The Opportunity Agenda uses research on values, public opinion, media, and framing, as well as conversations with everyday people, to understand public attitudes and craft strategies for influencing the public debate.  Focusing on deeply held values like opportunity, community, and redemption, we identify and sharpen common narratives to increase support for expanding opportunity in America.  These messages are refined and coordinated through our collaboration with partner organizations working on specific issues.
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Blog Post Watch Your Mouth! Ten Phrases that Progressives Should Retire in 2013


Watching our mouths should be this year's top resolution

Along with the usual New Year’s resolutions about exercising, getting more sleep, and being more patient with the kids, progressives should add better communications to their list. We have an historic opportunity to frame the public debate this year in terms of social justice, human rights, and opportunity for all. But that requires being smarter and more deliberate in the way we talk about the nation’s priorities and future. At the very least, we need to stop using certain words and phrases that erode support for progressive values and policies. Here’s my list. I’ll ask for yours at the end of this post.

Jan 8 2013
Blog Post What You Just Said Hurts My Head

2476168474_d803b26ce3.jpg

We’re all familiar with the feeling of cognitive dissonance, when suddenly we’re forced to hold two contradicting ideas in our heads. Maybe we’ve just heard unflattering news about someone we respected, or have been presented with facts that challenge a deeply held worldview. As any communications expert will tell you, we tend to deal with this kind of dissonance by simply rejecting the new information as incorrect, unreliable, or purposefully misleading.

May 17 2012
Page Supporting Occupy Wall Street


Learn more: Gan Golan and Occupy Halloween On the News

Thirteen Things America Can Do to Stop Foreclosures and Fulfill the American Dream

Access to an affordable home under fair and sustainable terms is crucial to our economic security and central to the American Dream. But misconduct by banks and lenders, inadequate rules and enforcement, and record unemployment rates are robbing millions of Americans of their homes and security while ravaging whole communities and holding back our national recovery.

Oct 28 2011
Blog Post More About Myths and Chickens

I blog I wrote last month about mythbusting (and chickens) garnered a huge amount of reader interest, questions, and comments.  In this week's post, I respond to some of that input.

May 31 2011
Blog Post The Myth About Myth Busting

So I’m trying to convince my wife that we should raise chickens in our back yard—it’s a suburban Green Acres thing, you might not understand. She has been, shall we say, cool to the idea, despite my promises of fresh eggs, cute chicks, and benefits to the environment.

Fortunately, I found and ordered online a copy of Backyard Poultry magazine. Seriously. And the cover story? “Seven Myths Surrounding Urban Chickens.” Technically, of course, my chickens would be sub-urban. But it still seemed like a stroke of luck.

May 2 2011
Blog Post The Story So Far

 I received a notice from my employer earlier this month, announcing changes to our health care plan. Under the topic “Health Care Reform Mandates Changes,” the first four items read:

Jan 26 2011
Communications Talking Points: Talking About Solutions for an Equitable Economic Recovery (2010)

This memo offers communications ideas and guidance around messaging to promote an equitable economic recovery that includes all Americans. It is based on analysis of recent public opinion research and media coverage on economic issues, as well as strategic communications principles.

Sep 30 2010
Blog Post Cashing in on Broken Dreams

Most of us don’t understand derivatives and if or how they should be regulated, but we do understand that the Nevada Gaming Commission has a role in making sure that casinos don’t rip people off.

Apr 25 2010
Blog Post Framing and Reality TV

In her blog today, Arianna Huffington asks if CBS’s new reality offering, Undercover Boss, is the most subversive show on television. It’s a provocative question, as most of us would like to think that a reality show existed that could turn the genre on its head.

Mar 9 2010
Blog Post A New Beginning?

For months we’ve been arguing that President Obama’s failure to convey a core narrative, rooted in shared values, has been a major impediment to his success on health care reform and other progressive priorities.  At long last, he seems to be coming to the same conclusion.  As he told George Stephanopoulos last week:

Jan 25 2010
Page Talking Human Rights in the United States: A Communications Toolkit

Human Rights Day serves as an opportunity to tell key audiences why the United States should consider dignity, fairness, and human rights in domestic policy decisions. Several national debates loom in which these values should be central, namely health care and immigration.

Dec 11 2009
Communications Talking Points: African Americans and Immigration (2009)

This memo lays out recent research with African American audiences and offers ideas about talking with them about immigration reform. However, it should be noted that while there do exist some strategies for talking effectively to African American audiences in particular, the key strategy should be to stay with the overall campaign narrative of workable solutions, values, and moving forward with urgency and leadership.

Oct 1 2009
Blog Post Busting the Practice of Myth Busting

As mounting evidence shows, the practice of busting myths - lining up facts to disprove an opponent's false assertions - just doesn't work.  Most recently, Sharon Begley takes on the practice in Newsweek, exploring why people believe nutty stories about health care reform or supposed controversies about the president's birth certificate.  She reports that, basically, people want to believe what they want to believe and they predisposed to ignoring any facts that clash with those beliefs.

Aug 26 2009
Video Jenkins Discusses a Quiet Revolution in Criminal Justice Reform

Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda, discusses a quiet revolution in criminal justice reform as state governments find that investing in rehabilitation programs promotes public safety and saves money.

Aug 12 2009
Communications Talking Points: A Winning Narrative on Immigration (2009)

This memo offers communications advice on building support for commonsense immigration reform and other policies that integrate immigrants into U.S. society.  It is rooted in both experience and recent research conducted by The Opportunity Agenda and others.

Jun 18 2009
Video Alan Jenkins on MSNBC Discussing the Sotomayor Nomination

Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda and former Supreme Court law clerk, weighs in on President Obama's nomination to the Supreme Court. Speaking on MSNBC, Jenkins shares the rich experience Sonia Sotomayor can bring to the Court, and how she is a symbol of opportunity for all.

May 26 2009
Communications Toolkit: Talking About American Opportunity (2006)

TOOLKITTOUTHOME_0.JPGThis toolkit represents the best thinking about how to use the Opportunity Frame from the communications professionals at the SPIN Project, the leaders of The Opportunity Agenda, other communications professionals engaged in defining the Opportunity Frame, and grassroots leaders from across the country working on critically important issues. 

May 1 2009
Video Alan Jenkins on MSNBC Discussing Torture

Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda, appears on MSNBC to discuss America's use of torture.  For more thoughts by Alan on torture, click here.

Apr 28 2009
Communications Talking Points: Talking Immigration and Economics (2009)

When addressing immigration in the current economic climate, it is clear that advocates need to support arguments with facts. It’s equally clear, however, that facts will only go so far. Research shows that people are often most motivated by their values—and if data don’t support their deeply held beliefs, audiences will reject them.  So we need to shape conversations with values, and then support our arguments with the best data available. This memo sets forth some ideas about how to do this when it comes to opportunity and inclusion for immigrants.

Apr 20 2009
Communications Talking Points: The State of Opportunity Report (2009)

This memo offers guidance for using the 2009 State of Opportunity in America report, which examines various dimensions of opportunity, including health care, wealth and income, education, and incarceration. While expanding opportunity in America remains a goal of policymakers and advocates alike, this report finds that access to full and equal opportunity is still very much a mixed reality. Our recommendations to address this reality offer concrete ideas for moving us forward together.

Apr 15 2009
Video Alan Jenkins on MSNBC Discussing the Economy

Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda, appears on MSNBC to discuss the economy and our new report, The State of Opportunity in America.

Apr 15 2009
Communications Talking Points: A Core Narrative for Immigration Advocates (2009)

It’s time to tell a new story about immigration in this country. We propose a flexible, values-based framework that we can use to start a variety of conversations: We need workable solutions that uphold our values and help us move forward together.

Mar 15 2009
Communications Talking Points: Talking About the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration (2008)

This memo provides advice on talking to broad audiences on human rights at home, in light of the 60 anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Outlined here are some principles that support domestic human rights campaigns and foster a long-term strategy in furthering a pro-human rights agenda.

Mar 12 2009
Communications Talking Points: Health as a Human Right (2008)

These talking points provide advice on talking broadly about creating a health care system that works for everyone.

Mar 10 2009
Blog Post Emerging Research on Health Care as a Human Right: They Get It

And by "they", we mean the very audiences we need in order to change the conversation about health in this country:  politically active moderates and liberals.  Recent focus groups with these audiences show an apparently growing comfort with not only declaring health as a human right, but also in recognizing what that would mean to health care reform. 

Mar 5 2009
Communications Talking Points: Expanding Opportunity For All - CERD (2008)

These talking points provide advice on talking with journalists and other general audiences about US compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Mar 5 2009
Blog Post Hollywood on Immigration: We're All in it Together

The recently-released trailer for the upcoming film Crossing Over illustrates the power of values-based messaging.

Feb 12 2009
Communications Talking Points: Health Care Equity Talking Points (2007)

Telling the story of health care equity is a critical contribution to the country’s ongoing dialogue about how to improve our health care system.

Jan 26 2009
Communications Talking Points: Health Equity in New York (2007)

Talking about the inherent unfairness and inequalities in our health care system is a critical contribution to New York’s ongoing dialogue about how to improve it.

Jan 18 2009
Communications Toolkit: Community Values (2008)

commValuesToolkit.pngThis publication contains a balance of historical context, framing advice, resources, practical tools and strategies for moving toward a new political conversation.  

Dec 10 2008
Blog Post Human Rights: More American Than Apple Pie

"Human rights is not marginal to who we are; human rights defines who we are.  The United States is a country defined by human rights.  ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all persons are created equal’….

Dec 10 2008
Research Media Analysis: Immigration On-The-Air (2008)

onTheAir.pngThe Opportunity Agenda commissioned a media analysis of broadcast news and talk radio, a gap in our previous scans which focused only on print media.

Nov 15 2008
Research Public Opinion: State Policy Makers and Human Rights (2008)

statePolicyMakers.pngThis analysis of the interviews in California and Illinois addresses how fifty policy leaders see human rights issues at the state level.

Oct 15 2008
Research Public Opinion: Meta-Analysis of Immigration Opinion Research (2008)

publicOpinionImmigration.pngThis report synthesizes public opinion research on key immigration issues in the United States at the time of its writing and provides a comprehensive assessment of literature, public opinion, and focus groups on immigration issues in the United States.

Oct 1 2008
Blog Post Community, Opportunity, and the Republican Convention


As promised, here’s our analysis of Opportunity  and Community language at work in the Republican National Convention
speeches. An overall analysis of the
speeches shows somewhat of a struggle between a Community Values form of
Opportunity—in which we’re all in it together, and benefit from ensuring that everyone
has the tools to succeed—and a free-market form of opportunity in which
everyone is free to compete on the existing playing field but, ultimately,
you’re on your own. And in almost all of
the excerpts, the notion of Community is an individual, person-to-person form
of mutual responsibility, paired with a criticism of government.

McCain:


“We're going to change that. We're going to recover the people's trust by
standing up again for the values Americans admire. The party of Lincoln,
Roosevelt and Reagan is going to get back to basics.  We believe everyone has something to contribute and deserves the opportunity to
reach their God-given potential from the boy whose descendants arrived on the
Mayflower to the Latina daughter of migrant workers. We're all God's children
and we're all Americans.

We believe in low taxes, spending discipline and open markets. We believe in
rewarding hard work and risk takers and letting people keep the fruits of their
labor.  We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life,
personal responsibility, the rule of law, and judges who dispense justice
impartially and don't legislate from the bench. We believe in the values of
families, neighborhoods and communities.

We believe in a government that unleashes the creativity and
initiative of Americans. Government that doesn't make your choices for you, but
works to make sure you have more choices to make for yourself.”

….

“Education is the civil rights issue of this century. Equal
access to public education has been gained. But what is the value of access to
a failing school? We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with
competition, empower parents with choice, remove barriers to qualified instructors,
attract and reward good teachers, and help bad teachers find another line of
work.

When a public school fails to meet its obligations to students, parents deserve
a choice in the education of their children. And I intend to give it to them.
Some may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private one. Many
will choose a charter school. But they will have that choice and their children
will have that opportunity.”

“Fight with me. Fight with me.
Fight for what's right for our country.
Fight for the ideals and character of a free people.
Fight for our children's future.
Fight for justice and opportunity for all.
Stand up to defend our country from its enemies.
Stand up for each other; for beautiful, blessed, bountiful America.
Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight. Nothing is inevitable here. We're
Americans, and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We
make history”

 

Sarah Palin

 

“We met in high school, and two decades and five children
later he's still my guy. My mom and dad both worked at the elementary school in
our small town.  And among the many things I owe them is one simple lesson: that this is America, and
every woman can walk through every door of opportunity.”

 

Mitt Romney

“The American people have always been the source of our nation's strength,
and they always will be.  We strengthen our people and our economy when we preserve and promote
opportunity. Opportunity is what lets hope become reality.  Opportunity expands when there's excellence and choice in education, when
taxes are lowered, when every citizen has affordable, portable health
insurance, and when constitutional freedoms are preserved.

Opportunity rises when children are raised in homes and schools that are
free from pornography, and promiscuity, and drugs, where there are homes that
are blessed with family values and the presence of a mom and a dad.

America -- America cannot long lead the family of nations if we fail the
family here at home.  You see, liberals would replace opportunity with dependency on government
largesse. They grow government and raise taxes to put more people on Medicaid,
to take work requirements out of welfare, and to grow the ranks of those who
pay no taxes at all.

Dependency is death to initiative, to risk-taking and opportunity. It's time
to stop the spread of government dependency and fight it like the poison it is.  You know, it's time for the party of big ideas, not the
party of Big Brother.”

 

Cindy McCain

“But I have also seen the resilience of the American people.
I've heard stirring stories of neighbor helping neighbor, of cities on one end
of the country offering help to fellow citizens on the other.  Despite our challenges our hearts are still alive with hope and belief in our
individual ability to make things right if only the federal government would
get itself under control and out of our way.

So tonight is also about renewing our commitment to one another.  Because this campaign is not about us. It's about our special and exceptional
country.  And this convention celebrates a special and exceptional Republican Party ...
the hand we feel on our shoulder belongs to Abraham Lincoln.

From its very birth, our party has been grounded in the notion of service,
community and self-reliance ... and it's all tempered by a uniquely American
faith in — and compassion for — each other's neighbors.  A helping hand and friendly support has always been our way. It's no surprise
that Americans are the most generous people in history.

That generosity of spirit is in our national DNA. It's our way of doing things.
It's how we view the world.  I was taught Americans can look at the world and ask either: What do other
countries think of us ... or we can look at ourselves and ask: What would our
forefathers make of us and what will our children say of us? That's a big
challenge. In living up to it, we know the security and prosperity of our
nation is about a lot more than just politics.  It also depends on personal commitment, a sense of history and a clear view of
the future.”

Joe Lieberman

“We meet tonight in the wake of a terrible storm that has hit the Gulf Coast
but that hurts all of us, because we are all members of our larger American
family.At times like this, we set aside all that divides us, and we come together
to help our fellow citizens in need.  What matters is certainly not whether we are Democrats or Republicans, but
that we are all Americans. 

The truth is, it shouldn't take a hurricane to bring us together like this.Every day, across our country, millions of our fellow citizens are facing
huge problems. They are worried about their homes, their jobs, and their businesses; they
are worried about the outrageous cost of gas and of health insurance; and they
are worried about the threats from our enemies abroad.

But when they look to Washington, all too often they do not see their
leaders coming together to tackle these problems.  Instead they see Democrats and Republicans fighting each other, rather than
fighting for the American people.Our Founding Fathers foresaw the danger of this kind of
senseless partisanship. George Washington himself — in his farewell address to
our country — warned that the "spirit of party" is "the worst
enemy" of our democracy and "enfeebles" our government's ability
to do its job.”

Sep 18 2008
Blog Post Shifting the Political Debate

A year and a half ago, The Opportunity Agenda embarked on an ambitious effort to elevate social justice values, problems, and solutions in the 2008 presidential election cycle.  In particular, we sought to make two crucial ideals, Opportunity and Community, front and center in public and political discourse around the campaign.  Opportunity is the idea that everyone should have a fair chance to achieve his or her full potential; it is an idea inextricably linked with the American Dream.  Community is the notion that we share a sense of responsibility for each other; that we’re all in it together and strongest when we leave no one behind.  Community values are the essence of our national motto, e pluribus unum, “from many, one.”

The Opportunity Agenda has promoted those values across social issues, from education to living wages to the integration of immigrants to health care to family farming, identifying the practical solutions that uphold our core ideals.  We have worked in collaboration with hundreds of social justice leaders, organizations, and everyday folks, and in a particularly strong partnership with the Center for Community Change and its network around community values.

Our effort has included research on American values, public opinion, framing, and media discourse; communications tools and training for hundreds of advocates, organizers, faith, and political leaders around the country; outreach to mainstream and ethnic media; new media advocacy, from blogs to YouTube, to MySpace and Facebook; and message support to the Heartland Presidential Forum: Community Values in Action, co-sponsored by the Center for Community Change in Des Moines, Iowa, ahead of the caucuses.

Our effort is strictly non-partisan and does not embrace any candidate or either party.  We believe that a long-term campaign to move hearts, minds, and policy must cross partisan boundaries. 

Last week, as the Democratic National Convention came to a close, we were able to see real progress in moving the political discourse.  Opportunity and Community were very much “in the house” at the Democratic convention.  Indeed, the theme of the convention—renewing America’s promise—had deep roots in the narratives of Opportunity and Community.  We’ll be analyzing the Republican convention at the end of this week.

At an important part of the convention speech, Obama combined the values of opportunity and community: “Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.  That's the promise of America, the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation, the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper.” 

This linkage of opportunity and community was carried by numerous speakers earlier in the week.  In his keynote, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner explained, “We believe that everyone should have an opportunity to get ahead, and with success comes a responsibility to make sure others can follow. I think we are blessed to be Americans. But with that blessing comes an obligation to our neighbors and our common good.”  Warner continued, “So you give every child the tools they need to succeed. That means quality schools, access to health care, safe neighborhoods. Not just because it's the right thing to do, of course it is; but because if those kids do better, we all do better. You can be soft-hearted or hard-headed—both are going to lead you to the same place. We're all in this together. That's what this party believes. That's what this nation believes.”

Senator Clinton similarly brought our two core ideals together in her speech to the convention: “You know, America is still around after 232 years because we have risen to every challenge in every new time, changing to be faithful to our values of equal opportunity for all and the common good. And I know what that can mean for every man, woman, and child in America.”

In addition to promoting the values that we must strive toward as a nation, The Opportunity Agenda, CCC, and our partners named the failed ideas and attitudes that we must overcome.   We explained in talking points and in trainings for organizers and advocates in Iowa and around the country that, too often, politicians have told the American people “You’re on your own.”  They have engaged in a politics of isolation and division instead of taking on our common challenges.

Last December, the eventual Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, echoed that narrative from the stage at the Heartland Presidential Forum.  Senator Obama said “it is important for America that we realize responsibilities not just for ourselves, but for each other.  That we’re not in this on our own.  And we’ve had an administration over the last seven years that tells us that ‘you’re on your own.’  We’ve had businesses that say, ‘what’s in it for me?’ instead of ‘what’s in it for us?’ And, as a consequence, America has been weaker and the American Dream has been slipping away.” 

Eight months later, in his acceptance speech at the convention, Obama echoed that theme, as he has many times since Iowa: “In Washington, they call this the ‘Ownership Society,’” Obama said, “but what it really means is that you're on your own. Out of work? Tough luck, you're on your own. No health care? The market will fix it. You're on your own. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, even if you don't have boots. You are on your own.”  Well, it's time for them to own their failure. It's time for us to change America. And that's why I'm running for president of the United States.”

Linguist George Lakoff, appearing on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show over the weekend, commented on the framing of the convention.

The shift in political discourse is encouraging, and represents a stark change from the 2004 convention cycle.  But it will be up to all of us to make them real; to let both parties know that these values matter, and that they are more than rhetoric.  They correspond to concrete policy priorities, like guaranteed affordable health care for all, a pathway to citizenship for America’s immigrants, living wages and fair labor protections, investment in schools and college access, and a criminal justice system that promotes prevention and rehabilitation.  Changing the political discourse is an important start.  But it’s just a start.

Next week, we’ll report on values and the Republican convention.

Sep 3 2008
Research Media and Public Opinion Analysis: African Americans on Immigration (2007)

This report examines African American public opinion about immigration, and immigration coverage in African American media.

Sep 1 2008
Research Media Analysis: Immigration in Spanish Speaking and Hispanic Media (2007)

This report analyzes Spanish speaking and Hispanic media coverage of immigration issues.

Aug 15 2008
Page 1000 Voices

The Opportunity Agenda's partner, Creative Counsel, and The Fledgling Fund are co-presenting the 1000 Voices Archive—a curated, national collection of video stories created by filmmakers and communities across the country.

1000Voices.png

Aug 15 2008
Page Tools & Resources

We produce a range of communications, legal, advocacy and research tools. 

Jul 15 2008
Blog Post Not Just a Bill

A surreal debate is playing out on Capitol Hill over a proposed expansion of the GI Bill of Rights.    Bi-partisan coalitions in the House and Senate want to increase college support under the law to give a new, promising start to veterans who’ve served at least three years in the military.  President Bush and John McCain oppose the bill, ostensibly on the ground that it would motivate too many soldiers to seek college over re-enlistment.  But the Congressional Budget Office estimates that an augmented GI Bill would increase the number of new recruits by about the same amount that it would coax out of the armed forces. 

So what’s really going on?  The GI Bill is not just a bill.  Through its values, its language, its history and impact, it embodies a profoundly progressive vision of opportunity, linked to a populist form of patriotism.  That combination is especially threatening to the conservative elite.

First, it’s a “bill of rights”—a phrase and idea that derive from our most cherished constitutional foundation.  The bill conveys not benefits or privileges, but rights that veterans hold by virtue of their service to our country.

Second, it’s an economic bill of rights, tied to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s vision of a “Second Bill of Rights” for all Americans that included not only “the right to a good education,” but also “the right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation; the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;…the right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; the right of every family to a decent home;…the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; [and] the right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment….”

That vision connects us to internationally-recognized economic and social human rights, embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that recognizes a similar range of economic and social rights, as well as civil and political rights like the right to freedom of speech and religion.  While the United States, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, helped to craft and elevate the Universal Declaration at the end of World War II, presidential administrations of both parties have largely opposed the notion of economic and social human rights since the start of the Cold War.  Polling by The Opportunity Agenda shows that large majorities of Americans, however, recognize and support the economic rights that the Roosevelts worked to advance.

Fourth, the history and impact of the original GI Bill of Rights demonstrate how expanding opportunity advances our national interests and the common good.  The GI Bill helped an entire generation of Americans—and America itself—to take a giant leap toward shared prosperity.  It instigated a wave of ingenuity, innovation, entrepreneurship, productivity, and mobility from which our country continues to benefit sixty years later.

Finally, expanding the Bill of Rights today will make plain the connection between those progressive ideals and the men and women now serving in our military—a connection that conservatives have successfully undermined (often with progressive assistance) since the days of the Vietnam War.

The original GI Bill of Rights was almost defeated by Southern conservative lawmakers, Democrats, who opposed higher education and economic mobility for returning African-American veterans.  Today, conservatives’ objections may be expressed differently, but they rest on similarly ideological grounds.  Today, as in 1944, the GI Bill is not just a bill.

May 26 2008
Blog Post Lifting the Curtain

Last week I got on the B train from Brooklyn to Manhattan at 5:30 am.  It was early for me, but the train was packed with regulars.  They were not Wall Street titans or corporate moguls.  Not lawyers or accountants.  The train was filled with low-income folks, overwhelmingly people of color, on their way to work.  Many were going to, or even returning from, the first of several jobs that they do every day to make ends meet and support their families.

And so, it was especially jarring to open the paper and read Hillary Clinton’s words in an interview with USA Today:

"There was just an AP article posted,” Clinton said, “that found how Senator Obama's support among working, hardworking Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how the, you know, whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me."

Upon reflection, I realized that what was remarkable about Clinton’s comments was that she had explicitly made the connection between white Americans and “hard working Americans.”  Politicians from both parties have been making the connection implicitly in voters’ minds for decades, but rarely has a major politician lifted the curtain on that troubling narrative.

Throughout the 1980s, Ronald Reagan told the story of the "Chicago welfare queen" who had 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards, and collected benefits for "four nonexisting deceased husbands," fleecing taxpayers out of "over $150,000."  The story turned out to be untrue, but Reagan kept telling it.  Just as important, Reagan’s audience understood the mythical Welfare Queen to be an African-American single mother, even though most women on welfare in the 1980s where white, and even though this particular woman did not actually exist.  Reagan was tapping a longstanding stereotype and understood that he did not have to—and shouldn’t—make the racial connection explicitly.

A decade later, when Bill Clinton touted rewarding Americans who “work hard and play by the rules,” and “ending welfare as we know it,” the subtext of poor people of color was also in the background.  Who, exactly, were the people who were not working hard and breaking the rules?  The phrase tapped the sub-conscious—and inaccurate—script that millions of Americans carried in their heads.

What’s remarkable about Hillary Clinton’s comment is that she actually made explicit what Reagan and Bill Clinton had kept below the surface: the stereotype that people of color are lazy and dependent on “big government.”

Unfortunately, many progressive organizations and leaders continue to use the “hardworking Americans” and “playing by the rules” narratives, perhaps unaware of what that triggers in their audiences, or how it is experienced by many people of color. 

It’s time to move to a narrative that honors hard work, perseverance, and honesty without playing on racial stereotypes and division.  We can start by breaking the predominant frame and showing, as well as telling, the real story of America’s working poor, including the low-income people of color who work hard every day.

May 13 2008
Blog Post Framing Government

The cover of U.S. News and World Report this week declares in bold letters: “BIG GOVERNMENT.  It’s back—no matter who wins.”  Inside, James Pethokoukis writes that “whether you pull the lever (or fill in the oval touch screen) for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or even John McCain in November, you’re probably going to end up in 2009 with a push for Big Government of the sort not seen in a generation.  More taxes.  More regulation.  More spending.”

But rather than proving that a jump in the size of government is imminent, the article itself shows that media outlets are still ready to buy into the tired, conservative framing of government from decades past.
The Big Government label was never about the cost, size, or reach of government.  If it were, then “Limited Government Conservatives” should have been howling from the start about the whopping price tag of the Iraq war, the growing number of border agents, warrantless surveillance, and federal intervention in the Terry Schiavo case.  To be sure, some libertarian conservatives did oppose those developments, but few would argue that they qualify as big government.

No, Limited Government and Big Government are not about cost, size, or reach, but, rather, about what government should do and who should pay for it.  And, along with “tax and spend,” they are among the conservative movement’s most successful narratives about their vision for America and those who disagree.

But what’s our narrative?  How should we be talking about a positive role for government that respects human rights, keeps us safe, and protects opportunity for all?  Research by the Frameworks Institute, Demos, and Public Knowledge, as well as The Opportunity Agenda’s research and experience in the field, provide some promising principles.

Government represents a shared investment in systems that serve the common good.  Those systems include the system of levees that should have protected the people of New Orleans against Hurricane Katrina, but for our failure to invest in them.  They include the system of childhood immunization that has wiped out dangerous childhood diseases.  Our system of civil rights laws, that has expanded opportunity to include more and more Americans.  Even our interstate highway system, that connects us as a single, prosperous nation.  None of these national strides forward could have been accomplished through individual efforts alone—we could only accomplish them together, through investment in government.

Taxes, by the same token, represent a similar shared investment, an investment in the future as well as the present.  Shortchanging that investment now is irresponsible, because it weakens our society for us today, and for our kids and grandkids in future generations.

But where’s the snappy progressive analog to “Big Government” and “Limited Government”?  What future president do we expect to declare “the era of disinvestment-in-our-shared-responsibility-to-serve-the-common-good is dead”?

We and our partners have been experimenting with some possibilities, including:
•    “Responsible Government” vs. “Irresponsible Government” and
•    “Community Values” vs. the “On Your Own” mentality.

Here’s a link to Barack Obama trying out the Community Values/On Your Own formulation at the Heartland Presidential Forum: Community Values in Action organized by the Center for Community Change last December in Des Moines.

The “Responsible Government” phrase can also encompass a government that abides by the Constitution, respects human rights, and is a good global neighbor.

We’d like to know what you think about these narratives, and if you’re using your own phrases that work.  Post a comment!

Apr 16 2008
Blog Post A Debate on Housing, Live from the New Orleans City Council
  • Louisiana news station WDSU is offering a live video feed from the New Orleans City Council meeting on the impending demolition of public housing.  In addition to those speaking at the meeting, hundreds of people are standing outside City Hall in protest of the lack of affordable housing in the region since the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina two years ago. Present-day inequities in New Orleans are often framed with respect to human rights; the demand for affordable housing is just one aspect of ensuring that residents have the social and economic security needed to provide for their families with dignity.
  • Bloggernista has reported that Congress has lifted a nine-year ban on using public funding to support needle exchange programs in Washington, DC.  Despite the fact that syringe exchange programs have proven effective in reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, this ban had held firm while the capital city has the developed the highest rate of HIV infection in the nation, a true modern epidemic noted for its immense racial disparities.
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog reposted an Associated Press article entitled 'State supreme court rules counties are liable for inmates' care,' including conditions that existed prior to imprisonment. It's great to see a court ruling in favor of the responsibility of the community to provide a basis level of health care for those in custody without other options -- this is a good step towards the recognition that all Americans deserve access to health care.

Justices voted 8-0 on Tuesday in favor of HCA Health Services of
Oklahoma, the parent company of OU Medical Center. The hospital sued
Oklahoma County commissioners and Sheriff John Whetsel over $2.2
million in medical payments for treating prisoners in the jail from
February 2003 through September 2006.

The county's argument was that much of the expense was to treat
conditions that predated the prisoners' arrests, Justice Marian Opala
wrote in the court opinion.

  • The DMI Blog analyzed a recent New York Times editorial on Arizona's new law intended to crack down on undocumented immigrants, offering praise for what it refers to as an 'example of smart immigration policy.' Author Suman Raghunathan expounds:

I am, in fact, waxing poetic on a stellar editorial in yesterday’s  Times.  This gem of a piece outlines in plain, centrist-liberal-speak why
going after employers who employ undocumented immigrants instead of
enforcing existing labor law makes for poor immigration policy.

What’s more, Arizona’s law (and believe me, there are many more in
the works across the country) will do nothing to address our nation’s
desperate need for smart and fair policies that welcome immigrant
contributions into our economy. Worse yet, it does nothing to bring
undocumented workers out of the shadows with a legalization program to
level the playing field on wages and labor conditions for all workers –
documented and undocumented, green card holders and US citizens.

Meanwhile, the Presidential election campaigns continue to work themselves into a fevered state, trying to say as little as possible on immigration policy (pick a party, any party) while sounding tough on undocumented immigrants (again, pick a punching bag, any punching bag). 

Here’s to hoping those high-falutin’ political operatives take a page from the Times’ editorial board’s playbook when they think about immigration. 

Dec 20 2007
Communications Sample Op-ed: Community Values - Des Moines Register (2007)

This Op-ed is an example of harnessing a media opportunity, in this case the Iowa caucuses, to frame a message.

desMoineRegister.png

Dec 15 2007
Blog Post Americans Care Deeply About Human Rights

Today is International Human Rights Day, celebrated across the
world to mark the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
by the United Nations in 1948. While the topic of human rights is
frequently in the news, mainstream media coverage of human rights
invariably describes violations in faraway lands: censorship in China,
repression in Myanmar. Social injustice in our country, when it enters
the public discourse, is almost never discussed in terms of fundamental
human rights.

But a new national poll conducted by The Opportunity Agenda and
sponsored by The Nation reveals that Americans care deeply about human
rights here at home. They see human rights as crucial to who we are as
a country, and they worry that we are not living up to those principles
in our national policies and practices.

  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog wrote about yesterday's Supreme Court decision on crack sentencing. The ruling, which is a victory for criminal and racial justice, allows for judges to use their discretion in imposing shorter prison sentences than the previously mandatory five-year minimum. The Our Rights, Our Future blog explains how the sentencing guidelines on crack have targeted black communities:

"The crack cocaine and powdered cocaine disparity is outrageous: the law
sets a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence for trafficking in 5
grams of crack cocaine or 100 times as much cocaine powder.  The effect
on communities of color is disastrous because 85 percent of those
punished for crack crimes in federal court are African American."

  • Finally, in immigration news, the Texas border town of Laredo will be setting up its annual rest stop for migrants going to Mexico for the holidays.  According to a Star-Telegram article, this year's assistance is especially important given changes in federal regulations on January 31st which will require all Americans re-entering the country to carry proof of citizenship.

"Every year, roughly 90,000 immigrants pass through Laredo on their way
home for the holidays, some coming from as far as the Midwest or
California. For the last 10 years, the city convention and visitor's
bureau has opened a rest stop with the Mexican General Consulate to
help travelers ensure they have the right documents and to help check
goods headed to Mexico to quicken entry at the border port."

Dec 11 2007
Blog Post The US Promises to Rehabilitate Prisoners, but Continues to Confine Them at Higher Rates
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog has posted a New York Times article stating that nearly "one in every 31 adults in the United States was in prison, in jail or
    on supervised release at the end of last year."  The article continues with the findings of a new Department of Justice report:

An estimated 2.38 million people were incarcerated in state and federal
facilities, an increase of 2.8 percent over 2005, while a record 5
million people were on parole or probation, an increase of 1.8 percent.
Immigration detention facilities had the greatest growth rate last
year. The number of people held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement
detention facilities grew 43 percent, to 14,482 from 10,104.

The data reflect deep racial disparities in the nation’s correctional
institutions, with a record 905,600 African-American inmates in prisons
and state and local jails. In several states, incarceration rates for
blacks were more than 10 times the rate of whites. In Iowa, for
example, blacks were imprisoned at 13.6 times the rate of whites,
according to an analysis of the data by the Sentencing Project, a
research and advocacy group.

These statistics of mass incarceration and racial disparities highlight the fact that our government policies are failing to offer a second chance to citizens and immigrants alike.  Instead of spending millions of dollars to confine millions of people, we should invest in their personal development. In human
rights law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights
provides that “the penitentiary system shall comprise
treatment of prisoners the essential aim of which shall be their
reformation and social rehabilitation” -- and the United States has pledged to uphold the values in this United Nations treaty.

  • Over at The Huffington Post, Mike Garibaldi Frick has posted an interview with street artist and free speech activist Robert Lederman.  Lederman "was arrested over 40 times by the Rudy Giuliani administration for
    exercising his free speech and sued the city of New York to strike down
    permit requirements for artists in public spaces." The post discusses the way government restrictions on public spaces interfere with our constitutional rights -- and human rights -- to self-expression, a cornerstone of our democracy.

Though American democracy promotes "freedom of expression," regular
citizens are effectively blocked from creative and free speech public
space uses unless they have considerable financial or political
influence.

Opposition groups, nascent movements, students, artists and all
citizens need safe, free public space in which to communicate and
develop. Planned events, spontaneous gatherings and ongoing meeting
places that are autonomous from entrenched government and corporate
interests are vital to a free public speech. The health and well-being
of a true democracy requires free access to open public forums.

The post also includes a YouTube video of the interview with Lederman:

The Democratic Party finally released what appears to be their official strategy/talking points intended to counter the Republican immigration wedge.

The strategy in essence revolves around a few key concepts:

  • The Republicans are using the immigration issue for political gain

The Republicans had plenty of time to fix immigration and didn't

The Republicans have been unable to secure the border

The Republicans are using fear and bigotry to scapegoat immigrants

The scapegoating isn't working

Of course there's one glaring omission in this strategy …. there isn't any sort of a alternative plan proposed.

Nowhere
is there a word about what in fact the Democrats are going to do about
immigration. Not even the usual vague call for "comprehensive reform
that secures our border while providing a path to citizenship to
undocumented immigrants." And you can just forget about specifics.

In the absence of this vision, Migra Matters proposes its own strategies:

There have to be other, more complex, and comprehensive ways of controlling immigration:

  • Things like adjusting free trade agreements so they don't foster poverty in sender nations.

  • Things
    like working with foreign governments in sender nations to ensure that
    they not only respect human rights, but worker rights and economic
    justice.

  • Things like examining and reforming our
    immigration codes to make them more practical, fair, and reflective of
    economic realities.

  • Things like fixing our immigration
    bureaucracy so it can efficiently and humanely process the flow of
    immigrants in a timely and effective manner.

And these are but just a few of the things that should be talked about. There are many, many more.

 

Dec 7 2007
Blog Post Heartland Forum Highlights Support for Community Values
  • As mentioned previously, this Saturday saw the Heartland Presidential Forum in Des Moines, Iowa, an opportunity to talk with candidates about 'real issues facing real people in our communities' with attention to our values and policies of interconnection. You can watch a webcast of the forum on the Center for Community Change's Movement Vision Lab blog. Additionally, The Huffington Post linked to a Des Moines Register article on the event, and Adam Bink over at Open Left liveblogged summaries of statements made by each of the participating candidates: Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Dodd, and Kucinich.
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog has reposted a Texas Observer article about the challenges faced in the expansion of drug courts in Texas.  While courts geared towards rehabilitation and redemption (rather than simply inflicting prison time) are much more effective than traditional courts in helping people overcome addiction, court practices vary widely according to the judge on the stand.

"Bennett and Leon Grizzard are the two judges who oversee Travis County's drug diversion court. They steer addicts into a court-supervised treatment program instead of prison. In the past decade, drug courts like the one in Travis County have successfully handled nonviolent defendants with drug and alcohol addictions—if success is defined as increasing public safety at the least cost to the taxpayer. People who complete drug-court programs rarely tumble back into substance abuse. According to four drug-court judges surveyed, about 10 percent of program graduates commit new crimes—a recidivism rate roughly one-fifth that of traditional probation routines. That means drug courts can ease the strain on overcrowded prisons and save taxpayer money. A study of the Dallas drug court by Southern Methodist University showed that every government dollar spent on diversion courts saved taxpayers more than $9.

Though criminal justice reform groups have advocated drug courts for years, Texas until recently lagged behind the rest of the country.

...

But as drug courts become more widespread, it appears that—like the narcotics they were created to fight—the courts can be abused. State and federal governments have instituted few regulations and set up no oversight. Judges have wide latitude to decide people's fates. In the hands of the right judges, the drug court model performs marvelously. Other judges appear to have trouble reconciling their punitive role with this new therapeutic one. The U.S. Department of Justice designed a set of guidelines and best practices—but they're the criminal justice equivalent of blueprints without building codes. The guidelines suggest that judges receive ongoing training and partner with treatment programs and community groups.

Because drug courts grow mostly from the local level, there is little standardization. Texas law broadly defines a drug court, but places hardly any restrictions on what judges can do. There is no oversight specifically for the drug courts. A recent case in Houston demonstrates the potential risks behind the courts' expansion. Judge K. Michael Mayes of Montgomery County is facing a federal lawsuit by a defendant who claims his treatment in Mayes' drug court was arbitrary and violated his rights to due process."

  • Firedoglake has written a post on a bill under consideration in the Senate known as the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act.  This Democratically-authored legislation, which has already passed the House by a large margin, has many progressives questioning its vague definition of 'ideologically-based violence,' arguing that this law would be a step towards a fascist state in which citizens can by prosecuted for 'thought crimes.' We must remember that democracy in America is dependent upon our ability to raise our voices, on our rights to free speech and fair elections.  Any law that seeks to contradict our capacity to participate fully in our communities is a violation of our human rights.
  • In a related story, the Latina Lista blog has been the subject of a recent spam attack, bad enough that the site's commenting feature has temporarily been disabled.  Offering "Anything and Everything from a Latina Perspective," the blog often discusses issues of immigration, American history and culture.
Dec 3 2007
Communications Media Coverage: Heartland Presidential Forum - Campaign for Community Values (2007)

Held December 2, 2007 in Des Moines, IA, the Heartland Presidential Forum kicked off the Campaign for Community Values.  The resulting press coverage included a values dimension otherwise missing in much of the caucus coverage.

IAmedia.png

Dec 1 2007
Blog Post Framing the Immigration Debate
  • The ImmigrationProf Blog has revisited a 2006 essay by George Lakoff and Sam Ferguson about the language we use when discussing immigration.  Here's the abstract on the Rockridge Institute's website:

"Framing is at the center of the recent immigration debate. Simply
framing it as about “immigration” has shaped its politics, defining
what count as “problems” and constraining the debate to a narrow set of
issues. The language is telling. The linguistic framing is remarkable:
frames for illegal immigrant, illegal alien, illegals, undocumented
workers, undocumented immigrants, guest workers, temporary workers,
amnesty, and border security. These linguistic expressions are anything
but neutral. Each framing defines the problem in its own way, and hence
constrains the solutions needed to address that problem. The purpose of
this paper is twofold. First, we will analyze the framing used in the
public debate. Second, we suggest some alternative framing to highlight
important concerns left out of the current debate. Our point is to show
that the relevant issues go far beyond what is being discussed, and
that acceptance of the current framing impoverishes the discussion."

  • In other immigration news, Burger King is under fire for its refusal to join McDonald's and Taco Bell in an agreement to pay historically-underpaid migrant workers in Florida an extra penny per pound of tomatoes picked. Also, a federal court in Canada ruled in favor of a lawsuit challenging the Safe Third Country Agreement, which had designated the US as a
    "safe third country" for asylum-seekers, meaning "if they make it to the
    U.S. before entering Canada can be returned there."  The court found that "the United States fails to comply with Convention on Torture or Article 33
    of the Refugee Convention and [therefore] the U.S./Canada safe third country
    agreement was flawed as there was no ongoing meaningful review mechanism."
  • The DMI Blog points to this week's New York Times coverage of the successes of a re-entry program in Brooklyn which offers counseling, drug testing, and work and training programs to former inmates.  Re-entry programs not only support the value of redemption, or the right to a second chance, but they are also effective in helping people reintegrate into the community and remain there.  According to a recent study of the comAlert program,

"ComAlert graduates are less likely be
re-arrested after leaving prison and much more likely to be employed
than either program dropouts or members of the control group.
Participants who complete the Doe Fund work-training component do even
better. They have an employment rate of about 90 percent, somewhat
higher than the ComAlert graduates generally and several times higher
than the control group."

  • Finally, Jack and Jill Politics offers further analysis of inequities in Wednesday's CNN/YouTube Republican debate, as compared with its Democratic counterpart:

Of 34 total questions aired, 24 were from white men (including 2 cartoon versions) in the GOP debate.
That's 71%. For the Dem debate, counting was a little more challenging
since one video aired combined video submissions from several people.
Still I'd estimate 22 of 38 questions aired were from white men (I did
not count the snowman as white because snow does not have an ethnicity)
or 58%.

Further, there were 8 questions shown that featured African-Americans during the Democratic debate and a measly 2 in the GOP debate. Hmm.

Also, strikingly -- astonishingly, no questions whatsoever during the GOP debate on:

Healthcare in America
Katrina
Climate Change or Environment
Darfur
Iraq Troop Withdrawal
Afghanistan and Pakistan -- Resurgence of the Taliban
Racial Profiling
Voting Machines and Voting Rights
The Failure to Capture Osama bin Laden

Nov 30 2007
Blog Post As Elections Near, We Need to Hear Candidates Debate Community Values
  • The Huffington Post offers an introduction to last night's CNN/YouTube debate for Republican presidential candidates, noting that "people from across the country submitted more than 3,500 videos posing
    questions" to the candidates, of which 40 were selected to be broadcast during the debates.  The Opportunity Agenda was among those submitting questions, with four videos created for the purposes of promoting community values in our nation's political debate.  Mike Connery has written two posts about the debate over at Future Majority, the first offering a comprehensive summary of the event and the second publicizing the fact that CNN did not coordinate with YouTube at all in order to select the forty questions that were aired.  By single-handedly shaping the content of the debate, CNN was able to bypass the debate's original intention, that of providing a voice to a diverse group of Americans.
  • In other event news, the Heartland Presidential Form will be held this Saturday December 1 in Des Moines, Iowa, only weeks before the Iowa caucus.  Five of the Democratic presidential candidates will be in attendance at the forum, the focus of which will not be on specific issues but on progressive vision and values.  According to the website:

The Iowa Heartland Presidential Forum is part of a new nationwide Campaign for Community Values
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Center for Community
Change is - and hundreds of grassroots partner groups - are
coordinating this groundbreaking effort to challenge the "go it alone"
mentality that has dominated politics and build a new politics for the
common good.

'Tis the season for presidential politics, and with it, the debate over what values propel voters to the ballot box.

A
recent debate in Florida claimed to represent and display the interests
of so-called "values voters." The dissection of the nation's "moral
values" took up a good bit of ink following the 2004 elections. And
we're all familiar with the "family values" that guided policy
throughout the '80s and '90s. But in all this talk of values, why are
so many core American values consistently missing?

Instead of concentrating on people's individual moral decisions, or
their family life, we should focus on our collective values, the ways
we can move forward together and the policies that work toward the
common good. We need to reintroduce to the debate the ideals of
equality, opportunity and fairness. And we need to acknowledge that our
individual stories and circumstances add up to a national community
best positioned to solve our problems together. In short, we should be
talking about our community values.

Nov 29 2007
Blog Post UN Declares Tasering a Form of Torture
  • Following a series of related deaths in North America, Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake has advised us that the United Nations has declared tasering to be a form of torture.  Portugal has been urged to forgo use of its newly purchased tasers as the intense pain they inflict is in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. We hope that this statement will encourage universal reconsideration of taser usage.
  • The 'Just News' blog has cited a New York Times article reporting that the Bush administration has elected to revise its controversial 'no-match' policy on verifying the identities of American workers.  Given that the new rules were suspended indefinitely by a federal judge in San Francisco, for their potential undue harm to citizens whose records are incorrect in the social security database, Bush and Homeland Security are working to issue new standards that will not provoke legal challenges.  In the meantime, Homeland Security has begun training firemen to search for 'hostility to Americans' while fighting housefires.
  • With respect to last week's celebration of Thanksgiving, a number of
    blogs questioned the historical construction of the holiday. Latina Lista
    notes that the Spanish had a feast with the Timucua Indians in Florida
    fifty-six years before the arrival of the Pilgrims.  The Native American Netroots blog argues that the holiday has more to do with violence than cooperation.  And Rachel's Tavern posted a piece on alternative ways of teaching children about the Thanksgiving story.
  • Finally, the ImmigrationProf blog tells the story of an undocumented man who came to the aid of a 9-year-old boy who was the lone survivor of a car accident in the Arizona desert on Thanksgiving day.  According to a local sheriff:

"He stayed with [the boy], told him that everything was going
to be all right." As temperatures dropped, he gave him a
jacket, built a bonfire and stayed with him until about 8 a.m. Friday,
when a group of hunters passed by and called authorities.

After the boy was rescued by local authorities, 26-year-old Jesus Manuel Cordova was taken into custody by the border patrol.  In a related article, the same blog notes that Hispanic journalists are urging the media to stop talking about immigration in a way that dehumanizes undocumented immigrants.  As Cordova's story shows, undocumented immigrants cannot simply be written off as criminals. Rather, they are also compassionate, generous and helpful people who are willing to make sacrifices in order to protect those in need.

Nov 26 2007
Blog Post A Real Values Debate
  • Alan Jenkins' newest piece is live on TomPaine.com. Entitled 'A Real Values Debate,' the opinion begins:

"Progressives have long been criticized for talking issues and
constituencies at the expense of vision and values. Linguist George
Lakoff has argued for years that progressives have ceded the moral high
ground to their detriment. And Thomas Frank has documented how
conservatives tell a larger story that connects with working people at
a values level, even while undermining their economic interests.

That critique has never been fully accurate. The continuing human
rights movements led by people of color, women, gay people, and
immigrants have always been rooted in the values of freedom, equality,
dignity and opportunity. As Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center for
Human Rights has said, "there's a reason why Martin Luther King Jr.'s
greatest speech was not called 'I have a complaint.'" The modern
environmental movement, too, speaks not only of our individual
interests but also of our moral responsibility as stewards of the earth
and its inhabitants.

But it is also true that progressive political discourse has
increasingly moved away from a discussion of shared national values and
toward a patchwork of issues and narrow policy fixes. That dynamic has
certainly played out this presidential election season, with last
month's "Values Voters Summit" priming candidates' commitment to
conservative values while progressives largely haggled over the details
of policy proposals.

But that's about to change. On December 1, a coalition of Iowa social justice groups will host the Heartland Presidential Forum: Community Values in Action,
in Des Moines, Iowa. Just four weeks before the Iowa caucuses, it will
be a presidential forum focused not on specific issues, but on
progressive vision and values."

  • The Inteligenta Indiĝena Indigenismo Novaĵoservo blog has reposted a Crooks and Liars piece about a Washington state assisted living facility that is evicting its residents that are on Medicaid.  Unlike other states, Washington does not have a law to protect its vulnerable senior citizens against such decisions by profit-minded nursing home corporations.
  • Prometheus 6 has posted about a New York Times article on the increasing presence of international medical crews providing health services in the US to the 47 million people without medical insurance, or 15 percent of the American population. One such service known as Remote Area Medical, or RAM, works most often in "Guyana,  India,  Tanzania  and Haiti," but has been noted for their expeditions in rural Virginia, where members of the community have begun lining up at 3am in order to be seen by medical workers.
  • In election news, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is proposing a plan to make community colleges free of cost for American high school graduates, a move that would greatly increase opportunities for many of our young people.  Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has indicated his support for a 'virtual' border fence run by high tech surveillance, a policy which would not address the need for more comprehensive reform of our immigration and trade policies.

"Human rights are defined, most notably in the U.S. Bill of Rights. They

are defined because the Founding Fathers realized that if they were

not defined, they would be more likely to be abrogated or lost

entirely. The Founding Fathers understood the temptation on the part

of governments to give and remove human rights arbitrarily, because

they had experienced such things before the Revolutionary War -- in the

Stamp Act, in the quartering of British soldiers on American

households, and in illegal searches and seizures, in no taxation

without representation. They recognized that although British Law

customarily acknowledged various human rights, it was essential to

name, codify, and write them down to make it less likely that they

could be taken away."

Nov 20 2007
Blog Post Media Allowed in on Mychal Bell's Trial
  • Too Sense has given us a heads-up on the fact that although juvenile trials are generally closed to the media, the judge in Jena Six member Mychal Bell's case has agreed to grant courtroom access to a number of newspapers and television stations.  Many people are hopeful that the media presence in Louisiana will help ensure a fair and just trial, as the justice system will be accountable to millions of viewers across the country.
  • Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Police Department announced a plan to 'map' Muslim communities around the city with the objective of identifying terrorists. After strong critism from Muslim groups and civil rights activists, the LAPD has gone back on its decision in favor of more 'community outreach.' The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog has copied an LA Times article on the most recent decision.

"Has the debate over race become a melodrama? A bad television soap
opera? A theatrical stage play with complex issues boiled down to a
script? Entertaining words thrown around simply to satisfy the 24-hour
news cycle, the blogosphere?

Are we doomed to debate racism over and over — stuck in purgatory, a
cycle of skirmishes, of shock and awe, with nothing gained, nothing
learned?

Or is there a way to change the ritual, to go deeper into our national consciousness and get off this merry-go-round?"

  • The Unapologetic Mexican reported on the 'No Borders Camp' that had recently been set up on Mexicali/Calexico border crossing.  While the protesters were attacked by the border patrol, blogger Nezua says of the 'Cross-Border Kissing Booth' that "meeting antagonism and violence and hostility with a sense of humor and
    love is probably the most satisfying way to engage negativity and
    destructive energy." The IndyBay article he quotes also goes into a discussion of border enforcement, arguing that the border patrol created a "sustained level of violence which tears apart communities, families, neighborhoods, and peoples lives."
  • Finally, the ProInmigrant blog has done a post on the delay in processing the acceptance of Iraqi refuguees currently living in Syria.  While the US has pledged to accept 12,000 Iraqi refugees within the year, only 450 were let in last month, due to slowdowns in the requisite security clearances.  In total there are 140,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria awaiting resettlement. The blog notes, "The Bush administration has conceded a moral obligation to assist Iraqi refugees, but the slow pace of admissions has sparked criticism from refugee advocates and lawmakers."
Nov 16 2007
Blog Post Spitzer Drops Plan to Provide Drivers Licenses to Undocumented Immigrants Nov 15 2007
Blog Post 'Reckless Optimism': People Really Are Able to Turn Their Lives Around
  • The Real Cost of Prisons Weblog has reposted an interesting New York Times article
    on an innovative program providing prenatal care for homeless women in
    San Francisco. With nineteen years as a non-profit agency, and a staff
    of fifty-three people, half of whom have been homeless in the past, the
    program is a model of the core value of redemption, or the idea that we all deserve the support needed for a new start:

"The Homeless Prenatal Program has evolved from its original mission
of helping destitute women give birth to and then keep healthy babies
to become a resource dedicated to stabilizing entire families. It
offers what this particular woman excitedly described here as 'a
plethora of services' for mental health, housing and substance abuse
problems. It combines those with an array of alternative health
approaches not usually available to the poor, like yoga, massage and
chiropractic treatments.

'People call me a reckless optimist, and you have to be to do this
kind of work,' said Martha Ryan, founder and executive director of the
Homeless Prenatal Program. 'But I see enough success. I see people
really able to turn their lives around, and I see their children be
able to move forward and have a different life.'”
 

  • The Huffington Post has a great piece up by Sally Kohn of the Movement Vision Lab on the writers' strike. Speaking of the absence of the community frame in television or film media, Kohn praises the writers for joining together but contributes a larger cultural analysis of what has shaped our values of individualism:

"If you turn on your TV today or sit for a matinee at your local
cineplex, you'd wonder whether it's an entirely different crop of folks
holding the pens behind the scenes. After all, much of the shows and
movies they write promote extreme greed, competition and the notion
that we have to pull ourselves up from our individual bootstraps ---
NOT that we're all in it together, in solidarity. While most of us in
real life, like the striking writers, have learned that we can't
succeed without the help of others around us, most reality TV shows from American Idol to Survivor tell us that the only way to the top is fierce competition against one another.  Meanwhile shows like Desperate Housewives
tell us that selfishness is good and there's no such thing as too much
greed and status --- mind you, the same greed that is keeping the
Hollywood execs from sharing the wealth with writers. And in countless
movies, writers resort to racist and homophobic 'humor' that helps
further divide our country rather than unite us together."

  • The DMI Blog has written about the Coalition to Raise the Minimum Standards at New York City Jails, a multi-organizational campaign that achieved a number of victories this year as "the Board of Corrections (BOC) proposed a number of changes to the
    Minimum Standards for New York City Correctional Facilities" which cover rules and regulations for city jails. Author Ezekiel Edwards reports that while the BOC was not swayed on every issue of importance to prisoners and their families, significant progress was made in preserving and improving conditions of incarceration: "As a result of the Coalition's relentless efforts, the BOC voted
    against the 'overcrowding' policy, against putting those in need of
    protection in 23-hour solitary confinement, and against reducing
    Spanish translation services." 
  • Feministe has a new post entitled 'Housing is a Human Right' which provides information on upcoming protests against the fact that all public housing units in New Orleans are slated for demolition after a recent federal court ruling. The Facing South blog has also posted about the controvery over the formaldehyde-laced trailers provided as temporary housing -- while Gulf Area families have been living in the trailers, FEMA has cautioned its own employees against entering them.
  • Finally, Latina Lista has reported on a DailyKos post by the author of the Migra Matters blog called 'A progressive plan for immigration reform,' referring to the resource as "the most insightful, certainly most thorough and step-by-step approach into fully understanding the immigration issue." Given his opinion that immigration is the new topic du jour, author Duke1676 prefaces his summary with "I figured it might be a good time post up a diary that sums up
    everything I've learned in my past three years here posting on
    immigration issues." With some 454 comments by readers, it's worth a read.
Nov 13 2007
Blog Post ICE Detention Center Employed Undocumented Immigrants
Nov 2 2007
Blog Post Congress Fails to Override SCHIP Veto
  • A multitude of bloggers remarked on the SCHIP re-vote in which Congress was unable to override President Bush's veto on the expansion of children's health care.  In the wake of this struggle, framing expert George Lakoff has stepped with another piece on how progressives can frame the health care issue, called 'Don't Think of a Sick Child,' summarized by Open Left.
  • Also on the issue of health care, Bloggernista has alerted us to the notable absence of discussion among presidential candidates of their policies on HIV/AIDS. The post cites GMHC's Robert Bank as saying that, “It is unconscionable that the United States, which has all the
    necessary resources to end the AIDS epidemic, does not have a
    comprehensive plan to stop AIDS deaths, reduce infections, and get
    people the medical care that they need.”  Accordingly, there are two new campaigns to increase the visibility of this issue in presidential campaigns: AIDSVote and National AIDS Strategy.
  • With respect to the media, Alas!
    blog reports on a lawsuit filed in Portland, Oregon, by a man who was
    tasered by police for videotaping a raid of his neighbor's house.
    According to one of the cops, Waterhouse "refused to drop the camera
    which could be used as a weapon.”  While it is reassuring to know that
    law enforcement officials have tremendous respect for the power of the
    media, this sort of unjustified force will do nothing to promote
    cohesion and democracy in our communities.
  • News on immigration policy is a mix as usual.  On one end of the spectrum, North Carolina is assuming a new role as the leading state in a new program that will enable local corrections officers to search and verify the immigration status of everyone in jail. 
  • The Immigration Policy Center has just released a report entitled 'Wasted Talent and Broken Dreams: The Lost Potential of Undocumented Students,' demonstrating the need for a DREAM Act to allow all students in the US the opportunity to get a higher education. 
  • The ImmigrationProf Blog notes that US Appeals Court Judge Harry Pregerson is challenging sixty deportation orders on grounds that ordering a noncitizen parent out of the country also forces unlawful deportation of his or her US citizen child.  This is a tough issue, but such a move would unfairly curtail options for the children deported. 
  • In public opinion, Happening Here? published the results of a new CNN poll which states that only 30% of Americans think all undocumented immigrants should be deported.  This figure is promising and hopefully lawmakers will take it into account before enacting future 'crackdown' policies. If America is to fulfill its promise of opportunity, we must implement an integration strategy that welcomes immigrants and gives newcomers and their families an equal chance to fully contribute to and participate in society.
Oct 22 2007
Blog Post On Being a Kid: Health Care, Photo-Ops, and Video Games
  • Latina Lista just wrote a piece entitled "It's Been a Bad Week to Be an Immigrant Child in the U.S.A.," citing the recent upsets of the SCHIP veto plus the shelving of the DREAM Act and the Immigrant Children's Health Improvement Act (ICHIA).  Additionally, Irving, Texas has seen about 90 immigrant children pulled out of school in the past month, while the nearby city council of Farmers Branch has demanded that the school district provide it with the names and addresses of all enrolled students, a move of which many are suspicious.  The post then ties all these are happenings together with a great use of the opportunity frame: "As a country, we can't afford to abandon any child. Why? Because there's potential in their destiny, and that's worth caring about every time."  Every child deserves the chance to succeed, and this requires that the child have a basic level of good health, education, and security.
  • Unfortunately, the examples of the neglect of a child's potential don't stop there.  A recent study by the University of Maryland reveals that families caring for foster children receive "far less than what middle-income families spend to raise their children."  At its core, foster care is a progressive societal mechanism meant to provide greater opportunities for children that are at risk. With 500,000 children in foster care nationwide, a lack of financial resources for foster families will certainly curtail the options of many.
  • Back to the SCHIP debate, another video has been released, this one by the Campaign for America's Future. Posted on YouTube as "Kids Warn Conservatives: No More Photo Ops," the footage urges Congress to override Bush's veto by questioning the use of children as a media tactic without regard to their well-being.  Looking at the comments on the YouTube page, it seems like many are in favor of the attack ad format of the video, which is framed as a cute and cheeky threat to politicians. Others question the heavy-handed use of the actor in the video, wondering how this use of a child in public media is different from that of politicians.  What do we think about this?  Is the video effective way to frame the argument for increased health coverage?
  • Briefly, a middle school in South Carolina has been in the news for its
    assignment to students to re-imagine plantation life, to the point of
    rationalizing and romanticizing slavery.  Too Sense's post "They Were Just Trying To Show Both Sides Of The Debate" is entertaining and insightful, as author dnA expresses concern for the black kids attending the school.
  • Iced_4
    On the other side of the educational spectrum, we're eagerly awaiting next month's release of ICED! I Can End Deportation, a downloadable video game being developed by Breakthrough, an organization that works in the US and India to build human rights culture through new media.  After presenting the project at the Games for Change conference, Breakthrough has received a surprising amount of mainstream media attention. Executive Director Mallika Dutt was even interviewed on Fox News about the game, whose name is a play on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICED! has been designed as a fun educational tool to illustrate the human rights violations inherent in immigration policies introduced in 1996.  Players get to role-play the experiences of five characters, each based on true case studies such as a student on a temporary visa or a permanent resident, and they make a series of moral choices which may bring them into contact with immigration agents seeking to arrest them.  There are also periodic myth/fact questions built into the game about immigration laws, which if answered correctly affect a player's score, level of risk, freedom, or health. If a player makes the wrong decisions they land in a detention center, where they endure inhumane living conditions and separation from their families as they await a random outcome.  Like the well-known Darfur is Dying, the detention process is anything but a game for thousands of people. But here's hoping that ICED! will be able to increase public awareness of deportation as a critical human rights issue, such that Americans begin to push harder for fair and equitable reform.
Oct 5 2007
Blog Post The Revolution Is Digitized
  • Big news today concerns an incident at a high school in California in which a young black woman had her wrist broken by a school security guard for failing to clean up a piece of her birthday cake that fell on the floor.  16-year-old Pleajhai Mervin was subsequently arrested, along with her mother who complained (and was fired from her school district job) and the fellow students who used their cellphones to videotape the struggle. There are many things wrong with this footage, from excessive violence in our schools to unjust racial profiling. With respect to the way in which this story has been disseminated in the media, the blogger Oh No a WoC PhD notes that "YouTube may be one way in which the revolution is in fact digitized."  With increased access to technology comes more power to force reporting and increase public awareness to fight social injustice.

Also related to new media, Racialicious alerts us to a lawsuit pending against Virgin Mobile over the unauthorized use of a photograph posted on Flickr.  A friend of Asian-American Alison Chang posted photos of his teenaged group of friends, one of which then appeared on billboards in Australia, taken out of context in a way that advertises a "perpetual foreigner" stereotype. A recent report by the Justice Policy Institute entitled "Employment, Wages and Public Safety" reveals that increased employment and wages are associated with positive public safety outcomes. In short, increasing security via economic well-being decreases the crime rate.  This report is one in a series that link public safety with various types of opportunities, from education to housing and drug treatment. Finally, the last few weeks have seen a number of racially-motivated incidents in New York, from a noose hung in a police station on Long Island to swastikas painted on synangogues during the Jewish holidays in Brookyln.  The continued use of these symbols to provoke fear and submission among specific ethnic or cultural groups is devastating.  At such times it's helpful to refer to the ethical framework of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to illustrate where we have gone wrong. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, Article I proclaims:

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

Article II goes on:

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

At their core, hate crimes violate the equality we value, a concept that is held globally as one of our most basic human rights. Unfortunately, many Americans do not consider human rights to be relevant to their day-to-day reality.  We tend to think of human rights as an issue in Latin America or in Myanmar, not at home.  What the above incidents make clear, though, is that defending human rights is just as important and necessary a task within the US -- and not just in New Orleans or in Jena, Louisiana, but in everyone's backyard.

Oct 2 2007
Blog Post The Battle Over SCHIP Continues
  • There has been a lot of heated discussion in blogs such as Ezra Klein and the HealthLawProf about the State Children's Health Insurance Plan, or SCHIP.  Congress is working to reauthorize the program before it expires on September 30, and after much deliberation the Senate and House have finally agreed upon a bill.  President Bush has been threatening to veto the program, however, on grounds that he thinks people will choose to be dependent on government assistance rather than obtain private insurance.  Bush's self-sufficiency frame provides us with the opposite of the progressive "it takes a village" mentality, wherein it is our task as a nation to care for the weaker members of our community. Many progressives are also questioning an imbalance of priorities which leads us to invest much more in weaponry than in the health of America's children.
  • In an astounding case of irrational and excessive force by Customs and Border agents, preeminent musicologist Nalini Ghuman was denied entry to the US last year on her way back to California, where she is a university professor at Mills College in Oakland.  A British citizen of Welsh and Indian parents with a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, Ghuman had her passport and valid visa torn up and has not been allowed to return since.  According to Ivan Katz:

Matters are made even worse -- if possible -- by the inadequate response of the United States government to the appalling treatment of Professor Ghuman. University professors and presidents can get no answer. Senators can get no answer. Our own embassy in London cannot get answers. National security, don't you know. The embassy in London seems to have concluded that this mess was the result of "mistaken identity" but no one in Washington will 'fess up to the error', and until that happens "nothing can be done."

The appalling treatment of Professor Ghuman takes the immigration debate well above questions of legality.  The border agents should be investigated thoroughly for denying Ghuman the opportunity to return to her job based solely upon their xenophobic impression of a person of color. And we should all examine the ways in which our society continues to discriminate against groups of people based on false prejudice. 

  • As two further examples of racial discrimination, the DMI Blog wrote about a study just released that indicates that white convicts are just as likely to be hired as blacks without criminal records.  That's a pretty alarming summary. Second, the Huffington Post cites a study which shows that black students in New Jersey are 60 times more likely to be expelled for behavioral issues than white students, while in Minnesota, black students are six times more likely than white students to be suspended for the same.  While it may seem that isolated episodes of unfair hiring or punishment (or any scuffle at the border) may not be so tied in with the big picture of racial (in)equality, that is just not the case.  In human rights discourse, however, we all deserve health care, we all deserve gainful employment, and we all deserve schooling and justice. Any barriers to the success of all should be broken down.
Sep 25 2007
Blog Post Ninth Circuit Judge Bea Tells His Immigration Story
  • While he was in college, Appeals Court judge Carlos T. Bea was nearly deported over a technical violation of US immigration law. He was, however, given the opportunity to stay in the US, and is now a member of the federal circuit that handles half of today's appeals in immigration cases. The ImmigrationProf Blog highlights his inspiring story and proposal  to reform the immigration appeals process.
  • Another great example of the pro-migrant blogosphere having an impact in the new media realm can be seen in this video produced by The Unapologetic Mexican. Entitled 'Ben Harper's Oppression; A Xicano Interpretation' the video has gotten a significant amount of views in a social networking/media community largely dominated by anti-immigrant sentiment.

 

  • In Riverside, New Jersey, the town council voted last night to repeal an ordinance intended to punish landlords and employers renting to or hiring individuals without documentation.  The ACLU commended the town board for dismissing legislation that would have "fueled xenophobia and discrimination."
  • Prometheus 6 has pointed us at an article in Medical News Today about waiting times for health care in the US. People seeking medical attention are waiting an average of 70 days for appointments, while some who have diagnosed with cancer are waiting "more than a month" to be seen by providers.  These statistics fail to account for the longer waiting times of the uninsured, roughly 44 million Americans, or those who delay care because of expenses.  The article continues by comparing our health care system with that of Canada, where there is no wait for emergency surgeries and no one is denied care based on finances.
  • Finally, Jack and Jill Politics wrote a a blog entry today entitled The Media Loves Stories About Race, As Long As They Fit A Certain Narrative. In other words, the 'Jena Six' get little attention, police brutality gets little attention, but OJ Simpson's newest arrest gets lots of media time.  The author says:

"The real appeal of the O.J. story is that it restores a comfortable narrative for America, where the bad guys and the good guys are marked by the color of their skin. As the media is inundated with stories about our dysfunctional and racist criminal justice system like those of The Jena Six, Kenneth Foster, Troy Davis and Genarlow Wilson, the O.J. story offers an opportunity to return to a more simplistic understanding of race and criminality."

That's a sad but insightful analysis, and one which definitely deserves more consideration on our part.

Sep 18 2007
Blog Post Southsourcing: Immigration Issues Solved

The ever-brilliant (and accidental framing expert) Stephen Colbert solves the immigration issues in one fell swoop in last night's edition of "The Word:"

Sep 13 2007
Blog Post Countering Anti-Migrant Talking Points

Over at Open Left, Kyle De Baussette schools the Netroots on how to deal with enforcement-based frames  on immigration:

"I am in favor of legal immigration."
"I am not anti-immigrant.  I am anti-illegal immigrant."
"I am for enforcing the law."

Every
migrant advocate has heard these phrases or phrases like these.
They're usually used to justify the atrocities that migrants suffer in
the U.S..  People also use these statements with a smug tone, as if
migrant advocates haven't heard them before.  It's not worth my time to
keep on addressing unimaginative talking points straight from the
mouths of pundits and politicians.  So I'll address them once and for
all here.  Following is a discussion of immigration law and it's
history.

Aug 27 2007
Blog Post "Sanctuary Cities"
  • Over at the LA Times, Ron Brownstein is talking about "Sanctuary Cities" and our immigration policy.  It's only in the last two weeks that I've begun to notice the term "Sanctuary Cities" creaping into the public discourse.  The term seems to be the anti-immigrant movements' frame of choice, designed to not only focus on actual immigration laws, but to act as a club for Republican Presidential candidates to beat up Democrats.  The way it is being deployed by folks like Romney and Tancredo, Sanctuary Cities = Progressive Urban Centers = Democrats.  Am I reading too much into that?
  • Progressive Blogger Digby is moonlighting over at The Big Con and opens her new gig with a must read piece about Race and the response to Katrina 2 years ago.
  • If you haven't read it yet, Time Magazine recently profiled some high school students who used FaceBook and MySpace to organize on behalf of their friends, whose parents are undocumented workers facing deportation.
  • The American Immigration Law Foundation has an interesting piece about local ordinances seeking to curb immigration in the face of the Federal Government's failure to pass a comprehensive reform bill:

    Regardless of why anti-immigrant ordinances are metastasizing across
    the country, the ordinances themselves, and the arguments of their
    supporters, are based on false assumptions. Take Culpeper County, where
    champions of the resolution complain that new immigrants aren't
    "assimilating." Missing from this complaint is an understanding of the
    fact that "assimilation" (or integration) occurs over the course of
    generations, not within a few years of a person's life. While most of
    our immigrant forefathers probably achieved at least a basic mastery of
    English after several years in the United States, like Latino
    immigrants now, they certainly did not become linguistically or
    culturally "American" in any meaningful sense within their lifetimes.
    And neither will today's immigrants. But their children and
    grandchildren will, just as we did.

Aug 22 2007
Blog Post Blogosphere Diversity and the Effectiveness of Internet Action

Blogosphere Diversity remains the topic du jour this Monday (unless you want to talk about the upcoming Rove resignation), though there are a number of other important posts to read as well:

  • Angry Black Woman ponders the effectiveness of blogging as a way to help eliminate racism.  Is blogging so much talk, or is it another form of doing
  • At ColorLines, Daisy Hernandez asks if you can iChat your way to Social Change, in an excellent piece about media consumption habits and activism among people of color.
  • The Field Negro weighs in on this issue as well, with a lot of more about diversity in the blogosphere and the larger conversation that is (at times very indelicately) taking place.
  • Linda Seger at Huffington Post adds gender discrimination into the mix.
  • JaninSanFran wrrites about the danger of anecdotes in media reporting - an interesting piece on how personal stories can frame or misframe an issue.
  • Jack and Jill Politics has an excellent post about health care equity and access vs. quality of care.
  • Finally, Facing South continues its coverage of the Jena 6.
Aug 13 2007
Blog Post Turning our Language Against Us

Via Rick Perlstein (who I shared the stage with on the framing panel at this year's Yearly Kos Convention), check out this essay by author Nancy MacLean at the History News Network: The Scary Origins of Chief Justice John Roberts Decision Opposing the Use of Race to Promote Integration.  The essay outlines just how old segregationists began to adopt the language of the civil rights movement to oppose civil rights reform.  It's in this twisting of the language that we can find the seeds of Roberts' recent decision in the Seattle and Louisville school cases.

But their core commitments stayed the same.
To fight social justice, conservative spokesmen simply mastered the art
of rhetorical jujitsu. They seized the civil rights movement’s greatest
strength--its moral power–to defeat its goals. They complained less and
less that civil rights measures violated property rights, aided
communists or elevated racial inferiors. Instead, conservatives claimed
that civil rights measures themselves discriminated.

“I am getting to be like the Catholic convert who became more Catholic
than the Pope,” Kilpatrick marveled in 1978 about his own altered
phraseology. “If it is wrong to discriminate by reason of race or sex,”
intoned the outspoken enemy of civil rights, “well, then, it is wrong
to discriminate by reason of race or sex.”

The former segregationists now portrayed themselves as the true
advocates of fairness. They framed “the egalitarians,” in Kilpatrick’s
words, as “worse racists--much worse racists--than the old Southern
bigots.” Color blindness, conservatives had come to see, offered the
most promising strategy to defeat the push for equality.

Stealing civil rights language for rhetorical jujitsu attacks on the
civil rights movement was a calculated strategy. In its 1981 Mandate
for Leadership for the Reagan administration, the Heritage Foundation
explained: “For twenty years, the most important battle in the civil
rights field has been for control of language,” particularly words such
as “equality” and “opportunity.” “The secret to victory, whether in
court or in congress,” it advised, “has been to control the definition
of these terms.”

Aug 7 2007
Blog Post Author of "The Political Brain" Reframes Immigration

Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding Political Affairs, has a piece in AlterNet explaining how - like President Johnson did for Civil Rights in 1965 - progressives could have reframed the  immigration debate:

Throughout the debate on immigration, polls have shown that most
Americans are not the raging xenophobes leaders on both sides of the
aisle feared and many on the right courted and ignited. Most Americans
just want an alternative story to "amnesty for dark-skinned lawbreakers
who steal our jobs and want to say the Pledge of Allegiance in
Spanish." They want a narrative that has the ring of truth -- but
comprehensive truth about comprehensive reform.

To be compelling,
and to defuse the morality tale on immigration of the right and
righteous, our story needs to begin with the most important truth, for
which we needed no reminder this week from London and Glasgow, that the
protection of our borders and safety is the first task of government.
It then needs to steal the thunder from the right that readily
reverberates through the middle by adding to the incantation, "If
they're going to live in our country, they need to learn to speak our
language," the simple, progressive, and quintessentially American
phrase, "because if they don't, their children will never know the
American Dream, and we will have done nothing for them but to relegate
them to second-class citizenship."

Jul 12 2007
Blog Post From commercials to detention reform: Immigration from All Sides
  • DMI Blog reports on a new support
    campaign for immigration, Long Island WINS, seeking to elucidate the shared
    interests of immigrants and middle class Long Islanders. Last week, they launched a multitude of
    intriguing T.V. commercials explaining the economic and cultural contributions
    immigrants make to the island.  These ads
    highlight the important message that immigrants only want what everyone in the
    country wants: the opportunity to pursue the American Dream and participate
    fully in our society. Immigrants
    revitalize communities like these Long Island ones by reviving commerce and provided needed products, in addition to tax and
    net contributions. For example,
    immigrants in California gave an estimated $4.5 billion in state taxes and an additional $30 billion in federal taxes in 1999-2000.
  • Immigrants in the USA Blog
    emphasizes a main idea of the Long Island WINS campaign: everyone benefits from
    working together. This Democrat & Chronicle story highlights
    the triumphs of the Rochester City School District in graduating many seniors who struggled
    with language barriers and cultural disparities. The school helps the students in the
    63-language population by providing resources like teachers with specialized
    language skills and connecting parents with community agencies. These success stories demonstrate the
    importance of providing immigrants with an adequate integration strategy.  Funding for adult basic education and English
    classes has not kept pace with the growing demand
    , and such resources are vital
    to proper integration.
  • ‘Just News’
    reports on a New York Times article continuing this conversation about the high
    rate of immigrants dying in custody after being detained. Because no government body is charged with documenting deaths in immigrant detention, the details and extent of the
    sub par conditions are hard to find. Latina Lista references the same article in explaining how immigrant
    detention is the fastest growing form of incarceration in the United States.  For example, over 27,000 immigrants are
    detained on any given day in almost 200 prison-like facilities all over the
    country.
  • Happening-here blog explains some effective ways to counter anti-immigration ways to frame an argument. The blog proposed fighting for a human
    security state (where the government fights for our freedom rather than
    constricting our rights), working toward all forms of racial equity, and
    encouraging globalization in understanding the ways in which we can all provide
    important resources for each other. An
    important facet of the immigration struggle is highlighting the ways in which
    all groups can benefit from fair immigrant rights. For more information about this shared
    interest, check out this article.
Jun 27 2007
Blog Post Daily Blog Round-Up 6/8/07
  • Racialicious reports on the discrepancies in the 2000 U.S.
    Census
    , stating that over 700,000 blacks were not counted nationwide. Committees are looking for ways to clear up
    such problems in future census counts, as mistakes skew the representative character of our government. The census has presented a number of problems for communities of color, who are frequently miscounted in a number of ways. As featured on the State of Opportunity website, the 2000 Census counts prison inmates as inhabitants of their prison
    towns, not their home towns. This miscount of the populations of those areas, results in a loss of both resources and equal representation for those communities.  An accurate census is important to
    maintaining a true democracy that suits the people’s needs.
  • Racialicious continues its coverage on the lack of the
    diversity on TV networks
    , especially in television writers. While certain prime-time shows do feature
    minority actors, on the whole, many of these characters are merely supporting
    predominantly white casts. In response
    to the new line-up of shows for the fall, Janet Murguia, president of the
    National Council of La Raza, voiced her dismay: “It seems to me that we're
    losing ground. I'm puzzled. Where there
    has been diversity, there's been success…But with a few exceptions, this is the
    least diverse lineup we've seen in recent years.”  In a study of the Writers Guild of America,
    West showed that white males disproportionately dominate film and TV jobs in Hollywood, and that
    minority writers accounted for fewer than 10% of employed television writers
    between 1999 and 2005. Without proper
    representation of the true diversity in this country, TV networks are
    showcasing a false view of the country, thus contributing to more hostilities
    and stereotypes in race relations.
  • BlogHer reports on the importance of comprehensive sex
    education and access to birth control within the frame of a “basic human right
    and a normal value.” In addition to
    explaining how much support throughout the country exists across gender and
    party lines, BlogHer’s use of language truly exemplifies the type of communication
    strategies advocates need to unite the country. By framing access to birth control as a basic human right, BlogHer
    elevates the reproductive rights struggle to a more universal issue, one to
    which many people can relate. This
    framing is a positive step for advocacy everywhere!
  • Sakaduski Marketing Blog reports on a recent study from the
    Harvard School of Public Health, which grouped people based on race, country of
    residence and a few other community characteristics and compared life expectancy
    rates in each “race country.” These
    researchers found that life expectancy rates differed dramatically between
    these eight “race countries”: Asians, northland low-income rural whites, Middle
    America, low-income whites in Appalachia and the Mississippi valley, Western Native Americans, black Middle America, southern low-income
    rural blacks, and high-risk urban blacks. For example, the gap between the high-risk urban black males and the
    Asian females was nearly 21 years. Differences
    in access to health care and health insurance, as well as the quality of care one receives, are a primary cause such disparities, severely hurting many minority groups. Without equality to health care, these eight Americas will continue to show such huge unfair discrepancies.
Jun 11 2007
Blog Post Framing Immigration Next Time Around

Yes, the current immigration bill is dead, for the time being, but we'd still like to take a quick look at they way some of our allies have been framing the issue.  There are lessons to be learned that can make us more effective advocates for comprehensive reform next time a bill is introduced.

An article at the Huffington Post by the always thoughtful and incisive Barabara Ehrenreich provides a case in point as to how some tried and true progressive frames might need to be rethought in the case of immigration reform.  Ehrenreich's piece is as witty as usual, and focuses on her typical, economics based argument for progressive reform.  In it, she argues:

The only question is how much we owe our undocumented
immigrant workers. First, those who do not remain to enjoy the benefits
of old age in America will have to be reimbursed for their
contributions to Medicare and Social Security, and here I quote the
website of the San Diego ACLU:

Undocumented
immigrants annually pay an estimated $7 billion more than they take out
into Social Security, and $1.5 billion more into Medicare ... a study
by the National Academy of Sciences also found that tax payments
generated by immigrants outweighed any costs associated with services
used by immigrants.

Second, someone is going to have
to calculate what is owed to "illegals" for wages withheld by
unscrupulous employers: The homeowner who tells his or her domestic
worker that the wage is actually several hundred dollars a month less
than she had been promised, and that the homeowner will be "holding" it
for her. Or the landscaping service that stiffs its undocumented
workers for their labor. Who's the "illegal" here?

Ehrenreich's points (only partially listed here) are dead on, but her framework is divisive, pitting "Americans" against "Illegals."   Her suggestions - that it is we who owe undocumented workers a debt for all that they do - while accurate, is alienating to the very people whose support the immigrants rights community needs to secure in order to achieve positive comprehensive reform.  This us vs. them, transactional (financial) frame implies that indirectly feeds into anti-immigrant ideas of undocumented workers as a burden to society, and  reinforces wedges that anti-immigration groups are attempting to drive between progressive communities, namely African Americans and Immigrants, who share many of the same concerns and problems.

Rather than  employ witty rhetoric that promotes the conservative (transactional) frame, progressives should deploy a frame that acknowledges the positive contributions that immigrants make to our society, draws on the history of America as the land of opportunity, and illustrates how, by helping immigrants find a pathway to citizenship, we can all rise together - economically or otherwise.

Here are some sample messages illustrating what that looks like:

  • We need to move from our broken immigration system to one that is orderly,
    workable, and consistent with our nation’s values.  We can do that by allowing
    immigrants who work, pay taxes, and learn English to earn a pathway to
    citizenship.  Those steps, along with reforms like increased civil rights
    enforcement and sanctions for employers that exploit workers will raise wages
    and expand economic opportunity for everyone.
  • Immigrants are part of the fabric of our
    society—they are our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends.  Reactionary
    policies that force them into the shadows haven’t worked, and are not consistent
    with our values.  Those policies hurt all of us by encouraging exploitation by
    unscrupulous employers and landlords.  We support policies that help immigrants
    contribute and participate fully in our society.
  • Immigrants and African Americans have a
    shared interest in fair working conditions, laws against discrimination, and
    quality schools that prepare our kids for a diverse country and world.  Our
    communities are increasingly coming together to press for those
    policies.

The current immigration bill may be dead, but before long this issue will rise again.  When it does, let's be prepared to talk about it in a way that builds bridges and helps create a coalition strong enough to push through comprehensive reform that treats immigrants fairly and is consistent with our national values.

Jun 8 2007
Blog Post Opportunity in Images: Take Two

Earlier this year, we teamed up with students in the Masters in Media Studies program at the New School University here in New York.  As part of a media production class, we became the "client" and the students became graphic designers, tasked with creating images representing the core values of community, equality, and human rights apply to one of three initiatives: Immigration reform, health care equity, and the 2008 election.

Here's a sample of some of the great work they produced.  These images are creative commons licensed (Attribution), and the name of the designer can be found in the description.  We encourage everyone to Remix and Reuse them in your own work.  You can find the full set of images here.

Fernanda-OAGraphic-Larger OA_Buttons_2008Elections_ OA1 OA_Healthcare_1_notext_Braudaway

This is the second time we've worked with students at the New School on creating images illustrative of our Opportunity FrameYou can find past work here.

May 14 2007
Blog Post Framing the Debate

I wanted to highlight a few new additions to the growing literature on framing progressive values and policies.

Real Clear Politics is running an interesting article that analyzes the work of George Lakoff and Michael Tomasky.  Lakoff, of course, if famous for his framing book "Don't Think of an Elephant," and Tomasky, editor of the American Prospect, has pitched his own progressive frame around the idea of the Common Good.

The failure of Tomasky is that, like Lakoff, he seems to believe that
the problems facing Democrats can be fixed with only a rhetorical
shift. "If only we progressive had a Frank Luntz to wordsmith for us,"
they would seem to say. But the Democrats' problem is far deeper; it is
not that they fumble for words, but rather that they have lost their
voice.

Also check out this new book by Jeffrey Feldmen of Frameshop: Framing the Debate.

May 11 2007
Blog Post Government: Providing the Boots to Bootstrappers Everywhere

Comedian Al Franken announced his candidacy for the  United States Senate yesterday (like all new candidates) via a YouTube video.  Whatever you may think about the Air America host and x-Saturday Night Live writer, you can't argue with his language.  Franken's announcement is an embodiment of the power of the Opportunity Frame  over the conservative frame of individual responsibility.

This comes through most vividly when Franken is describing his wife's family's climb out of poverty, and how government programs such as Social Security Survivor Benefits and Pell Grants gave them the tools they needed to lift themselves up. 

Best quote:

Conservatives say that people need to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, and I agree.  That's a great idea.  But first you've got to have the boots.  And the government gave my wife's family the boots.  That's what progressives like me believe the government is there for.

It's very reminiscent of the messages we produced during the 1 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.  Government is there to help provide the basic tools that we need to secure opportunity for ourselves and our families.  To provide the resources to start over when misfortune befalls us.  It's a great message, grounded in our notion of America as a land of opportunity, where everyone has a fair chance to succeed, and its a great speech by Franken.  You can watch the whole speech below.

Feb 16 2007
Blog Post Framing Immigration in the New York Times

The Gray Lady is running an article on immigrants today that contrasts starkly with most media reporting of the issue, and offers us a chance to see what well-framed media coverage of the immigration debate might actually look like.

Immigrant Entrepreneurs Shape a New Economy

The article focuses on the challenges that many immigrant entrepreneurs face - competition from other immigrants, byzantine city regulations, language barriers, and lack of access to connections and infrastructure that help small businesses grow - yet the message is very much one of the positive impact that immigrants have on our cities:

“Immigrants have been the entrepreneurial spark plugs of cities from
New York to Los Angeles,” said Jonathan Bowles, the director of the
Center for an Urban Future, a private, nonprofit research organization
that has studied the dynamics of immigrant businesses that turned
decaying neighborhoods into vibrant commercial hubs in recent decades.
“These are precious and important economic generators for New York
City, and there’s a risk that we might lose them over the next decade.”

In this story, immigrants are the drivers and revivers of urban economies.  They are net positives for society as a whole.

To be sure, there are faults with the framing in this article.  By focusing on these successful immigrants who have bootstrapped themselves to success - despite many barriers - it reinforces the idea of the immigrant "striver," and promotes a conservative frame of individual responsibility ("If these immigrants can succeed, it must mean that those who don't aren't really trying to help themselves").

Never the less, it is a piece that highlights the value that immigrants bring to our society, and frames them in a positive light.  A good piece to think about as we work towards moving public opinion on the issue of comprehensive immigration reform.

Feb 6 2007
Blog Post State of Opportunity; State of the Union

Last night President Bush delivered his 6th State of the Union Address.  Thanks to a terrific interactive tool put out by the New York Times, we're able to determine that Bush mentioned opportunity 8 times in his speech - more than in any other State of the Union address he has delivered thus far.  In almost each instance, he referenced the need to spread hope and opportunity and build a brighter future for our country. 

It's wonderful to hear the President promote the value of opportunity
when addressing the nation, but unfortunately, opportunity has been on the decline since President Bush last ascended the podium to address the nation; and the President's proposed policies - centered less around expanding opportunity so much as promoting individual responsibility - will do little to increase opportunity for those most in need in our country.

Last year, just after the President's 2006 Address (in which one of the only references to opportunity came coupled with a broken promise to rebuild New Orleans - curiously absent from last night's speech), The Opportunity Agenda released a report - The State of Opportunity in America.  In this report, we measured America's progress in expanding opportunity along a variety of indicators and issues.  Our findings were not encouraging.

Next month, we'll release an update to the State of Opportunity Report.  For now, here's a sample of our findings:

  • A lower proportion of young adults earned high school degrees;
  • The number and rate of incarcerated people has increased, to 2.2 million today, consistent with a three-decade trend;
  • The wealth and income gap increased again, following a trend of growing economic inequality;
  • The gender poverty gap increased between 2004 and 2005, as a larger percentage of women fell into poverty in this period;
  • The number of Americans lacking health insurance increased from 45.3 million in 2004 to 46.6 million in 2005.

We'll have more in a few weeks.  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, you can fact-check the President's statements and policy proposals through this tool created by Think Progress.

We also recommend you check out the SOTU review offered by our friends at the Drum Major Institute.

What did you think of the President's address and his newfound commitment to spreading opportunity?

Jan 24 2007
Research Brochure: About The Opportunity Agenda (2008)

Read about The Opportunity Agenda in our new brochure.

brochure.png

Jan 20 2007
Blog Post All in the Framing

The New York Times is running an article today about violence in Louisiana schools: After the Storm, Students Left Alone, Angry.  The article reports on a surge of  violence in Louisiana high schools, and provides an instructive look at why proper framing of issues matters for those of us looking to achieve positive social change.

Focusing on the John McDonogh High School in New Orleans, the article paints a picture of students gone wild, many living without parental supervision and lashing out during school.  An ominous lead clearly sets the stage and cast of characters:  A school that sounds more like a prison, populated by students who are obviously criminals:

NEW ORLEANS, Oct. 31 — John McDonogh High School has at least 25
security guards, at the entrance, up the stairs and outside classes.
The school has a metal detector, four police officers and four police
cruisers on the sidewalk.

In the last six weeks,
students at McDonogh, the largest functioning high school here, have
assaulted guards, a teacher and a police officer. A guard and a teacher
were beaten so badly that they were hospitalized.

While this is clearly not an action to be condoned, by leading with the most inflammatory piece of the story, the writer sets up a dynamic whereby the individual students - rather than the devastation of the Hurricane and the failure of local, state, and national government to properly rebuild - bear the brunt of responsibility for the conditions in which they find themselves and which are the root cause of the school violence.   

This is a traditionally conservative framework - that of individual responsibility - and it permeates the rest of the piece. As we read further down, blame is laid on absentee parents, with little comment on the barriers that keep them away from their children:

Mr. Jackson said many parents whom he had spoken to were in Baton
Rouge, Houston or elsewhere. “That’s the question that’s buzzing in
everybody’s heads,” the McDonogh curriculum coordinator, Toyia
Washington Kendrick, said. “How could you leave your kids here, that
are school-age kids, unattended?”

The answer is as various as the
fragmented social structure, which the hurricane a year ago made even
more complicated. Some students describe families barely functional
even before the storm. Others say pressing economic necessity has kept
parents away.

Rachelle Harrell was living in Houston, working
as a medical assistant and trying to pay off a $1,300 electricity bill
in New Orleans. But she yielded to her son Justin and his cousin
Kiante, both 16, and sent them back to New Orleans on a Greyhound bus
while she stayed in Texas.

While individual responsibility is important, and students should be
punished for their actions, the real problems described by this article
are systemic in nature and do not lend themselves to easy solutions that address the actions of individual students.  While the story does make passing references to systemic
problems with the school system, for the most part it shirks all
responsibility to examine root causes, preferring instead to
focus on the more limited narrative of students run amok:

If the causes are complicated, the consequences seem evident to school
officials: a large cadre of belligerent students, hostile to authority
and with no worry about parental punishment at home. 

Punishing students and ratcheting up security in an ever expanding cycle will neither return missing parents, nor free those
parents from the obligations that keep them away.  It
will not bring new books to the classroom or new teachers into the
schools. In its framing, the article moves readers away from positive solutions to what are clearly systemic problems in Gulf Coast communities.  Worse, it lays blame for those problems solely on the survivors of the hurricane because it is easier to point fingers than to confront serious failures on the part of public institutions.

A well-framed story would have focused on the systemic, root causes of these problems and how public institutions could help Katrina survivors back in their feet.  It would have delved into those "complex causes," to create a greater understanding of the problem in the mind of the public.  With this piece, the Grey Lady had a chance to help the victims of Katrina and move the public forward in its understanding of the effects that the storm continues to have, and the role that public institutions can and must play if we are to truly help the Gulf Coast recover from the disaster.

Instead, they chose to highlight the negative actions of a few bad apples in a framework that completely isolated those actions from their causes.  As a result, the public will be less informed than it could be, and we're that much farther from making real progress in the Gulf.

Nov 1 2006
Video Alan Jenkins on MSNBC Discussing Supreme Court Justice Picks

Alan Jenkins, executive director of The Opportunity Agenda, appears on MSNBC to discuss Supreme Court nominations.

Jan 1 2005
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