What Now?! Talking About the Supreme Court

How to Talk About the Leak & the Purported SCOTUS Decision to Overturn Roe v. Wade


As you have no doubt heard by now, a draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade and roll back the Constitutional precedent that guarantees a woman’s right to choose has been leaked to the media. Upon initial analysis, if this draft becomes the official majority opinion, it could have alarming impacts well beyond abortion rights.

We must use this moment to pronounce a vision of what full rights look like for all of us, for our children, and for generations to come, while at the same time repudiating this leaked decision. We must uplift the need to protect hard-fought, historic gains in promoting and preserving opportunity, and we must remain both vigilant and strategic in pushing back against legal decisions and legislative policies that undermine these gains.

The Opportunity Agenda believes that this starts with stories, with what we say, and how we say it.



Some Quick, General Tips


1. Remember that this is NOT the SCOTUS decision. It is a draft document – what could be a preview of what a Supreme Court decision might look like.

The draft opinion has no legal effect right now. Women’s, family planning, and abortion clinics are still operating. Don’t spend time discussing this as settled law, because it isn’t and may confuse people who are still struggling to access reproductive care in their communities.

Avoid communicating as though what’s done is done, because it isn’t.


2. If this becomes the Court’s final decision, its impact could extend far beyond the right to access abortions.

The language in the draft opinion suggests that it would pave the way for eliminating a range of rights that most Americans have come to take for granted. It suggests that only those rights from the time of this country’s founding should be protected, thus opening the door for states to criminalize access to contraception, interracial relationships, same-sex marriage and sexual relationships, and parents’ right to educate their children as they see fit. The opinion might even open the door to question the continued relevance of cases like Brown v. Board Education, which held that legalized racial segregation was unconstitutional.

Communicate the potential reach of this draft opinion and its profound consequences, should it be handed down.


3. Pivot to solutions and action.

Despite the anxiety generated by this draft opinion, remember to pivot to solutions. Now is the time to recognize the power of voices coming together. Encourage audiences to take action, whether that’s demanding passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act or the Equal Rights Amendment, demonstrating outside the Supreme Court or at state courts and capitol buildings, or taking to the streets and the voting booth in order to convey and protect our values.

There is much we can do in this moment, and we have a duty to do it right now.


4. Uplift these values

Pragmatism, Common Sense, Innovation, Determination to Do The Right Thing, Shared Responsibility to Fix Flawed Policies, Solidarity, Full Inclusion.



P.S. Click here or here or to find a list of local and state-wide abortion access organizations to support, and here for resources and tools to take action on abortion access as well as an “Adopt-A-Clinic” Program.

Moving Forward: Three Ideas for Talking About the Moment

As we process, discuss, and continue to respond to the January 6th attack on our democracy and what it means for the days leading up to the Inauguration and beyond, The Opportunity Agenda offers a few messaging ideas for the immediate moment that also advance a long-term vision for justice.

Together, we must put forth a strong and unified message that names the hypocrisy and violence that white supremacists perpetuated at our nation’s Capitol on Jan. 6. We must call for those who inspired and carried out this insurrection to be held to account, and we must uplift the aspirations and vision we are striving for our democracy to be. Our communities and our country’s ideals depend on it.

1. Lay out a long-term vision, framed with values. In crafting your message, uplift the values that serve us in the current moment while also strengthening our long-term narrative. For instance:

Voice: Our Democracy depends on ensuring that all our voices are heard, and votes counted. The history made in Georgia in the runoff election on Jan. 5, with BIPOC organizers and voters leading the way with their organizing prowess, voices, and votes, cannot be overstated, and we must continue to celebrate this #BlackJoy and #JoyToThePolls as progress for our democracy – it is a defining moment for what our country aspires to be. The values of Voice, Community, and Inclusion ruled the day in Georgia and in the nation with record voter turnout – particularly Black, Latinx and APIA voters — and with the historic election of Rev. Warnock to the U.S. Senate. It is progress that we should continue to celebrate and uplift loudly despite everything else we are witnessing and facing.

Safety: We must ensure the true safety of everyone, whether they are working a job during the pandemic, peacefully protesting, or experiencing an encounter with law enforcement. We can use the jarring memory of the January 6th actions at the U.S. Capitol as a stark reminder that we must commit to doing all that is in our power to promote true Safety for all. This means resoundingly rejecting white supremacy’s grasp on our society, our police departments, the White House, and all who enable it. We will not stand for a system that is complicit with the violence promulgated against Black protesters, while at the same time is easy going on white vigilantes who run roughshod on federal spaces.

Dignity: Because we are humans first, and all people deserve to live in peace and dignity. We must remind people that our new future is built upon everyone having a voice, all of us coming together as a community to solve shared problems, keeping each other safe, and helping each other live with Dignity. We cannot go back to business as usual because that is what led to this crisis. We must take bold action to make this country a true, inclusive democracy where we stand with and for each other and where our elected officials and public servants respect our rights, no matter who we are.

2. Emphasize moving forward. Many of the events of the past year have reminded us of some of the country’s worst instincts and darkest history. But we have a moment now to underscore with audiences the message that we can move toward a better version of this nation if we come together to address our shared challenges and go beyond. Emphasize your long-term vision and paint a vivid picture of that future as well as the clear actions we need to take to achieve it. Remind people that to move forward, we have to come together in our diverse experiences, ideas, and strengths to build an economy, society, and country that truly embraces and embodies justice and opportunity. This means fighting for transformational changes, not accepting incremental or piecemeal solutions that leave people out and put us on a sluggish path toward our vision. We have a moment, and we must seize it.

3. Build messages that move your long-term narrative. The events at the Capitol and the actions of this administration, both recent and over the past four years, represent much of what is wrong with our country. But remember to choose your examples carefully to build your story for moving forward. For instance, the hypocrisy of law enforcement’s response to the white nationalist attack on the Capitol compared to their stealthy and violent strong handling of Black Lives Matter protesters over the summer makes a powerful argument for those who are advocating to Defund the Police in favor of building community resources for achieving true safety. Also, those focusing on Democracy work may choose to highlight the president’s attacks on voice and vote that culminated in January 6th’s violence. Spending too much time describing or explaining all the many dimensions of a specific event will likely keep audiences in that experience rather than looking forward – so remember to keep a simple framework for talking about the Values, Problems, Solutions and Actions we are trying to share.

More resources:

Democracy Rising Social Media Toolkit

Speaking Out About January 6,” Frameworks Institute

Our Democracy’s Ideals Depend on Our Actions Today,” The Opportunity Agenda

Reflecting on 2020, Going Beyond in 2021,” The Opportunity Agenda

A Visual Flow Chart: How to Stop Kavanaugh and #SaveSCOTUS

Messaging Strategies:

  • Amplify the call for stopping Kavanaugh and for preventing any Trump nominee from moving forward while the president is under criminal investigation. Trump’s actions and the open investigations into his administration should disqualify him from naming any Supreme Court justice.
  • Call out the dangerous threat to democracy and to our system of checks and balances that the president presents to our nation. Make clear the solutions needed to right the ship.
  • Significantly step up criticism of the colossally inappropriate role—and extremist values—of The Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation in selecting the judges who should rule fairly for the whole nation.
  • Remind relevant audiences (at every turn) of this president’s support for white supremacy and bigotry, from his criticism of Judge Curiel based on his heritage, to his slander of Mexican-Americans, to his praise of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, to his ties with the racist “Alt-Right” movement.

Say NO to Brett Kavanaugh and to Donald Trump. Join our SaveSCOTUS.org allies and oppose Kavanaugh, and push for what is truly democratic: no nominee

Six Tips for Responding to Supreme Court Decisions


  1. Be cautious.

    Don’t comment until you’ve seen the facts and the lead party’s statement. Remember, the first statement you make will be the most powerful. Comment to shape the conversation, not argue with the opposition about what the decision means. Consider your audience and the big picture of what those who read your statement will take away from it, and remember that if you jump in and don’t have a well-thought out point of view, that’s likely to be what your audience will remember.

  2. Focus on what the case means to our shared values.

    Consider the decision through your audience’s eyes. 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, while providing detailed legal arguments only for audiences who want that. A great way to do this is to focus on values. Consider what the case suggests for the celebration or undermining of those values.

  3. Avoid jargon…

    In favor of plainspoken and accessible language that tells a story your audiences can digest, and that will spark action. Include stories, imagery, and metaphors that are memorable and stay with audiences longer than legal points.

  4. Try to comment on the case, not the court.

    If you don’t agree with a decision, it’s tempting to admonish the court for being out of touch. But remember that the Supreme Court is considering multiple cases impacting a range of issues across the social justice spectrum. Attacking the ideological profile of particular justices without discussing their alignment (or misalignment) of values in relationship to a decision can undercut a more favorable decision they may make on another issue. The way around this is to speak about what the case means to our shared values and national identity, and how decisions do or do not reflect those values. It may make sense to criticize the ruling, and specific justices’ opinions, but do leave room for the possibility that the court could rule more favorably on other cases. Try to refrain from comments that write off the court in its entirety.

  5. Don’t focus on what the decision isn’t.

    Discuss what it is. Explaining the legal details of what the case doesn’t mean is not as powerful as affirmatively stating what it does mean. Spending too much time telling audiences that the ruling does not outlaw abortion, for instance, only repeats the phrase and strengthens it in audiences’ minds.

  6. 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. Base audiences, in particular, will be fired up to do something whether in a celebratory or angry mood, so make sure to give them something concrete that they can do.

Rejecting Bigotry, Demanding Action

Shouting racist and anti-Semitic slurs, white supremacists brought hatred and violence to Charlottesville, VA, this weekend, culminating in the murder of Heather D. Heyer, an anti-racist activist. The hatred and attacks drew outrage, activism, and condemnation. But President Trump, incredibly, refused to name or condemn white supremacists, and blamed hatred, bigotry, and violence “on many sides”—a phrase he repeated twice. His statement two days later was vague, full of platitudes, and failed to call Ms. Heyer’s killing terrorism.

Protests, condemnations, and mourning must continue. Alongside these actions, it is important to call for leadership and concrete lasting change that includes, but goes far beyond, addressing this recent and terrible resurgence of white supremacist violence. We can’t remain caught in this moment of anger and disbelief. We have to continue our work to tell the story about what “America” really means.

Together with UnidosUS, The Opportunity Agenda completed public opinion and messaging research with this goal in mind: to tell a story of American diversity that reflects our values and our aspirations as a country stronger because of our myriad backgrounds, ethnicities, races, experiences – because of the parts of us that may make us different, but ultimately also make us stronger. This research provides guidance for those using their platforms to reject bigotry while demand action.

Lead with Values

Leading with shared values helps to persuade the disengaged and undecided while mobilizing the base of people who support equity, rights, and inclusion. Particularly important values here include Dignity, Respect for Human Rights, Equal Justice, and Diversity as one of our nation’s greatest Strengths.

Link diversity to problem solving, strength, and healthy communities rather than economic competition. Talk about how we need to take advantage of our source of strength in diversity. Be aspirational, positive, and talk about embracing our differences. And explicitly talk about those differences—e.g., “no matter what race someone is, where they come from, their religion, or whom they love.”

Consider these examples:

Our country’s strength stems from its diversity and the contributions made by men and women of different faiths, races, sexual orientations and political beliefs. America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal.

— Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and CEO, Merck

Mr. President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.

— U.S. Senator Corey Gardner (CO)

Our nation is defined by the march of progress. Our strength lies in our diversity. We must reject hate.

– U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (CA)

Name White Supremacy, Bigotry, Hate, and Terrorism

It’s important to accurately call out white supremacy and supremacists, racists and racism, Nazis and Nazism, bigotry, and hate where they exist.  Terms like “nationalism” and “alt-right” do not carry the power or accuracy of these more specific terms. Similarly, we should name “terrorism” wherever it occurs, and whoever the alleged perpetrators.  For example:

White supremacist violence is an unconscionable part of our nation’s history, but we cannot allow it to poison our future. Our nation’s leadership, on both sides of the aisle, must not only forcefully condemn it, but work actively and affirmatively to stop it.

—NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

What happened in Charlottesville is an act of terrorism pure and simple. This is one all too familiar to our country’s history. We’re standing with the peaceful protesters in Charlottesville, with our 1 million members across the country and with everyone tonight heartbroken like us. Let’s work together to ensure that tomorrow we don’t continue to replicate the horrors of the past.

—Color of Change

Call out the history and spectrum of systemic racism in this administration and beyond

While the events in Charlottesville were terrible and dramatic, bigotry, white supremacy and bias are imbedded in our political and other institutions in ways that must be called out and explicitly linked. They include:

  • Documented white supremacists in positions of power in the Trump Administration, including White House advisors Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka; Kris Kobach, vice chair of Trump’s election commission, who has documented connections to hate groups and a history of anti-immigrant and voter suppression activism, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has spent his career undermining civil rights, and according to congressional testimony “used the n-word and joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought they were ‘okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.’”
  • Donald Trump’s long and well-documented history of racism and bigotry, including denying that President Obama was born in the U.S.; contending that Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not rule on a case against him because of the Judge’s Mexican heritage; failing to disavow the support of Klansman David Duke; continually referring to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas”; disparaging Muslim Americans; labeling Mexican-Americans as “rapists” and other slurs.
  • The Trump Administration’s unconstitutional “Muslim ban,” held by federal courts to be intentionally discriminatory based on religion.
  • Action by the Trump Administration and Justice Department, led by Jeff Sessions, to abandon vigorous civil rights enforcement through consent decrees and other approaches; to challenge higher education diversity policies as discriminatory against whites; slashing civil rights enforcement by the Departments of Labor, Education, EPA, and other entities.
  • The Trump Administration’s bogus “Election Integrity” Commission, led by Kris Kobach, rooted in a falsehood about non-existent voting problems, which has sought invasive voting information from the states and is clearly designed to infringe the voting rights of citizens of color.
  • Attempts in many states to violate the voting rights of people of color, to exclude Muslims, and persecute immigrants, as well as the many hate crimes that have occurred around the country over the past year and have been ignored by this President and his administration.

Consider these examples of effective messaging:

President Trump’s press conference and tweets today are not enough. He must take responsibility for his role in propagating white nationalist ideology and fueling their movement. We call on him to immediately denounce the white supremacy movement by name and remove those who condone white supremacy, like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, from the White House. Their mere presence, and their prime roles in fanning these flames of bigotry, is a silent endorsement of this violence. There is only one side of hate, vulgarity, and violence.

—Muslim Advocates

I’m sure white supremacists remain reassured that they have a friend in the White House. A president who spews vitriol and heaps scorn on his enemies virtually every day – and who has no trouble calling Mexicans killers and “rapists” – still can’t break off the unholy alliance with bigots that he’s been cultivating since he first claimed President Obama’s birth certificate was bogus.

— Richard Cohen, Southern Poverty Law Center

Reject Attempts to Dodge or Divide

Call out attempts to divide us, without repeating the other side’s message. An effective message from our research includes:

Our country is changing, getting more and more diverse. It might make some people uncomfortable, but it is our reality, and a constant throughout our history. Politicians play on this fear, trying to divide us. They push unwise and divisive ideas like sending federal troops to police our cities, building a border wall, or singling out Muslim Americans because of their religion. If we take the bait on these, it makes our country weaker, not stronger. Our nation is stronger when every one of us can contribute and share ideas, and when everyone’s basic rights and dignity are respected. We need to embrace ideas that unify us as a diverse people and make our country stronger, and we need to speak out against discrimination and prejudice when we see it.

Lift up Positive Solutions

After condemning the problem, turn to positive solutions, including systemic change. This can include, for example, removing white supremacy and its proponents, root and branch, from the government; aggressive civil rights and anti-hate crimes enforcement; upholding voting rights and dismantling the discriminatory “election integrity commission”; abandoning wrongheaded attacks on university diversity policies; ending the “Muslim ban” and halting attacks on sanctuary cities.

Beyond the administration, it’s crucial to demand that all policymakers and institutions reject and proactively eradicate supremacist, discriminatory, and exclusionary policies. It is unacceptable for any leader—governmental, business, faith, or otherwise—to remain silent in the fact of this crucial moment for the country. We must demand that leaders and institutions throughout our nation take a stand against white supremacy and bigotry, including inside their institutions.

Building Values-based Messages

We recommend structuring messages with a Values, Problem, Solution, Action formula. For example:

Our country’s greatest strength is the diversity of our people and the principles of equal dignity and inclusion that unite us all.

The hatred and terrorism that we saw in Charlottesville are terrible reminders that white supremacy is a dangerous threat to our nation and our values. President Trump’s flawed and feeble response only reinforces the unacceptable pattern of bigotry in his rhetoric, among his advisors like Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach, and in policies like the “Muslim ban” and the undermining of voting rights.

The President must not only condemn white supremacy, bigotry, and violence, but also rid his administration of supremacists and their ideology, and commit to a policy agenda of equal justice and inclusion.

Contact President Trump today to demand clear action for unity and inclusion in his administration and throughout our country.

Ten Tips for Putting Intersectionality into Practice

We all deserve to have our voices heard; our faces and experiences reflected in culture and media; and our unique needs addressed through relevant policies. However, when we fail to incorporate intersectionality into our everyday practices and policies, we leave parts of our communities behind.

Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, recognizes that certain individuals face multiple and intersecting forms of structural discrimination. In this political climate marked by division and anxiety, it’s important for us to work together to incorporate different communities’ experiences with culture, policies, and media.

We’ve compiled ten tips for putting intersectionality into practice to promote opportunity for individuals and communities who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. This list can serve as a starting point for social justice advocates, policymakers, journalists, and researchers interested in incorporating an intersectional approach in their work.


Recognize that there are multiple forms of systemic discrimination that block people from realizing equal opportunity in the United States.

An intersectional approach acknowledges systemic discrimination due to sexual orientation and identity, gender and gender identity, race, economic status, immigration status, national origin, and ability, among other aspects of one’s identity, and that this systemic discrimination impacts access to opportunity. However, recognizing these multiple, systemic barriers to opportunity and multiple forms of prejudice is only the first step in adopting an intersectional approach.


Appreciate that forms of systemic discrimination intersect with each other and present unique challenges for affected individuals and communities.

In the real world, people are often subject not only to discrimination based on multiple aspects of their identity such as their race, gender, and immigration status, but also to discrimination unique to the “intersection” of their identities. So, for example, the stereotypes and obstacles faced by a Latina immigrant differ from those faced by women of other races, native-born Latinas, or immigrant Latino men. Intersectionality goes beyond acknowledging the multiple forms of discrimination, and recognizes that the different forms of discrimination may intersect with each other and result in overlapping and reinforcing barriers to opportunity. These overlap- ping systems result in unique forms of discrimination that only impact those in that particular community. An intersectional approach might include focusing on the unique challenges that those who sit at the intersections of overlapping systems of discrimination face, such as Black immigrants (who face both racial discrimination and discrimination because of their immigration status) or homeless transgender young people (who face discrimination because of their gender identity, age, and housing status).

IN ACTION: Reproductive care facilities in a rural town in Texas close because of state-wide abortion restrictions. An advocate committed to intersectionality would not only look at how  the restrictions impact women generally, but also how particular communities of women in Texas are impacted. For example, an advocate might write an op-ed about how low-income Mexican American women in a rural community in the South are unable to obtain reproductive care because they cannot afford to drive to the nearest medical provider for reproductive care. This op-ed could also describe how these women are hesitant to drive to the community with a facility because its sheriff is notorious for profiling and arresting individuals whom he suspects are undocumented based on their race. Writing about this community of women highlights how abortion restrictions uniquely affect this particular group due to the intersection of economic barriers and discrimination based on gender, race, and perceived immigration status. It is vital to highlight how they face multiple and intersecting barriers to their reproductive health beyond how women, generally, are impacted by the Texas restrictions. Further, advocates could organize and develop policy solutions to address the issues these women face to ensure that the discussion about reproductive rights includes the experiences of women who face particular forms of harm while connecting economic, racial, and immigrant structural discrimination. The benefit of this op-ed might include encouraging new alliances, promoting solutions that consider the unique perspectives of different stakeholders, and centering their voices and experiences in the discourses about the issue. Taking an intersectional approach allows social justice leaders to focus on solutions informed by the experiences and voices of these women; engages and activates new audiences in ways that resonate with their experiences and values; and supports and uplifts the voices of these women within alliances, at town halls, social media, and letters to the editor.

IN ACTION: In The Opportunity Agenda report, “Public Opinion and Discourse on the Inter- section of LGBT Issues and Race,” we looked at current public opinion and the role of ethnic and new media in both perpetuating and challenging myths and biases about LGBTQ people. The report examined the unique issues that LGBTQ people of color face and demonstrates an approach to research that is sensitive to intersectionality. Likewise, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza adopts an intersectional approach to policing issues affecting black people and other people of color across sexual identity, immigration, and gender by advocating for a movement against police violence that includes the voices of black queer people, black people who are undocumented, and black immigrants.

IN ACTION: In The Opportunity Agenda report, “Reproductive Justice: A Communications Overview,” we describe several case studies that illustrate how campaigns have successfully adopted an intersectional approach in obtaining reproductive justice wins. For example:

  • “Over the course of five years, from 2003 to 2008, the prevalence of rapes and sexual assaults on Indian reservations and the federal government’s dismal failure to investigate and prosecute these crimes went from being unknown to all but the victims and their families to being the subject of federal legislation. The issue’s movement from obscurity to the federal policy agenda happened in large part because of the efforts of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center (NAWHERC) and other Native women advocates, and communications played an important role. Their success was based on a communications strategy that combined four components:


    1. Raising awareness within the National Congress of American Indians, the principal advocacy organization for American Indian and Alaska Native rights;
    2. Partnering with a human-rights organization with the resources to investigate, issue a report, and generate media coverage;
    3. Positioning themselves as the go-to experts on the issue;
    4. Engaging in media advocacy.”


Respect the voice of those most affected by issues by centering their voices, respecting their goals for their communities, and stepping aside and allowing them to serve as spokespeople for their own causes.

Intersectionality requires recognition of the voice of those most directly impacted, because they are frequently excluded from mainstream conversations. Valuing voice means lifting up, promoting, and supporting the leadership and storytelling of those most affected by policies and practices and centering their substantive suggestions and values into any given project and media advocacy. Impacted communities have direct experience that makes them thought leaders in the movement for social justice. Valuing voice allows those who are affected by policies to play a substantial role in building their own story.

IN ACTION: Being formerly incarcerated in our society is, in and of itself, a particular identity that affects how an individual navigates life. The barriers to opportunity that system-involved people face are in many respects their own unique form of systemic discrimination. Criminal justice reformers should consider consulting formerly incarcerated individuals and others directly affected by arrests and imprisonment, such as family members, people on sex-related registries, and crime victims and survivors, before making criminal justice policies. For example, there has been growing awareness about the harmful practices that criminalize poverty through the incarceration of low-income individuals because they are unable to pay excessive civil court fines and fees. Projects focused on reforming these practices might consult judges and lawyers about local municipal court practices that criminalize poverty. This project could also include consultations with family members of women of color who have been incarcerated because they were unable to pay civil court fines or individuals who have been incarcerated and solicit their input for policy recommendations that respond to their unique challenges within the legal system.

IN ACTION: Policymakers should consult women before making reproductive health policies. The history of reproductive health movement in the United States is the perfect example of how important voice is. The movement started out as a pro-choice movement that arguably failed to adopt an intersectional approach until the onset of the reproductive justice movement, which made sure to consider the reproductive oppression of women of color, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, and others in vulnerable, marginalized situations when fighting for reproductive rights. The reproductive justice movement went beyond abortion rights and incorporated intersectionality to address issues of access to female reproductive health care, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ, sex worker rights, amongst many others. As a whole, the reproductive justice movement goes beyond the right to not have a child and includes the right to have children and the right to raise them in safe environments. In this way, the reproductive health movement transitioned from one dominated by the voice of middle-class, white women to include the voices of LGBTQ people, people of color, and low-income women.


Be inclusive and incorporate different perspectives when talking about your issues.

When speaking about issues, it is critical to recognize that there are multiple voices within a movement; that there is no singular way of experiencing an issue; and that various voices and perspectives need to be considered in order to make real, lasting, and equitable change. For example, when speaking about the need to promote accountable policing, advocates should be mindful to uplift the experiences of Native American individuals, transgender communities, and women to ensure that the movement is inclusive, as their experiences within the system are often different, play into different narratives, and require different policing solutions. The “success” of an intersectional approach may be as simple as ensuring different voices are included in the dominant discourse about an issue, or identifying ways that different communities experience policies and laws.

IN ACTION: Community activists who are concerned that an undocumented woman in their community with a prior arrest for shoplifting will be deported, might stage a direct action to develop a public narrative about the perils of increasing criminalization of the immigration system and to highlight how community members like this woman will be impacted. Following this action, they might organize community members to attend town hall meetings with their federal and local legislators, and host a Twitter chat to highlight that this country should be welcoming to immigrants and should give even those with past mistakes a second chance. Community members’ advocacy for this woman might include the voices of undocumented people who are college graduates and professionals who talk about their experiences being undocumented, but it should also be inclusive of individuals with different backgrounds to move beyond narratives of the “good immigrant” and the “deserving few.” Here, being intersectional ensures that we do not inadvertently throw anyone under the bus by promoting short-term objectives that undermine our long-term goal of expanding opportunity for everyone and respecting everyone’s dignity.


Acknowledge that individuals with intersectional identities may face unique challenges in how their families are perceived and in building and sustaining their families.

An intersectional approach recognizes the importance of family, and that families are defined by those creating and sustaining them. Assessing whether there are unique impacts on the family allows for policies that ensure that those they care for the most are protected. Furthermore, women often play an integral role as care providers to children and other family members, and it is important to recognize all family structures and kinds of parents regardless of sexual or gender identity, marital status, age or biological connection to children (in the case of adoptive families, grandparents raising kids, step-parents, etc.) in making this assessment.

IN ACTION: A reporter who covers criminal justice issues doing a profile of a black woman who has been wrongfully incarcerated might consider whether this woman was a primary caregiver prior to her incarceration. The reporter might consider whether the woman has lost child custody, and research whether parental termination rates are high in her community because women of color are being racially profiled. By doing so, the reporter is able to tell a systemic story about how families are also being impacted by racially discriminatory criminal justice practices and make the connection to how the incarceration of black women destabilizes families and jeopardizes child custody, particularly within families of color that may be facing challenges due to systemic discrimination. This story might include the perspective of family members, and consider the generational impact of criminal justice policies.


Ensure that data collection does not overlook the experiences of individuals with intersectional identities.

We should encourage our government to be transparent and accountable. One way to do this is to require data from government actors. This data can be disaggregated by age, race, religion, sex, gender, gender identity/expression, housing status, sexual orientation, HIV status, ethnicity, sexuality, immigration status, national origin, and religious affiliation, depending on the actor and the accountability needs of the community. Often data is unable to tell the story of communities that sit at the intersections because the data only focuses on singular aspects of their identity. Highlighting the importance of disaggregated data ensures that the experiences of communities with intersectional identities are not missing and can be uplifted. It protects the voices of those who are directly impacted by ensuring their unique experiences are recorded. It is also important to disaggregate data within groups—e.g., while Asian Americans generally fair relatively well in terms of educational outcomes, there are significant differences among Asian American nationalities, with Hmong, Laotian, and Vietnamese children facing particularly steep challenges. The “model minority” stereotype about Asian Americans tends to obscure this reality.

Researchers should be sensitive to the need for disaggregated data in public opinion research and in gathering research samples. Wherever possible, it is important to “oversample” groups (and the intersection of identities) that might not otherwise be represented in adequate numbers to draw statistically valid conclusions. This “oversample” is simply an appropriate sample of these groups, which allows researchers to make inferences about groups that are often silenced by more traditional sampling approaches.

IN ACTION: If a civilian review compliant board interested in addressing gender discrimination in policing publishes reports about women who have been subject to excessive force, but fails to publish disaggregated data about the instances of excessive force that involve Latina women or Asian women, these women with intersectional identities are not reflected in the data. This type of data collection effectively silences the experiences of individuals who face prejudice because of skin color, ethnicity, and gender.


Be open to thinking creatively about social justice issues, assessing how issues connect with seemingly unrelated topics, and considering how they may have unintended consequences for other areas.

Criminal justice issues are related to public health issues, and public health issues to poverty, and poverty to immigration and so on. Incorporating a truly intersectional approach requires routinely considering how various issues may be impacted, how they connect with each other, and whether one approach with one issue area will somehow undermine efforts by those working on a different, but intersecting issue area. Promoting access to opportunity requires deliberate consideration of how seemingly unrelated issues areas connect.

IN ACTION: The Immigrant Defense Project works to promote fairness and justice for immigrants in the United States and examines how issues within the criminal legal system have a unique impact on immigrants. Its work cuts across the issues of immigration and criminal justice.

IN ACTION: The Sex Workers Project is a project of the Urban Justice Center that works across the intersection of sex workers’ rights, human trafficking, policing, and LGBTQ rights. The project provides direct services to immigrant sex workers, who police frequently profile because of their appearance.

IN ACTION: Organizations that do not explicitly work across different issues may nonetheless form partnerships with organizations that work on issues that impact their communities. A group of lawmakers interested in providing bail funds for incarcerated women of color may develop a relationship with community organizations that focus on enhancing child welfare and monitoring group homes to develop a campaign to ensure that primary care providers are not incarcerated for minor offenses. These lawmakers might pass legislation that provides funds for organizations to promote collaborations that are intersectional. Funders can similarly provide funding, host convenings, and encourage groups to work in non-traditional ways.


Strive to collaborate with people and/or provide resources for people from different communities, issue areas, and sectors to promote transformative change.

Intersectionality should encourage cross-community, cross-sector and cross-issue collaborations, investing equally in each others’ issues, narrative goals and policy agendas. Activists, advocates, lawyers, artists, scholars, cultural workers, and strategists should work with each other collaboratively alongside those directly impacted. These types of collaborations encourage innovative solutions, expand networks, and encourage transformative change.

IN ACTION: The relationship between grassroots activists in Flint, scientists in Virginia, lawyers in Detroit, and a determined pediatrician from Michigan led to the public exposure of the Flint water crisis. Collaborations that allow individuals to work across disciplines and issue areas may lead to innovative findings, policy recommendations, and cultural works as well as a more complete understanding and eventual solution to the issue(s). Funders for social change should move beyond traditional models to promote collaborations that may bring together unlikely allies.

IN ACTION: Organizers from Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives and organizers for border communities, such as the Southern Border Communities Coalition, have been fighting against the harms of a militarized and weaponized police force. While in different spaces, these organizers’ ability to develop a shared narrative about the harms of militarized police in the face of an unaccountable police force may prove to be an effective way for building support against the increasing militarization of police. Furthermore, organizations that work with sex workers, such as the Sex Workers Project, might also speak out about militarized police and speak about their experiences with federal agents during raids, where militarized equipment is used in order to create a drumbeat about the problems associated with a militarized police.


Consider how discrimination and systemic inequality contribute to differing health outcomes and block access to healthy food, clean water, and fresh air.

The health of communities that face intersectional forms of discrimination is often overlooked. One practical way to put intersectionality into practice is to ask whether the particular health needs of individuals and communities that face overlapping and intersecting forms of oppression are being met. Looking at health data in terms of the intersections of race, ethnicity, and gender, for example, might reveal that Afro-Latinas are experiencing unique challenges that are different from Black or Latino communities or from Afro-Latino men. Similarly, Asian American women face unique risks of ovarian cancer and screening methods developed for white women don’t meet Asian American women’s health needs.

IN ACTION: After Hurricane Katrina, it came to light that a Vietnamese community had been living in a part of New Orleans particularly prone to water contamination, and were doubly hit by the floods. This was having adverse health effects, but it was harder for them to get help because, due to language barriers, they weren’t as aware of how to access health care and there weren’t enough translators.


While working in collaboration, highlight the importance of coming together as a community to achieve equal opportunity.

Intersectionality should highlight the importance of community. Community is a salient value for many Americans. Intersectionality recognizes this connection to community and amplifies the importance of ensuring that all members of the community are respected and enjoy access to opportunity. We should strive to include everyone in our work toward promoting social justice. We are all in the fight together and should develop narratives that ensure that none of us get left behind. Building community and encouraging alliances, coalitions, and looking out for each other will help us solve problems.

Sex Workers Rights, Workers Rights, & Human Trafficking


This report examines social media discussions of sex work, human trafficking, and workers rights between 1st January 2014 and 30th September 2016, with a specific focus on the volume and sentiment of social media content over time as well as audience interests and demographics. Our analysis presents several important implications for stakeholders and advocates seeking to develop communications strategy around these issues.

In recent years, as the anti-trafficking movement has galvanized, there has often been a failure to acknowledge the voices and perspectives of sex workers and other communities in vulnerable situations. This oversight has presented far reaching implications not only for sex workers and their experiences with the criminal justice system, but also for how engaged audiences discuss these issues online. Preliminary research conducted by Fenton Communications, which examined discussions of sex work and human trafficking on Twitter, found that two competing narratives currently shape online discussions of sex work and human trafficking — a pro-sex work or decriminalization narrative, which advocates for the decriminalization of sex work and the recognition of sex workers rights, and an opposing criminalization of sex work narrative, which generally centers discussion on the trafficking of women and children. In order to effectively build a strategy that fights for the dignity and rights of all workers, advocates and other stakeholders must adopt a holistic approach that recognizes the pressing need to address human trafficking without undermining the efforts and rights of sex workers.

In this report, we provide guidance and advice to advocates seeking to better understand discussions of human trafficking, sex workers rights, and workers rights in general. It begins with an overview of key findings and concludes with guidance and recommendations for audience engagement and online outreach.

About The Opportunity Agenda

The Opportunity Agenda was founded in 2006 with the mission of building the national will to expand opportunity in America. Focused on moving hearts, minds, and policy over time, the organization works with social justice groups, leaders, and movements to advance solutions that expand opportunity for everyone. Through active partnerships, The Opportunity Agenda synthesizes and translates research on barriers to opportunity and corresponding solutions, uses communications and media to understand and influence public opinion, and identifies and advocates for policies that improve people’s lives. To learn more about The Opportunity Agenda, go to our website at www.opportunityagenda.org


The Opportunity Agenda wishes to thank and acknowledge the many people who contributed their time, energy, and expertise to the research and writing of this report. The social media analysis and recommendations were researched and written by Lucy Odigie-Turley and Julie Fisher-Rowe. The research was supervised and edited by Juhu Thukral. We also want to express our great appreciation to Margo Harris, who edited and proofread the report, and Ross Mudrick for providing publication and editing assistance.

Special thanks to our partner, US Human Rights Network, who provided feedback and support through the drafting of this research.


Analysis of social media data was conducted using Crimson Hexagon, a leading social media analytics software that provides access to publicly available social media data including, but not limited to, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogs, forums/popular message boards such as Reddit, mainstream news article comments, reviews, and YouTube comments. Crimson Hexagon enables users to create monitors1 for any topic or set of phrases and establish customized timeframes for data analysis. Once a monitor is established, Crimson Hexagon’s algorithm, created by Harvard University professor Gary King, categorizes relevant social media data—identifying content volume trends, patterns in conversation, demographics, sentiment shift over time, and audience segment interests/affinities. Interests and affinities are generated by analyzing the social media habits of audiences partaking in particular online discussions (i.e., what brands, topics, or media sources this audience segment tends to share) to generate a list of interests, which can then be compared to other audience segments. Crimson Hexagon’s demographics are calculated using a probabilistic approach that incorporates census data with publicly available data.

To gain a more holistic understanding of narratives concerning human trafficking, sex work, and workers rights online, we created two separate buzz monitors2. The first monitor examined online discussions of both human trafficking and sex workers rights in order to identify how these two issues currently intersect and which narratives tend to dominate. This dual issue monitor included the phrases “sex work,” “sex workers rights,” “trafficking,” “human trafficking,” “end trafficking,” and a number of other related terms. The second monitor examined online discussions of workers rights independently of discussions of human trafficking and sex work. This monitor included phrases such as “workers rights,” “rights of workers,” and “workers rights movement.”

The two-year timeframe enabled us to examine longitudinal data and identify more long-term patterns in the data. In the overall data population (which consisted of 13,832,463 posts) the majority of analyzed data originated from Twitter, with a total of 9,273,500 Twitter posts; 194,151 posts came from Facebook, and a total of 2,574,052 posts originated from popular blogs, news comment sections, and Google Plus comments. Sampled social media posts are accompanied by a Klout Score, which is a number between 1 and 100 that represents how influential the person sharing the content is. The more influential a person (in terms of share of audience and reach), the higher the Klout Score.

Key Findings

  • Discussions of sex work and, to a lesser extent, human trafficking have shifted since 2014. There are clear signs that the sex workers rights movement has gained some ground among key online audiences. Although social media discussions concerning sex work and human trafficking are still dominated by references to “sex trafficking” and narratives that tend to conflate sex work with human trafficking and child abuse, trends indicate that narratives centered on sex workers rights (as a separate topic removed from discussions of human trafficking) are becoming more widespread online.
  • A number of the top influencers on Twitter3 are advocates of sex workers rights, again suggesting that the pro–sex workers rights narrative is gaining traction among social media audiences. At the same time, much of the content shared by the most influential anti–human trafficking advocates makes reference to “sex trafficking” and “prostitution,” a finding that suggests more outreach and messaging is needed specifically targeting this population of advocates.
  • Amnesty International’s pro–sex workers rights declaration resulted in a significant spike in discussions concerning sex work and human trafficking, demonstrating the important role some NGOs are playing in shaping narratives concerning sex work and human trafficking. Amnesty’s August 2015 intervention may provide an important model for other organizations or advocates seeking to shift the narrative on sex work and human trafficking.

There is significant overlap between the focus and interest of online audiences discussing workers rights and audiences engaging in discussions related to human trafficking and sex workers rights. Analysis of online discussions of workers rights, disaggregated from discussion of human trafficking or sex work, reveals that audiences for workers rights are already incorporating many of the core values/goals of anti-trafficking and sex workers rights’ advocates—specifically, an emphasis on human rights and gender equality. This finding suggests there is an important opening for advocates seeking to foster cross-issue support and engagement among key audiences.

1 A saved search or query is referred to as a monitor.
2 A “buzz monitor” is one of the three monitor options Crimson Hexagon offers. A buzz monitor allows users to examine online conversations across social media platforms and also enables users to track and gauge the volume of a conversation over time (Crimson Hexagon, 2016). Specifically, among audiences who engage in Twitter discussions related to human trafficking and sex work.
3 Specifically, among audiences who engage in Twitter discussions related to human trafficking and sex work.

SCOTUS Decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, upholding the University of Texas’s consideration of racial diversity in its admissions process. In a 4-3 decision, the Court held that carefully crafted admissions policies that consider racial diversity as one factor in creating a well-rounded student body are constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause.

This is a major victory for universities, students, and our nation. In communicating about the case, our messaging should promote the importance of diversity policies to the country, make clear that the decision is consistent with Court precedent in upholding the compelling state interest in diversity, and praise the majority’s recognition of the educational benefits of diversity. After reviewing the justices’ decisions, it may also be appropriate to critique the dissenting opinion as a short-sighted interpretation that would have held our increasingly diverse nation back at a critical time.

More broadly, our communications about diversity policies and this decision should emphasize the following themes:

  • Expanding Opportunity: It’s in everyone’s interest to see that talented students from all backgrounds get a close look and a fair shot, and have the chance to overcome obstacles to educational opportunity.
  • The Benefits of Diversity: Learning with (and from) people from different backgrounds and perspectives benefits our students, our communities, our work force, our military and our country as a whole.
  • Preventing Racial Isolation: It is important that schools are able to build student bodies that foster meaningful diversity that does not isolate any one group.
  • Our National Interest: Fostering educational diversity and greater opportunity is critical to our nation’s future in a global economy and an increasingly interconnected world.
  • Broad Support: Diversity policies, and the UT policy in particular, are supported by a broad cross-section of American society, including military leaders, major corporations, small business owners, educators, and students from all backgrounds.

Core Messages

  • This is a victory for equal opportunity and the future of our nation. We are thrilled the Court ruled in favor of equal opportunity in higher education and recognized again that it is critical that schools remain able to create diverse and inclusive student bodies. It’s in our national interest that talented students from a variety of backgrounds get a close look and a fair chance at overcoming obstacles to higher education. Providing a diverse learning environment benefits students, our workforce, and the country as a whole.
  • Fostering diversity and expanding opportunity reaffirmed. The Fisher decision is another in a line of recent Supreme Court decisions that reaffirms the importance of diversity as a compelling state interest as settled law. The Court has again held that it is Constitutional for universities to craft carefully, narrowly tailored admissions plans designed to ensure the educational benefits of diversity for all students.
  • Universities, businesses and other institutions should recommit to expanding opportunity for all. UT’s plan is one that was carefully crafted to meet the goal of ensuring the educational benefits of diversity on its campus. Many students of color face obstacles to success, often without resources available to other students. When students do well despite those obstacles, universities should be able to offer them a chance to succeed. In this way, universities and all students benefit from the exchange of ideas and perspectives that diverse student bodies bring. We encourage America’s educational, business, and other institutions to engage in similar thoughtful and fair planning around ways to foster diverse participation.

Addressing Questions

When speaking to the press, remember that your goal is to get your message out, not to answer their questions. In addressing potentially divisive questions from reporters and others, we typically recommend responding briefly to the question and then pivoting back to your main point.

Q. Do universities have to revise their policies in light of this decision?

A: “Whenever there’s a Supreme Court decision on a higher education topic it’s wise for universities to take a look at their policies to make sure they comply, and this case is no different. We are confident that universities across the country will undertake a thoughtful, lawful process like the University of Texas did to create policies that ensure the educational benefits of diversity for all students.

Q: Does the Court’s opinion create a new legal standard for colleges and universities seeking to implement diversity admissions programs?

A: No. The Court reaffirmed the importance of diversity as a compelling state interest and upheld the use of race in a carefully crafted admissions plan designed to ensure the educational benefits of diversity for all students.

Q: Don’t these policies hurt Asian American students?

A: Asian Americans, like all students, benefit from an application process that considers all of each candidate’s qualities, including factors such as language spoken at home. Getting rid of affirmative action would hurt many Asian American applicants who continue to face educational barriers. Asian Americans also benefit from affirmative action because it enables them to learn in diverse environments with students of different backgrounds and perspectives. These benefits extend beyond the school environment, so that students of all races who become leaders, employers, and co-workers are better equipped to lead, interact with, and value the contributions of people of all races. Indeed, Asian Americans are themselves an extremely diverse group, from a range of economic backgrounds, experiences, and national origins. And like all of us, they both contribute to and benefit from the national diversity that helps make America.

Q: What does this mean for affirmative action cases in the pipeline?

A: This decision is one in a line of recent decisions that reaffirms the importance of diversity as a compelling state interest. We believe that universities that carefully craft their admissions plans to ensure the educational benefits of diversity for all will continue to be working within the bounds of the Constitution.

This document was prepared by The Opportunity Agenda, the Asian American Justice Center | AAJC, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights/The Leadership Conference Education Fund, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Talking about the Supreme Court’s Decision in Fisher v. University of Texas

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Fisher v. University of Texas, upholding the University of Texas’s diversity admission policy. In a 4 to 3 decision, the Court held that carefully crafted admissions policies that consider racial diversity as one factor in creating a well-rounded student body is constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause.

This is a major victory for universities, social justice, and our nation. In communicating about the case, our messaging should promote the importance of diversity policies to the nation and praise the Court’s recognition of their importance. After reviewing the Justices’ decisions, it may also be appropriate to critique the dissenting opinion as short-sighted interpretations that would have held our increasingly diverse nation back at a critical time.

Topline Message:

Today’s decision is good news for all Americans. We are thrilled that four members of the Court ruled in favor of equal opportunity in higher education and recognized that, in this post-University of Missouri America, it is critical that schools remain able to encourage diverse and inclusive student bodies. As the leading opinions noted, the national interest demands that talented students from a variety of backgrounds get a close look and a fair chance at overcoming obstacles to higher education. Providing a diverse learning environment benefits students, our workforce, and the country as a whole. Indeed, the Court’s decision makes clear that more of America’s educational, business, and other institutions should be pursuing fair and thoughtful ways of fostering diverse participation.

More broadly, our communications about diversity policies and this decision should emphasize the following themes:

  • Expanding Opportunity: It’s in everyone’s interest to see that talented students from all backgrounds get a close look and a fair shot, and have the chance to overcome obstacles to educational opportunity.
  • The Benefits of Diversity: Learning with (and from) people from different backgrounds and perspectives benefits our students, our communities, our work force, our military and our country as a whole.
  • Preventing Racial Isolation: In a post-Ferguson, post-University of Missouri America, it is more important than ever that schools build student bodies that foster meaningful diversity that does not isolate any one group.
  • Our National Interest: Fostering educational diversity and greater opportunity is critical to our nation’s future in a global economy and an increasingly interconnected world.
  • Broad Support: Diversity policies, and the UT policy in particular, are supported by a broad cross-section of American society, including military leaders, major corporations, small business owners, educators, and students from all backgrounds.

Finally, while hailing the Fisher II decision, communicators should note that the Court’s affirmance of the Fifth Circuit’s decision in U.S. v. Texas by an equally-divided court, while creating no precedent, will exact significant hardship on families, communities, the economy and our nation. Praise for Fisher II should not spill over into praise for the Court in general, given today’s mixed outcomes.


Usher’s new song and interactive video experience, “Chains,” are powerful statements on racial injustice and police violence. Together, they offer an important platform and news hook to build support and push for change. To maximize the impact of these compelling artistic works, this memo suggests ways of talking about the works’ themes, which can inspire supporters, persuade skeptical audiences, and counter opponents.

Click the image to watch “Chains” on Tidal

Sample Messages

We recommend framing messages in terms of Value, Problem, Solution, and Action. For example:

“Usher’s new song and video are a powerful call for equal justice and police reform that echoes the hopes and aspirations of millions of people around the country. We need to work together to answer that call.”


“Our justice system is supposed to keep all communities safe and treat all people fairly—to give everyone equal justice.”


“But there are too many cities and towns across the country where that’s just not the reality. In too many places, police officers are carrying dangerous stereotypes, violent tactics and, sometimes, tanks and military weapons. That’s bad for everyone, and for our nation.”


“The good news is that there’s a lot our country can do to protect equal justice and safety for everyone. We have to challenge the stereotypes that we all carry with us, sometimes without even realizing it. This is especially true when police hold the power to determine the freedom, life, and death of so many black Americans.

“What’s making a difference when it comes to police bias and violence is better training, better information, real accountability for police abuse, and working to revitalize and support communities instead of just policing them. Young people, especially, have to be part of the conversation and part of the solution. Where that happens, it saves lives and builds stronger communities.”


“Contact your police department to make sure they are using proper training, accountability, and community policing.” OR “Sign the ColorofChange.org petition to create a federal database of police killings: http://act.colorofchange.org/sign/policeforcedatabase/

Additional Messages

  • The problem is widespread across our country. In too many places, police are more likely to stop, search, and detain people of color than white people in the exact same circumstances. They are more likely to use excessive force and to shoot and kill unnecessarily, yet they are far less likely to be held accountable for their actions.
  • We all need equal justice and freedom from police violence. That means both universal protections and addressing the particular types of discrimination and violence facing men and women of color, transgender people, immigrants, and other communities.
  • We know how to fix this. Experts and experience around the country point to concrete policies that can serve and protect all people and communities.
  • Racial profiling harms all Americans. It violates the American value 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 effective community policing that upholds equal justice and protects public safety. Police departments need training, rules, and oversight to avoid racial stereotyping. Congress must pass the End Racial Profiling Act to ensure fair and effective law enforcement that serves all Americans.
  • Sample Tweet: “New @Usher song #CHAINS a call to end police violence and discrimination. Take action by… http://chains.tidal.com/”
  • Sample Tweet: “Look in the eyes of victims of racial injustice and hear #CHAINS by @Usher @Nas @BibiBourelly_ #DontLookAway http://chains.tidal.com”

Suggested Answers to Frequent Questions about Usher’s Song “Chains

Q: The song includes the refrain “light it on fire.” Isn’t that likely to incite violence of the kind we’ve seen in cities around the country?

A: “Light it on fire” is a call to shine a light on what’s happening and propel our leaders to take action. It’s the torch being passed to a new generation of young activists who are calling for peace and justice. The refrain “light it on fire” embraces all of those ideas.

Q: #BlackLivesMatter activists have criticized people like Martin O’Malley for using the phrase “All Lives Matter.” Do you think “All Lives Matter” is a racist term, or do you embrace it?

A: This is a human rights issue. Because everyone’s life is precious and because it’s black lives that are most at risk of police abuse and violence, we have to say loudly and proudly that Black Lives Matter.

Q: Some commentators have pointed out that far more black people are murdered every year by other black people than by police officers. Why don’t the song and video focus on that?

A: “Chains” talks about many types of violence and injustice. But when the police shoot and kill based on race and stereotypes, there’s an urgent need to address those actions directly.

Q: The song talks about shooting in church. Is that a reference to the Charleston church shooting?

A: Unfortunately, we’ve seen shootings in churches, in parks, on college campuses, and lots of other places. The shooting in Charleston was an especially terrible event, because it was motivated by racial hatred. The bottom line is that we have to make guns less available to people who want to hurt others. We have to get to know each other better across race, gender, and sexual identity, so that that violent impulse starts to fade.

Q: The song says “we’re still in chains” and “try to put me in chains.” Do you feel that black people are still enslaved in the United States? Have we made progress?

A: There has been progress since slavery and Jim Crow, but we still have a long way to go. Discrimination and stereotypes are still holding our country back. They deny people of color the opportunity for equal justice and access to quality education, housing, and well-paying jobs.

Selected Facts on Discrimination, Police Violence, and Equal Opportunity

The following facts and data can be used to support comments about the issues discussed in Chains:

  • African Americans killed by the police are twice as likely to be unarmed than are whites. The Guardian found “that 32% of black people killed by police in 2015 were unarmed, as were 25% of Hispanic and Latino people, compared with 15% of white people killed.”1
  • African Americans make up only 13% of the U.S. population and 14% of unlawful drug users, but are 37% of the people arrested for drug-related offenses in America.2
  • The job’s not done, but we’re seeing an important turnaround on discriminatory stop-and-frisk practices in New York City—as a result of protest, lawsuits, and action by the mayor and police commissioner. In 2013, police stopped New Yorkers 191,558 times. People of color bore the brunt of those stops: 56% were black, 29% were Latino, and 11% were white. So far this year, the stop-and-frisk numbers are way down (only 13,604 stops by the end of summer 2015), but black folks were still disproportionately stopped (56% of stops but just 25% of the NYC population.3; Alongside those changes, major crimes in New York City are near record lows.4;
  • The Los Angeles Police Department has made some important progress from the bad old days of the 1980s and ‘90s. There’s more to be done, but a positive example is a special LAPD unit that works with mentally ill folks in crisis to provide help and treatment instead of arrest or deadly force.5
  • The U.S. Sentencing Commission reported that African Americans receive 10% longer sentences than white people through the federal system for the same crimes. Between December 2007 and September 2011, the most recent period covered in the Commission’s report, sentences of black men were 19.5% longer than those for similarly situated white men.6;

Communication Themes:

Lead with Values: Lift up the values and vision that motivate the song, video, and campaign – a society that keeps all communities safe and upholds equal justice and opportunity for all; commonsense approaches that respect the dignity and voice of all people and communities.

Talk about Problems with the System: Underline the systemic problems, not just individual injustices – a system infected with racial bias and stereotypes that turns to force and violence as a first resort instead of a last resort and, too often, lacks compassion or common sense.

Highlight Solutions: Point to the concrete solutions – policies as well as individual behavior change – described by the short film and by activists around the country. Training, monitoring, and accountability for police officers, for example, should go hand in hand with questioning our own biases and connecting across lines of difference.

Drive Audiences to Action: Always tell audiences what they can do to help solve the problem – joining an online campaign, contacting an elected official, donating money for change, or getting the word out through social media.

Additional  Communication Resources

Additional communications tools, research, and examples include:


1. The Guardian, Black Americans killed by police twice as likely to be unarmed as white peoplee

2. DoSomething.org, 11 Facts About Racial Discrimination

3. NYCLU Stop and Frisk Data

4. CBS New York, July 2015; Major NYC Crimes On Pace For Record Low In 2015

5. 89.3 KPCC; Police and the mentally ill: LAPD unit praised as model for nation

6. Wall Street Journal, 2013; Racial Gap in Men’s Sentencing

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