Capitalism requires us to fear scarcity so that we are willing to trade our labor for money. We have taken this so far that we now fear other working people, fearing they will take what we also need. As Amanda has written about before, we’re very interested in countering this destructive narrative that tells us that if someone “wins” then someone else must “lose.” But how do we get there?
Recently, we co-facilitated a conversation at Netroots Nation on the topic, and came away with a few key insights.
Lose the cost and competition frames
The idea that there aren’t enough jobs or money to go around is actually proven false by economists. The more people who are participating in our economy, the more resources we all generate! Yet this frame has become very popular, as in these images below that say raising wages goes hand-in-hand with skyrocketing prices, or that more immigrants means fewer jobs for others.
Unfortunately, it’s not just our opponents who message this way — we progressives do this too! Comparing things primarily based on their cost rather than on our values is one way this happens, like this billboard below.
Would we be ok with more people in prison if it were cheaper? Or if school cost more than prison, would we want students to stay home? Of course not.
At Netroots, we discussed how messages like these undermine our solutions, and came up with some ideas in how to counter them.
Emphasize values-based solutions!
Of course we can still mention cost, but what do we lead with and give the most airtime to? When our messages highlight competition and what things cost over the values that anchor our solutions — such as opportunity, the value of education, our belief in freedom and liberation — we play into right-wing narratives that drive budget cuts and distract from our communities’ real needs.
Recent abundance messaging declaring that “Families Belong Together” not only got action on that policy, but also opened the door for the once unthinkable idea of abolishing ICE, which is now a more mainstream position than many of us thought it could be. And now other folks are using the “Families Belong Together” frame to challenge foster care, incarceration policies, and more.
Another great example comes from this campaign that spreads BLACK LOVE to help folks reunite with their families, which requires getting them out of jail. The campaign could have centered the case on the cruelties and financial costs of money bail. Instead, it emphasized the shared values of Black love, freedom, and uniting families.
Lead with best practices!
At Netroots, we developed the following best practices to point us to messaging that’s more powerful and more effective.
- Recognizes that we have what we need, and the problem is either distribution or a false idea of scarcity, i.e. speaks to the resources we have (tangible and intangible), not the resources we don’t have;
- Often has a “both/and” component instead of forcing an “either/or” choice between real community needs;
- Suggests how we can reallocate resources (tangible resources such as money or housing) or otherwise not have to compete over them (intangible resources that can be available to all or that multiply with sharing, such as love and safety);
- Implies the right values-based solution, not a solution based in reducing cost;
- Recognizes that resource allocation (e.g. a city budget) is an expression of values and priorities, and speaks to your audience’s values and priorities as the core of a proactive message;
- And applies other learnings from current strategic messaging research (see The Center for Community Change, Demos and Opportunity Agenda).
From jobs to safety, understanding and applying an abundance frame will show that winning for our issues really means winning for everyone.
Amanda Cooper and Irene Rojas-Carroll want to know about your favorite campaigns that use abundance messaging.