1) What communication work have you done?
From my perspective, Strategic Communication, Grassroots Organizing and People Powered Direct Action are the three pillars of successful movement building. Of course they all go together. For decades our progressive movements have neglected the importance of narrative, story and framing, but the tide has turned and we’ve gotten much better at how we leverage not just the truth, but our stories and experiences towards social transformation. I’ve been honored to have worked through incredible organizations in all aspects of communications in connection to organizing, movement building, campaigns, direct action and popular education. Groups such as the Design Action Collective, which provides graphic communications for social justice and whose design and messaging has helped win many victories. Through smartMeme Strategy and Training Project, which has trained hundreds of organizers in narrative strategy and helped design creative interventions. Through the Ruckus Society that has equipped countless communities with direct action skills and, of course, with the Progressive Communicators Network, which provides a critical space for cross pollination, sharing and skills building among those committed to communications.
2) How did you get started doing communication work? Where has it led you to today?
Hmm. I don’t know. I’ve always been a talker, framer, type. I think I really started doing media work through my Direct Action work, beginning in the early 90s with the first Gulf War.
3) What role does collaboration/cross-pollination play in your work?
Our movements must constantly innovate as both the culture and conditions change. With rapid changes in media and technology; as well as in popular culture, we must find and create intentional spaces where we can come together to share skills, insights, innovations and resources. PCN is one of those spaces. So many important collaborations have emerged through the relationship building that PCN offers. I’ve worked with folks to bridge the communications gap between folks working against the prison industrial complex from diverse perspectives, for example, through PCN. Because of the strength of relationships, we were able to work together despite political difference.
4) Why did you first join PCN? How long have you been part of PCN? What work/organizations have you supported during that time?
In 2004 I helped organize a conference called Designs on Democracy that brought together people working in graphic design and strategic communications for social justice. The conference, with 450 people, was wildly successful. After that conference, I was invited to PCN and found that it served a really important purpose that was missing at our conference, which was the depth you can have in a smaller, intentional space.
Of course, the network has grown tremendously, but the growth has been based on relationships and affinities, so everyone still maintains a closeness of relationship. In the early days of communications work, we inherited the “proprietary” attitudes of the PR world. We would hold onto our media lists or not share our curriculum. PCN really broke that down. I remember during the 2004 Election Protection work, I put out a request for media lists to PCN and I received dozens of incredible lists of reporters in every state. That kind of sharing comes from trust.
5) How has PCN supported you and the broader communications world/movement?
I think one of the important roles that PCN has played in the movement is helping to highlight the importance of strategic communications, but ALWAYS in the context of organizing first. We don’t win through communications, we win through organizing. Communications helps improve our organizing. Communications without organizing is like putting icing on a brick and calling it a cake. Doesn’t matter how tasty or fancy it looks, you just won’t feed you. That is part of the DNA of PCN – and that is why it has been so valuable to organizers.