames for our political vision. It also means waging persistent, artistic and durable campaigns that repeat our narrative themes over and over to a wider public audience, until they are absorbed into the popular consciousness.
We see organizers and artists taking these steps in order to leverage narrative toward governing power strategy:
- Creating and prioritizing the time and space dedicated to political education and ideological formation within your organization and with your closest allies. Making political education a habit for organizational leadership, staff and members.
- Creating and prioritizing the space needed to strategize around the dominant narratives in your state and in society at large.
- Developing a shared narrative with your closest partners that express your values. Finding ways to articulate that narrative in ways that are both creative and authentic to your constituency.
- Building the capacity to launch campaigns where your narratives are repeated to reach people outside of your organization.