November 19, 2020
from Shanelle Matthews, Founder of RadComms
Dear RadComms: What a time to be alive! Every day, I am in awe of the incredible and unyielding commitment and work of movement-makers such as yourselves. Four years ago today, after Trump was elected, I asked social-justice communicators to join me in finding some way, small or large, for those of us who care about narrative power to ensure Trump doesn’t get elected again.
One hundred of you joined the call the next day, and we decided we needed a network—so we built one and poured into it. Four years later, we have a new administration and a networked home for narrative power–builders to learn and grow together.
- From those first 100 people to 3,500 members across platforms, the Radical Communicators Network has become a formidable movement home for discussion, engagement, and peer learning among communicators of 21st-century social movements. Since 2016, we have:Begun developing a theory of change for our network, which is unique in its centering of the grassrootsBuilt an impressive and democratized resource list
- Hosted and recorded dozens of peer-learning sessions, teaching each other what we know about the ins and outs of strategic communications, media-making, narrative power–building, inclusion strategies, and storytelling
- Organized a conference in 2017, bringing together a third of our membership to strengthen community-building and bonds across geographical and organizational lines (and thanks to a committed volunteer fundraising team, we have since raised the funds to organize another conference, which we look forward to sharing more about soon)Hosted dozens of happy hours in places like Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York City, Gainesville, and Austin, to build community offline and meet our peers and co-conspirators face-to-face
- Designated funding (among RadComms members within the philanthropic community) for us to author our first book, Building Narrative Power for 21st-Century Social Movements (working title), co-edited by myself and leadership team member Marzena ZukowskaPartnered with our co-conspirators and family at ReFrame to ensure we have adequate infrastructure to do our important work (THANK YOU!)
- Earned a $100k grant, in collaboration with our partners at the Center for Public Interest Communications (CPIC), to co-create messaging direction with poor people about poor people and poverty that engenders an honest conversation about economic dignity for allCreated a space for white communicators to lean into racial solidarity, allyship, and deep vulnerability in our white accountability working group led by Anna Ghosh, Meredith Fenton, and so many others
- Coordinated a beautiful mutual-aid effort that landed in the New York TimesAnd so much more
Together, we have shared in the pain and wretchedness caused by this outgoing oppressive regime, which has told story after story to malign and criminalize the most marginalized communities in this country, including immigrants, women, Black people (especially Black organizers), and people with disabilities, to name a few.
Together, we have contended with deeply entrenched narratives on every issue from climate to reproductive justice to immigration to police terror. We have fought tirelessly in the narrative realm for our ideas on inclusion, accountability, justice, and real democratic people power to become common sense. We have cultivated and told affirmative stories to build a world deserving of all of us.
Over the last two years, the inaugural Radical Communicators Network leadership team—including Ana Tellez, Marzena Zukowska, Hermelinda Cortes, Micky Jordan, Katrina Rogers, JD Davids, Bryce Fields, Chelsea Fuller, and me—began the long and tedious work of building stable, continual infrastructure for this community. As our terms come to an end, we are excited to bring on new leadership team members. If you’re eager to step into leadership in this one-of-a-kind network, step forward and throw your hat in the ring.
Together, we’ve shared in the grief and unnecessary loss of more than a quarter-million people to the coronavirus and seen our daily lives shifted in vast ways. We leaned away from being with each other in person and leaned toward collective safety and healing so that we may be together again soon. And I hope we will.
This year, we also saw an incredible outpouring of politicized individuals (because of our organizing—let that soak in!) from every state stepping up to say Black lives matter, and it’s time to divest from horrific and antiquated measures of policing and invest in a vision of public safety that works for all of us. If that is possible in America, anything is possible.
Because of the GOTV ground game of organizations that knocked on millions of doors, the people spoke and demanded a regime change. And that is what we got—exactly what we hoped for four years ago. And we played some small role in that. Congratulations and thank you.
Our work is not done. We know as organizers and movement-makers that the election of a new president does not negate our work, but that now we have a somewhat level playing field on which to contend for power. We owe it to ourselves, to this community that we have built over the last four years and invested in, to the relationships we have cultivated, to the victories we have won, and most importantly, to the people we serve, to deepen our rigor in this field and push this administration to radicalize, as well as question what is narratively and politically possible.
Thanks to each of you for joining in this experiment. We are a nimble network with low overhead, but we do have costs. If you have benefited in any way from the resources and community we have built together, can you chip in to help us pay for things like facilitation and stipends for under-resourced comms folks? Any amount is helpful. (You can also check out what RadComms members are saying about how RadComms has helped them expand the scope and possibilities fo thie rwork.
Whether you can give financially or not, we are so grateful that you are giving of your time and talents in the fight for narrative power, because what sets grassroots communicators apart is that we don’t sacrifice principles or ethics for strategy.
We believe the most important role strategic communications plays in social movements is to build narrative power. We know 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 what makes our work so important. We also know narrative shifts and social change do not happen overnight—nor do they occur one organization at a time. They require all of us to be in community with one another. And here we are.
In community and service,