RadComms is the infrastructure that ties political opportunity to collective action for social justice communicators.
In November of 2016, longtime comms strategist Shanelle Mattews was tucked away in a hotel room in Atlanta awaiting the results of the presidential election. She remembers that moment:
“On my computer were two conditional statements I drafted for the Black Lives Matter Global Network—one that acknowledged that the Democrats who built the scaffolding for mass incarceration won and a second that Donald Trump would be our next president. I knew neither outcome would serve the interests of people living under deep conditions of domination, oppression, and exclusion in the United States—or in any region in which U.S. forces meddle.
We all know the outcome of the election. Recognizing what we were up against and unsure of how to move, Shanelle reached out via a post on Facebook, asking for people to join her in an election post-mortem to determine what we wanted and needed: a network for grassroots communicators. RadComms was founded as a repository for our grief, angst, desire for connection, and collective thinking—a safe place to explore dilemmas like the one I faced on election night.
Since then, we have made meaning of the world together; applying lessons from movements’ past, adapting contemporary strategies to counter the prevailing conditions of white supremacy, corporate greed, climate destruction, and interpersonal violence today, and organizing for—at a minimum—a morally just and dignified future.“
Today, the Radical Communicators Network (RadComms) is a community of practice for activists, organizers, and other change-makers working to build narrative power for social justice.
RadComms is growing and strengthening the ecosystem of social-change communications by bringing together a global cohort of communicators to cross-pollinate conversations across a variety of movements, backgrounds, levels of experience, geographies, languages, and political associations and by radicalizing the field to focus on building narrative power thereby putting people closest to the oppression at the center of our efforts.
In the years since our founding, our network has rippled to more than 5,000 people across almost every U.S. state and in at least 20 countries, illustrating a hunger for belonging and connectivity. Here is why that’s important: Insurgent social movements, like the ones to which many of us belong, require networked communities that expand beyond local bounds to transform political opportunities into long-term social protest or change.
During movement moments the 2020 summer uprisings in defense of Black lives, movements relied on existing complex infrastructure such as RadComms to disseminate information, mobilize support, inspire collaboration, and discuss emergent strategies.
One example is the collaboration between RadComms, M4BL, and ReFrame to train hundreds of communicators on how to message #defundthepolice, which provided tactical training in two languages and proliferated abolitionist values into mainstream discourse.
RadComms is organic, driven by people in the field, and not tied to any individual or organization. Network members come from a variety of movements, including those focused on gun violence, sexual violence and harassment, criminal-legal reform, reproductive justice, gender justice, income inequality, climate change, and immigrant rights.
This space prioritizes voices, expertise, and experience of Black, Indigenous, Latine, AAPI, Transgender, gender non-conforming, nonbinary, intersex (TGNCI), queer, disabled, immigrant, cash poor, and others excluded from traditional establishment nonprofit spaces.
The brilliant, thoughtful people in RadComms have ushered in world-altering advancements in radical narrative strategies. From narrative interventions that reframed the #MeToo movement as one that was spurred and nurtured by Black women to message discipline tactics that reframed “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” to a conversation about apartheid, racism, and the denial of basic rights to widening our collective understanding of gender, each of us has a role to play in defending democracy and building genuinely inclusive societies.
The Power of Social Justice Communicators
Around the world, right-wing and conservative groups have gained significant political and social influence, often driven by ideologies of hate and exclusion. In the United States, in particular, the far-right uses strategic communications to proliferate white supremacy and fear. Their rise, backed by decades of organizing and bolstered by propaganda, corporate interests, undemocratic access to information and technology, and fake news, has deepened global narratives of racism, xenophobia, terror, and misogyny—ones with real and long-term material consequences for those already marginalized by our society.
Stories and storytelling are the backbone of an inclusive society;
how they are told defines whose lives are valued and whose are not. That is why throughout history, the critical efforts of communicators whose work is rooted in shifting power dynamics towards a revolutionary, grassroots framework have changed hearts and minds, set political agendas, and transformed culture to create a more equitable society where more people live with dignity.
Social-change communicators who are deeply embedded in community-based struggles for resources, power, and liberation have used culture work, digital organizing, journalism, and storytelling to combat the ascent of the far right—from women-driven pro-choice campaigns in Argentina and Poland to #MeToo and the Movement for Black Lives in the United States.
What sets progressive grassroots communicators apart is that we don’t sacrifice ethics for strategy.
We believe the most important role strategic communications plays in social movements is to build narrative power, which, according to Rashad Robinson, changes “the norms and rules our society lives by.”
We do this by assessing the conditions responsible for the problems we are working to solve and by not shying away from directly addressing uncomfortable truths. A grassroots strategic-communications framework not only deconstructs harmful narratives, but also propagates liberatory ones while contending for power and democratizing representation of people and stories in the media.
Narrative as a Unit of Power
Unlike traditional “marketing for good” strategies, building narrative power for social justice requires the use of counternarratives—narratives derived from the most marginalized individuals and communities—to reimagine our existence and to expand the dimensions of what is considered “normal” and acceptable.
In this way, we replace dominant frames and narratives with diverse and inclusive stories. Narrative power is a type of power that uses storytelling to shape the norms and rules by which our societies live. Narrative power necessitates that we not only center the experiences of the people in closest proximity to oppression, but that we also work toward models whereby those who are most impacted are a part of leading, identifying solutions, setting priorities, creating policy agendas, and shifting narratives about human value.
Collaboration, Critical Inquiry, and Service: the Radcomms Approach
Critical inquiry is in our DNA: By asking hard questions, and debating theories and ideas, RadComms is able to translate communications from academic, nonprofit, and political jargon to meaningful messaging campaigns for everyday people.
“This group has rapidly become a source of critical inquiry and analysis of the practice of progressive communications and—most impressively—mutual aid.”
—Holly Minch, SPIN Academy and Lightbox Collaborative
RadComms is fiscally sponsored by Proteus Fund via ReFrame Mentorship. ReFrame is building the next generation of strategic communicators in social justice.