Beyond Talking Points and Messaging Skills

May 30, 2017

It takes more than just talking points and messaging skill to move hearts and minds, flip the script, and create lasting change. It takes deep personal resolve, courage, and oftentimes vulnerability – qualities that are not easy to come by.

It’s humbling to see our Communications Institute Fellows and Creative Change alumni embody these characteristics in their tireless work to make our country a better place for everyone to live. They bring their full selves to the editorials they write, the interviews they give, and the stories they tell. Often facing fierce opposition, they continue to draw from their personal experiences and what they’ve learned – both through their successes and their mistakes. In today’s ephemeral media, this makes all the difference, because it sticks. Here are a handful of examples:

Comedian and Creative Change Alumna Zahra Noorbaksh (‘CC 16) wrote a thought provoking op-ed for The New York Times titled “It’s Not This Muslim Comedian’s Job to Open Your Mind.” In the piece, she recounts backing out of a post-election TV variety show because she felt conflicted about the producer’s intention when she said “As a feminist, Muslim, Iranian-American comedian, you could be exactly what this country needs right now.” After saying “yes” to many TV producers interested in this angle, Zahra reflects, “I do understand that comedy has some potential to open people’s minds. But I’ve become convinced that the primary role of political humor today shouldn’t be to alleviate tensions or smooth out differences. It should be to heighten them and illuminate for everyone what is a moment of crisis.”

Communications Institute Fellow Soffiyah Elijah (CI ’15), Executive Director of Alliance of Families for Justice in New York, wrote a Mother’s Day themed op-ed for the Hill on May 14 titled "Honoring mothers on both sides of the bars." An excerpt from the op-ed: “Every year, Mother’s Day tributes abound in the media with truly touching stories of moms who went the extra mile for their kids, moms who faced adversity to beat impossible odds and moms who are no longer with us. But there are other moms — every bit as deserving of our attention on this holiday — who go entirely unnoticed: the 2 million mothers with incarcerated children and the nearly 150,000 mothers who are themselves incarcerated.”

Women protest for immigrant rights

Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition, was quoted in an Arizona Daily Sun article about unqualified border patrol agents. The agency’s past hiring practices, Christian said, led to “unchecked, unaccountable, and unprofessional” agents operating in border areas. That could happen again if the agencies rapidly hire more people without having systems to ensure those applicants qualify for the job, he said. Read more.

The Washington Post featured a letter to the editor written by Communications Institute Fellow John-Michael Torres (CI ’16) arguing against Trump's border wall. “The wall would turn our homes into prisons, with our children growing up in the shadow of a symbol of hatred for the Latino immigrants living here,” he writes. John-Michael is the Communications Coordinator at La Unión del Pueblo Entero.

The Drug Policy Alliance’s New York State Director, Kassandra Frederique (CI ’15), appeared in a TV news broadcast about the New York Safe Shape Tour. The tour stopped in Buffalo, NY earlier this month as part of a statewide push calling for the creation of safe injection sites in New York. The tour is visiting several other cities hit hardest by the drug epidemic: Albany, Poughkeepsie, New York City, Ithaca, Rochester, and Syracuse.

National Public Policy Chair at Black Youth Project 100, Janaé Bonsu (CI ’16), was quoted in an article on Truthout.org about the lawsuit filed by local activists against the Chicago Police Department and its database of suspected gang members. She argues that the gang database, which was developed as an “effort to stay ahead of crime,” is fundamentally an excuse to “justify further surveillance and excessive force against Black and Brown folks in this very sensitive time regarding citizenship.” Read more.