Reclaiming the Story

Like about 5 million of you, I got asked by MoveOn for my feedback about the direction of the country and the direction that MoveOn should take. The request was this:

I’d love to hear what you’re thinking right now. What do you take away from the news recently? What are you excited about? What do you want from MoveOn?

If you have any thoughts you’d be willing to share, please reply to this message or drop us an email.

I thanked Justin (or in reality, the volunteers who will read the responses) for asking. That alone is so refreshing. And I rattled off a little missive about my thoughts on power, the influence of money in politics, etc.

But my real response was this:

As a communications professional I always look to tell stories to connect with my audiences… and I think it’s imperative for nonprofits to do that. The progressive movement has stopped telling stories as a whole.  MoveOn does a good job on a campaign level, but progressivism as a movement doesn’t.  I’d like the story of what we stand for and what’s at stake to be told better and more in all kinds of mediums. Remember the Arthur DeMoss Foundation anti-abortion ads in the early 90s (see one here)? They told a story and were so powerful that I remember them today. I can’t say the same of pro-choice ads.

MoveOn should hold more video competitions and also devote more money to storytelling, whether via viral videos and more traditional means. When our story becomes popular and compelling, we have a much better chance of keeping independents and keeping elected officials on our side. They’ll go whichever way the political wind blows them for the sake of their jobs. It’s our job to make them think of us as the power and energetic base.

The recent Super Bowl ad for Focus on the Family, using the compelling story of Tim Tebow and his mother’s decision to maintain her pregnancy despite a sickness that threatened her fetus exemplify my point. The brouhaha was justified, given CBS’ failure to air ads with competing messages. (I’m for airing ALL sides of stories, not just one. Seems more honestly American to me.) But the story was and is a great story.

It is personal — bringing us into the lives and struggles of real people, and played out with charm and sweetness. The story told is one of hope, of motherhood, of love. It’s about potential more than anything.

Frances Kissling and Kate Michelman from Catholics for Choice wrote in response to that Super Bowl commercial about the need for the pro-choice side to better tell their story in a thoughtful opinion piece in the Washington Post. I agree with their reasoning.

While I’ve jumped into the most controversial and emotional battleground simply by bringing up abortion, I think my point about storytelling is essential for a broad spectrum of issues — from factory farming and energy issues to financial regulations and consumer product safety concerns.

I’ll be looking out for stories that I think do a good job of promoting progressive ideals and hope to find some to share so that ten years from now I can recall the power of a specific story and the movement that it supported.

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