I attended a conference with other justice organizers from December 4-6 in Washington, DC, and I have been pondering something that a communications professional said in that meeting since my return. “Our narratives need an enemy,” she said, related to what research says about messaging.
Empower Missouri is an evidence-based advocacy organization. If research says we are more effective when we create a narrative that has a clear enemy, we have to take that seriously. Yet it has also been our practice to model a civil form of justice advocacy that remembers the basic human dignity of every person with whom we engage. One way that we practice this in Missouri is by focusing on policies, instead of demonizing any particular elected or appointed official who is a proponent of a position that we oppose.
Would we be more successful in our work for social justice if we called opponents out by name and scolded them? One of the challenges of declaring policymakers naughty or nice (the wording here is influenced by the December holiday season obviously) is that today’s foe is often tomorrow’s champion. We supported Raise the Age legislation to get most juveniles out of adult courts and prisons (signed into law in 2018), although we oppose some other bills sponsored by the House and Senate sponsors. We oppose some positions taken by the majority party sponsor of legislation to modernize Missouri’s HIV-specific criminal codes, even though we are incredibly enthusiastic about her work to end HIV stigma and make Missouri statutes medically accurate at last.
We do have enemies though. We think that poverty and systemic oppression are the baddest of bad guys and must be addressed if we are going to build a Missouri in which every child can thrive and reach their full potential. When systems fail people, the pain can impact multiple generations and set off a cascading set of tragic consequences, as this current story about an illegal lockout so sadly illustrates.
If you agree that the blame game distracts from tackling systemic evils that hold Missouri back, we hope that you’ll make a special year end gift today to help Empower Missouri enter the 2020 Legislative Session with the financial resources we needed to practice our civil, yet plainspoken and truthful advocacy for justice. By clicking on this link, you can keep our staffing steady, our communications tools available, and advocacy day support at the ready for Missouri advocates who have low incomes (food, gas cards, bus or train tickets, etc.). And while you are there, please consider clicking on the monthly donation button to keep us strong year ‘round!
Jeanette Mott Oxford