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

Autonomy

VALUE

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.

PROBLEM

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.

SOLUTION

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.

ACTION

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.

Opportunity

VALUE

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

PROBLEM

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.

SOLUTION

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.

ACTION

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.


[1] https://reproductiverights.org/maps/what-if-roe-fell/.

[2] Mitchell’s Texas Right to Life Amicus Brief. https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/19/19-1392/185344/20210729162610813_Dobbs%20Amicus%20FINAL%20PDFA.pdf

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

[4] https://law.marquette.edu/poll/2022/05/25/supreme-court-issues-press-release/

[5] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/11/growing-share-of-americans-say-supreme-court-should-base-its-rulings-on-what-constitution-means-today/

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

Public Opinion About Paid Family and Medical Leave

Literature Review & Effective Messaging

Introduction

Our nation can and should be a place where everyone enjoys full and equal opportunity. We are strongest when we all have a fair chance to achieve our full potential, contributing fully to our economic engine and social fabric. When everyone has the tools to support themselves and their families, the benefits flow to individuals, communities, and our nation as a whole.

Key to that full and fair opportunity is the ability to pursue gainful work while maintaining a safe and healthy life for one’s children and family. Yet, in our changing economy, that opportunity is increasingly at risk as Americans must make the unacceptable choice between caring for sick family members and earning the full salary needed to support that family. Access to paid family and medical leave determines whether parents can care for a new baby or sick child, whether a dedicated worker can also dedicate time to an ailing or dying elderly parent, and whether a family health emergency will also become an economic catastrophe. Despite significant public support, political will has been lacking, leaving working families and national economic opportunity at risk. According to the National Compensation Study, only 14% of civilian workers had access to paid leave in 2016. Federal law has remained stagnant on the issue since the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires unpaid leave, passed in 1993, and state and local progress has been slow and uneven. The lack of paid family and medical leave burdens families of all backgrounds. It also worsens patterns of unequal opportunity based on race, ethnicity, gender, and income.

On behalf of the Opportunity Agenda, Lake Research Partners (LRP) conducted a review of research studies related to paid family and medical leave. This literature review synthesizes and summarizes relevant opinion research findings about attitudes toward paid family and medical leave. This report provides a detailed overview of gaps in existing internal and external public opinion research alongside a summary of what messages, messengers, mediums, and platforms have been most effective to date.

Findings

  1. Current Paid Family and Medical Leave Legislation
  • States are leading the way in implementing legislation to provide paid caregiving, parental, and medical leave.
  • On the national level, both Democratic and Republican legislators want federal paid family and medical leave legislation but disagree over what to cover and how to fund it.
  • Democratic voters tend to be more supportive of paid family and medical leave than Republican voters. However, there is a gender gap among Republicans.
  1. Attitudes on Paid Family and Medical Leave: Small Business Community
  • Small business owners are supportive of paid family and medical leave, which could give them a competitive advantage, but many would prefer that employers be allowed to choose whether to provide paid family and medical leave.
  • Polls show that there is a great deal of support for paid family and medical leave in the United States and the support is bipartisan.
  • In addition to supporting a national paid leave policy, most Americans are also willing to contribute to funding for such a program.
  • Insights from dyads and focus groups conducted by Lake Research Partners suggest there may be opportunities to build support for paid family and medical leave among women of color and Independent/weak Republican women.
  • Working families respond best to messaging around paid family and medical leave that talks about helping your family and being there for them and that addresses the caregiving needs a person may have beyond simply parental leave.
  1. Attitudes on Paid Family and Medical Leave: Caregivers
  • As the elderly population continues to grow, so does the number of people who are involved in informal caregiving of older family members. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16% of the employed civilian population provided unpaid care to someone with an aging-related condition.
  • A growing number of Americans are recognizing the need to provide paid leave to care for an elderly family member who is seriously ill, injured, or disabled.
  • Access to paid family leave has demonstrable economic impacts, and lack of access has consequences.
  1. Attitudes on Paid Family and Medical Leave: Communities of Color & Non-Traditional Families
  • A disproportionate number of those in communities of color do not have access to paid leave. A national paid leave policy would ensure equal access to paid leave.
  • FMLA does not recognize same-sex relationships, so employers are not required to provide leave to care for a same-sex partner or spouse. Access to paid leave is a major concern for LGBTQ workers.
  1. Effective Messaging for Paid Family and Medical Leave
  • Determining the best messaging and language that will move voters from support to action on a national paid family and medical leave policy is critical as both Democrats and Republicans prepare for the 2020 election cycle.
  • Voters respond well to several of our key values in messaging, including the importance of family, the freedom to do what is right, and the recognition that caregiving is part of life.
  • Statements that focus on the positive impact of paid leave on economic security and not having to choose between giving care and getting a paycheck have a powerful and positive effect on voters and activists. Word choices like “workplace” or “public” do not affect results much.
  • The words used in a message, especially the first few words or “kickoff phrase,” can increase or decrease support. It is important to know how different audiences respond to particular words and statements.

Working with Cultural Influencers

10 Tips to Spark Change

Our research report, Power of Pop: The Case of the Cultural Influencers, underscores the potential of celebrity not only to spotlight social issues, but also to spark meaningful dialogue and action that can lead to lasting policy and social change. These tips are intended for those who work with cultural influencers of all kinds – not only luminaries in entertainment and sports, but also the wide range of influencers who are in a position to harness the energy of fandom and media to inspire large audiences and help shift cultural norms. We hope these tips help you increase your impact for social change.

1. Seek out guidance from frontline advocates. The people most directly impacted by an issue can provide essential expertise to make an influencer’s efforts meaningful. Find groups that are led by or deeply embedded with frontline communities and listen to their policy priorities and proposed solutions. What are their goals and how do they want people to feel, think, and talk about the issue?

2. Determine the influencer’s unique role. To determine where an influencer could add the most value, look for the intersection of: 1) the cultural and political changes needed to get to the desired solutions, and 2) the ways in which the influencer can contribute given their interests, skill sets, and platforms. For instance, if the debate around an issue is being dominated by destructive perspectives, how could they help reframe the conversation? If an issue is not gaining broad attention, how could they put it in the spotlight? If an issue is in the public eye but not broadly supported, how could they create the cultural symbols or stories that will help define the issue and build its popularity?

3. Choose the influencer’s tone and approach. If an influencer is a public figure, then what they say or do in public impacts their brand. It is useful to carefully consider what about their brand could make them especially effective. If an influencer is known for playing a universally loved character in films, they might be in a position to help bridge political divides. If an influencer is known for a character (or previous personal statements) that identifies them as having a particular worldview, they might be in a position to
mobilize supporters to take action. Decide in advance what kind of tone and approach would align with an influencer’s existing brand or would intentionally expand that brand in directions the influencer would want. Remember that maintaining influence with an audience is usually dependent on choosing a tone and approach that is congruent to this brand.

4. Identify your target audience and where to reach them. Different platforms have the potential to reach different audiences. It is important to be clear on your goals in order to determine which audiences an influencer might aim to target. For example, if an influencer’s goal is to raise awareness about the impact of mass incarceration, and their fan base is made up primarily of communities who have already been deeply impacted by that issue, then they might look at engaging platforms that could reach beyond their fan base, (i.e., social media or events hosted by other influencers). If the goal is to reframe how people think about an issue familiar to their audience, such as rethinking bail reform, then engaging platforms that target their fan base, (i.e., fan sites or social media channels) would be the more effective strategy

5. Establish shared values. Research shows that audiences are more receptive to unfamiliar arguments when they are framed with shared values. Values are our most fundamental principles and they become a means of establishing a human connection that can cut through stereotypes and partisan suspicion. Facts and figures can be tuned out or disregarded, but values activate emotions, invite common ground, and open minds to new ideas. Influencers should identify the values that motivate them, and lead with those values when talking about the issues. It would also be worthwhile to explore how an influencer might use their creative skills and platforms to encourage or model those values.

6. Plan ahead how you will center frontline voices. It can be tempting for the media and public attention to focus on an influencer’s actions rather than the issues they are trying to raise. It is important to take extra steps to incorporate the voices and perspectives of those traditionally overlooked or excluded from public discourse and ensure that credit is given to grassroots activists and/or community organizers who are already leading the charge in social change efforts. Partnering with frontline groups – which requires building relationships and trust – can be very helpful in deciding whose voices and/or which stories should be centered.

7. Find allies. For most social and political change efforts, there is power in numbers. Find like-minded influencers who would be willing to join in a coordinated effort, or at least amplify when the influencer decides to speak out or take action on an issue. Find organizations and activists who would be willing to coordinate with and/or publicly support the influencer. Lining up these allies can be especially important, not only to increase the impact of the message, but also to help protect the influencer from becoming a target for industry or public reprisals.

8. Link the influencer’s personal story to the larger story. Authenticity matters. Our research shows that news coverage favors individual storytelling by directly-impacted influencers. If an influencer isn’t directly impacted, they should find ways to share what about their own experience compels them to support an issue. Additionally, personal stories should link to systemic issues. In telling the story of one child’s family who isn’t able to pay for a needed surgery, an audience might become motivated to provide an individual solution, solving only that one family’s problem. But to motivate an audience around a systemic solution, (i.e., universal healthcare), an influencer should link that child’s story to the larger issue: the fact that millions of children do not have healthcare coverage.

9. Write a mission or artist statement. An initial written or artistic statement laying out an influencer’s reasons for speaking out will likely become a foundation for future discussion. If an influencer takes subsequent actions, the media will likely continue to quote the original statement, which will help frame the debate as long as the influencer garners public attention for the issue. When drafting a statement, feedback should be sought from various sources, with priority placed on incorporating the feedback of those directly impacted: individuals and communities regularly excluded from national discourse. Our “Establish Shared Values” tip above may provide valuable guidance for drafting a statement.

10. Make use of replicable symbols or imagery. The power of symbolism and imagery has emerged as a key cultural tool to keep issues in the public eye and motivate supporters to take action. Symbols and easily replicable content create avenues and inspiration for widespread participation. Think about how many athletes have now taken a knee to uplift racial justice, or how many people are now using the “Wakanda Forever” salute. A symbol can boil down a complex idea into something that is replicable, digestible, and accessible. When an influencer is planning what action to take, consider how they can integrate an element that supporters can replicate. It is important to take extra steps to incorporate the voices and perspectives of those traditionally overlooked or excluded from public discourse.

The Case of the Cultural Influencers: Colin Kaepernick, Jimmy Kimmel, and #MeToo

Executive Summary

In recent years, the power of popular entertainment to inspire large audiences and shift cultural norms has become a topic of growing interest in the social advocacy space. A large body of research has been dedicated to tracking representation trends in film and television, and a growing cohort of organizations provides practical recommendations for those seeking to leverage popular culture in their advocacy work. While existing research has provided critical insights into the effectiveness of high-profile spokespeople in short-term campaigns and fundraising, significant gaps in the literature exist in terms of in-depth analysis of more symbolic actions on the part of high-profile individuals as well as measurements of the impact of celebrity influencers on long-term narrative shift.

Under which circumstances do cultural influencers have the greatest ability to achieve their goals?

Currently there is a pressing need to better understand the potential of high-profile influencers to not only draw attention to social issues but also spark meaningful dialogue and actions that lead to lasting social and policy change. As part of our Power of Pop series, this current research examines three cases of high-profile entertainers and athletes speaking out or advocating for a social and/or policy change. The cases include: Case 1: Colin Kaepernick and the Take A Knee protest Case 2: Jimmy Kimmel and the healthcare debate Case 3: Me Too and Time’s Up movement This research aims to better understand the unique influence of high-profile athletes and entertainers and provide practical recommendations for those seeking to work directly or indirectly with cultural influencers to shift narratives and effect policy change. Key questions explored in the research include:

  • Under which circumstances do cultural influencers have the greatest ability to achieve their goals?
  • Are cultural influencers’ interventions best suited for long-term cultural change, short term policy shifts, or other types of impact?
  • What types of celebrity intervention have the most impact?
  • How can social justice advocates best support/leverage the influence of cultural influencers both through direct and indirect contact?

To evaluate the effectiveness of the range of strategies and issues covered in our selected case studies, we established the following criteria for success:

  • If the action or sets of actions had a clearly stated goal, to what extent was this goal achieved?
  • Was there a marked impact on the national discourse, in both media coverage and public discussions of the issue the cultural influencer was addressing?
  • Did the actions of one influencer encourage others to speak out or also act?
  • Were there unanticipated shifts in the public discourse (and, where applicable, policy change) as a direct or indirect result of a cultural influencer’s actions?
  • Based on these criteria, we conducted a media content analysis and social media analysis for each individual case. Our findings point to a series of lessons learned and best practices for future cultural campaigns.

The Impact

Taken together, our findings demonstrate that strategic engagement from high-profile influencers can have the following impact on social advocacy campaigns:

  • Significant increases in news media and social media engagement with social justice issues: All three case studies revealed a marked increase in both the volume and focus on news media and social media engagement. For instance, since Colin Kaepernick and other athletes began taking a knee, news media coverage of police misconduct has nearly doubled (from an average of 4000 articles to 7000 articles published every 12 months), and social media engagement with the issue has seen a nearly three-fold increase.
  • Direct or indirect policy and cultural changes in organizations and institutions: The case studies in this report have resulted in a myriad of organizational policy and cultural shifts as a direct and indirect result of the efforts of high-profile influencers. In the case of Jimmy Kimmel, the Graham-Cassidy bill was ultimately defeated. Since Kaepernick and other athletes began taking a knee in protest to police killings of unarmed people of color, the National Football League (NFL) and several teams have spoken out in support of criminal justice reform. For instance, in September 2016, shortly after Kaepernick’s first field-side protest, the San Francisco 49ers announced that it would be donating $1 million to two charities in the Bay area focused on racial and economic justice. In January2018, the NFL in conjunction with players formed the “Let’s Listen Together” coalition, which aims to improve police and community relations. As of July 2018, 10 NFL teams have announced the launch of new committees, coalitions, or other activities aimed at raising awareness and tackling social justice issues. The Me Too movement has had a similar impact. Since the Me Too movement first began to proliferate in October 2017, more than 800 high-profile figures have been publicly accused of harassment, sexual assault, rape, workplace misconduct, and other related behavior. A recent article details the range of policy changes that have been introduced across industries because of the Me Too movement. This includes the introduction of mandatory annual anti-harassment trainings for lawmakers and staff in Congress and the inclusion of so-called “Weinstein Clauses” in several large mergers and acquisitions.
  • Encouraging other high-profile individuals and members of the public to speak out: Each case study was characterized by high-profile influencers successfully encouraging others to speak out in support of or opposition to an issue. Following a series of monologues from Jimmy Kimmel, several Republican senators spoke out openly against the Graham-Cassidy bill, eventually leading to its defeat. Since Kaepernick first begin his protest in August 2016, more than 200 athletes have sat or kneeled during the national anthem. Our analysis revealed that a significant portion of news media and online discourse focused on actions and commentary of other high-profile athletes and spokespeople. In the case of the Me Too movement, not only did the personal stories of high-profile entertainers propel the issue of gendered violence into the national discourse, but also subsequent coordinated efforts of the Time’s Up campaign maintained engagement with the issue after media coverage began to wane.

Learn More

Read the entire Executive Summary, including Recommendations, or download the Full Report to learn how you can take action.

Disrupting the Disrupter:

Why This Is a Supreme Court Nomination Like No Other, and What We Should Do About It.

When President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, it was clear to us that while Kennedy’s legacy is complicated, the man Trump named to replace him is not.

Based on his positions on the constitutional and legislative protections that serve all Americans, from women’s freedom to make decisions regarding when—and whether—to start a family; to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act; to marriage equality; to equal justice under the law irrespective of race, gender, and other aspects of who we are, Kavanaugh’s nomination would move the Court sharply and immediately away from the values we hold dear and give him the opportunity to shape court decisions that will affect generations.

Equallyif not even moredisturbing is that President Trump is seeking to name a pivotal justice to the very court that will likely rule on any criminal charges brought against him and his administration, and on the Russia investigation, which he has maligned and tried to delegitimize since the start of his presidency.

This is particularly alarming because Kavanaugh is the only one on the list of candidates who has made clear that the president of the United States is above the law. He does not believe that a president should be held accountable through an independent investigation while in office. Thus, Mr. Trump seems to have intentionally selected Brett Kavanaugh for a seat on the Supreme Court not only because of his hard-right, pro-corporate record, but also because he will not provide the very checks and balances that the framers of our Constitution intended in creating a Supreme Court.

Brett Kavanaugh’s ultra-conservative bona fides are certainly not unique, nor is it surprising that he is Trump’s pick. After all, President Trump proclaimed that he would choose a Supreme Court candidate(s) from The Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation–prepared list, mentioned above.

But the point isn’t just that we must do all that we can to prevent the likes of the hard-right ideologue Brett Kavanaugh—and, frankly, anyone on a list recommended by The Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation—from ascending to a seat on the high court.  It’s that The Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation created the list the president is considering in the first place, over a bipartisan set of thought partners more representative of America. And it’s especially troubling that these institutions appear to know much more about Brett Kavanaugh and the others they selected than perhaps even the senators who will eventually vote on the nominee.

At this point, we don’t know whether, or how, aspects of Kavanaugh’s record will come forward. We also don’t know, given the events of recent days, whether there are aspects of that record that are being deliberately hidden from the American people.

While it is essential to gain information about the record of any candidate to the Supreme Court, we must also do all that we can to spotlight the fact that any Trump nominee, under these circumstances, would be in the constitutionally unacceptable position of ruling on critical legal questions relating to his investigation or prosecution.

Kavanaugh’s nomination, moreover, comes at a time when Trump has repeatedly demonstrated his fidelity to the president of Russia, while at the same time denigrating the U.S. intelligence community, his own Department of Justice, and America’s closest allies. We cannot be certain that, as Supreme Court justice, Brett Kavanaugh’s loyalties would lie with the American people and the Constitution over the interests of a president who appointed him and an administration that has kowtowed to the likes of Vladimir Putin.

Our constitutional values—the separation of powers and checks and balances—could not be more important to our freedom than they are right now. The stakes for our democracy, in other words, could not be higher.

Therefore, President Trump’s ability to choose a nominee to our nation’s highest courtespecially a hard-right nominee who may not hold the president accountableis a call to action that must be answered with an even greater, more focused level of strategy, creativity, and collaboration than ever before.

We know it’s an uphill battle, but it’s one that we can win.

History reminds us that defeating Supreme Court nominations is difficult. It also reminds us of the importance of endurance. The last successful challenge to a Supreme Court nomination was the defeat of Judges Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg in 1987. Before that, it was Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell in 1969 and 1970, respectively, both of whom were defeated based in part on their ties to white supremacy. In those fights, social justice leaders came together to make clear to the Senate and the American people that the nominees—and the president’s intent in nominating them—were out of sync with our national and constitutional values. The justices ultimately seated in those instances were Justice Harry A. Blackmun in 1970 and Justice Kennedy in 1987.

While today’s landscape is even more challenging with a polarized Senate, an emboldened and extremely vocal opposition, a chaotic political and media environment, and the absence of the filibuster as a tool for moderation and consensus building, we must be in it to win, and not just for the short-term, but for the long game. Let’s not forget how Kavanaugh’s supporters unjustifiably and unapologetically blocked President Obama’s nomination of moderate Judge Merrick Garland and seated Justice Neil Gorsuch. Our actions must emulate the same stick-to-itiveness that those supporters continue demonstrating today. They are running the marathon, not the sprint, and they are now even more aligned to move the Court sharply away from constitutional rights, values, and accountability.

Thus, these extraordinary times call for each of us to dig deep and offer new and innovative approaches in our work to define Brett Kavanaugh as unfit for the Supreme Court. They call for strategies that will disrupt the usual process through any lawful means necessary, using all resources and allies at our disposal. So, while Kavanaugh’s record on the issues that are at the heart of our American ideals is—and should be—dissected, we must also keep the end goal in mind and operate accordingly. This means making this fight about the foundation of our democracy—not only about one seat on the high court.

To win, we must implement the following strategies at the same time:

  • Join our SaveSCOTUS.org allies and others in continuing to prioritize a strategic mix of (a) persuading undecided audiences in pivotal states including WV, AK, ME, ND, and IN; (b) activating base audiences in the pivotal states and other parts of the country; and (c) delegitimizing and disrupting the opposition wherever possible. The current swing-state focus on protecting the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade, although necessary, should be only one tool to move persuadables and motivate segments of the base.
  • Establish as a primary goal that we must convince a critical mass of political, cultural, and opinion leaders that President Trump’s actions and the open investigations into his administration should disqualify him from naming a Supreme Court justice. We must do all that we can to normalize the understanding that President Trump is a suspect in multiple cases of historic and constitutional magnitude and, therefore, cannot constitutionally or ethically be permitted to choose the justice who will likely decide his case.
  • Make popular culture a major force in the effort on par with other, more traditional tactics. This requires letting creatives create in their own ways, while tying their work to a common goal and overarching narrative. The 2008 Obama campaign’s flexible partnerships with artists, musicians, and cultural influencers is a recent model worth emulating and upscaling.
  • Step up the use of traditional and digital media to broaden the scope of bipartisan opposition to Kavanaugh. This is where traditional approaches such as op-eds, editorial board meetings, white papers, and the like will be most helpful, creating a drumbeat of voices calling for a halt to the process on constitutional grounds while making the substantive case against the nominee and his extremist supporters.
  • Call out the dangerous constitutional crisis into which the president has plunged our nation and make clear the solutions needed to right the ship. That, in turn, necessitates choosing messaging and content of visceral dramatic value, one example being recent audio of immigrant children in detention pleading for their parents. That intensely emotional content was the tipping point that coalesced with litigation, advocacy, and other strategies to change the narrative and some aspects of policy. It is a dynamic that we must learn from and consider utilizing.
  • Significantly step up criticism of the colossally inappropriate role—and extremist and un-American values—of The Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation in selecting the judges who should rule fairly for the whole nation. As already noted by some advocates, the failed federal circuit court nomination of The Federalist Society member Ryan Bounds based on his racist writings should be revealed as the tip of the iceberg when it comes to those organizations’ ties to extremists.
  • In the context of constitutional values, 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. Also, kowtowing to Russia and embracing bigotry are vulnerabilities that arise again and again, and ones about which President Trump cannot disguise his predilections.

In the face of atrocious policies that pose serious threat to our Constitution and our country’s ideals of opportunity and inclusion, we must treat this fight differently. Alongside many others, The Opportunity Agenda sees the dire need to dig deep and stop Kavanaugh’s nomination. We must protect the hard-fought, historic gains our country has made in promoting and preserving opportunity.

Therefore, we are calling for preventing not only Brett Kavanaugh from taking a seat on the Supreme Court, but also President Trump from circumventing the constitutional accountability that its founders fully intended. Preserving our democracy depends on nothing short of that.

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.

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