Stories Move Hearts and Minds

(originally published in the CCC Blog)

by Dennis Chin, guest blogger

Stories have political capital. It’s the act of sharing stories and identifying with those stories that builds a movement that is capable of pushing progressive policy. The We Are America stories project aims to lift the stories of immigrants into the national debate on immigration to build the political will to move just and humane immigration reform.

I recently read an article by George Lakoff about how Obama captivated a nation on his way to the Presidency.  He talks about how Obama framed progressive values as American values.  Here’s the money quote:

“Progressive thought rests, first, on the value of empathy — putting oneself in other people’s shoes, seeing the world through their eyes, and therefore caring about them. The second principle is acting on that care, taking responsibility both for oneself and others, social as well as individual responsibility. The third is acting to make oneself, the country and the world better…”

The value of empathy is at the foundation of progressive politics.  Our job as organizers and activists is to find ways to activate empathy among folks in our everyday life.  Lakoff argues that facts, figures and rationalizations do little to sway folks, yet values and principles are central to engaging everyday people.

The way we communicate these values and principles is through storytelling.

This is why we launched the We Are America stories project.

we are america

The debate over whether and how to remake America’s immigration system has been driven by rhetoric—passionate or policy focused, heartfelt or hate-filled. Yet immigration reform, like any social change, is really about people. These people are our friends, family and neighbors.  They are a part of our social and economic fabric.

We need to fix our broken immigration system so that people like Montserrat won’t have to fear that her mother will be deported.  Breaking up families is not an American value.  We need practical, workable solutions that will help thousands of families like Montserrat’s.

Please visit the site and share Montserrat’s story (and others) with friends and family that do not know about the issue.  And have a conversation with them about why immigration reform matters to you.

And check back for more stories.  Screen them for your organization.  E-mail them to your friends.

5 responses to “Stories Move Hearts and Minds

  1. You also need to visit the website for the Victims of Crimes by illegals.

  2. Pingback: Storytelling Brand Loyalty, Super Hero, Augmented Reality, Corporate, Mark Twain & More

  3. Stories can be powerful, but I don’t think they necessarily change minds. If a particular story is novel, local, or in some other way penetrates the existing framework that an individual reader has formed to process information about immigration, then the story has an impact. Probably most stories don’t manage to do that.

    Part of the problem, I think, is the level of consensus between the two “competing” narrative frames. In D.C., both pro- and anti-immigrant sides agree that any new legislation should: secure the border, punish employers who hire undocumented, force undocumented to admit to wrongdoing, sanction future lawbreakers.

    Where is the space for disagreement with such a high level of consensus? I believe the pro- side has to distinguish its narrative better to give the stories a place to have an impact. As it is, readers see it and file it away with all the others, confirming their existing beliefs that we have too much “illegal immigration” and the border isn’t secure. It isn’t enough!

  4. Dennis Chin

    @Dave Bennion: Thanks for commenting. I think you’re right. It’s hard for me to articulate a narrative that’s wholly distinguishable from the right, exactly for the reasons you outlined. And I too agree that there should be more spaces for disagreement on the pro- side and that we should come to consensus on narrative points that clearly articulate our differences with the right.

    Sometimes I wonder why there isn’t more of a global analysis of migration (I understand it’s hard to message) but I strongly feel that this analysis helps frame a narrative that makes the case for more just reform. What do you think?

  5. Thanks for your comments, Dennis. I am working on laying out a better framework for a global narrative for migration, some of it is pretty radical by the terms of current discussion, but the keystone is freedom to travel as an absolute human right. Everything else would be based on that central principle.

    But unfortunately I spend most of my time filing green card applications and waiting in line at immigration court … writing legal briefs tends to crowd out time for writing other stuff.

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