More than just being seen or feeling included, belonging entails having a voice and the opportunity to use it to make demands upon society and political institutions. Belonging is more than having access; it is about the power to co-create the structures that shape a community.
The production or perpetuation of an “us” versus “them” dichotomy. Language or actions may break individuals, coalitions, or particular communities to prevent them from feeling connected to a particular group or issue—creating others who are turned inward into isolation or simply away. Breaking perpetuates oppressive systems such as extreme isolation, civic exclusion, toxic politics, and systemic racism.
A project aimed at crossing identity-based lines. To bridge involves two or more groups coming together across acknowledged lines of difference in a way that both affirms their distinct identities and creates a new, more expansive identity. Bridging addresses tensions or “breaking” dynamics that sustain division in order to develop a new “we” that is not only more inclusive, but cohesive, durable, and consistent with bringing about belonging and greater social justice. The new “we” that results need not agree on everything, or even very much, but its members should have a shared empathy and lasting stake in one another. Bridging rejects all strict “us” versus “them” framings, but without erasing what is different and unique in each party.
These are the strategies, tools, and tactics by which public stories, narratives, and messaging are created and shared. Communications tools include public platforms like radio, television, print, and digital media.
A community’s visibility, recognition, and impact in society. Cultural power includes the influence and impact of community voices and leaders who share a specific cultural perspective. Cultural strategies are used to grow a community’s cultural power by centering community members’ leadership, voices, storytelling, practices, and knowledge so that their experiences shape society.
Prominent public stories, plots, and ways of organizing knowledge about history and society that shape how people make sense of their worlds, and the position and potential of themselves and others. As “dominant” narratives, they are far-reaching, mainstreamed, and often unconscious or taken as common sense.
Tools for storytelling and story sharing are used for messaging, including communications assets such as talking points, sound bites, frameworks for debate, and thought pieces. Messaging takes narrative and formulates it into bite-sized pieces that translate well to various communications platforms.
The set of stories, real or imagined, and repertoire of plotlines that organize and underpin our ways of understanding and making sense of social, economic, and political dynamics and our and others’ relationships to them. Narratives shape how we process new information and experiences and set both boundaries and possibilities for who we are and who we are becoming.
The resources, networks, and tools available to develop, create, implement, and distribute narrative and storytelling so that it reaches public audiences, including key target constituencies whose support organizers require to bring about lasting social transformation. Elements of narrative infrastructure can include research and analysis, staffing, training, publications, curriculum, or digital media tools. To be impactful, the infrastructure is diverse across movements, sectors, and strategies; has the convening and agenda-setting space to create alignment; and is looking both internally and externally to the movement to set markers for strategy and goals. Communities, movements, and organizations vary in the depth and heft of their narrative infrastructure.
A set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities. In opposition to belonging, othering is a frame that captures the many forms of prejudice and persistent marginality such as race, gender, sexuality, religion, income, and disability. The term also explains and analyzes a set of common policies and practices that engender othering.
A strategic narrative conveys core values, an analysis, and a vision rather than detailing a set of policies. While the exact words may vary, the underlying values are durable across time. Because narratives fuel policies and culture, strategic narratives have the power to change public debate, shift attitudes, and redefine society. While strategic narrative can underpin specific messages or talking points, it is much more than a messaging guide. Strategic narrative has implications for what policy agendas are pursued, field and alignment strategy, and communications.
A process to determine a long-term goal, map out the steps and conditions needed to meet that goal, and set indicators that signal progress toward the goal. A theory of change also refers to a written narrative that explains the logic of change toward a goal.
Banner photograph by Pacita Rudder from a 99Rootz "Grow Your Vote" workshop for the Cultural Strategy Ambassadors Program.