The need for short and long-term stories

using narrativesIn this blog post for Working Narratives, Alan Jenkins, the executive director of the Opportunity Agenda, stresses the importance of having both short- and long-term narratives that dovetail together. We agree entirely. Advocates too often chose short-term narratives (for example, saying “How can lawmakers hike taxes on working families at a time like this?” as a way to fight a cut to the Earned Income Tax Credit) when instead they should be looking for short-term messages that are strong AND that also support their long-term objectives (“Cutting back the EITC will make it harder for families to make ends meet and hold back consumer spending”). Alan Jenkins offers this compelling example from California:

One way to ensure this balance is to align short-term messages and the long-term vision or “story” we have of a more just future. Often, in the heat of a campaign, it’s tempting to use short-term messages that can actually undercut the long-term story that organizers want to project. In California, for instance, one campaign argued that undocumented immigrants should have health-care access, otherwise immigrant nannies might, say, get tuberculosis and infect the kids they take care of. That message moved some people in the short term; but it also ran counter to the overarching message that immigrants are part of us and prompted audiences to see a “them” to be feared or marginalized. Realizing the damage they could be doing to their longer-term goals, advocates shifted to talking about how immigrants are integral parts of our communities—as neighbors, workers and co-workers. They then emphasized the need to remove the barriers that immigrants face—such as access to health care—so that everyone can participate and contribute to a thriving California. The short-term goal, in this case access to health care, was framed as one step toward this bigger vision, not as a quick fix to a threat that immigrants were posing to the community. When messages strengthen audience’s understanding of and support for the long-term vision, it is easier to bring them along with each short-term campaign.

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