#FutureOverFear 2018 – A Year of Progress at The Opportunity Agenda

December 18, 2018

Insights from The Opportunity Agenda

The past year was an eventful one, full of progress as well as peril for our democracy.  At The Opportunity Agenda, we helped chart a path to a Future Over Fear and began to see the light of a new, more positive day.  Working with allies around the country, we contributed to important victories while moving hearts, minds, and policy over time.  And we strengthened the social justice sector for years to come.  Across Economic Opportunity, Criminal Justice Reform, Immigrant Human Rights, and the intersectional dynamics of racial, ethnic, and gender identity, we made a difference—with your help.

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Supporting New, Diverse Leaders!

Shifting the narrative toward social justice requires a growing cadre of dynamic spokespeople and storytellers, schooled in persuasive communications and with the platform to move new audiences.  We provided that crucial combination by sharing our expertise, research-based messaging, and support with our network of hundreds of social justice leaders around the country, including another stellar class of Communications Institute Fellows We are proud to have offered our 4-day Communications Institute intensive to 140 leaders and advocates over the past nine years at no cost.

We believe that some of the most powerful and persuasive voices for change are those of people with lived experience on the issues.  In 2018, we put that belief into action, as we lifted up a wide range of leaders from low-income communities, formerly incarcerated leaders, and immigrant leaders, both documented and undocumented.  From the Rio Grande Valley to the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes Region, from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York City, our tools helped fuel campaigns and movements to expand opportunity and justice for all.

We also worked with a growing number of diverse elected officials dedicated to social justice, including first and second-generation immigrant policymakers, reform-minded prosecutors, and state and local legislators of color committed to change.

Lifting Up New Voices in the Media!

We also made major progress this year in reclaiming the media discourse from divisive political opportunism and incendiary scare tactics.  We placed our Communications Institute Fellows and our own staff in over 500 news stories and opinion pieces reaching over 8 million Americans in strategic media markets.  This was “earned media” that we garnered for these leaders by pitching them to reporters based on the news cycle.  Had this been paid advertising, its estimated value for the year would have been $2.9 million, as measured by Critical Mention, our media-placement tracking provider.

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In some instances, we helped to break major stories that shifted the debate.  For example, at our media briefing on abusive immigration enforcement tactics, the remarks of our Institute alum, Mary Small of the Detention Watch Network, led the Washington Post to publish a story revealing the Trump administration’s diversion of $10 million from FEMA disaster recovery efforts to ICE , just as Hurricane Florence hit the United States.  The story was picked up and built upon by multiple outlets around the country, informing the narrative about ICE’s harmful practices.   

Just a few other standout stories that we placed:

Criminal Justice Reform

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In February of this year, we worked with Teresa Hodge, one of our 2017 Communications Institute Fellows, to place her in the Washington Post, responding to an article about large corporations hiring formerly-incarcerated people. As a formerly incarcerated woman and leader, Teresa was well positioned to explain why getting formerly incarcerated people back into the workforce helps everyone.

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In May, we worked with another of our Institute alumni, Kassandra Frederique of the Drug Policy Alliance, to publish an op-ed in The New York Daily News, calling on  Governor Andrew Cuomo to fully support supervised injection facilities as a way to promote public health and safety while reducing incarceration. The article was picked up by dozens of media outlets statewide.

Immigrants and Opportunity

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In October, Institute Fellow Itzel Guillen, of Alliance San Diego, wrote a powerful, first-person account of her citizenship status, which we placed in USA Today. Because of her DACA status, Itzel cannot vote, and she used her personal story as a way to both highlight the systemic problems facing undocumented immigrants and urge those who are eligible to vote to use their voice during the midterm elections.

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Our 2018 Fellow, Greisa Martinez Rosas of United We Dream, appeared in a Reuters article pushing back against the Trump Administration’s attempt to end constitutional citizenship for millions of children born in the United States.  As a DACA recipient herself — and as someone whose father was deported years ago — Greisa has been on the front lines of this issue personally as well as professionally.

Economic Opportunity

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In September, we worked with our Institute Fellow Jorge Luis Vasquez, Associate Counsel at LatinoJustice PRLDEF, to publish an op-ed in USA Today discussing his Puerto Rican heritage, and exposing the dangers of the Trump administration's lack of support for Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria.

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In July, we helped Institute Fellow Manar Waheed, Legislative and Advocacy Counsel at the ACLU, publish an article in Ms. Magazine discussing the problems facing single mothers who cannot afford bail -- a modern day debtor's prison system that unfairly targets poor people. Manar called for bail reform nationally, a movement that is taking place in many cities nationwide.

In each case, we helped these dynamic leaders to move their organizations’ agenda while promoting a shared narrative rooted in common goals and concrete solutions.

Critical Rapid Response and Communication Resources

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The past year saw an unrelenting barrage of assaults on social justice from the White House and in many states and localities around the country.  To meet that challenge, we scaled up our rapid response operation to help the field frame debates in real time, instead of only reacting to the news cycle.  Our news hook and messaging e-blasts reached 258,000 leaders and activists on breaking events ranging from attacks on Sanctuary Cities to the separation of children and parents at the border, to hate crimes in Pittsburgh, PA and Jeffersontown, KY, to attempts to undermine the Census, to attacks on nutrition for low-income families, to the Kavanaugh nomination, and my analysis of A New Way Forward after the mid-terms

At the same time, we expanded  The Amp’s following our weekly action alert system on Economic Opportunity and Racial Justice issues. 

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And alongside our rapid response tools, we provided a constant stream of free messaging resources keyed to persistent needs on the ground, including a new Criminal Justice Reform Phrase Guide, advice on talking about  reform in the context of violence, defending refugees in the shadow of the “caravan” debate, due process and immigration, the Muslim Travel Ban, Supreme Court decisions,  and more.

Our tools were widely used by advocates, policymakers, organizers, and many other voices for social justice around the country.  Together, we bent the narrative arc closer to justice over the course of the year.

Unleashing the Power of Popular Culture!

This year, we took our work at the intersection of art, culture, and social change to the next level, catalyzing new strategies and partnering with cultural influencers to reach and move broad audiences.

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We teamed up with the Paramount Network to spur understanding and activism by viewers of the groundbreaking television series, Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story.  Executive Produced by Jay Z and Trayvon Martin’s parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, the series explores the life and legacy of the young man whose killing sparked a new national awareness and helped launch the Movement for Black Lives.  Through an audience discussion guide and Twitter chats with social justice leaders, we reached millions of Americans with a message of equal justice and concrete solutions—our Twitter audience on the first night of broadcast alone reached 122,900 impressions.

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On the heels of Rest in Power, we’ve been privileged to partner with Kerry Washington around her new Broadway play, American Son.  Against the backdrop of race and the criminal justice system, the play is a gripping story of family, identity, and belonging.  Our collaboration included post-performance talk-backs, a discussion guide, and social media support designed to help audiences understand systemic bias and support solutions.

Earlier this year, we let our geek flag fly, hosting Afrofuturism over Fear: A Celebration and Discussion of Black Panther with guests Brigit Antoinette Evans, Baratunde Thurston, and Charles Pulliam.  These brilliant thinkers, moderated by our own Jamila Brown, explored how the blockbuster Marvel film helps to reinvent the idea of blackness in the public discourse.  We echoed that theme with articles in the Hollywood Reporter and Truthout that called on the entertainment industry to double down on diverse stories and storytellers.

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Deepening our leadership in the cultural impact space, we co-convened a series of strategy meetings to develop new ideas and incubate transformative narratives. From Music for Change (co-sponsored with Moore + Associates) to Entertain Change (co-sponsored with the Pop Culture Collaborative) to our Border Visions convening (co-sponsored with CultureStrike), we strengthened our network of Creative Changers and helped to seed new narratives. 

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Border Visions included an emotional tour of the current border fence, an inspiring communion with vibrant local artists and activists, and narrative strategy discussions, each designed to foster new and more accurate stories about this region, its people, and their role in our nation’s social fabric.

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Finally, in response to requests from the field, we commissioned new open-source, downloadable images by artist Nina Montenegro that illustrate the values that we stand for in the struggle for a just and inclusive economy.  

Knowledge into Power!

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In 2018, The Opportunity Agenda emerged as the go-to organization for public opinion and media research to advance social justice.   As divisive politicians ramped up anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy proposals, we launched a cutting edge Immigration Research Hub that continuously collects, synthesizes, and shares a wide range of communications research and advice to the field via the Immigration Research Consortium

At the same time, we partnered with the ACLU of California to produce new message-testing research on Californians’ views about criminal justice reform and how to build greater support.  We briefed over 300 advocates and reformers across the state and nationally, and are working with allies to translate this new knowledge into stronger campaigns and communications.

As the year comes to a close, we’re completing case studies of the impact that cultural influencers—Colin Kaepernick, Jimmy Kimmel, and the #MeToo Movement—have had on hearts, minds, and policy.  And in early 2019, we’ll begin new research on successful Narrative Change models and on Americans’ attitudes toward Family & Medical Leave, as well as other aspects of Economic Opportunity.  Stay tuned.

Growing and Strengthening our Organization!

Last, but not least, we grew and strengthened our organization in line with our Five-year Strategic Plan.  Ellen Buchman joined us as Vice President for Strategy and Program Impact, Erika Williams came on board as Office and Human Resources Manager, Porshéa Patterson joined us as Public Opinion Research Associate, Tanesha Jackson became our newest Administrative Assistant, Stephanie Kelly joined us for a six-month fellowship courtesy of Schulte Roth & Zabel, and Leslie Weber joined us as Vice President for Institutional Advancement.  William Gorin, Senior Counsel with Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, joined our Steering Committee.  And early in the new year, we’ll be moving to roomier digs in a new mid-town office location!

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We also had a highly successful annual gala, at which we honored comedian and activist W. Kamau Bell, business and humanitarian leader Lola C. West, and immigrant rights leader Astrid Dominguez.

As we promised you we would, The Opportunity Agenda is working every day to tell a new story about our country, our values, and our Future Over Fear.  It’s a story in which we all belong, equal in dignity and in the opportunity to achieve great things.  And it’s making a difference.  As another year approaches, we see the dawning sunrays of a new day.  With your help, we’ll get there together.

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