Talking About Due Process and Racial Profiling

Due Process

Core Message: Due process is a human right central to the American justice system. American values of justice and fairness only stand strong when we uphold the right to due process.

Most audiences believe that due process in the legal system is a basic human right, central to preserving and upholding American values of security, fair treatment, and freedom from government persecution. However, while audiences hold the concept dear, they don’t always accept that violations occur, or understand how due process applies to immigrants or asylum seekers. Nonetheless, their embrace of due process as integral to our nation’s identity is an opportunity to tell a story of American values in peril, and to make the case for how to protect and restore them through a commonsense approach to our immigration policies.

  • Lead with Values. Fairness, equality, America’s founding principles. Assert that the United States should protect due process in order to stand up for American values.
  • It’s About All of Us. Research shows that arguments focusing on the goal of protecting our core values resonate better than a focus on protecting the specific rights of specific groups. Emphasize that due process is central to the credibility of our justice system, and that once we start denying rights for one individual or type of people, it puts all individuals’ rights at risk.
  • Define the Term. While audiences are committed to the concept of due process, not all immediately understand the term itself. Describing due process as giving someone a fair trial, or access to courts and lawyers, or a set of standardized rules and procedures to protect individuals from being unfairly treated or imprisoned helps to make the term more accessible.
  • Include positive solutions. This is an opportunity to talk about what does work, not just attack policies that don’t. We should always describe what needs to happen in order to restore and protect due process, and what audiences can do to support positive and effective changes to our immigration policies.
  • Include key information about how the current system denies due process rights to immigrants. Participants are not aware of how laws can violate due process and have a hard time believing that this could be happening. Therefore, it is important to keep the language simple and straightforward. If the rhetoric strays from a simple description, the message may be lost.
  • Include the Right Pieces of the Story. Past research showed that the elements of due process that audiences value the most include timeliness in granting due process, being allowed to call a loved one and a lawyer, and fair treatment.

Sample Language

Due process – access to courts and lawyers and a basic set of rules for how we’re all treated in the justice system – is a human right and central to our country’s values. We should reject any policies that deny due process, for undocumented immigrants or anyone else. Our values of justice and fairness only stand strong when we have one system of justice for everyone. If one group can be denied due process, none of us will be safe to enjoy the rights that this country says it stands for.

When it comes to our outdated immigration laws, we need real solutions that embrace fairness, equal treatment, and due process. Current laws are badly broken, but disregarding our values is not the answer to fixing them.

Racial Profiling

  • Core Message: The administration’s new policy recklessly promotes the practice of racial profiling, which violates human rights, as well as our core values of fairness and justice. It’s a flawed policing strategy that hurts communities, and most importantly, threatens our values.
  • Lead with values: Equal justice, fair treatment, freedom from discrimination, public safety and accountability.
  • Define the term and fully explain that racial profiling is based on stereotypes and not evidence in an individual case. Explain why racial profiling is not an effective policing tool and is a rights violation. Challenge the notion that racial profiling may be acceptable if it somehow keeps communities safe.

Too often, police departments use racial profiling, which is singling people out because of their race or accent, instead of based on evidence of wrongdoing. That’s against our national values, endangers our young people, and reduces public safety.

  • Explain why profiling harms us all, not just people of color or immigrants. This includes harm to our national values of fairness and equal justice, harm to public safety, and harm to anyone who is wrongly detained, arrested, or injured by law enforcement.

To work for all of us, our justice system depends on equal treatment and investigations based on evidence, not stereotypes or bias.

  • Move beyond denouncing racial profiling alone and also highlight positive solutions and alternatives that ensure equal justice and protect public safety like the End Racial Profiling Act and training for law enforcement agencies.

Racial profiling is an ineffective and harmful practice that undermines our basic values. Far too many immigration enforcement policies recklessly promote the practice. Any immigration policy reform needs to zero in on, and eliminate, this outdated and harmful practice.

We need to ensure that law enforcement officials are held to the constitutional standards we value as Americans—protecting public safety and the rights of all.

  • Offer multiple real-life examples. The idea of racial profiling is theoretical for some audiences. It’s important to provide multiple examples that include a variety of people who’ve been wrongly stopped.

Sample Language

Racial profiling harms all Americans. It violates our values of equal justice that we all depend on. It disrespects and discriminates against millions of young people and others around the country. It threatens public safety and can ruin people’s lives. It’s time to end racial profiling and focus law enforcement on evidence and public safety.

We need to be clear: it is unacceptable for those who enforce our laws to stereotype people based on the color of their skin, religion, or nation of origin. Law enforcement should act on facts and evidence, not racial bias. If one group can be singled out based on race or ethnicity or religion, none of us will be safe to enjoy the rights that the United States stands for.

We are stronger when we find ways to encourage participation and contribution, not ways to divide, exclude and discriminate. We have to condemn, in the strongest terms, those who engage in and encourage racist tactics.

Is it right for a military veteran to be asked for his papers just because he’s of Mexican heritage? Is it right for a mother of Asian or Latino background who speaks with an accent to get asked for her papers—right in front of her children—when her white friend next to her does not? Is it right that immigrants who work hard and aspire to be citizens live in daily fear of being stopped, arrested, and deported away from their loved ones? Is it right to create a culture of suspicion in an America that becomes more diverse every day? No. Anyone who engages in or encourages discrimination is flat out wrong. That’s not who we should be as a country.

Talking About Poverty & Economic Opportunity Today: Three Core Pillars

Poverty and economic opportunity are often difficult subjects for advocates to talk about, especially within today’s political climate. Instead of always refuting (and inadvertently re-enforcing) misinformation and stereotypes about people living in poverty, we need to reframe economic issues through values-based messaging and remind audiences that we can create an economy that works for all. To do that, we compiled the following three core messaging pillars in collaboration with some of our partners. These pillars offer tips for discussing shared values, naming systemic causes of poverty, and addressing common-sense solutions that work for everyone. Click on each pillar below for our suggested messaging language.

  • CONNECTIONS: We move forward together. Remind audiences that our destiny is shared, and that we are stronger when we work together.
  • SOLUTIONS:  We need to remind audiences that our economy and its effects on people are the result of deliberate policies that benefit some over others. We can create an economy that works for all, with our government playing a key role.
  • JUSTICE: In the past, powerful interests created and promoted economic policies (and continue to do so) that favored some populations and discriminated against others on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender. We all have a responsibility to address systemic injustice.

Download the Economic Justice Pillars

Best Practices for Journalists

For generations, people of color have been the victims of unfair, biased and criminalizing coverage in the news media. From the consistent use of imagery and language based in historical stereotypes, to copy-editing standards and photo choices that misrepresent diverse communities, the media has at times gone against one of journalism’s core values which is to “minimize harm to the communities and people they cover.”  Basic journalism education provides writers, producers and editors with the tools to ethically answer the “who, what, where, when, why and how” of any issue or event. However, accurately and thoughtfully reporting on issues of race and culture requires that journalists go beyond those basic skills. Reporters should make intentional efforts to craft stories that uplift the voices of the most impacted without criminalizing them or adding to existing narratives. This is always important, but must become a priority in times of crisis and unrest. Communities of color are in pain after the tragic shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The death of the officers in Dallas has added to the anguish and unrest breaking out across this nation.  When writing and editing content pertaining to these and other tragedies involving people or communities of color, reporters, editors and producers need to consider the following:



Black Lives Matter:  Do not attribute the actions of the Dallas shooter Micah Johnson to Black Lives Matter or the broader Movement for Black Lives (to which he was not affiliated). His actions are not reflective of the values and principles of Black Lives Matter or the Movement for Black Lives.

“Race War:” Much of the media coverage of the Dallas police shootings irresponsibly framed the shootings as a race war and tied it to the Black Lives Matter movement despite the fact that the police chief said at a press conference that it is too early to speculate about the shooter’s motives. The New York Post’s front page this morning blared the words CIVIL WAR,” and the Drudge Report posted the headline “Black Lives Kill.”  These are irresponsible journalistic responses, and should be avoided.

Do not Cherry-pick Information to fit an existing or forming narrative: Media coverage of one of the victims, Alton Sterling, focused on his previous arrest record.  Unless such information is directly relevant to the story, it should not be included.  And, in any event, such information should be included, if at all, on an even-handed basis toward all actors in a story.

Sourcing Images: Make sure that you are thoroughly cross-referencing images through platforms like Google, AP and Getty Images and social media sites to ensure you run the right picture. Running the wrong picture of a person of color featured in your story uplifts the stereotype that all people of color look alike, it shows a lack of care and commitment on the part of your news organization and can have harmful implications for others both related and unrelated to the story.

  • For example, Mark Hughes, a black man who was not involved in the shooting and was legally carrying a gun at the protest in Dallas, was falsely accused of being involved in the shooting. The Dallas Police department tweeted an image of Mark Hughes, who was not involved in the shooting, identifying him as a suspect. They still haven’t have not taken it down and the image has been used in multiple publications. Mark Hughes has subsequently received thousands of death threats.

Sourcing Information and Pictures

Sources should come from the impacted communities as much as possible. It’s always good to have experts on tap to speak to trends, data, etc., but the diverse voices of people of color must be infused in the story.

Do not just take the comments of one or two people of color or from those residing in one particular area, even in local stories. Make sure you are engaging people of color from across your communities and across the nation for stories with local impact. This will help show the range of responses and ideas, making your content more accurate and inclusive.

Word choice and Copy Editing

Too often copy desks use fast and loose rules when deciding when to deem a loss of life as a murder, a killing, an incident or an accident. Research shows that when people of color are accused of (or are found guilty of) committing violent acts, media tend to use harsher, criminalizing language (murdered, massacred, slayed). But less violent language is used when they are the victims of violent acts.

Word choice: Be consistent with the words used to describe death, especially in instances involving police, and pay attention to the way you’re attributing language to people based on race.

For example: Broadcasters speaking about the Dallas shooting have said that the officers were “murdered,” but days prior said Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were “shot.” Their deaths were “incidents” and “tragic accidents,” not murders even though all were shot. This simple word choice devalues and dehumanizes their lives, while shifting blame and accountability away from those who killed them.

Check AP Style for Cultural Terms, Hate Speech: Double check the AP Stylebook for words and language considered derogatory and hate speech. This list changes annually to include new language and cultural references. This will help minimize the use of derogatory and culturally-insensitive language that could cause additional harm to the people you’re reporting on.

STAY AWAY FROM MUG SHOTS WHEN POSSIBLE. There’s a rising trend in media where outlets are running old mug shots as lead art for stories about victims of police killings. When choosing images to run with stories about Black and Brown victims of state and police violence, make every attempt to use sourced photos provided by family or that come from their social media accounts. Running an unrelated mug shot with a story contributes and uplifts the narrative that people of color are criminals and that their deaths are related to their apparent abhorrence for authority.

Highlight their Humanity: Remember that when writing about Black and Brown victims of state violence, that their humanity should be uplifted before anything else, especially unrelated criminal activity, police records or other information linked to the criminal justice system. Include the voices of family, friends, loved one and community members along with other necessary facts needed to tell a balanced story.

Understanding the cultural landscape and knowing the risk

When writing about victims of state and police violence, it is imperative that reporters take time to learn about the history of police in their particular communities and the nation’s history of police engagement with Black and Brown people.

  • Know when the police department you’re writing about was founded
  • Know the race and gender demographics of the department
  • Know the race and class demographics of the communities those officers serve (Do the officers in that community REFLECT the community?)
  • Research prior instances of similar acts and violence in the department
  • Research the police department’s rules of engagement and statues for use of excessive force

​Visit the Resource

Social Justice Phrase Guide

Guidelines for Conscientious Communications

Advancing a social justice agenda starts with being smart and deliberate in how we frame our discourse. The Social Justice Phrase Guide is your go-to tool to craft inclusive messages. Whether developing language for your organization, communicating through media platforms, or engaging in personal discussions, follow these guidelines to successfully communicate across communities.

This guide is a collaboration of Advancement Project, a multi-racial civil rights organization, and The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communication lab.

Accurately and Respectfully Talk About People’s Identities, Situations, and Roles in Society

Within all discourse, there are terms that most accurately and respectfully acknowledge people’s identities and positions within society. In general, consider using language that puts personhood first and emphasizes humanity.

This can often be done by using terms as adjectives rather than nouns (i.e. Black or White people vs. Blacks and Whites; LGBTQ people vs. gays and lesbians; young people vs. youths) or by actively putting “people” first (i.e. people with disabilities vs. disabled people; people living in poverty vs. poor people; people who are homeless vs. homeless people). Here are a few examples:

  • “Ex-con,” “Criminal,” or “Felon.” Terms that label people by past or present convictions posed against them reduce their identity to the violations they’ve been accused of rather than their humanity. Instead, describe people as people first and foremost, not by their mistakes. Instead: People with felony convictions; people who have been incarcerated.
  • “Minority.” The word minority is originally a mathematical term meaning “the smaller part or number; a number, part or amount forming less than half of the whole.” As demographics shift in our nation, the accuracy of such a term is fleeting. However, it is most important to scrap the term because of its diminutive connotation. Try using “people first” terminology instead. Instead: People of color.

Retire Outdated and Problematic Phrases and Metaphors

There are some phrases and colloquialisms with discriminatory or offensive roots, which are sometimes little known. It is important to learn, and then retire, these terms when possible.

Aim to avoid idioms or phrases that have obvious or even subtly demeaning connotations related to groups or cultural traditions. Here are a few examples:

  • “Turn a deaf ear,” “turning a blind eye” or “the blind leading the blind.” It is best to avoid idioms that cast a negative connotation on people’s various physical abilities. Drop the idiom and instead use terms that cut to your point without offending others. Instead: Ignoring, insensitive, misguided.
  • “Pow-wow.” A pow-wow is an inter-tribal social gathering that includes dance, singing, and ceremonial elements. Many tribes and Native organizations hold them on a regular basis. Using this term out of context to refer to a meeting or a quick chat or conversation trivializes the significance of these gatherings. Instead: Chat, brief conversation, quick talk, brainstorm.
  • “Low man on the totem pole.” Totem poles are monuments created by tribes of the Pacific Northwest to represent and commemorate ancestry, histories, people, or events. The term “low man on the totem pole,” when used as an idiom to describe a person of low rank, inaccurately trivializes the tradition and meaning of the totem poles, which do not have a hierarchy of carvings based on physical position. Instead: Person of lower rank, junior-level.
  • “Gypped.” The term gypped is used colloquially to imply being ripped off or swindled. The dated term derives from “gypsy” and perpetuates negative and unfair stereotypes. Instead: Ripped off, swindled, cheated, conned.

Talk About Policies and Solutions in Realistic and Accurate Ways That Spur The Action Social Justice Advocates Want

It is imperative that social justice communications include a clear path toward a solution. Leaving this out can leave audiences hopeless, with just another list of “what’s wrong” in the world.  In outlining these solutions, messengers should thoroughly examine the implications of word choices to avoid reinforcing values that are problematic to a social justice mindset, such as militarism or extreme individualism. A few examples:

  • “Reform” (used with education, immigration, welfare, tax, etc.). As linguist Anat Shenker-Osorio points out, we don’t tend to try to “reform” things that we like. In all of these cases, it’s the policies that we want to reform, but by skipping that word, we are maligning public education, immigration, or taxes themselves. Instead: Clearly identify what we want to reform: policies, rules, approaches, etc. (e.g. education policy reform).
  • “Tough on Crime,” or “War on Drugs.” Research shows that militaristic language and punitive metaphors inspire fear and lead to unduly harsh policy responses. Instead: Investing in healthy and safe communities; a healthy and safe approach to laws about drugs.

Lift Up Unity, Participation, and Cooperation Over Division, Extreme Individualism, and Competition

It is important to choose language that emphasizes shared interests and discredits “us vs. them” distinctions. By highlighting the cultural, economic, and historical connections we all share, communications can emphasize a community-focused mindset over staunchly individualistic thinking.

Bad policies hurt us all, threatening values and disrupting communities. Good policies move us all forward. Instead of metaphors and phrases that encourage extreme individualism or competition, social justice advocates should consider phrases that reinforce interconnectedness and the value of cooperation. For example:

  • “Leveling the playing field.” Team-based metaphors suggest that someone always must win and someone else must lose. Instead: Emphasize the common good, that we’re stronger together. We should share the “ladder of opportunity” and not pull it up behind us.

Reinforce Prosperity Over Scarcity

Our country has an abundance of resources, and should be a place where everyone has an equal opportunity. To reinforce that idea, we should avoid discussing options and policy approaches in zero-sum terms, which tap into the fear-based part of our brain that is concerned about scarcity and individual survival. Advocates can keep conversations productive by pointing to how policies and programs benefit society at large.

Here are a few common scarcity pitfalls to be aware of:

  • “Divide up the pie,” or “do more with less.” Discussing resource allocation in competitive terms or saying certain folks need to “do more with less” pits groups against one another instead of providing a space to work collaboratively toward mutually beneficial outcomes. Instead: Emphasize that we’re a prosperous country that should include everyone in enjoying our national wealth – but our plentiful resources are disproportionately divided right now to the benefit of a select few.
  • “Making tough choices,” or “rein in spending.” Using economic arguments as the basis for social change belies the moral reasons to adjust systems and policies to be in line with our values. For example, the ills of mass incarceration and flawed drug policy need to be addressed not only because current approaches are too costly, but also because they inflict harm on families, communities, and society. Instead: Speak to commonsense reasons for changing misguided policies that don’t fit with our society’s values.
  • “On welfare/food stamps/section 8.” Talking about people being “on welfare” or “on food stamps” reinforces the scarcity-based view that those individuals are “on the dole” getting something for nothing. But these shared programs exist to benefit society overall. We don’t talk about people being “on the U.S. Postal Service” or being “eligible to use the interstate highway system.” Context helps illustrate how a program is fulfilling its purpose and reinforces how that support will be there for others when they face hard times. Instead: Describe programs in context – a young person who used TANF as bridge while between jobs, a family that used Section 8 to find a home closer to work and school.

5 tips at a glance:

  1. Talk about policies and solutions in realistic and accurate ways that spur the action social justice advocates want.
  2. Lift up unity, participation, and cooperation over division, extreme individualism, and competition.
  3. Reinforce prosperity over scarcity.
  4. Accurately and respectfully talk about people’s identities, situations, and roles in society.
  5. Retire outdated and problematic phrases and metaphors.

Telling a New Story

Social justice leaders across the country increasingly recognize the power of narrative strategies to shape hearts and minds on the most critical issues of our time. Narrative strategies commonly refer to shaping the story told about social and political issues to mobilize public will for change. This is often done through the use of mass media, but can also include art production and cultural strategies, community organizing, research and publishing, educational tactics, and all strategies intended to persuade individuals or groups toward a new understanding of social issues.

Any social justice leader who has attempted to use these strategies to affect social change knows that it’s a complex undertaking. Time and time again, social justice leaders working across the lines of difference struggle with developing narratives that don’t sacrifice long-term vision for short-term gains, push under-represented voices to the margins, position race and class in opposition, or worse―undermine allies. These challenges aren’t the fault of a few bad actors. Be it social position, geographic scope, issue, constituency base, or methodology―communicating strategically across diverse interests to build new majorities and win on issues of rights, equity, and justice can push the most well-intentioned leader into difficult compromises.

This checklist was developed to provide social justice leaders at every level with a set of guiding principles and a checklist that ensures, above all else, our messaging and framing strategies do not sacrifice each other in the social change process. The checklist emerges from a 2013 convening on social justice communications strategies hosted by The Opportunity Agenda and the Center for Media Justice, and was developed by a working group including progressive organizations from across the country that use narrative strategies as a primary tool for social change.

1.  First, Do No Harm

The first, and most important, principle guiding this checklist is Do No Harm. “Do No Harm” refers to the principle that our organizational and campaign narratives should never fundamentally undermine the work of partners and allies in shared efforts for lasting change, even when managing competing needs and interests. The following considerations take relationships and the political landscape on an issue into account, rather than ignoring them, to ensure our messaging remains coordinated.


  • Is your organization familiar with the messaging landscape on your issue(s)?
  • Have allied organizations worked together to identify broad themes or values that inform core messaging?
  • If you are working in coalition, has message development been a participatory process? Do all members feel a sense of collective ownership over the messaging?
  • For joint projects, are there clearly defined organizational roles? Do all allied groups agree on implementation strategy?
  • If disagreements about messaging, strategy, or priorities exist, have you had thoughtful conversations with concerned parties to determine the source of disagreement? Are you willing to adjust your strategy?


  • Elevate the successes of partners and continue to educate others, especially funders, about the challenges and strengths of collaboration.
  • When countering oppositional messages or wedge strategies, be careful not to reinforce their worldview. Also consider how your message could be co-opted by your opposition.
  • If disagreements are minor, determine how best to align and compromise, and use effective language in messaging that doesn’t undermine your allies.
  • Manage competing interests through consensus-building processes, rather than allowing interests with the most power to lead.

2. Critique Government without Undermining Democracy

If the surgeon himself thinks his tools are rancid, why shouldn’t you?” ―David Brooks

For social justice leaders working on public policy issues, it’s of critical importance that our narrative strategies are powerful enough to hold government accountable, while not playing into anti-government themes that seek to privatize, shrink, or otherwise weaken the democratic process. Our narratives should not make excuses for government or debate its size, but rather uplift the fundamental role of government and its benefits while still highlighting the need for change and a vision for greater democracy. Check the list as you communicate strategically about government.


  • Does your messaging critique specific governmental practices or policies, while including a vision for what good governance might look like?
  • Does your messaging explain how public infrastructure and systems benefit us all and depend upon us all to create a better future?
  • Does your messaging use core values to contrast the promise against the reality of public infrastructure, policies, or practices while maintaining the value of the public system itself?


  • When messaging about government, foreshadow a vision of what good governance looks like. Progressives often talk about governance in relation to corrupt politicians, bad policies, or as a bureaucratic mess. These trigger negative stereotypes about government rather than creating an entry point to a discussion about what governance should look like and how we can get there.

3.  Support Lasting Change: Prioritize Strategy and Collaboration over Expediency

How we win matters. That’s why it’s important to define, together, what winning looks like in advance of a campaign; it’s also crucial to allow the principles of interdependence, equity, and collective power to guide the process. When deploying narrative strategies, social justice leaders must balance the need to win concrete changes immediately and advance a long-term vision for more fundamental change, rather than sacrificing one for the other. It’s a careful balancing act, but if we are guided by our deeply felt values and long-term vision we can build messaging campaigns that win today and lay the groundwork for future wins. Check the list to see if your narrative strategies frame lasting change.


  • Thinking of audiences, is your strategy directed at marginalizing the opposition, moving the middle, or expanding the base? Long-term strategies consider the affect of the campaign on each audience.
  • Are the shared values and framing strategies strong enough to translate across unexpected and continuous changes in media, policy, elections, and “politics”?
  • Alternatively, if and when the frame is narrowly focused on eliciting a specific action, can that frame stand alone in an emblematic or symbolic way that translates across time?
  • Is the frame capable of withstanding future or anticipated opposition or criticism?
  • Is the frame purposed, tested, and proven to change attitudes and mindsets long-term?
  • Have you done sufficient planning to determine whether your chosen narrative helps your campaign but also advances long-term goals? If you choose to lean on a strategy that accomplishes one of those objectives, would it interfere with objectives in the future?


  • Discuss and flesh out your vision for the future and create messages and campaigns that point toward this vision.
  • Beware centrist strategies. Deliberately decide to expand the base or move the middle.
  • Be aware of how your strategy works with others who are addressing similar issues, but with different audiences.

4. Consider Context, History, and Landscape

Words are meaningful―but meaning is created by more than words. Narratives emerge from their context, history, and relations to power. Our narratives are most powerful when they create a new story using universal values that have stood the test of time. Social justice leaders should reclaim and re-frame these values, and use them to wedge the opposition while building a bigger “us.” To use values effectively, social justice leaders can give old values new context, and mobilize them with built power, to produce new meaning. Check the list to see how.


  • Do your narrative strategies adequately highlight patterns of inequity and privilege, track trends, and uplift the social, political, or economic context of the targeted issue?
  • Do your narrative strategies simply state universal values in a way that reinforces old, dominant, negative, or oppositional frames, or do they give these shared values new meaning?


  • Conduct research and story collection on historic patterns, and use metaphors, symbols, and action to demonstrate their impact on the targeted issue or constituency.

5. The Question of Attribution: Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

Too often, the fast pace and power dynamics of campaigns can make us forget to give credit for new ideas, successful interventions, and resource generation or coordination. Sometimes, social movements swing between rejecting the newest voices at the table or the oldest ones. Attributing success appropriately can result in new resources and relationships, and greater visibility and investment for all. In deploying your narrative strategies, are you giving credit where credit is due? Check the list to find out.


  • Have partners at the table contributed to or led to successful impacts or benchmarks achieved?
  • Has the work of those partners been highlighted, and attribution appropriately given, in press hits hits, social media, and the policy foray?
  • Will giving attribution to a particular group or type of groups strengthen the campaign, sector, or movement?
  • Has prejudice or bias prevented appropriate attribution in the past? Are there protocols and practices in place to avoid that pattern now?


  • For joint projects―clearly outline at the start of the project how you will describe everyone’s role to outside stakeholders (funders, partners, etc.). Agree how to tell the story of the project.
  • Elevate the success of collaborative efforts, especially to funders, in telling the story about the importance and challenges of collaboration.

Telling an Affirmative Story

 We’re all faced with misleading, inaccurate, and untruthful statements about our issues. And we certainly can’t allow misinformation to go unchallenged. But the best way to counter false information is to tell our affirmative story in ways that overcome the other side’s falsehoods. By contrast, we should avoid myth busting, or restating the false argument and then explaining why it’s wrong.

Research and experience show that this only results in deepening the myth in our audiences’ minds. The repetition of misinformation can cause us to better remember it, but we won’t necessarily remember that it was wrong information. This is particularly true when information is stated in the affirmative, as happens with the “Myth/Fact” format of disputing untruths, for example: “Myth: The flu vaccine can sometimes cause the flu. Fact: The flu vaccine does not cause the flu.” The better approach is to proactively put forward what is true. “The flu vaccine prevents the flu.”

Alternatives to Myth Busting

It’s obviously important to get the truth into public discourse, particularly when lies and myths are dominating. But knowing that restating, or even referring to, the myth may only strengthen it, what can we do?

First, center on the truth, stating it up front. If you can ignore the myth entirely, without even referring to it, do so.

Instead of: There’s a myth that affirmative action results in unqualified students being admitted to schools they’re not prepared for, but let me explain why that’s just a myth.

Try: Affirmative action helps to maintain visibly open pathways to opportunity for well-qualified students from a range of backgrounds. We know it works, because of the improved success of all students who’ve benefited from diverse classrooms and campuses.

Instead of: Myth: Immigrants don’t pay taxes. Fact: All immigrants pay taxes, whether income, property, sales, or other.

Try: Immigrants are significant contributors to our economy, both as consumers and taxpayers, through sales, property, income, and other taxes.

If the lie is dominating headlines, refer to the story, but not the myth. “Immigration and stories about people coming to this country to work have been in the headlines lately. I want to tell you a few things we know about the mothers, fathers, workers, and so on who make up this group of people.”

Examine the intention behind the myth being spread. Is it merely ignorance of the truth? Is it designed to make headlines and bring attention to the myth spreader? Is it based on an untrue but long-standing historic narrative that must be first addressed? Examining why the myth is out there in the first place will help you think through your goals around countering it. In some cases, you might just need to inject some truth into the conversation. In other cases, engaging in the topic at all may only bring more headlines and attention to the myth spreader.

Remember that an affirmative position is more powerful than a defensive position. Once you’ve made the decision to engage a messaging opponent on their terms, within a conversation that they started, within their metaphors, you are facing an uphill trek. They have stated something as truth and you are stuck saying “no, it’s not.” That’s not as persuasive as starting with your own truth and your own argument, and then pointing out why other arguments are misguided or incorrect.

More Research and Resources to Avoid Myth Busting

Vision, Values, Voice


To be effective in moving hearts, minds and policy over the long term, we need integrated messaging and narrative strategies that both mobilize our base and expand our constituencies by bringing those in the middle toward our cause.

Vision, Values, and Voice: A Communications Toolkit provides guidance for developing values-based messages that engage core audiences, disrupt dominant narratives, and help shape the public dialogue. In addition to big picture thinking about communications strategy, you will also find tips and examples of a range of tactics, and concrete messaging guidance in the form of “opportunity flashcards” which provide short and easy-to-find advice and sample language on a range of social justice issues.

This resource is for those working to influence public thinking about social justice issues over the long-term while also crafting effective short-term campaigns.

Campaign for Community Values Message Toolkit

What are Community Values and why are we promoting them now?

Community Values are long held American values. Community Values say that we share responsibility for each other, that our fates are linked. Whether described as interconnection, mutual responsibility, or loving your neighbor as you love yourself, Community Values are moral beliefs, a practical reality, and an important strategy.

For the past 30 years, the theme of individualism has dominated our national dialogue and common culture. Instead of favoring policy that works for everyone, this approach tells people to go it alone. We see the results in our fragmented healthcare system, the divisive debate on welfare reform, and in recent, though unsuccessful, attempts to overhaul social security.

Americans are becoming tired of this individualistic approach to policy, and to life in general. The country is ready for a new inclusive vision and a new generation of positive solutions. It’s time to reclaim values in the political conversation. It’s time to turn Americans’ attention to our long history of working collectively, standing up for each other, and upholding the common good.

The Community Values Toolkit

Included here are ideas, advice, and resources for moving toward this new political conversation, beginning with the 2008 presidential election.

  • Community Values Phrase Basket
  • General Talking Points
  • Building a Message
  • Examples of Language and Usage
  • Sample Media Pieces

Community Values Phrase Basket

We’re All in it Together – So Let’s Say the Same Things!

Below we’ve provided the drumbeat terms that we plan to track and measure the use of, to see how Community Values language is faring in the political debate. We’ve also included some terms to use to define the opposition.

It may feel awkward at first to weave the terms into your communications. But if you think about how others have used familiar terms such as “family values” or “tax relief,” you may start to get the idea of what it looks like when a term infiltrates the popular vocabulary.

Phrase Basket

Community Values Phrases:                                              The Opposition:

Drumbeat Phrases:

  • Community Values ideology)                                       “You’re on your own” (mentality, approach,
  • Policies of Connection                                                 “Go it alone” (mentality, approach, ideology)

Policies of Isolation

Also suggested depending on audience:

  • (We’re all) In it together                                             Community neglect
  • Stronger together                                                       Everyone for themselves
  • The Common Good                                                   Pull yourself up by your bootstraps
  • Sharing the ladder of opportunity                              Pulling up the ladder behind you
  • On the same team                                                     Standing alone
  • Looking our for each other                                         Leaving people behind
  • Standing together
  • Shared or Linked Fate

General Talking Points

  • This is really about Community Values. Are we going to acknowledge that we’re all in this together, and that we need to look out for each other? Or are we going to tell everyone to go it alone?
  • What’s missing here are Community Values. Telling people that [issue] is their individual problem is not only unworkable, it’s contrary to our nation’s long-held belief that we’re stronger together, that we look out for each other and work for the common good.
  • What we need are more policies of connection that recognize our reliance on each other, and how much more we thrive when we stand together. Simply telling people that they’re on their own is not an American option.
  • Look, we’re all on the same team here. This country thrives when we draw on our Community Values to solve our problems. There are those who say that we each need to figure it out on our own, but that go it alone mentality is obviously unworkable and not an option in today’s interconnected world.
  • I’m tired of the myth that we should all just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, buck up, and get on with it. When it comes to health care, to our public school system, to the future of social security, I don’t want politics of isolation to drive public policy. We’re in this together, and we’ll rise together.
  • We all know instinctively that we’re stronger together. And history shows that when we work together to solve our problems, placing the common good as a top priority, we all move forward. When we leave people behind, we all suffer. I’m for a country that embraces those kind of Community Values again, let’s leave the “go it alone” mentality behind.
  • We have to recognize that we live in an interconnected world. Our actions have consequences beyond ourselves. Our fates are linked. Insisting on an old-fashioned go it alone mentality is not only unworkable, it’s just wrong.

Building a Message

Where possible, our messages should: emphasize the values at risk; state the problem; explain the solution; and call for action.

  • Value at Stake

o Why should your audience care?

  • Problem

o Documentation when possible

  • Solution

o Avoid issue fatigue – offer a positive solution

  • Action

o What can your audience concretely do? The more specific, the better.


  • Our shared Community Values mean that we come together to solve our problems. We look our for each other and understand that leaving anyone behind is not an option.
  • But we’re falling short of that ideal—millions of Americans can’t live on the wages they are paid for full-time work. By refusing to address this situation in a meaningful and realistic way, we’re failing these workers and members of our community.
  • We need to ensure that anyone who is working full time can support their family.
  • Tell your Member of Congress to support a real and living wage. It’s about workers, families and supporting Community Values.

Messaging Questions

Some useful questions to consider when building a message include:

  • Who are the heroes and villains of this story? We need to think through various roles played by the characters in our stories. For instance, a common conservative frame is that of tax relief. If people need “relief” from something, it is an affliction. If taxes are an affliction, they are never good and those who relieve us of them are heroes. Those who propose more affliction are villains. Using this term, then, is not helpful to anyone promoting increased government support for programs.
  • Who does the narrative suggest is responsible for solutions? The conservative theme of individualism suggests that as individuals, we should solve the bulk of our problems ourselves. Instead of an inclusive health care system, for instance, we should have individual health savings accounts. Focusing on individual success stories can have the same effect. The story of an immigrant coming to this country, starting a business and becoming a model citizen can be helpful in many ways, but it doesn’t underscore the need for community or societal level programs to help newcomers. The solution is portrayed at an individual rather than a systemic level.
  • What are the long term implications of this narrative? Does it point toward the solutions we want? Sometimes, in hopes of providing a dramatic, media friendly story advocates use examples that can lead audiences in unhelpful directions. For example, in appealing for money for a specific child abuse prevention program, advocates might use dramatic statistics of children injured or killed each year by abuse and neglect. These statistics will get media coverage and draw attention to the problem of child abuse. However, they are unlikely to lead audiences to the solution that prevention advocates desire. If the long term goal is to increase funding for prevention programs that support parents, advocates have instead made their audience less sympathetic to parents, and more supportive of punitive measures that do not include prevention.
  • Does the story inadvertently invoke unhelpful cultural narratives? For instance, in talking about health care, we sometimes use a consumer frame. But this competitive frame is actually unhelpful if the solution we want to promote is universal care. Consumerism implies that we are economic players competing for limited resources. Instead, we want to promote the idea that the system is stronger when we’re all in it.
  • Does the story use our opponents’ narrative? Consider the recent debate about proposed immigration reform. Many advocates engaged in conversations about whether reform would or would not grant “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants. But by focusing on the word “amnesty,” advocates strengthened the “law breaker” narrative. In this story, “illegal” immigrants and those who fail to punish them are the villains. However well intentioned, arguments that immigration reform is “not amnesty” reinforce opponents’ arguments. We should be careful to avoid using such stories, particularly when we talk to persuadable audiences might support our positions if we framed them differently.

Community Values Caveats

Additional considerations when building a community values message.

Attacking personal responsibility

It’s important to note that promoting Community Values should not appear to abandon all forms of individualism. Americans believe strongly in the value of individualism and “personal responsibility.” And that belief cuts across ideological lines.

People want individuals to take responsibility and also to control their own destiny. These worries can prevent them from fully embracing Community Values if they view such values as letting people off the hook, providing handouts, or removing individual choices and empowerment. Bringing the idea of opportunity into the conversation can help us to point out that systemic barriers to opportunity prevent many individuals from moving forward.

Talking about interconnections that harm, rather than help, us.

In stressing community values, we want to emphasize the ties that bind us as neighbors, workers, Americans and humans. Our fates are connected, so it’s in all of our best interests to move forward together. However, we should not imply that we only need to care about other people’s circumstances if it’s in our best interest.

For instance, advocates might make the case that we should cover all immigrants in new health care reform plans because if we don’t, we are at risk of becoming infected with any diseases they carry. While invoking a linked theme, this narrative isn’t helpful in the long-run as it implies 1) that immigrants are a danger to us and 2) that if their health does not affect us, we don’t need to worry about including them.

Instead, we should emphasize that recognizing our connections is important not only to protect our own interests, but also to understand how we’re part of something bigger.

Invoking the charity frame when promoting the common good.

The term common is useful because gives a name to the entity we hope to benefit. It names exactly what we want to win: an outcome that is good for the community. However, this term can also lead people to think of charity first. This idea says that we help others – often termed the “less fortunate” – through “handouts.” There are certainly heroes to this story, but if we’re not careful, those benefiting from charity can be painted as the villains. In addition, this is a judgmental frame that does not empower groups that have typically faced the biggest barriers to opportunity. In invoking the common good, then, it’s important to point out the solutions we seek: shared power and responsibility, not a one-way, “privileged to unprivileged” exchange.

Using exclusive or nostalgic versions of community

Sometimes we lean toward limited or nostalgic Norman Rockwell illustrations of community that call up ideas of “the old days”, the Eisenhower years, childhood neighborhoods, or our own, limited surroundings. This is problematic for several reasons.

Neighborhoods, for one, are rarely inclusive, so that metaphor alone can be troubling. We need Community Values to mean benefit for everyone, not communities pitted against each other only looking out for their “own.”

Similarly, “the old days” didn’t hold a lot of promise for many groups. People do like the idea of old-fashioned small towns where everyone knows each others’ names, families are intact, and white picket fences prevail. But the old days in the form of 1950’s America was also home to racism, segregation, limited opportunity for women, and hostile to gays and lesbians.

Community Values should mean drawing on our shared history of collectively solving our problems. We can do this by using examples of how we’ve solved problems collectively, such as the New Deal or Civil Rights. This is an instance where patriotism can aid our cause by igniting people’s pride in our ability to work together.

  • History shows we move forward when we invest in an effective partnership between government and our people. Think of child immunization programs that have wiped out devastating diseases in our country. Think of our Social Security system that has enabled millions of seniors to stay out of poverty. Medicare has kept them safer and healthier without regard to their wealth, race, or region of the country. Think, even, of the interstate highway system, which connected us as a single prosperous nation. To address our health care crisis effectively, we need to invest in those kinds of policies of connection.

Applying Community Values to Health Care

Using the Value, Problem, Solution, Action Model

Value: When it comes to health care, we’re all in it together. We’re a stronger nation when everyone has the health care they need.

Problem: So when 47 million Americans lack health insurance, our whole nation’s health and prosperity are at risk.

Solution: We need policies of connection in our health care system that guarantee access to affordable health care for everyone in our country.

Action: Ask the presidential candidates if they’ll embrace Community Values and guarantee health care for every single member of our nation.

Messaging Examples

  • Embracing Community Values means creating a health care system that works for everyone. Anything less leaves people behind to suffer poor health, bankruptcy, and even early death. We thrive when everyone moves forward, so making sure health care is available for everyone is critical to our nation’s success.
  • Health care reform should create a system that works for everyone. That means health care has to be universal, free of racial and ethnic bias, comprehensive, and designed to meet community needs. If one element is missing, the system isn’t complete. For example, we might expand insurance to everyone in a state, but that doesn’t mean everyone is getting the same quality of care. We need policies of connection here, that look at and address all the pieces of our health care system equally. In taking a true Community Values approach to health care, we can’t overlook quality, access or other important issues when we think about coverage.
  • When it comes to health care, it doesn’t make sense to force people to “go it alone.” We need to promote a Community Values approach. When we spread resources fairly, everyone gets the care they need before problems become costly and more difficult to treat. All social insurance rests on this idea of pooling resources and sharing risk as broadly as possible, recognizing that we’re all in it together. This is particularly important in health care.
  • Our history shows that we’re stronger when we tackle tough issues together. When we have worked together for clean and healthy drinking water, to provide child immunizations, or to reduce smoking, we’ve all benefited. We’re currently looking for ways to address childhood obesity together. We know that this Community Values approach will work better than telling families to figure it out on their own.

Applying Community Values to Immigration

Using the Value, Problem, Solution, Action Model

Value: Immigrants are part of the fabric of our society—they are our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends.

Problem: Reactionary policies that force them into the shadows haven’t worked, and are not consistent with our values. Those policies hurt us all by encouraging exploitation by unscrupulous employers and landlords.

Solution: We support policies that help immigrants contribute and participate fully in our society.

Action: Ask your candidates what they would do to ensure that immigrants are treated fairly and given a voice in this country.

Messaging Examples

  • For America to be a land of opportunity for everyone who lives here, our policies must recognize that we’re all in it together, with common human rights and responsibilities. If one group can be exploited, underpaid and prevented from becoming part of our society, none of us will enjoy the opportunity and rights that America stands for.
  • Reactionary, anti-immigrant policies have repeatedly failed to fix the problem. They’re not workable and they’re not fair to citizens or to immigrants. They hurt all of us and make a bad system worse. We’re all in this together, and such policies of exclusion violate the core sense of community that has always driven the policies that have moved this country forward.
  • Our immigration system should reflect that immigrants have always been part of this nation. But immigration isn’t just a domestic issue; it’s an international reality. We need comprehensive immigration reform that works for the good of all and reflects the interdependence of nations, communities, and workers.
  • As long as our federal immigration system is broken, it’s up to local communities to decide how to work with immigrants. Would you rather live in a place that understands the meaning of Community Values, of working together with immigrants to find solutions? Or a place that moves toward punitive, exclusionary measures? In this country, we value people, and we value treating them the right way. Cooperation and common sense solutions for the common good are the way to go.

Applying Community Values to Workers’ Issues

Using the Value, Problem, Solution, Action Model

Value: America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, where we rise together and leave no one behind.

Problem: But too many families are living on the edge of this dream, shut out by unfair labor practices and wages that don’t even put them at the poverty level.

Solution: Our policies must recognize that we’re all in it together, with common human rights and responsibilities. If one group can be exploited, underpaid and prevented from becoming part of our society, none of us will enjoy the opportunity and rights that America stands for.

Action: Ask your candidates what they would do to ensure that all workers are treated fairly and given a voice in this country.

Messaging Examples

  • Embracing Community Values means that we share a basic concern about one another, and accept that the well being of each one of us, and each of our families ultimately depends on the well being of all of us. As a wealthy nation, we have a shared responsibility to use our collective wealth to establish and support programs that help people rise out of poverty.
  • The fates of all workers are connected. When some employers pay workers below the minimum wage or don’t pay them for working overtime, these practices quickly spread and other employers try to profit by following these bad examples. This type of race to the bottom ultimately leaves workers competing with each other over lower wages and fewer benefits. Instead of emphasizing cost-savings and competition, we need to encourage ethical and compassionate business practices that are accountable to the community, and cooperation among workers.
  • We, as a community, must demand that all workers are fairly paid for the hard work they do. This doesn’t just make sense from the perspective of workers, but it’s good for society as a whole. Providing workers with a living wage makes it possible for them to better care for their families, save for the future, contribute to the community and build a stronger America.
  • A business is just another part of our community. But all too often, most of the people in the community have little or no voice or power in the business decisions that affect the community. We need business interests to recognize that they are part of us and have a responsibility to respect the needs of the community. That means paying workers a fair wage, being good stewards of the environment that we all share, and giving back to the community.

Sample Letter to the Editor

Letters to the editor are a quick and effective way to weigh in on issues that the media frequently cover. Often, more people read the letters page than the pages where the original article appeared or the opinion page. Letters need to be short – about 150 words – so it’s best to focus on one point. In the examples below, the letters focus on weaving Community Values into a call for federal immigration reform.

Letters do not need to be negative. Responding to an article that positively portrayed an issue you care about can set a tone friendlier to Community Values than the confrontational tone central to letters of disagreement.

To the Editor:

Thank you for your informative portrait of one town’s experience with immigration. This piece shows that we have a long way to go. But it also illustrates the community values that will ultimately help us address this issue.

Iowa needs and values immigrants, their work, and their contributions to the community. Yet the state’s ability to welcome its newest residents continues to be strangled by the federal governments’ inability to pass reasonable legislation. Instead of giving into the politics of division and isolation favored by anti-immigration forces, these Iowans have chosen to think about immigration in a community-spirited, humane and practical manner. The federal government should take note.

To the Editor:

Your recent article about immigration was a real eye opener. In the divisive rhetoric we hear in the immigration debates, I feel that this human story of community values is so often lost. Absent in this story were the one dimensional stereotypes of oppressive law enforcement or problematic immigrants. Instead, we saw a community-minded portrait of people working together to make the best of a system over which they have no control.

I believe we need more realistic reflections about what immigration really means to communities. Immigrants are already clearly a part of the community, why can’t the federal government not clear the way for positive integration, so that everyone can move forward?

Sample Press Release

Press releases are more than an opportunity to publicize an event or report. They are also messaging vehicles. While the main text of the release should be primarily informative – who, what, when, where, and why – you have a lot of room in the quotes you provide for elevating Community Values.

Heartland Presidential Forum Challenges Candidates:

How can we embrace community values?

News Release

DES MOINES – Ten presidential candidates will gather at Hy Vee Hall on Saturday, December 1 to answer Iowans’ questions about community issues ranging from health care and education to social justice and factory farming. Organizers, who expect an audience of over 5,000, say the theme of the debate, “Community Values,” is meant to focus candidates’ attention on the idea that the common good is too often overlooked in favor of individual interests.

“These core issues are important to Iowans,” said XXXX. “And it’s important that we focus on solving the challenges they present through the lens of community and the common good. When we think of how we’re stronger together, how we solve our problems more effectively when we’re all involved in the process, we all come out ahead.”

[Event details]

“Community values are such an obvious fit for Iowans,” said XXXX. “We look out for each other here, and we resist the politics of isolation that tell us that we have to solve societal problems on our own. Whether it’s health care or the environment, we’re going to do this together, with a positive role for government, and leave no one behind.”

[Continued details]

“We became involved in this event because of its focus on community,” said XXXX. “There’s a lot of lip service to valuing community, but we wanted to force candidates to explain what that really means to each of them on a policy level. We need more policies of connection that recognize how we’re all in this together, and draw on our collective strength. So we’re actively rejecting the “go it alone” approach to policy.”

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