Blog: Tools for Building Our Narrative Infrastructure: Curriculums for Training and Popular Education

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Gerald Lenoir

Identity and Politics Strategy Analyst

September 24, 2019
By Gerald Lenoir, Haas Identity and Politics Strategy Analyst

Building a powerful progressive infrastructure in California involves aligning various types of organizations and networks around a common set of values, a shared analysis and vision, and a strategic narrative. Rashad Robinson, president of Color Of Change, puts it this way in his paper commissioned by the Haas Institute:

“Narrative infrastructure is singularly about equipping a tight network of people organizing on the ground and working in various sectors who can develop strategic and powerful narrative ideas and then, against the odds of the imbalanced resources stacked against us, saturate our culture with the sustained narrative experiences required to enduringly change hearts, minds, behaviors and relationships. More fundamentally…, to change the norms and rules our society lives by… We can define infrastructure as the ability to learn, create, broadcast, and immerse”.

The Haas Institute’s Blueprint for Belonging (B4B) project is working with base building organizations and others across California to strengthen the narrative infrastructure. One key way we are doing this is by developing training curriculums using a popular education model that delve into some of the core concepts that we believe can support movement building and narrative change.

The concepts and frameworks developed by the Haas Institute and our partners are extremely relevant in an era when racial, religious, and anti-immigrant anxieties and attacks are at a fever pitch, economic inequality has reached epic proportions, raw misogyny is rampant, and gay-bashing and trans-smashing are widespread. We are confident that the notions of bridging, belonging, and strategic narrative can be useful for strengthening a progressive movement infrastructure. And that is what will be required to withstand the assaults spawned by decades of actions underpinned by a dominant narrative and elitist worldview that seeks to divide us and conquer us.

To make these concepts a potent force in politics and in our lives, the B4B project has been deep into the development of curriculum and trainings for a range of groups, including base-building organizations, civic engagement networks, educational institutions, student organizations, faith-based networks, and service organizations. 

In 2019, we’ve made significant advances across our network. Working closely with the National Equity Project, B4B staff, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) developed six curriculum modules:

The first three modules are based upon our core concepts. The modules on Individualism and Extractive Finance focus on related concepts that are thematic elements our project is working to expose and counter. The “Inspiration and Organization for Transformation” is meant for young activists to provide a historical backdrop on how community organizing and bridging across different racial and ethnic communities produced significant policy wins for communities of color in California during the 1990s.

After an initial testing of the curricula, the B4B project held a train-the-trainer session in April at the Haas Institute’s Othering and Belonging Conference. Based upon feedback from that meeting, we refined and finalized five of the modules. 

The B4B staff has led trainings in different parts of the state and partner organizations have used the curriculum in staff and volunteer trainings. Using the Belonging module, Haas Institute staff led a training of 170 educators and administrators for the Santa Clara County Office of Education.  The training was well received by the participants, including the Office’s senior staff. As a result, the Institute will be working with the Office to do more trainings on belonging and bridging, as well as developing a civic engagement curriculum that incorporates these concepts. Institute staff has also provided trainings on bridging and belonging for leaders who are part of Inland Empowerment, a civic engagement table in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Plans are now underway to provide the trainings to all staff members of the 15 organizations represented.

 We are also working with partners that are integrating our tools into political education and training programs without direct staff support from the Haas Institute. At the statewide level, powerful movement leaders CHIRLA and PICO California have incorporated the B4B curricula into their training programs. CHIRLA has embarked on a political education project using one module per month to train its staff, then repeating the process with its core volunteers. 

PICO California has taken on our concepts of bridging and belonging and are using them to reorient their work, training all of the staff in its 13 local faith-based federations on this framework. Local PICO members are, in turn, organizing “Belong Circles” with their base members in order to infuse these concepts throughout their organizing network. 

At UC Berkeley, we have been working with the campus’s Public Service Center who has adapted our curriculum to train its students who are involved in community service projects in the Bay Area, close to 200 students a year who are already activated around the idea of public service. The UC Berkeley Division of Equity and Inclusion has also invited the Haas Institute to lead a campus-wide initiative to promote equity and inclusion for the student body, faculty and staff using the frameworks of bridging and belonging.

We are now in conversations with several groups to hold additional trainings in various parts of California over the next several months, including Inland Empowerment, the Santa Clara County Office of Education, the Alameda County Community Food Bank, and the CHIRLA office in south Orange County, among others.

Internally, the B4B team coordinates much of its work with a national project that has many of the same elements: our Civic Engagement Narrative Change project, through which we are doing more trainings. In Nevada, we have conducted trainings on bridging and strategic narrative for a statewide civic engagement table. New Florida Majority will soon host half-day trainings on Bridging and Strategic Narrative in Jacksonville and Miami for its staff and staff members of partner organizations. The Haas Institute will also conduct a webinar for Michigan groups using the Belonging module which will be sponsored by We the People (MI) and the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University.

Our efforts involve building capacities to transform internalized value systems, biases, and assumptions about each other and how society works that result in “breaking” and to create “bridging” strategies that result in a bigger “we”. Building this more expansive notion of “we” is a complicated, arduous and never-ending process that asks us to do more than change our language. Though difficult, it is a necessary process, if we are to achieve a world where we all belong, where we all have agency and prosperity.  And part of that process is the political education and training of our organizers, community leaders, influencers, educators, trade unionists and faith leaders. We can do this. We are doing this. And our success in doing this can help to transform the country and change the destiny of all of us for the better.

Editor's note: The ideas expressed in this blog post are not necessarily those of the Haas Institute or UC Berkeley, but belong to the author.