Most campaigns are crafted with their specific audience in mind. Audience segmentation should be standard communications practice. But it's not enough to know who your target is; you have to know what values are in their hearts and speak to those values with the story elements you choose.
The heroes and villains listed in this handbook reflect the types of people who are fighting for or against our American quest. But types aren't enough; your campaign needs to tell the story of real people who are taking real action. Find the actual heroes and villains who are at work in the world and make them the heart of your campaign.
The language in this Handbook has been tested and is almost always listed with strongest performing language first. Each narrative element has been written to ensure that it works right now while also building the power of participation over time. Using these actual words will help advance our values and achieve repetition across issues.
Our Heroes' Narrative will continue to grow and expand beyond this handbook. Further support and resources are available online, including:
Middle class out, not "trickle-down."
The whole phrase matters. A strong middle class is the source of a healthy economy, not just a happy by-product. Middle class families with money in their pockets provide businesses with the customers they need and create jobs. That's why investing from the middle class out, not "trickle-down" is the way to a stronger economy and a stronger America.
A very strong sense of right and wrong and a willingness to fight for what's right
They are very good at something
Your campaign should feature real life heroes.
When you tell their story, you must make them come alive by
showing their values and strength. Heroes can be...
One of our core American values is treating others as we would like to be treated. A great way to make that value come to life when you talk about any policy proposal is by stating it as an expression of the Golden Rule. Here's how President Obama did it in his 2014 State of the Union Speech:
"Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete unless we do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American."
This was also one of the important ways that we talked about – and won! – the freedom to marry in Washington state:
"The desire for gay and lesbian couples to get married is about having the same protections and recognition that we do. No one questions the validity of our relationship or what we mean to each other. We want this for same-sex couples too."
Alison Shigaki & Andre Randolph
Extremists who are starving our communities have systematically – and strategically – loaded the word "government" with negative connotations. Talking about government is one of the greatest challenges for American communicators who believe not only in public policy solutions for our health, safety, security, environment, and economy, but also in government's role in protecting and upholding our core American values and principles – freedom, opportunity, and justice for all.
While polling shows that we should proceed with some caution, there's no better time to begin to reclaim government as an instrument of the people to work together, to make our voices heard, to protect our rights and freedoms, and to invest in strong communities. Unsurprisingly, our polling and focus group research shows some ambivalence about "government" itself, but we see strong and consistent support for the crucial functions of government. Americans have deeply held be- liefs about our democracy: that we are better off when we "work together" and "invest in strong communities." We also strongly support specific functions of government such as public safety, education, veterans' benefits, senior services, and protections for our air and drinking water. It's no coincidence that these are listed as tools under Strong Communities. When we talk about government, we need to name these specific tools early and often, as well as talk about the importance of working together.
In the Heroes' Narrative and in America today, there is perhaps no greater threat than the influence that money has in our democracy. Every cycle, presidential campaigns set new records for spending. The influence of lobbyists is out of control. The Supreme Court has given corporations rights that belong to people and allowed corporate money to be called "free speech." This threat affects every issue we work on and hinders every solution we champion. Our narrative is powerful when we stress the importance of a government, a democracy, and an economy that works for We the People and isn't hijacked by money and influence.
Government is often wrongly cast as the villain by the other side. But, alone, as individuals, we cannot fight big money, powerful corporations, and multi-national special interests. That's why, we should consistently emphasize that it is through government that we are able to work together to protect ourselves from and hold ac- countable the real villains.
Our government is how we work together to:
"Through government we work together to hold (insert your villains) accountable."
"Our representatives" are responsible for advancing our values and our quest. Remind your audience what we elect our leaders to do on our behalf.
Talk about the specific local government in your story (city, county, state). People have much more positive associations with their local leaders.
Say how the hero is using government as a tool for getting things done.
Name the specific ways that a public program is a tool for the real people in your story. We support services more when we can see that they are helping our communities.
"OUR REPRESENTATIVES," NOT "POLITICIANS"
It's easy to villainize "politicians" but it doesn't help us restore our democracy. Our elected representatives have a responsibility to serve the people. Always call them "our representatives." And when they are doing the wrong thing, say so and then compare it to their real responsibility using other story elements.
Don't bash government, even if it polls well. It only polls well because of extremists' systematic efforts to build distrust and cynicism in our democracy. For example: don't say "politics as usual," or "dysfunctional government." Both imply that the problem is inherent and unchangeable. Instead, use the formula in the white box above to describe who government is serving and who it should serve.
Don't start with "government." Instead describe the specific program, solution, and hero of your story. The influence of big money in our government has given many Americans a distaste for politics in general and the word "government" can invoke that. Talk about working together and community investments instead.
Sometimes, naming the villain is not easy to do. It can require a great deal of courage, but it is essential. If we don't name the villain, the threat is just "the way things are," unchangeable. Also, a story requires a villain to be complete and if we don't name the real villain, our opponents will supply one. Just like with the hero, it is not enough to use one of the villain categories below. We must name the actual bad guys and make them come alive by showing how they are working against the actual hero.
For example: "Extremists like Tim Eyman are starving our communities."
Always pair your villain with a weapon or a threat.
In the same way that Tools are organized under Quest headings, here we organize the
Weapons under the headings of the Villains who use them.