Communicating for Freedom
a master class in strategic communications
Communicating for Freedom is a six-week course for beginner and immediate-level activists, organizers, and practitioners who are interested in the brass tacks of storytelling, social change communications, and strategy. You need not have any previous experience in social change communications to take the course.
For more than ten years, I’ve helped social justice activists, organizations, and campaigns inspire action through storytelling and communications. From the Sierra Club, to the ACLU, to the Black Lives Matter Global Network, I’ve worked alongside political influencers and changemakers to make sense of today’s most pressing issues and to harness grassroots power for good. From the newsroom to the front lines, I've tested the good and the bad of communications strategies for social change—experimenting, succeeding, failing, and starting over again. Having worked on deeply entrenched issues at the national and local levels—including abortion, welfare, and LGBTQ rights—I know firsthand how crucial it is to tell and present stories with integrity in order to make a meaningful impact.
I’m taking what I’ve learned as a grassroots communications strategist, a rookie teacher at The New School, and a human, and combining it to design a course that is engaging, intellectually challenging, and a good use of time for otherwise busy people.
Once Communicating for Freedom is finished, learners will be invited to join an association of more than 700 social impact communications professionals working across geography and discipline to service social movements, share ideas and resources, and support one another.
Why Communicating for Freedom?
People with more power who want to maintain the status quo weaponize fabricated narratives against people with less power. These dangerous and politically motivated narratives paint places and groups of people with a broad brushstroke to incite fear.
For example, the Trump administration’s current propaganda-fueled campaign against refugee families at the U.S.–Mexico border relies on our proclivity to categorize some people as in and some people as out of the dominant group. By using racialized dog whistles and authoritarian rule, Trump paints all brown Central American families seeking safety and help from us as threats to both American border security and to some people within the borders. His campaign is not only based on patently false information, but it's a durable strategy malleable enough to vilify any group of people, no matter what they look like or where they come from.
Over the years, these othering narratives accumulate and begin to mimic culture, which policymakers and the media cherry-pick and exploit to win elections and gain even more power. This is important, because what we’re told and what we believe about people and places determines how we treat them—and those stories become woven into how we think and how we act. They determine how we vote and how we engage in the systems to which we are all bound. At the end of the day, these narratives and their accompanying policies and cultural touchstones reinforce ideas that keep rights, resources, and recognition out of reach for most people.
Social movements and the organizations, organizers, activists, and practitioners who strengthen them are working vigorously to deconstruct harmful and politically motivated narratives and replace them with truthful, empowered ones. In doing so, we relocate people’s perception and cast doubt on the dominant culture, changing the way people understand one another and our place in society.
At the center of this fight for narrative power is the ever-present struggle for the redistribution of power from the few to the many. Undergirding that struggle are values that, when put into context and championed, clarify our socio-political demands, the people or persons who can meet them, and the amount of time it will take to fulfill them.
That's where Communicating for Freedom comes in. This course focalizes narrative power as a lever of change and hinges on strategic communications to give organizers, activists, and practitioners fundamental communications-related tools to contextualize stories and solutions and develop effective campaigns for a more democratic and inclusive society.
Strategic communications is a process: one that identifies the who, what, when, where, and how of your strategy to get from A to B. This process has several interconnected parts: narrative, story, movement building, culture work, social sciences, etc. For descriptions of each of these parts and insight on how they work together, check out Toward New Gravity, a report by The Narrative Initiative.
Strategic communications is the connective tissue that bonds your values to your demands and vision of the world; it is a strategy to make your work visible and resonant to others; it is an expression of your individual, project, or organizational goals and vision. Strategic Communications is your approach to influencing your audience to act.
After six weeks, learners will have a foundational understanding of strategic communications and the components that make up and actualize this critical field. They will also get practice iterating on communications strategies and receiving feedback from their peers in a judgement-free environment.
I'm also designing this course because I wish I had it when I was new to this field. I remain grateful to the strategists and organizers whose ideas and labor have made it possible for me to earn a living doing what I love. To build on their legacies and iterate on true and tried strategies and practices and continue to be in service of social movements in the United States and elsewhere, today's communications practitioners need a community of practice—and that's what I am providing.
I am finishing my first full year of teaching at The New School, a world-renowned liberal arts college dedicated to academic freedom and intellectual inquiry, in Manhattan. This semester, I taught a foundational course that provides first-year students with an introduction to critical theory and social justice principles with an emphasis on race, class, gender, sexuality, and power.
I am sharpening my abilities as a facilitator and teacher, and being in the classroom with freshman college students helps me design curricula that are rigorous and malleable enough to meet the needs of a range of learners. We don’t all learn the same way, so Communicating for Freedom will use readings, video, music, and discussion modules to ensure everyone feels equally connected to the material.
The syllabus, which will be shared in the spring, covers foundational concepts like values, framing, messaging, strategy, and planning. Upon evaluation, and pending the needs of the cohort and other interested parties, I will design and launch an advanced course.
To ensure efficacy, and because this is a pilot course, I'm capping the class at a reasonable number of learners. This may change for future courses. Learners will be asked to evaluate the course upon completion.
Learners can expect 1–2 hours of reading and homework each week in addition to class time.
Cost and payment
Communicating for Freedom is $900 with the option to pay in full up front or in installments. If paying by installments, payment must be received in full by June 7, 2019. I suggest six payments of $150 paid monthly January through June 2019, and I remain open and flexible to plans that meet the needs of interested parties. No matter how you pay, a non-refundable deposit of $150 is due upon registration. A number of seats and scholarships are reserved for people who want to attend but can’t pay. If you'd like a scholarship, email me directly.
Once you submit your registration form, I will follow up with an email (usually within 2-3 business days) about how to pay for the class using PayPal, Square Cash, Venmo, Apple Pay or Chase Quick Pay.
The first week of class is June 10 and the last week is July 22, with a one-week break in between.
June 10 First week of class
July 1 Midway break / Holiday week
July 22 Last week of class
We’ll meet online with Zoom, using their innovative software to break into small groups, take polls, and see one another across geography. Thirty days before class starts, I'll send a Doodle poll to all enrolled learners to identify the best recurring day and time for classes each week. Class will be two hours each week and include a variety of instruction, discussion, guest lectures, activities, and assignments.
I ask that all enrolled learners attend all classes throughout the course. Life happens, however, so all classes will be recorded. There are no makeup classes for participants who are unable to attend a session. I'll gently follow up with learners who miss two or more classes.
Click here to register for Communicating for Freedom. Registration closes on May 10, 2019, or once enrollment is full. Once registration is closed, additional interested learners will be added to a waitlist and offered a seat in the event of cancellations.
If you need to cancel or switch your registration to a future course, please email me and let me know by May 10, or 30 days prior to the first week of class, so I can offer your seat to someone else. If you notify me by May 10, your registration can be used toward a future course. If you don't notify me by that date, your registration will be non-transferable. Refunds will be issued on a case-by-case basis upon my discretion.
If you have questions about whether or not this is the right course for you, reach out. I’m happy to answer your questions. If you’re a funder who wants to purchase a suite of seats for your grantees or a grantee who thinks a funder might be interested, let me know.