Beyond Democracy: Mobilizing BIPOC Voters in the South – A Narrative Guide

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The South is not a problem to be solved but a promise to be fulfilled. It has been the birthplace of civil rights movements, labor movements, and moral movements. It is where we’ve learned to fight, and it is where we’ve learned to win.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign

Historically, the South has been characterized by its deep-rooted racial divides. The mobilization of Black voters has been instrumental in challenging systemic inequalities and shaping the political landscape. Activists and politicians emphasize the importance of mobilizing these and other BIPOC communities to advance social justice, economic equity, and political representation. Their participation is crucial for building a more inclusive and representative democracy in the South.

This narrative guide pulls together public opinion research and the insights of partners and allies to provide guidance and tools for telling the story of community, activism, and the importance of protecting our democracy in the South. It is our hope that by creating and pushing out a cohesive narrative about community and activism, we can continue to build on BIPOC Southerners’ legacy of power building to rally for the kinds of policies and approaches we know will result in better communities for everyone living in the region.


In 2023, The Opportunity Agenda (TOA) invited 23 individuals whose organizational or primary work is conducted in the U.S. South to join our Beyond Democracy cohort. The primary objective of the Beyond Democracy project is to influence the thinking and motivations of potential and current Southern voters of color by meeting them where their civic interests lie. To complete the first portion of this project – cohort development, insight gathering, and research – TOA collaborated with consultants at Uprise and researchers from Frameshift.

By recruiting cohort participants who are artists and advocates regularly conducting civic engagement work at a grassroots level, our shared research questions and communication strategies were able speak directly to their respective audiences and evoke tones with a greater likelihood of audience resonance. Together, we embarked on research into the motivations of BIPOC Southern voters and what encouraged or prevented their participation in community at a number of levels. Following are our recommendations for encouraging community and civic engagement among these audiences.


History and experience show that to be effective in moving hearts, minds, and policy over the long term, we need to frame messages under strong, values-based narratives that can transform the larger conversation, shift culture, and result in lasting change. Supporting and promoting a narrative in our communications does not mean we all must say the same thing with the same words. Rather, we each can find ways to translate the narrative and its core themes to the audiences we know best through our message development.

building a narrative

Experience and research suggest that successful narratives share a few common elements.


  • Lead with shared values and a clear vision;
  • Describe problems, but also point audiences toward clear solutions;
  • Be informed by public opinion research, media analysis, communications practice, and collective experience;
  • Adapt to key audiences, spokespeople, sub-issues, and circumstances; and
  • Support a coherent “drumbeat” of stories, messages, and events—both short and long-term.

To ensure that the Beyond Democracy narrative met these criteria, the development process was guided by consultation with those active in the field of civic engagement and democracy, and original narrative research with Southern voters of color. These formed the strategy for and core pillars of a narrative that we hope will move audiences, reflects the values, and experience of the field, and has a positive impact on the lives of those most affected by the policies we want to protect, improve, or change.



  • Broad support for, participation in, and reclamation of democracy in the South;
  • Motivated and inspired communities of color who cross the barrier from interest in community involvement to a desire to participate more directly in civic engagement and democracy and;
  • Increased support for policies that protect democracy and voting.

values: sample language


“We share responsibility for each other, and the strength of our nation depends on the vibrancy and cohesiveness of our communities. We understand that opportunity is not only about personal success but also about our success as a people.”


“We have to build on the legacy of our ancestors by being active participants in the shaping of the world that we leave our children and grandchildren.”


“We believe that the impossible is possible. We have a vision of a community and country that values and respects everyone’s rights and where everyone can reach their potential. We will center that vision in everything we do.”


“By coming together to share our experiences and ideas, we can form solutions to the many issues facing us. It’s crucial that we join together to make them happen.”


“We should all have a say in the decisions that affect us. Our voices must be heard in voting booths, at public forums, and across all media.”

desired narrative

We all have a responsibility to our communities, leaving behind a legacy for future generations. Each of us can make a positive impact, showing that the impossible is possible. By protecting democracy and participating in community efforts, we pave the way for a brighter tomorrow. When we work together, we prove that even the most daunting challenges can be overcome. Let’s join forces and make a difference that echoes through time.

narrative pillars


Once we’ve established the narrative we want to emerge and the narratives that currently prevail – through research and observation – we can start to outline clear narrative goals.

audience considerations

In any communications strategy, knowing the audience you are hoping to influence is crucial. Each message should be tailored to that specific audience’s needs. A narrative can span several audiences, with different language and points using the same general themes. A flexible narrative will be able to inspire messages to motivate our base, expand our constituency, bring along persuadables, and neutralize the opposition’s effect on all of these groups. Rather than spending time and resources trying to change the mind of the opposition or even fighting with them, we should focus on considering how to address any influence they have over audiences in the middle.

Audience Segmentation: Identifying Your Audience



To introduce people to a new way of thinking about any issue, it’s important to consider the structure of our messages—particularly how they begin.

People think in shortcuts and once we’ve activated a familiar shortcut, they are likely to process all future information through the lens of that shortcut.

If we start with vision and values and fit the importance of the solutions we want into that framework, many audiences will find themselves more open to the rest of our points.

To this end, we suggest you build messages using the following structure:

values and vision

Starting with shared values helps audiences to “hear” our messages more effectively than do dry facts or emotional rhetoric.


“We share responsibility for each other, and the strength of our nation depends on the vibrancy and cohesiveness of our communities. We understand that opportunity is not only about personal success but also about our success as a people.”


“We have to build on the legacy of our ancestors by being active participants in the shaping of that world that we leave our children and grandchildren.”


“We believe that the impossible is possible. We have a vision of a community and country that values and respects everyone’s rights and where everyone can reach their potential. We will center that vision in everything we do.”


“By coming together to share our experiences and ideas, we can form solutions to the many issues facing us. It’s crucial that we join together to make them happen.”


“We should all have a say in the decisions that affect us. Our voices must be heard in voting booths, at public forums, and across all media.”


This is the place to pull out statistics or stories that are likely to resonate with the target audience.

  • Frame problems as a threat to our vision and values.
  • Underscore our connections to one another, and why this problem matters to everyone.


Positive solutions leave people with choices, ideas, and motivation.

  • What is the commonsense approach to the problem you have outlined?
  • Find ways to frame the solution as both the most commonsense and the most in line with our values.
  • Assign responsibility—Who can enact this solution?


While the solution points out the overarching policy or program ask, the action is an audience-specific way to spur action.

  • What can this specific target audience do? Try to give them something concrete that they can even picture themselves doing: making a phone call or sending an email.
  • Steer clear of vague “learn more” messages, when possible.

sample messages

Useful phrases to build narrative-supporting messages, from Frameshift research:

Impossible is Possible

“Action on a larger scale DOES change the world – it’s hard to see in the moment, but it’s clear and inspiring to see change across generations.”

“Every small action – recycling, helping a neighbor – is part of a larger purpose. Political action is about contributing to the greater good and living a meaningful life.”

“You know what it means to be resilient in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Taking a small political action shows that you don’t give up – you keep trying to build a brighter future for yourself and others.”

“When everyone does their part, anything is possible! Political action is not about me, it’s about WE. You can do your small part in politics, and be part of greater change for your kids and their kids.”

Unity and Belonging

“A democratic movement is a safe space to have your opinion heard and respected – be reassured that others want to hear you and there are no right or wrong opinions.”

“You’ve faced your own struggles and have emerged stronger as a result. You can help everyone who is part of the movement feel validated as a mini changemaker.”

“You can be part of a movement that welcomes you, whoever you are – we are all different people, but we belong together – finding joyful moments as we work to make the world a better place.”

“A progressive movement, by definition, is focused on bringing to life new ideas from younger generations – your voice will be valued and welcomed.”

Lean in on Legacy

“Be a part of your family’s legacy – by taking political action, you are the wise elder who betters the future for your children and children’s children.”

“Be your family’s protector by supporting policies that create a safe space for your children and your grandchildren to thrive.”

“Taking political action is a bridge to the younger generation – asking them what they want for their future, and figuring out how you can help fight for it.”

“We’re all grateful for the freedoms and opportunities we have in this country – participating in political action to support those freedoms is a way to fulfill your civic duty.”

Community is not just where we live; it’s who we are. Our strength lies in our relationships, our shared values, and our commitment to each other. When we come together as a community, we have the power to create positive change and shape our collective destiny.

Wilma Mankiller, Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation

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Gun Politics and Narrative Shift

Gun violence in America claims 38,000 lives every year—an average of 100 per day—and the proliferation of firearms is astronomical. It is estimated that there are 393 million guns in circulation in the United States.[1] Americans are twenty-five times more likely to be killed in a gun homicide than people in other high-income countries. For decades, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has successfully obstructed the passage of laws restricting gun ownership in any way. So successful have its efforts been that for years the NRA has been dubbed by the media as “the most powerful lobby in America,” a mantle the organization has worn with pride. Its “scorecard,” in which the NRA grades politicians from A to F depending on their responses to a candidate questionnaire, alongside the millions of dollars it spends on federal and state election campaigns, have, until recently, effectively muzzled lawmakers. This is in spite of the fact that a majority of Americans favor stricter gun laws.[2] One resulting dominant narrative has been that any politician who crosses the NRA will lose their bid for election or reelection.

The power of this narrative was on display in 2013 after the Sandy Hook tragedy in which twenty young children and six adults were murdered in their elementary school. Public support for a federal law to require universal background checks for all gun sales stood at 90 percent, but a modest bipartisan bill to that effect introduced by Senators Manchin (D-WV) and Toomey (R-PA) failed to pass after the NRA announced its opposition and sent an e-mail to all senators warning them the organization would “score” their vote; a vote in favor of the bill would negatively affect their NRA rating and lead to retaliation in their next election from an influential and united segment of their constituency: NRA members and supporters.

2013 was also a year in which there were stirrings of a new grassroots gun safety movement that would begin to challenge and disrupt the expectations around the NRA’s power and consequently the old narrative. This case study describes the ongoing shift that is taking place around one of the most controversial issues facing the country.

  • Clark Neily, libertarian attorney behind the Heller lawsuit, Vice President for Criminal Justice, Cato Institute
  • Robyn Thomas, Executive Director, Giffords Law Center
  • Lori Haas, Senior Director of Advocacy, National Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
  • Josh Horwitz, Executive Director, National Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
  • Chris Murphy, The Violence Inside Us: A Brief History of an Ongoing American Tragedy. Random House, 2020.
  • Michael Waldman, The Second Amendment: A Biography. Simon & Schuster, 2014.
  • Shannon Watts, Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World. Harper One, 2019.
  • Adam Winkler, Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America. W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

To identify media trends, we developed a series of search terms and used the LexisNexis database, which provides access to more than 40,000 sources, including up-to-date and archived news. For social media trends we utilized the social listening tool Brandwatch, a leading social media analytics software that aggregates publicly available social media data.


The national debate over gun policy did not really begin until the 1970s. Before that, the National Rifle Association, which was founded in 1871 to promote gun safety and marksmanship among gun owners, did not actively oppose government regulation. The slogan prominently posted in 1958 on its then new headquarters in Washington, D.C., stated the organization’s mission succinctly: FIREARMS SAFETY EDUCATION, MARKSMANSHIP TRAINING, SHOOTING FOR RECREATION. But elements within the NRA began to press for a more political role after Congress passed the Gun Control Act of 1968, the first federal gun control law in 30 years. The law was passed in the wake of the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the wave of civil disturbances that then swept the country. It banned gun shipments across state lines to anyone other than federally licensed dealers, banned gun sales to “prohibited persons” (felons, the mentally ill, substance abusers. and juveniles), and expanded the federal licensing system.

When the Gun Control Act was adopted, Franklin Orth, the executive vice president of the NRA, stood behind it. According to Orth, while certain features of the law “appear unduly restrictive and unjustified in their application to law-abiding citizens, the measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”[3] But some rank and file members rankled not only at the new law, but also at the very idea of gun control. Adam Winkler explains their growing opposition and hostility to the organization’s leadership:

In a time of rising crime rates, easy access to drugs, and the breakdown of the inner city, the NRA should be fighting to secure Americans the ability to defend themselves against criminals. The NRA, they thought, ‘needed to spend less time and energy on paper targets and ducks and more time blasting away at gun control legislation.’[4]


With its new, militant leadership, the NRA’s membership tripled, its fundraising reached new heights, and its political influence increased. The organization became a prominent member of the burgeoning New Right with its contempt for “big government” in general and any gun regulation in particular. The 1972 Republican platform had supported gun control, pledging to “prevent criminal access to all weapons…with such federal law as necessary to enable the states to meet their responsibilities.” But by the time of Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1980, the platform stated, “We believe the right of citizens to keep and bear arms must be preserved. Accordingly, we oppose federal registration of firearms.” That year the NRA gave Reagan its first-ever presidential endorsement. A year later, President Reagan narrowly avoided an assassination attempt that grievously wounded his press secretary, James Brady. The shooter, John Hinckley, Jr., suffered from mental illness. He had purchased a .22-caliber revolver for $29 from a pawn shop in Texas.

The eventual passage of the Brady Bill, which President Bill Clinton signed in 1993,[5] represented a rare federal legislative defeat for the NRA, but its fortunes soon improved. In the 1994 midterms, Democrats suffered defeats in congressional races, and Bill Clinton declared it was the gun issue, more than any other, that was to blame.[6] After Republicans took control of Congress, Newt Gingrich announced, “As long as I am Speaker of this House, no gun control legislation is going to move.” From that point on, the “gun lobby,” dubbed “the most powerful lobby in D.C.,” exerted outsized control over Congress by making support of virtually any form of gun regulation a political third rail.

On April 20, 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two 17 year olds, shot and killed twelve students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado before turning the guns on themselves. It was the second-worst gun massacre at a school in U.S. history and it shocked the nation. The shooters were able to buy their weapons because of a loophole in the Brady Bill that allowed “private sales” at gun shows to go forward without background checks. The NRA’s response was to go ahead with its annual meeting in nearby Denver in spite of calls for it to be relocated or postponed. On the day of the meeting, the Knight Ridder headline read, “Still grieving Colorado turns out to protest NRA meeting; Gun group remains defiant as 8,000 oppose presence in light of Columbine tragedy.” Charlton Heston, president of the NRA at the time, reassured his supporters, saying, “Each horrible act can’t become an ax for opportunists to cleave the very Bill of Rights that binds us.” The GUNS DON’T KILL PEOPLE; PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE bumper sticker made its appearance, and the NRA continued to oppose legislation to close the private sale loophole.

During the post-Columbine period, the NRA’s power and influence continued to grow, not wane. President Clinton, who was in the throes of his own impeachment proceedings, pushed to close the Brady Bill loophole by requiring universal background checks, but the NRA’s congressional allies killed the bill. The organization was bigger and richer than ever. Flush with membership contributions and large donations from the firearms industry, with active and vocal chapters in all 50 states and with a solid core of single-issue voters, the narrative promoted by the NRA that it was “the nation’s most powerful lobby” was carried by the media and reinforced each time a candidate with a poor NRA rating lost an election.

By the year 2000, the NRA’s political influence was undeniable, and it turned its sights to defeating Al Gore, the Democratic candidate for president. The organization spent millions on behalf of George W. Bush and Republican candidates in Senate races. In a leaked video circulated during the campaign, a high-ranking NRA official claimed, “If we win, we’ll have a president where we work out of their office—unbelievably friendly relations.” At the NRA’s 2000 annual meeting, Charlton Heston, who was to become its president, gave a legendary speech whose soaring rhetoric summed up the gun lobby’s philosophy:

Sacred stuff resides in that wooden stock and blue steel, something that gives the most common man the most uncommon of freedoms…when ordinary hands can possess such an extraordinary instrument that symbolizes the full measure of human dignity and liberty. As we set out this year to defeat the divisive forces that would take freedom away, I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed—and especially for you, Mr. Gore.

He then held up a replica of a colonial rifle and exclaimed, “From my cold, dead hands!”

The NRA’s political power was solidified during the first decade of the new millennium. Early in his first administration George W. Bush signed a law providing broad immunity from lawsuits for gun manufacturers and sellers, and the NRA’s coffers increased with funding from the industry. Republican candidates came to rely more and more on gun lobby contributions; in the year 2000, the NRA contributed close to $3 million to Republican campaigns, representing 92 percent of its total contributions.[7] In 2004, the assault weapons ban, originally passed in 1994, was allowed to expire. At the state level, the NRA successfully blocked the passage of gun control measures and campaigned for and won state constitutional protections for gun owners. By the mid-2000s, all but six states guaranteed a right to bear arms as a matter of state constitutional law, and nearly all of those explicitly protected an individual right. The stage was now set for a reckoning on the meaning of the Second Amendment.

For 200 years the Second Amendment of the Constitution was virtually invisible. It had come to be known as the “lost amendment” because it was almost never written about or cited by scholars and legal practitioners. Although for decades the NRA had invoked the individual right to bear arms, that concept was not supported by constitutional scholars or by the courts. Rather, the prevailing view was that the Amendment protected the “collective right” of the states to maintain their own militia, like the National Guard.

In the early 1990s the NRA funded a new group, Academics for the Second Amendment, and launched an annual “Stand Up for the Second Amendment” essay contest with a $25,000 cash prize. These efforts bore fruit. During the 1990s, eighty-seven law review articles were published and a majority of fifty-eight adopted the individual-rights position. The dial was moving; the NRA’s interpretation of the amendment was gaining ground in academic circles. In 2001, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (in Louisiana) became the first federal appeals court to adopt the individual-rights view.[8] By the mid-2000s two lawyers from the libertarian Institute for Justice[9] decided that the time was right to challenge the most restrictive gun law in the country on Second Amendment grounds.

The Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 was passed by the District of Columbia City Council in 1976. The law banned residents from owning handguns, automatic firearms, or high-capacity semi-automatic firearms and prohibited possession of unregistered firearms. The law also required firearms kept in the home to be “unloaded, disassembled, or bound by a trigger lock or similar device,” essentially a prohibition on the use of firearms for self-defense in the home. A challenge to the law, orchestrated by Institute for Justice lawyers Clark Neily and Steve Simpson, began to wend its way through the courts and was accepted for review by the Supreme Court in its 2008 term.[10] On June 26, 2008, the Court announced its ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller. In a 5-4 majority opinion authored by Justice Scalia, the Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, unconnected with service in a militia, for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home, and that the D.C. law was therefore unconstitutional.

Although the Court’s opinion acknowledged that, “[l]ike most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited” and warned that “[n]othing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” the gun lobby and its supporters in Congress declared total victory, further strengthening the narrative that the NRA was in control of the gun debate. Over and over again, they invoked “freedom” as the core value protected by the decision:

This is a great moment in American history. It vindicates individual Americans all over this country who have always known that this is their freedom worth protecting.


The Court made the right decision today because federal, state and local governments should not be able to arbitrarily take away freedoms that are reserved for the people by our Constitution.


Today the Supreme Court ruled in favor of freedom and democracy by overturning this unlawful ban.


As we in Congress consider new legislation, we could take a lesson from the Supreme Court today by ensuring that the freedoms granted in the Constitution are a guiding light to the formation of our nation’s legislation.


Following the Columbine massacre, mass shootings occurred in the United States at a steady pace. The year 2007 was an especially deadly year, with four separate incidents including the Virginia Tech mass shooting that left thirty-two people dead.[11] Nevertheless, the NRA’s influence did not wane. In April 2009, a year after the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decision and one year into the first Obama Administration, in an article entitled “The Public Takes Conservative Turn on Gun Control,” the Pew Research Center reported that:

For the first time in a Pew Research survey, nearly as many people believe it is more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns (45%) than to control gun ownership (49%). As recently as a year ago, 58% said it was more important to control gun ownership while 37% said it was more important to protect the right to own guns.[12]

By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, a total of 166 men, women, and children had perished in mass shootings. But while those incidents received the most media coverage, they represented and still represent a tiny fraction of the incidents of gun violence in the country. In 2010, for example, there were 31,672 deaths in the United States from firearm injuries, mainly through suicide (19,392) and homicide (11,078), according to Centers for Disease Control compilation of data from death certificates. The remaining firearm deaths were attributed to accidents, shootings by police, and unknown causes.

Guns were, and still are, by far the most common means of suicide, and the majority of intimate partner homicides are with guns. The number of firearm deaths has increased every year since 2000 and is especially dire in low wealth communities of color. Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. They experience nearly 10 times the gun homicides, 15 times the gun assaults, and 3 times the fatal police shootings as white Americans. Black men make up 52% of all gun homicide victims in the United States, despite comprising less than 7% of the population.

But in spite of these damning statistics, as 2008 rolled into 2009 the NRA was at the pinnacle of its power, and the public’s support for stricter gun laws was at its lowest ebb in 20 years. According to the Gallup Poll, in 1991, 78 percent of the public felt that “the laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict.” By 2009 support for stricter laws had dropped to 49 percent and dropped another five points by 2010. At the same time, the NRA was receiving millions of dollars from arms manufacturers including Smith & Wesson, the Beretta Group, and Browning.[13] During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama released an approving statement when the Supreme Court announced its Second Amendment decision, and he did not campaign on the gun control issue. During his first term in office, Obama did not push for any gun control measures despite the continuing carnage: mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas (thirteen dead); a mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater (twelve dead); and the Tucson, Arizona shooting that left six dead and grievously injured Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. During the run up to the 2010 midterm elections, Republican and Democratic candidates alike sought donations and approval ratings from the NRA and openly opposed gun control measures. When the Republicans won back the House, the writing was on the wall: no restrictions on gun ownership were going to pass on their watch.


On December 14, 2012 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his way into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Fairfield County, Connecticut armed with a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle and ten magazines with thirty rounds each. He forced his way into two first grade classrooms and methodically killed twenty children between the ages of 6 and 7 and six adult staff members. Earlier that day he had shot and killed his mother, and after the school massacre, he shot and killed himself. The nation reacted in horror, and the tragedy ushered in a period of soul searching during which the “thoughts and prayers” traditionally offered up by political leaders were soundly rejected as inadequate by a grieving community.

President Barack Obama gave a televised address on the day of the shootings and said, “We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics” (emphasis added). The NRA stayed silent for a week; then, on December 21, Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre issued a statement calling on Congress “to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation,” claiming that gun-free school zones attracted killers and that another gun ban would not protect Americans.

The Sandy Hook tragedy proved to be a watershed moment. In the words of Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), a passionate advocate for gun safety, “there was reason to believe that Sandy Hook, by itself, had fundamentally changed the politics of gun violence.”[14] On the morning of the shooting, in Zionsville, Indiana, Shannon Watts, a mother of five with a background in public relations, stood before her TV “transfixed by the live footage of children being marched out of their school into the woods for safety.” In her 2019 book, Fight Like a Mother, Watts expresses what millions of Americans were feeling that day:

I actually said out loud, ‘Why does this keep happening?’…. In my head, I heard only one word in response to my question, and that word was Enough. Enough waiting for legislators to pass better gun laws. Enough hoping that things would somehow get better. Enough swallowing my frustration when politicians offered their thoughts and prayers but no action. Enough listening to the talking heads on the news channels calling for more guns and fewer laws. Enough complacency. Enough standing on the sidelines.

That night, Watts created a new Facebook page called One Million Moms for Gun Control and the “likes” began pouring in.[15] “Women everywhere were asking how they could join my organization, and I didn’t even realize I’d started one,” she writes. Soon renamed Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, its message spread rapidly on social media, and a reinvigorated grassroots movement began to take hold.

Sandy Hook also birthed another organization that was to become a major force in the gun safety movement. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, still undergoing rehabilitation 2 years after she was shot in the head outside a Tucson supermarket, and her husband, NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, now a U.S. senator, were moved to action. In 2013 they founded the organization now known as Giffords. Its mission statement boldly and explicitly took on the powerful gun lobby:

Giffords is fighting to end the gun lobby’s stranglehold on our political system. We’re daring to dream what a future free from gun violence looks like. We’re going to end this crisis, and we’re going to do it together.

Giffords and Moms Demand Action joined the established gun control organizations—including Brady[16], the National Coalition to Stop Gun Violence[17], and Mayors Against Illegal Guns[18]—to breathe new life into the movement. And they understood that above all, they had to challenge the narrative that for years had been a barrier to the passage of any gun safety laws: The NRA is the most powerful lobby in the nation, and any politician crossing it or not doing its bidding will be punished.

In the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook, public support for stricter laws covering the sale of firearms shot up to 58 percent, and nine out of ten Americans supported universal background checks. But in spite of public opinion and the demands of the bereaved parents that something had to be done, the effort to close the Brady loophole, a relatively modest goal that would require background checks for gun show and internet sales, still could not command a majority of votes in Congress. As mentioned earlier, a bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) failed to pass in April 2013 after the NRA announced its opposition and sent an e-mail to all senators warning them the organization would “score” their vote, meaning it would factor into the NRA’s election-year grading system.

The bill failed by only six votes, but gun safety activists realized they needed a new strategy. “After that tough loss, we turned our focus to making challenges at the state level,” said Shannon Watts. Given the federal government’s inaction, several states had already begun to pass significant reforms to rein in gun violence. That year the governors of Connecticut, Delaware, and Maryland signed new gun safety laws, and two out of three of them were re-elected (the third, Martin O’Malley of Maryland, was term-limited).


The Manchin-Toomey debacle may have seemed like an NRA victory, but it actually signaled the beginning of a historic realignment in gun politics. The gun rights movement’s political influence had long been attributed to the “intensity gap.” The NRA’s members were not that numerous—it had about 5 million dues-paying members—but what the organization lacked in numbers it made up for in intensity. Its members were highly motivated single-issue voters who could be mobilized rapidly to respond to calls to action. According to Robyn Thomas of the Giffords Law Center:

I’ve been showing up at hearings for a long, long time. For many years it was me and the gun rights activists. They show up in droves to every hearing, big or small. I could testify at a small city council or at a federal congressional hearing and in both cases, it was rooms filled with gun rights activists and no one on our side.

The fate of Machin-Toomey demonstrated how damaging the intensity gap was to any meaningful policy change. Ladd Everitt, then Communications Director for the National Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, lamented:

We’ve always been too polite, by appealing to politicians to do the right thing…appealing to their conscience and hoping they’d come around even when the evidence suggested they wouldn’t. We went too far into the realm of educating the public and ceded the field of politics to the NRA.

While plenty of people support stricter gun laws, few advocated for them or were motivated enough by them to change their voting behavior unless they were personally affected. In the face of overwhelming but passive public support for universal background checks—90 percent favored universal background checks as did 75 percent of NRA members—the gun lobby prevailed. But the status quo was about to be disrupted. Josh Horwitz, Executive Director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, describes the intense public response to Congress’s failure to act:

It wasn’t just the Sandy Hook shooting itself. It was the absolute horror when the Senate did nothing about it. But what happened was people were so appalled that they joined and donated to the movement. They became involved, and our movement became so much bigger and so much stronger as a result.

Moms Demand Action scored some early victories that demonstrated the savvy and potential power of a grassroots movement that united women (and men) from all over the country—north, south, east and west, rural, suburban, and urban. Social media was key to the movement’s success. Within months of its first appearance on Facebook it had attracted tens of thousands of supporters. “Stroller jams” became a popular tactic. Moms would show up for legislative hearings with their babies and toddlers in strollers and, “as a result, lawmakers didn’t have any room to maneuver past us; they had to stop and talk to us.”[19] Activists targeted companies that allowed open carry on their premises.[20] Their campaign “Skip Starbucks Saturday” went viral and forced Starbucks to change its policy and ban all guns from its stores. The organization became adept at using social media to encourage corporate responsibility. Using the hashtag #EndFacebookGunShows, it generated enough support to compel Facebook to announce a series of new policies around gun sales, including deleting posts offering guns for sale without a background check. Its #OffTarget petition garnered nearly 400,000 signatures and soon Target announced:

Starting today we will respectfully request that guests not bring firearms to Target—even in communities where it is permitted by law…. This is a complicated issue, but it boils down to a simple belief: Bringing firearms to Target creates an environment that is at odds with the family-friendly shopping and work experience we strive to create.

These examples of corporate responsibility generated a buzz in both traditional and online media. There were instances of counter-demonstrations by open carry activists who showed up en masse at stores and restaurants carrying guns and rifles. These incidents brought more media attention to the open carry debate and more opportunities for gun safety activists to broadcast their message. Shannon Watts describes how Moms Demand Action exploited these incidents to bring in new members and force companies to change their policies:

The first such event happened at a Jack in the Box in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area when members of a gun extremist group called Open Carry Texas walked into the restaurant carrying long guns. The employees were so scared that they locked themselves inside a walk-in freezer. We issued a press release, launched an online petition, and tweeted photos, with the hashtag #JackedUp, of our members eating at other fast-food restaurants that had safer gun policies. Within days the company announced it would begin enforcing its policy of no guns inside its restaurants. After that, there were similar incidents at Chipotle, Chili’s and Sonic-Drive-In.[21]

On April 16, 2014 the outgoing mayor of New York City and media mogul Michael Bloomberg announced what The New York Times dubbed “A $50 million Challenge to the N.R.A.” —the founding of a new organization called Everytown for Gun Safety. It would bring the two groups Bloomberg already funded, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, under one umbrella. Bloomberg’s rhetoric made it clear the gloves were off:

They say, ‘We don’t care. We’re going to go after you. If you don’t vote with us we’re going to go after your kids and your grandkids and your great-grandkids. And we’re never going to stop.’ We’ve got to make them afraid of us. (NEW YORK TIMES)

Everytown’s message was simple and straightforward: common-sense gun policies supported by a huge majority of Americans can save lives. Everytown’s goal was to be the NRA’s counterweight. It would back candidates who supported gun safety laws and oppose those who did not. It would mobilize its members to gather en masse at legislative hearings and when votes were taken. It would mount campaigns to compel corporations to exercise responsibility when it came to gun safety. In the words of one journalist, “A bigger, richer, meaner gun-control movement has arrived.”[22] And with its achievements, it would shift the narrative that had impeded progress for so many years and show that the NRA was no longer the most powerful lobby, the voters want action, and voting for “gun sense” laws was a win-win—lives would be saved and backers would win elections.

In its first year, Everytown for Gun Safety was instrumental in passing laws in eight states to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers—laws that in the past had been vigorously resisted by the NRA.[23]

As the gun safety movement continued to grow, the country continued to experience the terrible carnage of mass shootings and the death tolls would reach new heights. In June 2015, Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, would murder nine African American worshippers in Charleston, South Carolina. One year later, forty-nine people were killed in the Pulse Nightclub massacre, a gay bar and performance space in Orlando, Florida, in a homophobic attack. In October 2017 in the deadliest mass shooting by a lone shooter in U.S. history, fifty-eight people died at a Las Vegas country music festival. And then came Parkland. On February 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz, a former student, opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing seventeen people and injuring seventeen others.

The reaction to the Parkland shooting was intense and global. Surviving students took to social media and within hours created a cascade of demands for lawmakers to act. Three days after the shooting, a 17-year-old senior named Emma Gonzalez electrified the world with her speech at a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale:

The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call BS. Companies trying to make caricatures of the teenagers these days, saying that all we are self-involved and trend-obsessed and they hush us into submission when our message doesn’t reach the ears of the nation, we are prepared to call BS. Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher gun laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS. If you agree, register to vote. Contact your local congresspeople. Give them a piece of your mind!

Days later, Everytown for Gun Safety launched a new campaign called Students Demand Action—End Gun Violence in America, to be led by student activists. Weeks later, Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) signed into law restrictions on firearm purchases and the possession of “bump stocks” in what was reported as “the most aggressive action on gun control taken in the state in decades and the first time Mr. Scott, who had an A-plus rating from the National Rifle Association, had broken so significantly from the group.” On March 24, the organization formed by Gonzalez and other Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivors, Never Again MSD, held The March for Our Lives, a massive protest in Washington, D.C. attended by more than half a million people. Close to 900 sibling events were held across the United States and around the world. A national survey taken 4 days after the shooting showed virtually universal support for background checks (97 percent in favor) and strong majority support for a ban on assault weapons and a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases.

The March for Our Lives was the largest student-led demonstration since the Vietnam War, and it included many thousands of youth of color from cities beset by gun violence. The student leaders’ commitment to diversity in their organizing work is a long overdue correction to what has been the country’s past racialized attention to the gun violence epidemic. Until recently, movements to end gun violence of long standing in communities of color have been ignored while mass shootings of mostly white people have garnered enormous public attention.

Soon after the Parkland shooting, the Peace Warriors, a group of Black high school students from Chicago who have been fighting gun violence for years without receiving much attention from the outside world, flew to Florida to meet with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas activists. Over the course of several days, young people from one of the safest cities met and got to know young people from a city beset by gun violence and learned from one another. “We found our voice in Parkland,” said Arieyanna Williams, a 17-year-old Peace Warriors member. “We felt like we weren’t alone in this situation and we finally can use our voices on a bigger scale.” Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Sarah Chadwick said, “White privilege does exist and a lot of us have it. If we could use our white privilege to amplify the voices of minorities, then we’re going to use it. The more we ignore it, the worse it gets.”[24]

The NRA waited a week before making any pronouncements on the Parkland shooting. But in his address before the Conservative Political Action Conference, Wayne LaPierre repeated his post-Sandy Hook talking point that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” and echoed President Trump’s tweet calling for arming the teachers. But the NRA was on the defensive. A Business Insider article titled, “Something historic is happening with how Americans see the NRA” reported that polls following Parkland showed that “[f]or the first time in nearly two decades, Americans have turned against the National Rifle Association” and that “significantly more Americans express a negative opinion of the National Rifle Association than a positive one.”

The mid-term elections of 2018 showed the impact of the new narrative—going against the NRA did not mean certain defeat at the polls. With support from both the Giffords PAC and Everytown for Gun Safety,[25] gun control advocates picked up at least seventeen seats in the House by defeating incumbents backed by the NRA. Many of the victors were women. One of them was Lucy McBath, an African American leader of Moms Demand Action whose 17-year-old son was fatally shot in 2012 and who made gun violence the centerpiece of her campaign to represent a Georgia district once held by Newt Gingrich. In a tweet celebrating her victory, McBath wrote, “Absolutely nothing—no politician & no special interest—is more powerful than a mother on a mission.” Another winner was Arizona’s Ann Kirkpatrick, who had been a staunch NRA defender and boasted an A rating from the organization, but in 2018 she won the Democratic primary on the promise to ban assault weapons and enact universal background checks. “I’ve changed my mind,” she explained.

By spring 2019, another shift in the narrative was taking place as an attempted coup erupted at the NRA’s annual meeting in Indianapolis. In an article titled, “Insurgents Seek to Oust Wayne LaPierre in N.R.A. Power Struggle,” The New York Times reported:

Turmoil racking the National Rifle Association is threatening to turn the group’s annual convention into outright civil war, as insurgents maneuver to oust Wayne LaPierre, the foremost voice of the American gun rights movement. The confrontation pits Mr. LaPierre, the organization’s longtime chief executive, against its recently installed president, Oliver L. North, the central figure in the Reagan-era Iran-contra affair, who remains a hero to many on the right.

La Pierre eventually beat back the attack and North and his supporters were forced to resign, but media coverage from that point on dwelled on the severe problems the NRA was facing, from a serious decline in revenue to the launch of an investigation by the New York State Attorney General, Leticia James, into its finances and tax-exempt status. Headlines described an organization riven by scandal and division.

  • “Major donors fire back against NRA; Turmoil has some keeping their cash while others sue,” Chicago Tribune, November 22, 2019
  • “Could turmoil at NRA be a game changer?” USA Today, August 9, 2019
  • “Turmoil persists as NRA sidelines its top lobbyist,” The Washington Post, June 21, 2019
  • “NRA beset by infighting over whether it has strayed too far,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 2019

On September 12, 2019 presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke stole the show during that evening’s Democratic presidential primary debate when, in response to a direct question from the moderator about his gun control plan, he said, “Hell yeah, we’re going to take your AR-15! If it’s a weapon that was designed to kill people on the battlefield, we’re going to buy it back.” This was only one month after forty-six people were gunned down at a Walmart in his hometown of El Paso. Twenty-three died and twenty-three were injured. Most of the Democratic contenders had already announced their support for more gun restrictions by that point in the primary process, leading a Senior Politics writer from to observe, “Democrats Are No Longer Gun Shy.”


Virginia has long been considered a “gun friendly” state and a fitting home for the NRA’s national headquarters. But over the past decade, gun politics in the Commonwealth has undergone a 180-degree turn, and narrative shift, propelled by an expanding gun safety movement, has played a dominant role. As a result, Virginia went from being a state with virtually no restrictions on gun ownership to being the harbinger of a new gun safety sensibility in America. In April 2020, Governor Ralph Northam signed a package of five gun control measures into law—all of them priorities of the gun violence prevention movement:

Universal background checks for all gun sales in Virginia;

  • A one-per-month limit on the purchase of handguns;
  • A requirement for the loss or theft of a firearm to be reported within 48 hours (with a civil penalty of up to $250 for failure to report);
  • An increase in penalties for reckless storage of loaded and unsecured firearms in a way that endangers children younger than 14 years of age;
  • A “red flag” bill, which provides for a procedure for the temporary removal of guns from people at high risk of self-harm or harm to others.[26]

Governor Northam’s quote in the official press release acknowledged the role played by the advocacy community and echoed its message: “We lose too many Virginians to gun violence, and it is past time we took bold, meaningful action to make our communities safer. I was proud to work with legislators and advocates on these measures, and I am proud to sign them into law. These commonsense laws will save lives.”

This outcome was more than a decade in the making and was largely the result of organizing spearheaded by families impacted by the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting in which thirty-two students, professors, and administrators were killed and seventeen others were wounded. Lori Haas of Richmond, whose daughter Emily is a Virginia Tech survivor, recalls that “after coming out of the fog” of the disaster, she and others started trying to figure out “what went wrong. We started asking questions and speaking up, and then we got it: We don’t have any laws! The shooter didn’t have to have a background check. Nobody’s watching. Nobody’s paying attention.” Haas became a volunteer with the Virginia Center for Public Safety[27] and in 2009 became the Senior Director of Advocacy for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Her first several years as a gun violence prevention (GVP) advocate in Virginia were frustrating. The Republican Party controlled the Senate, the House of Delegates, and the governorship, and the gun lobby held sway. Not only were GVP advocates unable to get a meaningful hearing of their proposals, but also the gun lobby succeeded in passing a bill allowing concealed carry permit holders to carry their weapons into restaurants and bars. But the mood among voters was changing. Haas explains:

We began to be joined in our testimony by others who are affected by gun violence. People were willing to step up and talk about the awful shootings that occur throughout the Commonwealth in too many places. During that time our numbers were growing. We were going out across the Commonwealth speaking at every place we could: faith groups, book clubs, city councils, to ordinary everyday citizens. People would raise their hands and say, ‘will you come and talk to us in Charlottesville or in Roanoke or in Hampton Roads or Northern Virginia?’ The interest was growing by leaps and bounds and people kept asking, ‘Why can’t we get it done? Background checks are so simple. It’s such a low bar.’ And we would respond, ‘Let your voices be heard. And if you can’t change your representatives’ minds, you have to change their seats.’

This outcome was more than a decade in the making and was largely the result of organizing spearheaded by families impacted by the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting in which thirty-two students, professors, and administrators were killed and seventeen others were wounded. Lori Haas of Richmond, whose daughter Emily is a Virginia Tech survivor, recalls that “after coming out of the fog” of the disaster, she and others started trying to figure out “what went wrong. We started asking questions and speaking up, and then we got it: We don’t have any laws! The shooter didn’t have to have a background check. Nobody’s watching. Nobody’s paying attention.” Haas became a volunteer with the Virginia Center for Public Safety[27] and in 2009 became the Senior Director of Advocacy for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Her first several years as a gun violence prevention (GVP) advocate in Virginia were frustrating. The Republican Party controlled the Senate, the House of Delegates, and the governorship, and the gun lobby held sway. Not only were GVP advocates unable to get a meaningful hearing of their proposals, but also the gun lobby succeeded in passing a bill allowing concealed carry permit holders to carry their weapons into restaurants and bars. But the mood among voters was changing. Haas explains:

We began to be joined in our testimony by others who are affected by gun violence. People were willing to step up and talk about the awful shootings that occur throughout the Commonwealth in too many places. During that time our numbers were growing. We were going out across the Commonwealth speaking at every place we could: faith groups, book clubs, city councils, to ordinary everyday citizens. People would raise their hands and say, ‘will you come and talk to us in Charlottesville or in Roanoke or in Hampton Roads or Northern Virginia?’ The interest was growing by leaps and bounds and people kept asking, ‘Why can’t we get it done? Background checks are so simple. It’s such a low bar.’ And we would respond, ‘Let your voices be heard. And if you can’t change your representatives’ minds, you have to change their seats.’

The turning point came in 2013. By then polls were running in favor of more restrictions. A survey conducted by Lake Research Partners in two districts in southwestern Virginia, considered the most pro-gun districts in the state, showed that an overwhelming 94 percent of gun owners favored universal background checks and more than 70 percent of voters opposed guns on campuses.[28] All three Democrats running for statewide office that year made gun safety a prominent issue in their campaigns. In their gubernatorial debate, candidate Ken Cuccinelli (R) declared, “I’m running against the only F-rated candidate from the NRA,” to which candidate Terry McAuliffe (D) responded:

Now whatever rating I may get from the NRA, I’m gonna stand here and tell you today that as governor, I want to make sure that every one of our citizens in the Commonwealth of Virginia are safe. Every one of our children, when they go into a classroom, should know that they are safe. When any one of our loved ones goes into work…. We need to eliminate guns from the folks who should not own guns.

This turning point is seen in a dramatic increase in media coverage of gun violence in 2013. Between 1994 and 2020, roughly 85,600 news media articles were published in mainstream outlets in the United States referring to “gun control,” while another 15,300 articles were published with specific reference to “gun safety.” As seen in Figures 4 and 5, 1999–2000 saw a significant increase in media engagement with the topics of gun control and safety. This was followed by a decline in engagement, which remained stable until another major spike in coverage in 2013. Between 2012 and 2013, references to “gun control” nearly tripled (increasing from roughly 2,700 articles in 2012 to more than 7,500 articles in 2013), while references to “gun safety” more than quadrupled in sampled articles (increasing from 248 articles in 2012 to more than 1,060 articles in 2013).

Alongside the increase in mainstream news media focus, a growing number of politicians became willing to speak out against the status quo. Ralph Northam, who was running for lieutenant governor at the time, was outspoken about his opposition to the gun lobby, and Mark Herring’s first political ad after winning the nomination for attorney general highlighted the responsibility of leaders “to protect our families from gun violence.” All three won their elections.

Despite the success that gun violence prevention groups enjoyed in the 2013 elections, however, efforts to strengthen gun laws in the state legislature remained stalled. The Virginia legislature even failed to act on legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers—a law that passed with broad bipartisan support in a number of other states—despite its successful passage in the state Senate in 2014 after a 29-6 vote. Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) put forward a measure to make allowing a child 4 years old or younger to use a firearm a misdemeanor, saying, “I hope we can all agree that toddlers should not be allowed to play with a gun.” But the NRA lobbyist countered that the bill “would impose an arbitrary minimum age at which a person would be allowed to receive firearms training,” and the bill failed.[29]

The 2017 gubernatorial election between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie amounted to a state referendum on guns, with Michael Bloomberg and the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund contributing close to $2 million to elect Northam and his two running mates, Mark Herring for attorney general and Justin Fairfax for lieutenant governor. In the midst of the campaign, a shooter fired 1,000 rounds of ammunition on the crowd attending a music festival in Las Vegas, killing sixty people and wounding more than 400. A New York Times article was published several days later with the headline, “In Virginia, Gun Control Heats Up the Governor’s Race,” and the candidate’s dueling responses captured the partisan divide on the issue. Northam argued, “We as a society need to stand up and say it is time to take action. It’s time to stop talking.” Gillespie, who touted his “A” rating from the NRA, said it was “too early to discuss policy responses to gun violence.” In November Northam defeated Gillespie, winning by the largest margin for a Democrat in more than 30 years. On taking office in January 2018 Gov. Northam introduced several gun safety measures, but they failed in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Then, on May 31, the Virginia Beach mass shooting happened, in which twelve people were killed at the city’s municipal center by a heavily armed lone gunman.

Days after the shooting, the Northam Administration held a somber press conference at which the governor announced he would call for a special session of the General Assembly in July to take up gun safety measures. At the special session, however, the Republican majority adjourned the session after only 90 minutes without debating any bills. As voters contemplated the November 2019 midterm legislative elections, a Washington Post–George Mason University poll found gun safety to be their top issue, and the gun safety movement went into high gear. Democratic candidates embraced the issue. John Bell, running for a previously red Loudoun County Senate seat, aired a prime-time television ad that showed him striding across a school athletic field to pick up a bullet casing as he promised he was “not afraid of the NRA.” Dan Helmer, an army veteran, ran on the slogan, “You shouldn’t need the body armor I wore in Iraq and Afghanistan to go shopping. This country has a gun violence crisis. We need action now.” On November 12, 2019 Virginia Democrats won both the House of Delegates and the State Senate and Democrats took full control of state government for the first time since 1994.


The declining influence of the NRA is visible in online discourse that reveals the growing prominence of pro-gun safety messaging and the heightened ability of pro-safety advocates to challenge well-established NRA talking points and dog whistles. Since October 2018, more than 10 million posts were generated making specific reference to “gun control,” “gun laws,” “gun safety,” and “gun politics” from roughly 2 million unique authors. In the same timeframe, Virginia, which emerged as a key battleground state in the transformation of the gun violence narrative, saw nearly 200,000 distinct social media messages referring to “gun control,” “gun safety,” and related terms, with roughly 32,000 unique users participating in this statewide discussion. In a reflection of the dominant role the NRA has played and continues to play in national discourse related to gun violence, specific reference to the “National Rifle Association” or “NRA” generated 12 million mentions, from roughly a million unique users. However, a closer look at this content reveals the changing dynamic of the organization’s online interactions, as the tone and focus on online discourse has shifted in the past few years and the NRA has found itself on the defensive.

An exploration of volume trends, the number of unique posts generated over time, tells a complex story of how the gun control narrative has ebbed and flowed in recent years and the role of state-level advocacy in shaping the wider national discourse. Figure 6, 7, and 8 depict the various peaks and declines in online engagement. Letters A–F show the largest clusters of engagement when there was a significant increase in the number of unique social media posts generated about a given topic and a corresponding increase in the number of authors engaging in discussions about this topic.

In the past 2 years, there has been much overlap in the timeframes that have seen significant increases in engagement in Virginia and at the national-level discourse, with all but one increase in Virginia also seen at the national level. The majority of spikes were a direct result of widespread media coverage and public reactions following mass shootings events. As shown in Table 1, these pivotal dates include August 5, which saw two mass shootings in a 13-hour window in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, and November 5, 2018, the day of the mid-term elections, in which candidates’ support or opposition to gun control legislation took center stage. A variety of announcements and events sparked the increased that peaked on September 2, 2019, including a mass shooting in the West Texas cities of Midland and Odessa on August [31], 2019 and Walmart’s announcement of its plans to reduce its gun and ammunition sales.

Within this timeframe, then Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke featured heavily in online content for his outspoken condemnation of the NRA and staunch support for stricter gun laws. One of the most widely circulated tweets on September 2, 2020 came from self-proclaimed “Snarky Lawyer,” who explicitly called out the connection between guns and white supremacist violence and expressed support for Beto O’Rourke:

The volume clusters also indicate that Virginia took the lead in shaping national-level discourse on several occasions in the past few years. January 20, 2020 is the clearest example of the impact of Virginia and state-level advocacy on wider online discourse. The significant increase seen in cluster B is a direct result of the gathering in Richmond, Virginia of thousands of gun safety opponents (many of them armed), who came to protest Gov. Northam’s promise to pass a host of control measures. These events in Virginia were mirrored in national online discourse related to gun safety, as #GunSenseMajority, #VAleg, and @MomsDemand became trending topics. In the same 2-year period, volume trends related to the NRA remained largely distinct from national-level discourse related to gun control, gun safety, and related topics, reflecting the NRA’s strategy of deflecting or minimizing the issue of gun violence following mass shootings.

Alongside an examination of the volume of online content, the key phrases and terms that have tended to be included in posts reveal how language and terminology have shifted over time. Figures 9, 10, and 11 visualize the key phrases that have been used in association with gun safety between October 2018 and November 2020. The phrases on the right-hand side and shaded in darker orange have seen an increase in use, while the phrases on the left and shaded in lighter orange have seen a gradual decline.

At the national level, there has been a shift in the language used to discuss gun safety measures, with a 34 percent decline in use of “gun ownership” and a 33 percent decrease in use of “gun control laws” between 2018 and 2020. At the same time, references to “#istandwithvirginia” (and other phrases related to Virginia) and “Mike Bloomberg” have seen a dramatic increase. (During this time, Bloomberg also launched a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, which could account for many of these references.) Kenosha, Wisconsin has also seen a 100 percent increase in mentions related to gun violence as a direct result of the killing of two protesters by 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse during a protest against police brutality.

At the state level in Virginia, the gradual shift in language reflects the efforts and strategy of gun safety advocates, with #2a seeing a 16 percent decrease in the state, while “#momsareeverywhere,” “#gunsensemajority,” and “gun extremists” have seen significant increases over time.

Finally, language trends related to the NRA reflect the shifting priorities and focus of the organization as mentions of “California” and “Vermont” have seen a significant decline, while a focus on “Virginia” saw a sharp increase. Key word trends also reveal the declining engagement of NRA members and the growing ability of NRA opponents to set the organization’s messaging agenda. As seen in Table 4, reference to “NRA Members” declined by 24 percent between 2018 and 2020, while references to “Black Lives Matter and “Philando Castile” saw a significant increase as a result of anti-NRA voices online.

The sample of tweets below showing the relationship between mentions of “Philando Castile” and the “NRA” are just a few examples of how gun safety advocates have explicitly called out the NRA as a racist and white supremacist organization in recent years.



On December 10, 2020 Everytown for Gun Safety released its “roadmap” for how the new Biden Administration can “tackle gun safety through executive action in the first hundred days and beyond.” The roadmap lists four actions that are prioritized by the gun safety movement.31 At the same time, the organization released the findings of a new poll demonstrating that a large majority of voters support the movement’s goals. According to the survey of more than 15,000 voters, an unusually large sample, 70 percent, agree that gun violence “is an urgent issue that the federal government needs to address quickly next year, alongside the economy & COVID-19” and 68 percent agree that “our nation’s gun laws should be stronger than they are now.”[32]

As the country enters a new era of gun politics with a new administration that supports stricter gun laws, the new narrative will be put to the test. Gun safety proposals that have been languishing in Congress will advance and generate intense debate. If the past is any guide, we know that the gun lobby and its supporters will mount strong opposition to any tightening of the rules. But today a new three-point narrative is taking hold:

  1. The NRA is no longer the most powerful lobby.
  2. The voters want action.
  3. Voting for “gun sense” laws is a win-win—lives will be saved and backers will win elections.

Will this shift embolden a majority of members of Congress to vote for new federal gun safety regulations?

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1 Gun sales hit a record high during the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests. Three million more guns than usual had been sold as of July 2020, and first-time buyers were driving the increase.

2 According to the Gallup Poll, 57 percent of Americans favored stricter gun laws in 2020. Note that this figure tends to rise and fall with news of mass shootings. For example, in 2018, the year that saw the killing of seventeen students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL and the public outcry that followed, 67 percent favored stricter gun laws.

3 Adam Winkler, Gun Fight, p. 253.

4 Adam Winkler, Gun Fight, p. 254.

5 The Brady Bill, named for James Brady and spearheaded by his wife, Sarah, mandated a 5-day waiting period for handgun purchases so that law enforcement could undertake a background check.

6 Alec MacGillis, “This is How the NRA Ends,” The New Republic, May 28, 2013.


8 United States v. Emerson, 270 F.3d 203, cert. denied, 536 U.S. 907, is a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit holding that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees individuals the right to bear arms.6 Alec MacGillis, “This is How the NRA Ends,” The New Republic, May 28, 2013.

9 Based in Arlington, VA, the Institute for Justice describes itself as a “libertarian public interest law firm…that litigates to promote property rights, economic liberty, free speech, and school choice.”

10 Initially, the NRA did not support this litigation. At the time, it was not clear that a majority of Justices would endorse the individual right interpretation of the Second Amendment and the organization was afraid that a ruling would be unfavorable. The organization eventually came to support the effort and filed a friend-of-the-court brief.

11 The other mass shootings in 2007 were Trolley Square Mall, Salt Lake City, five dead; post-homecoming party at an apartment, Crandon, WI, six dead; Westroads Mall, Omaha, eight dead.

12 The change was driven by a thirteen-point increase in the percentage of white men who prioritized the right to own guns over gun control, from 51 percent in 2008 to 64 percent in 2009.

13 In 2011, the Violence Policy Center calculated that the NRA had received between $14.7 million and $38.9 million from gun industry “corporate partners.” Blood Money: How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA, at

14 Chris Murphy, The Violence Inside Us: A Brief History of an Ongoing American Tragedy, p. 161.

15 Shannon Watts admits that she didn’t realize that in 2000 there had been a Million Mom March on the National Mall calling for gun reform after the Columbine shooting. That march had been organized by a group of volunteers to fall on Mother’s Day, and it attracted some three-quarters of a million people with satellite events happening in more than 70 cities around the country. Million Mom March chapters formed and soon merged with one of the country’s oldest gun violence prevention organizations, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. But the energy generated by the march dissipated in the face of such an inhospitable political environment (Waldman, p. 151).

16 Formerly known as Handgun Control, Inc. and founded in 1980.

17 Founded in 1974.

18 Founded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston in 2006.

19 Shannon Watts, Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World, p. 29.

20 Open carry refers to the practice of “openly carrying a firearm in public,” as distinguished from concealed carry, where firearms cannot be seen by the casual observer. Thirty-one states allow open carrying of a handgun without a license or permit; fifteen states allow it with some form of license or permit.

21 Shannon Watts, Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World, p. 107

22 Alec MacGillis, “This is How the NRA Ends,” The New Republic, May 28, 2013.

23 Minnesota, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Washington.

24 Melissa Chan, “‘They Are Lifting Us Up.’ How Parkland Students Are Using Their Moment to Help Minority Anti-Violence Groups,” Time, March 24, 2018.

25 The Giffords PAC spent close to $5 million backing gun sense candidates, and Everytown spent more than $30 million.

26 Two additional gun-control bills were signed that year after Northam proposed amendments to them. One of those bills requires evidence that anyone subject to a protective order has surrendered their firearms within 24 hours and was amended so that those who fail to comply would be found in contempt of court. The other bill allows for municipal regulations of firearms in public buildings, parks, and recreation centers and during public events.

27 The Virginia Center for Public Safety is a small nonprofit founded in 1992 dedicated to reducing gun violence in the state.


29 Rachel Weiner, “Gov. McAuliffe’s gun control efforts for Virginia die in Senate Committee,” Washington Post, January 26, 2015.

30 Reid J. Epstein, “Bloomberg’s gun control group calls for a raft of executive actions from Biden,” The New York Times, December 10, 2020.

31 1. Keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them by strengthening the background check system. 2. Prioritize solutions to the city gun violence devastating communities every day. 3. Heal a traumatized country by making schools safe, confronting armed hate and extremism, preventing suicide, and centering and supporting survivors of fun violence. 4. Launch a major firearm data project and protect the public with modern gun technology.


Messaging Guidance for U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health

Today, the United States Supreme Court took the dreaded step to overrule Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey with its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. The Court has now restricted the right of hundreds of millions of Americans to decide for themselves whether to have an abortion, uprooting decades of precedent and a right upon which hundreds of thousands of Americans have relied.

While today is a tremendous setback and sad day for our country, it is important to remain vigilant in the fight for social justice and bodily autonomy when communicating about Dobbs. While it is tempting to focus only on the sadness of the day, we must stick together and clarify in our communications that we will not stop pushing forward toward justice until full rights are realized for everyone.

We recognize that this opinion not only threatens reproductive freedom for millions, but that the Court’s inconsistent contemplation of whether a right even exists could jeopardize other rights. This may include the rights of people in same-sex relationships and interracial relationships, and the right to use contraceptives. Therefore, it is critical to advance a narrative that recognizes the aspiration of full rights and justice and the inherent values at stake in this decision, including:

  • Dignity;
  • Equal Justice; and
  • Freedom

We recommend bringing a values-focused framework when talking about this issue and focusing on solutions rather than on only the problems or the sadness of the day.

Key Takeaways

Dobbs represents a fundamental threat to reproductive liberty and justice.

Dobbs allows states to take action by banning any and all access to abortion. Less than one hour after the Court announced its decision in Dobbs, the state of Missouri’s attorney general swiftly implemented that state’s abortion ban. More than 25 states will likely take action to eliminate nearly all abortion rights immediately.[1] Even outside of the states considering complete bans, abortion rights may be severely weakened.

The repercussions could mean enhanced discrimination, forcing people without economic means, especially people of color, to travel extensively outside of the state they live in to have an abortion. As a result, the poorest Americans without financial resources to travel will face the brunt of having their reproductive liberty being stripped away.

Communicate that Dobbs will have a detrimental impact on the reproductive freedom, health, and dignity of millions of people across the country – especially low-income women and people of color.

Dobbs opens the door to weaken or eliminate many other fundamental rights.

In addition to how personhood is defined and whether fetuses should have the same rights as people, there are many other implications to the Dobbs ruling. Reproductive justice is not the only right that may be impacted. The Court’s narrow construction of the right to abortion in Dobbs comes from its reliance on Washington v. Glucksberg, in which the Court reconstrues Glucksberg to narrowly evaluate whether a right is protected. It asks whether that specific right is “deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition.” This means that instead of asking whether the right to privacy protects a specific right, courts can now ask whether that specific right, e.g. the right to buy contraception, was traditionally protected in the eighteenth century. This is a very narrow approach, which can be contrasted by the Supreme Court’s approach to marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges.

  • In Obergefell, the Court recognized a right for same-sex couples to get married and noted that the Glucksberg approach was overly narrow. It said that the proper approach is to ask whether the constitutional right to privacy meant that same-sex partners should be allowed to marry. The Court’s method for interpreting whether a right exists in Dobbs means that many other rights are at risk. This method could result in the erosion of freedoms, from the right to same-sex and interracial marriage, to the right to use contraceptives.

Right-wing activists and lawyers are already planning their assault on a broader set of rights. For example, Jonathan Mitchell, the former Solicitor General of Texas and the architect of Texas’s notorious SB-8 law, which restricts access to abortions, argued in an amicus brief that the logic to overrule Roe could be used to overrule Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges:

  • “This is not to say that the Court should announce the overruling of Lawrence and Obergefell if it decides to overrule Roe and Casey in this case. But neither should the Court hesitate to write an opinion that leaves those decisions hanging by a thread. Lawrence and Obergefell, while far less hazardous to human life, are as lawless as Roe.”[2]

The Dobbs opinion overruled a watershed precedent, weakening the Court’s legitimacy.

Dobbs overruled Roe v. Wade, which had been the law of the land for nearly 50 years. The principle of stare decisis, that a court respects and gives deference to decisions before it, is crucial in preserving the legitimacy of the Court. At his nomination hearing, Justice Alito himself stated that stare decisis was “a fundamental part of our legal system” despite his blatant disregard for the principle in Dobbs.[3]

Public polling has shown that the Court’s support dropped significantly in the wake of the leaked draft opinion of Dobbs, which greatly resembles the final version.[4]

Emphasize how the Court has significantly undermined its own legitimacy by ignoring its own precedent.

Key Questions

Some people say that this case is only about abortion and people who say otherwise are being alarmist. How should advocates respond to this?

A: It is clear that the Court could be leaving itself room to do additional harm to justice with this ruling. That’s because the approach that the Court adopted in Dobbs is an exceptionally narrow approach to analyze whether people have a right through the Constitution’s protection of substantive due process rights. This restrictive view is contrary to the approach taken in some of the Court’s most important decisions, including cases that protect the rights to same-sex marriage or the right to obtain contraception. This approach to judicial rulemaking could result in the erosion of other fundamental rights that Americans rely on every day. An expansive view of substantive due process, like the one taken in Lawrence and Obergefell, provides the most liberty and freedom for all Americans.

What about the concept of the “living Constitution”?

A: We share certain core values, but the way we express them changes as time passes. And that is what “living constitutionalism” is about — when we interpret the Constitution to include certain rights not explicitly enumerated in the document. The living constitution approach is also the dominant view throughout the world. Following a living constitution approach to Constitutional interpretation is not just popular, but will result in expanding rights and increasing opportunity for all Americans.

In fact, most Americans believe that the living constitution approach is the best way for the Supreme Court to analyze the Constitution[5] because it’s based on the idea that constitutional law grows and changes with the society within it. Sometimes, conservative thinkers acknowledge that it’s not, in fact, such a bad thing, and show how this is contrary to the constitutional conception of our nation. The idea of living constitutionalism allows our nation to continue to be governed by the people who live in it today, rather than the people who lived hundreds of years ago.

How do we stay energized and involved?

A: Despite this decision, the aspiration for justice and the world that we are trying to achieve must stay at the forefront. There are still many ways to protect abortion rights by advocating for legislation and executive orders at the state, local, and federal levels. We know from history as our guide that it takes time – sometimes generations – to achieve justice. And we must continue to put forward aspirational narratives that call for nothing short.

Check out other ways to make a difference here, here, and here.

Crafting Your Message

We recommend that you use VPSA when communicating about this issue. VPSA is a communications structure – Value, Problem, Solution, Action – that guides the creation of values-based messages that motivate audiences to action.

Leading with VALUES creates broad points of agreement and shared goals that will resonate with nearly any audience. Being explicit about the PROBLEM, and how it threatens shared values, creates a sense of urgency and connects individual stories to broader systems and dynamics. Offering a SOLUTION gives audiences a sense of hope and motivation. The best solutions are connected directly to the problem offered and make clear where the responsibility for change lies. Assigning an ACTION gives the audience a concrete next step that they can picture themselves doing and creates a feeling of agency.

Sample VPSA Messages



We should have control over what happens in our own lives. Autonomy means having self-directing freedom over our choices regardless of our race, sex, gender, or class.


The Supreme Court’s Dobbs opinion is an affront to those freedoms. It prevents the autonomy of those with the ability to bear children, especially those from minority, marginalized, and low-income groups. The Court’s opinion permits states to infringe on the right to an abortion and destroys self-determination for those living in more than 25 states. Not only that, but the Dobbs opinion also jeopardizes other basic rights such as interracial marriage and same-sex marriage.


The journey to reaching justice must continue. We have the power to encourage federal and state representatives to act, to influence public opinion and, in turn, to influence the outcome of future elections and the future makeup of the Supreme Court. We can also provide aid to organizations helping poor and marginalized communities access safe abortions.


It is essential to use your voice and get involved to end the Court’s attack on basic human rights. Vote in every election. Talk to your friends and family about the importance of reproductive autonomy and freedom. Push your representatives for legislation and executive orders at the state, local, and federal levels.



Everyone deserves equal opportunity. We must work to break down barriers that prevent equal opportunity based on race, sex, gender, and class.


The Dobbs opinion destroys opportunity for those who can bear children and will hit members of the Black and brown communities hard. Dobbs astronomically increases the financial burden of obtaining an abortion. Low-income people, many of whom are Black and brown women, Black and brown transgender men, and Black and brown non-binary persons, will suffer the brunt of that blow.


In light of Dobbs, we must work to decrease the financial burden of obtaining an abortion for low-income people. States and organizations with resources should support people who now need to travel out-of-state to secure their reproductive rights.


Governments and organizations should provide travel grants and other resources so people from states with limits on abortion rights can afford the costs of travel to obtain an abortion. Individuals with the means can support organizations that do so, and can push their elected representatives to take action.


[2] Mitchell’s Texas Right to Life Amicus Brief.

[3] Stone on Roberts, Alito, and stare decisis | University of Chicago Law School (



Talking About the Supreme Court

Narrative Principles for Discussing Supreme Court Cases

As the Supreme Court prepares to issue its final decisions of the term, it is vital that we remember the values which underly the essential liberties we strive for. Although our hope is that the Court will ensure that everyone can fully enjoy the protections and rights provided by the Constitution, there are a number of cases pending that could set us back on this aspiration. This includes challenges regarding the extent to which local governments can take steps to prevent organizations from discriminating against LGBTQ couples who want to foster children; whether states can constitutionally restrict voting; and whether the healthcare protections in the Affordable Care Act remain constitutional, among other important cases.

The Opportunity Agenda strongly believes that it is important to uplift the need to protect the hard-fought gains our country has made in promoting and preserving opportunity, while also acknowledging that these hard-fought gains are, in many respects, still incomplete. It is on this premise that we prepare ourselves to critically analyze Supreme Court decisions that might undermine the very progress that has been achieved.

We encourage communicators, advocates, and anyone concerned with social justice to uplift the important point that Supreme Court justices must preserve prior decisions that protect and advance constitutional rights. Below are some suggestions for how to do this, informed by recent opinion research for talking about the Supreme Court as it gets ready to issue these end-of-term decisions.

General Advice

  1. Focus on what Supreme Court decisions mean to our shared values. Most audiences are not at all familiar with – or even focused on – the outcomes of Supreme Court cases and their impressions will be shaped by headlines and topline rhetoric. It’s important to find ways to engage at that level. A great way to do this is to focus on values, such as reminding people of the kind of country we want to be and drawing on our best ideals. Consider what the decision suggests for the celebration or undermining of those values. Values: Justice, Freedom, Dignity, Fairness, Opportunity, Democracy, Family.
  2. Don’t focus on what a decision is not. Discuss what it is. Explaining the legal details of what the case does not mean is less powerful than affirmatively stating what it does mean. Spending too much time “myth busting” or telling audiences that the ruling does not outlaw abortion, for instance, only repeats the phrase and strengthens it in audiences’ minds. Remember that “myth busting” doesn’t result in audiences remembering your point – it instead results in the further penetration of the points that opponents make.
  3. Pivot to solutions and action. While reporters covering the case may want “just the facts,” there are many opportunities to remind audiences of the solutions that the case highlights, and what they can do to make those solutions happen. Progressive and base audiences will be fired up to do something to celebrate or express anger or discontent, so make sure to provide a concrete action. Sympathetic audiences need to be primed to feel as though their efforts matter, and that they can be both despairing of this moment in history, while at the same time remembering that our country’s core principles and history are to slowly make progress even through challenging times. Undecided audiences need to hear the positive alternatives that are possible. Values: Pragmatism, Common Sense, Innovation, Determination to Do the Right Thing, Our Shared Responsibility to Fix Flawed Policies, Solidarity.

Specific Advice for the Pending Decisions

1. LGTBQ Justice and So-Called Religious Freedom

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

The Supreme Court will be deciding whether the City of Philadelphia improperly terminated its relationship with a Catholic charity that refused to screen same-sex couples as foster parents. The City of Philadelphia refused to work with this charity because of its discriminatory screening practices. Now, the charity is arguing that this termination violated its right to freedom of religion. This case presents a conflict of rights in which the City of Philadelphia is concerned with same-sex couples’ right to be free from discrimination, and the charity is claiming that it has a right to religious freedom in its discriminatory decision not to work with same-sex couples.

Recent public opinion research is helpful in assessing how to respond to this case and the others that are before the Court this term. A recent study polled a nationally representative sample of 2,158 American adults about their views on upcoming Supreme Court decisions[1] The SCOTUS Study asked respondents whether they believed that requiring foster agencies to place children with same-sex couples violated the foster agencies’ right to religious freedom, and 52.2% of the public stated that it does violate these agencies’ right to religious freedom.

Table 1[2]

This finding suggests communicators and advocates should emphasize the government’s role in preventing discrimination and in ensuring that everyone is able to build a family with dignity. Emphasizing the government’s role in preventing discrimination and the importance of protecting everyone’s right to family and equal justice – including the rights of potential LGBTQ foster couples and their prospective foster children – will be critical. Moreover, communicators and social justice leaders should connect the outcome in the case to our shared values by describing how the outcome in this case might undermine or bolster local governments’ abilities to prevent discrimination.

Values to Uplift When Discussing This Case: Family, Equal Justice, Human Rights, Community, Empathy.

2. Affordable Care Act

California v. Texas

Following its 2012 decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, the Supreme Court will again be deciding upon a challenge to its constitutionality. The Court will decide on two main issues: (1) whether the individual mandate is constitutional; and (2) if the individual mandate is unconstitutional, whether it is nevertheless severable from the Affordable Care Act, allowing this Act to remain in force even if the individual mandate provision is no longer part of it. While it is possible that the Court will not decide upon the substance of the case and will instead find the parties who brought the case to not have standing, it is important to plan for the decision, nonetheless.

The SCOTUS Study found that 55.8% of respondents believed that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. This finding suggests that there is additional work needed to explain how the mandate broadens access to healthcare and is critical to a better-functioning healthcare system.

Table 2[3]

Nevertheless, most respondents (53.3%) stated that even if the individual mandate is unconstitutional, it should not affect the rest of the law.

Table 3[4]

If the Court strikes down the mandate and thereby strikes down Obamacare, it will be important to emphasize how the Supreme Court’s choice was excessive and that millions of Americans will be left uninsured by it.

Remind audiences of our responsibilities to our fellow human beings. Access to healthcare is incredibly important and should be uplifted as a value, and after enduring the COVID-19 pandemic, audiences may be more open to these messages than ever before. As we are starting to see glimmers of hope regarding the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains important to protect everyone’s access to healthcare.

Values to Uplift When Discussing This Case: Human Rights, Community, Health, Empathy, Compassion, Looking Out for One Another.

3. Voting Rights

Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee I

Following Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, his followers have initiated a massive effort to both continue the drumbeat promoting fraud and suppress voter turnout in many states. For example, Arizona passed a law that (1) prohibits people from getting assistance from others to drop off their ballots on their behalf, and (2) requires that provisional ballots be automatically discarded when a voter votes in the wrong precinct. According to the SCOTUS Study, voters are evenly split on how the Court should resolve these two issues.

Table 4[5]

Table 5[6]

The widespread, “big lies” about the 2020 election present unprecedented challenges to our democracy and warrant bold action. The response to the Supreme Court’s decision in this case should emphasize the Court’s role in ensuring that every citizen is able to exercise their right to vote. The Court’s decision may include a ruling about the appropriate standard for challenging voter suppression efforts, which may or may not make it more difficult to contest these threats to our democracy.

Values to Uplift When Discussing This Case: Democracy, Equal Justice, Human Rights, Community, Fairness.

4. Criminal Justice

Terry v. United States

Taharick Terry was convicted for possessing just 4 grams of crack cocaine, the equivalent weight of around four paper clips. He was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison because of a law that produced a 100:1 sentencing disparity for crack cocaine as compared to powder cocaine. This disparity contributed to gross racial inequities in sentencing by targeting the form of cocaine – crack cocaine – that is more prevalent in Black and brown, and lower-income, communities for grossly higher sentences than its powder form.

In 2010, President Obama and Congress reduced the disparity to 18:1 in the Fair Sentencing Act. In 2018, Congress passed the First Step Act, which allowed sentencing reforms to apply retroactively to people already sentenced in prison because of draconian sentencing laws. This case addresses whether offenses like Terry’s fit within the provisions that allow for less serious offenses to be re-sentenced. The decision in this case could have a broad impact on efforts to address some of the harms of excessive and racially biased sentencing laws.

Values to Uplift When Discussing This Case: Equal Justice, Fairness, Human Rights, Community, Family, Due Process.


As a general matter, it is important to communicate carefully, as the first read of any decision can sometimes mislead communicators into saying something they come to later regret, or to say something that isn’t quite the message that is important to uplift. It is therefore especially important to carefully review the Court’s holding(s) in each case and consult those who are working directly on interpreting and commenting about them. Sometimes it may be beneficial to narrowly construct any comments on a decision when formulating your response. Don’t comment until you’ve seen the facts and the lead party’s statement, as well as consulted with those most closely connected to the story that social justice leaders are recommending. Remember, the first statement you make will be the most powerful. Regardless of the outcome, it is beneficial to emphasize how values represent our vision for the aspirations we have for our country, and the importance of what the Supreme Court means to those values.

[1] Stephen Jessee, Neil Malhotra, & Maya Sen, “What Do The American People Think About the 2021 Supreme Court Cases? Results from SCOTUSPoll, a collaboration between researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the University of Texas” (April 22, 2021),

[2] Id. at 3.

[3] Id. at 4.

[4] Id. at 5.

[5] Id. at 6.

[6] Id. at 7.

5 Tips for Talking About the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 (H.R. 6)

On March 12, 2019, Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), and Yvette Clarke (D-NY) introduced the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, H.R. 6. The bill combines longstanding efforts to provide a roadmap to U.S. citizenship for undocumented youth, people who have or are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), people who had or were eligible for temporary protected status (TPS), or people with deferred enforced departure (DED).

Messaging Recommendations

Consider these points when talking about the bill with persuadable audiences:

1. Link the bill to a long-term vision. This is the first of many critical steps we must take to fix our immigration policies. It ends harm to several immediately vulnerable groups, but we need to place it in the context of our longer-term immigration goals: a reasonable and orderly process for all aspiring citizens in service of our collective American dream of a diverse nation that embraces newcomers and new ideas. Also part of this long-term vision is abandoning policies that separate families, divide communities, and encourage racial profiling. Point out that this bill rightly rejects those approaches in favor of an affirmative solution to one aspect of the immigration system.

Sample language: Our immigration laws should serve us and our communities by providing a reasonable and orderly process for aspiring citizens who want to fully participate and contribute. But our current lawsand current administrationmake that impossible and instead regularly threaten people with deportation, racial profiling, hateful and divisive rhetoric, and the militarization of their communities. Those threats are not in line with our values and only move us away from the kind of country we should be: one that welcomes and embraces immigrants and the diversity they bring us; that understands and encourages their important contributions to our culture, society, and economy; and that rejects any policy that divides communities and excludes people. The Dream and Promise Act is an important step toward realizing this vision of a better country. Please call and tell Congress that we need to pass it now.

2. Underscore the values this bill upholds. By rejecting the racism and discrimination that the current administration has promoted and encouraged, this bill redirects us toward our core values: dignity, respect, diversity, and inclusion. Emphasize that Dreamers, and TPS and DED recipients, share those values and have been living in and contributing to communities for, in many cases, decades. Call on audiences to reject policies that hurt anyone but particularly those that needlessly disrupt the lives of people who are just short of being technically American only because our outdated laws stand in their way.

Sample language: We make gains together as a country when we welcome immigrants, ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and embrace the diversity that immigrants bring as they contribute new perspectives toward our problem solving. Immigration makes us stronger, while policies that aim to divide us only make us weaker. The Dream and Promise Act recognizes the contributions of Dreamers, and TPS and DED recipients, and is a first step toward providing a pathway to citizenship for all immigrants. Call your representatives and urge their support for this critical bill.

Sample language: We are stronger when we work together and when we learn from each other’s experiences. When people from different backgrounds join together we all benefit from the diversity of those perspectives. It helps us find new ways to deal with old challenges. But we are not taking full advantage of this source of strength. Immigration is a core part of the American experience, but we’re not taking advantage of this source of strength. Instead, we’re seeing policies that threaten community members with deportation due to a combination of our neglected and outdated immigration laws and an administration bent on decreasing immigration any way it can, including separating families. The American Dream and Promise Act is one step toward righting some of the wrongs our immigration laws and this administration have inflicted. Urge your members of Congress to support it.

3. Use values to specifically reject calls for more enforcement. Emphasize that this bill rejects trading harms to one community for harms to another. Outline in real-world terms the ways that current enforcement policies harm people, families, and communities. Describe specifically what deportation means: that people will lose their families, communities, and livelihoods and find themselves in a country they may not know at all and/or certainly have limited ties to and puts them in danger.

Sample language: We all want to live in communities where we feel safe and protected. But our immigration laws, and the current administration, make this impossible for millions of our immigrant neighbors, including Dreamers and recipients of TPS and DED. It is well past time to reject policies that further inflict pain on these vulnerable communities. These are people who have already experienced the separation of parents from their American-born children through deportation, have faced legislation that encourages racial profiling and local police cooperation with ICE, and have lived with uncertainty for years because they have no clear pathway to citizenship. They deserve real solutions, as do their communities, families, and employers. Tell Congress to pass the American Dream and Promise Act today.

4. Stress the urgency of this bill for all of us. Dreamers and TPS and DED recipients don’t need or deserve the added disruption to their lives that the termination of these policies has caused. We need a remedy now. Point out the connections that Dreamers and TPS and DED recipients have established in their communities to show how those disruptions affect us all.

Sample language: The administration has proven again and again its appetite for stripping protections away from immigrants, including Dreamers and TPS and DED recipients. Soon all will be at risk of deportation, disrupting their lives and the lives of their families, friends, and communities, as well as that of their employers, customers, and clients.

5. Highlight public opinion. Remind audiences that the majority of Americans want to protect the Dreamers and believe that immigration is core to our identity and important to our economy. Voters also agree that diversity is an important value and that we should treat everyone with dignity and respect.

Sample language: People in this country understand the important role that immigration plays in our core identity and our economy. There is strong support for Dreamers, while most reject the administration’s obsession with the border wall and the militarization of that region. We want real solutions that uphold our values and move us forward together. The Dream and Promise Bill is a step toward that vision.

Building a Strategic Message

One formula for building an effective message is Value, Problem, Solution, Action. Using this structure, we lead with the shared values that are at stake, outline why the problem we’re spotlighting is a threat to those values, point toward a solution, and ask our audience to take a concrete action.

Lead with values and vision. Most communicators agree: people don’t change their minds based on facts alone, but rather based on how those facts are framed to fit their emotions and values. Shared values help audiences “hear” messages more effectively than do dry facts or emotional rhetoric.

  • We are strongest when we embrace the diversity of our nationthis means welcoming and embracing immigrants and treating everyone with dignity and respect.

Introduce the problem. Frame problems as a threat to your vision and values. This is the place to pull out stories and statistics that are likely to resonate with the target audience.

  • Our current immigration laws, and the current administration, are an active threat to this vision. By stripping away protections and threatening the deportation of Dreamers and recipients of TPS and DED, the administration is needlessly injecting chaos and uncertainty into their lives. This is disruptive and cruelto these new Americans as well as to their families and communities.

Pivot quickly to solutions. Positive solutions leave people with choices, ideas, and motivation. Assign responsibility—who can enact this solution?

  • We need immigration policies that provide a reasonable and fair process for becoming citizens and protect people from the disruption and fear they face when they are just trying to go about their daily lives.

Assign an action. Try to give people something concrete that they can picture themselves doing, like making a phone call or sending an email.

  • Call your member of Congress today and tell them to support the American Dream and Promise Act.

Message Examples

 The Dream and Promise Act will make a positive difference in the lives of millions of people.  MoveOn members, supporters in the Congress and others nationwide are sending a clear message that we believe this must be a country that welcomes and celebrates immigrants—not one that demonizes them.

Reggie Hubbard, Congressional Liaison and DC strategist, MoveOn

The Dream and Promise Act would provide permanent relief and a path to citizenship for the millions of immigrants Trump has targeted. It is an important step toward securing justice for all of the immigrant families who live and work in our communities. We recognize that the road ahead is long, but we won’t rest until we have secured permanent protections for all immigrant families, starting with passage of this bill in the House.

Angel Padilla, Policy Director, Indivisible Project

We are building a world where immigrant communities, people of color and all marginalized communities are able to live with dignity and free from fear.

Jonathan Jayes-Green, Co-Founder and Director, UndocuBlack Network

The Dream and Promise Act of 2019 creates a path to permanent status in the United States for DACA, DED, and TPS holders, and through its introduction, Congress is working to uphold the universal human rights to life, safety, and family unity. Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,’ and ‘family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.’ The House’s Dream and Promise Act of 2019 promises to bring our nation’s laws into closer alignment with that vision.

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

The Dream and Promise Act provides a clear, attainable pathway to U.S. citizenship. For Dreamers, people with DACA, TPS, or DED, and others eligible for such statuses who may not have applied, the United States is their home—and, in many cases, has been for decades. We are integral members of our communities and have a future here. By providing permanent protections and a pathway to citizenship for these communities, this legislation recognizes that we are Americans in all but ‘paper’ and deserve to live our lives with security and stability in the place we call home.

The bill does not trade granting protections to some communities for funding harm to others. This is a critical point. This bill does not trade protections for immigrant youth and people with TPS or DED for further militarization of our border communities or expanded immigration policing of our communities or detention of immigrants—a tradeoff that would only inflict more pain on our communities and result in more deportations. It also does not make any changes to existing channels of immigration in exchange for protections.

The Dream and Promise Act shows that our communities will fight together, not against each other. By providing protections for immigrant youth and people with TPS or DED, we are making it clear that our communities cannot be pitted against each other in Trump’s policy games. We are not pawns in some game. And together, we will raise our voices and win the protections we deserve.

Diana Pliego, Policy Associate, National Immigration Law Center, and DACA recipient

It’s time for our immigration laws to catch up with reality. This proposal, the Dream & Promise Act, is an affirmative step towards formally recognizing immigrants as the Americans they already are. This s a major shift in the debate. We are going on offense.

There is an urgency to this legislation because Trump has terminated DACA and is ending TPS and DED. The immigrants Trump has targeted are those with families, businesses, careers, and car notes who are playing by the rules and contributing to their communities. Rather than see them as assets to the country, Trump is targeting them because he feels being as anti-immigration and as anti-immigrant as possible is an asset to his 2020 campaign.

The vast majority of voters, including many who supported Trump, simply do not understand why the President wants to take millions of immigrants who are integrated into American society and make them undocumented and deportable. It makes no sense to ‘undocument’ those who are currently documented and to target the most-vetted immigrants in America—those who have had to come forward periodically to re-apply for DACA or TPS or what have you.

Frank Sharry, Executive Director, America’s Voice

Talking About COVID-19: Value, Problem, Solution, Action

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps America, the systemic injustices in our country are being revealed for what they are: from race-class disparity to immigrant injustice and the carceral state. These injustices have existed for a long time and activists, advocates, and creatives have been working to eradicate them for just as long. Yet today, we find ourselves at a unique and critical moment to step up our advocacy for the communities and individuals most vulnerable – communities of color, immigrant communities, incarcerated communities, and low-income communities.

At this pivotal moment, we must work together – in community – to center and uplift the voices of these disproportionately affected populations. This starts by being conscious about our language and messaging. We recommend using a VPSA (Value, Problem, Solution, Action) format when talking about the coronavirus and its response, and centering your language around inclusion, empowerment, and justice.

  • Value: When it comes to addressing COVID-19, we are all only as safe as those members of our community who are most at risk. We are all in this together, and therefore must make sure our messaging around this virus and its containment avoids racist, xenophobic, and biased thinking. We must remember to uphold the value of unity at this time. Through unity – in community – we can overcome what lies ahead.
  • Problem: While the coronavirus does not discriminate against race, ethnicity, nationality, or socio-economic status, stigma and misinformation do. Racist, xenophobic, and unscientific language and messaging – rooted in fear and misinformation – has been circulating during this outbreak, both among the public and within the Trump administration. If left unchecked, this will create a culture of fear and discrimination that hinders efforts to stop the virus and efforts to help communities most at risk.
  • Solution: As social justice leaders and communicators, it is our job to calmly and directly push back against the fear and stigma surrounding COVID-19 with powerful language of inclusion, unity, empowerment, and justice. This will help us be allies to communities of color, immigrant communities, low-income communities, and incarcerated communities, who are likely to be disproportionately affected by this pandemic and the narrative surrounding it.
  • Action: We must continuously call out messaging based in fear and misinformation for the racist, xenophobic, and implicitly biased language that it is – particularly when coming from the Trump administration and the media. We must work together in collaborative conversation to make sure that communities and populations most at risk are receiving the attention and services that they deserve, and that they are not being stigmatized when those services are provided. We must also remember to always use language that is based in justice and equity. The solutions for getting through this pandemic lie in unity and community. We must uplift these values together and remind others to do the same.

Talking About Covid-19: A Call for Racial, Economic, and Health Equity

Talking Impeachment: Protecting our Democratic Values

After weeks of testimony and debate in both the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, last night the House of Representatives took two historic votes on articles of impeachment, making President Trump the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. The full House bitterly debated the two articles, which address abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and were approved largely along party lines.

Next, as required by the Constitution, the U.S. Senate will soon begin its trial to determine whether to convict the president of the high crimes and misdemeanors outlined in the articles of impeachment passed by the House. Whether or not the Senate decides to convict the President, this moment in history calls for social justice advocates to weigh in on the importance of interrogating the values of this president and his administration.

The following four tips should be kept in mind when communicating about these monumental votes:

1. Keep the messaging goal in mind: center the importance of our Constitution and democracy, and highlight the threats this administration poses to both.

Provide examples of the principles at stake, such as the importance of the balance of power and the suggestion laid out by the Constitution that everyone[1] in our country is represented by the House of Representatives, which has a duty to ensure that no presidential action should impede fairness and accountability by a government that is formed by and for the people.

2. Stick to the news: the president has now been impeached.

The actions taken by this president over the last three years have amounted to one afront to our values after another. But now the focus is on the narrowly made case for impeachment, which has just been affirmed by the House of Representatives. The votes have been cast, and it’s time to share why these actions are important to support, and why President Trump should be held to account.

3. Don’t get sidetracked by distractions.

This administration – and the debate in Congress – has thrown us many, many egregious and angering distractions that are tempting to address. Stay the course and use this moment to underscore that we must never concede the democratic principles laid out in the Constitution, as hard won and as imperfect as they may be. This is particularly true when it comes to a demagogue who is trying any means necessary to use the power of his office to advance his own political gain.

4. Pivot to the power of action – use VPSA to make your points and quickly call for action.

There is now a new level of urgency for action as the House of Representatives has validated that President Trump should be held to account. Here is a sample VPSA to use to further the conversation and move quickly to call on audiences to take action:

V – Value: Our country’s democratic principles underscoring the importance of government fairness and accountability for and by the people are among those that the march for justice has shown must be secure and accessible to everyone. This is enshrined in our Constitution and our government is organized so that it has the mechanisms needed to adhere to these principles.

P – Problem: President Trump has demonstrated over and over again that he is unfit to uphold these principles. The leader of the free world – our president – has just been impeached as a result of this inability and lack of fitness.

S – Solution: According our Constitution, the U.S. Senate now must hold the president to account for his actions and determine whether to convict him, which could result in his removal from office. It is essential that our elected officials take their oath to serve as impartial witnesses seriously and consider every option for ensuring that President Trump be held accountable for his actions and that our country’s democratic principles – and security – are protected.

A – Action: We must push senators to heed the call of the Constitution and take their responsibility seriously, not politically. They must focus on the promise of our democratic principles and serve their duty by taking the necessary steps following the House’s historic votes and hold this president to account.

[1] Everyone, with the exception of the people who reside in the District of Columbia, who still do not have representation in Congress.

The Impeachment Inquiry: Now What?

Talking About the Values of a Just and Inclusive Democracy

The recent impeachment inquiry announced by House leadership presents social justice advocates with a unique opportunity to weigh in on why this administration and its values must be interrogated.  While it is important to continue to rebuff the many actions of unfitness of this president, we should use this period when the media is focused on the impeachment inquiry to express as effectively as possible the values that the inquiry is demanding. Articulately expressing this is as important as the impeachment inquiry itself, and the facts and evidence that it will eventually reveal.

The Opportunity Agenda is providing this messaging memo as a reminder that the impeachment inquiry presents us with a unique opportunity to reinforce the story of the Constitution’s inherent values, and why we must not allow them to be taken for granted or disregarded by anyone, most especially the President of the United States. The tips below are intended for doing so.

When Talking About Impeachment, Do:

1. Start communications with the values at stake. It’s easy to get lost in the panoply of troubling actions this administration has undertaken, let alone those that have risen to impeachable offenses. Remind people that our country has proven that it can rise above injustice when we all work together to do so. And as the most effective communicators remind us, it’s important to show audiences what we are for more than what we are against, consistently focusing on the value and aspiration of an inclusive democracy. It’s crucial to show that it’s not just about being against this administration, but more importantly, organizing to protect our democracy from the threats the administration presents over and over again.

Value statement: Our country has risen above before, and we must rise above now.

2. Emphasize the variety of solutions we can undertake to protect our democracy from this administration, but during this time, keep coming back to the option that is being discussed most: the impeachment inquiry. As social justice leaders in our history have shown us time and time again, the clarion call that enunciates the values that we believe in — and why those values must never be conceded — is critical to our country’s long and complicated march toward justice. During this unusual time, it is also important to remember that there are many interventions and solutions that can be applied simultaneously. In fact, there is nothing in the Constitution that precludes a president from being held to account, or even impeached, over multiple actions at the same time, nor is there anything that suggests that actions falling short of high crimes and misdemeanors should not also be held to account with censure, and proper oversight or litigation. Clarify what the current option – the impeachment inquiry – is intending to do. The framers created our divided system of government with an executive, judicial, and legislative branch for this sole purpose: to advance a separation of balanced powers so that each branch could be given ways to check the power of the other. It is essential that we continue to remind audiences of this important point, and that we stay the course.

Value statement: The impeachment inquiry is one important tool to expose evidence and get to solutions.

3. Shine the light on, and underscore, the democratic values laid out in the U.S. Constitution for the role of power in a balanced government. Although the framers were most certainly exclusive in their own right, the theories and intentions they memorialized in the Constitution for the most part were not. It’s important to present the values that we aspire to in our democracy, which are framed in the Constitution. This is again an opportunity to note the progress that we have historically made toward the integrity of inclusivity of all people, while at the same time recognizing that we are on a journey toward justice that this president must respect. It is important to remind audiences long before the 2020 elections that the duty to adhere to the democratic principles, values, and themes outlined in the Constitution is for all of us to do, particularly the members of The U.S. House of Representatives as they use their power to launch the impeachment inquiry.

Value statement: The U.S. House of Representatives is meant to be the peoples’ House, the body that should be about representing all of us and using everything in its power – including the impeachment inquiry – to impugn anything that gets in the way of fairness, accountability, and government for the people.

4. Talk about the ways in which this country should be setting the standard for – not shirking responsibility or disregarding – the integrity of the office of the presidency. Underscore that corruption and disregard for the Constitution or the judicial and legislative branches is an attack on our values, our democracy, and ultimately on all of us. Share why and how you think the United States should be leading the way in these areas, and how we cannot concede anything less until we do.

Values to uplift: Integrity, Rule of Law, Accountability

5. Share the ways in which this president and the administration should be held to account for a range of actions, and how the impeachment inquiry is one way to do so on the issue of President Trump’s involvement with Ukraine, and the integrity of our elections and democracy. Make sure that when talking about the impeachment inquiry, the issue of the integrity of our elections and democracy are central to what you discuss. Remember that the issue that the impeachment inquiry is considering is whether the president called for a foreign leader to meddle in our system of democracy for his political gain. Don’t stray from the message that this is at odds with what our democracy stands for and use it as an opportunity to call out the values that we aspire to. You can point to the other injustices not being investigated in the inquiry – just make sure to pivot back to the point.

Remember to: Keep communications focused on the values that the president has and how he continues to violate those inherent to our democracy: The Constitution’s provision of checks and balances; a responsible and accountable government.


When Talking About Impeachment, Don’t:

1. Just call for impeachment without laying out why. Again, laying out the facts and evidence for impeachment, along with the compelling case for how our values must be upheld with the impeachment inquiry as a tool to ensure doing so, is critical.

Remember to: Stay focused on the impeachment inquiry’s objectives.

2. Assume your audience understands the impeachment inquiry, or the process. The impeachment process is confusing, takes time and is structured in a way in which both the House and Senate take action.  First, the House conducts the inquiry, and then a vote to impeach is considered. The Senate determines whether to hold a trial and vote on the president’s fitness and removal, which is in no way guaranteed to happen given the politics of doing so, Senate leadership, and other dynamics. Audiences should be reminded that their statements and actions are critical in this process as a way to underscore the importance of the inquiry.

Remember to: Provide people with the basics about the impeachment process.

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

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