As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, people are feeling a lot of emotions right now, all at once. There is uncertainty in our day-to-day lives, concern over the future and fear for the health, safety and livelihood of our families, friends, neighbors and selves. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by this constant cascade of emotion – especially fear.
But alongside feelings of fear and uncertainty have come those rooted in optimism for our collective ability to overcome this crisis. There is hope in communities supporting one another through mutual aid networks, love in grassroots volunteers dedicating time to help people who are most at-risk of COVID-19, and respect in physical distancing and displays of appreciation for people working on the frontlines of the pandemic.
As community-based organizations work hard to mitigate the devastating physical, emotional and economic impacts of this crisis, there is an opportunity to tap into this universal flood of emotion to build will for policies that will bring much-needed aid to our communities. As communicators, we play an essential role in doing so. By offering visions of hope, we can sow the seeds for advocacy and policies that move our country towards a more equitable, just and healthy society.
This past February, I had the opportunity to attend frank, an annual gathering that brings together communicators dedicated to social change. The lessons I learned there have never been more timely. The focus of frank2020 was emotion – how it moves us and how we can use it intentionally in our work. In categories broken down by discrete emotions, speakers explored the deep impact that anger, awe, love, fear and others have on how we relate and react to the people and world around us.
Amanda Cooper, a consultant with Lightbox Collaborative, presented as part of the Fear category, but her message, at its core, was actually how to combat fear. She spoke to the harm in scarcity messaging, which relies on people’s fear of the “fixed pie,” or “the idea that any new gains must come at a cost,” as Cooper describes on Lightbox Collaborative’s blog.
We can find examples of this scarcity framework all around us in both conservative and progressive messaging. The false claim that increasing the minimum wage will lead to a spike in prices for consumers is an example of scarcity messaging. Any time public interest communicators build an argument against a social issue – be it mass incarceration or climate change – based on the financial implications rather than the issues we truly seek to address, we give into scarcity messaging. Arguments advocating for cost-based resource allocation play into the idea that there is a limited amount of funds available when, in actuality, these are issues of justice, not economics.
Scarcity messaging relies on a sense of competition around resources, such as the distribution of funding. Narratives of abundance, or abundance messaging, turn this misconception on its head.
During her talk at frank, Cooper explained how abundance messaging is rooted in the idea that our basic needs are also our basic rights. It moves past the false concept of scarcity to focus on how resources are used, reframing our movements’ messaging to be centered on values rather than cost or deservedness. And perhaps most importantly, abundance messaging reminds us that our most precious resources, such as love, respect, safety and justice, are infinite.
For an example of abundance messaging, look no further than the coalition Families Belong Together, which fights against family separation and immigrant detention. It describes its mission as coming together to “promote dignity, unity and compassion for all children and families,” pushing past harmful narratives that center false claims of limited resources to lift up values-based decision making focused on people and their humanity.
Now, as we face a time of true scarcity, narratives of abundance have become increasingly important.
Recently, the federal government announced it would be spending nearly $500 billion of taxpayer money to bail out corporations in an attempt to aid the economy. This move is deeply reminiscent of the government’s response to the Great Recession of 2008 – which, as ProPublica reports, may have worked fantastically for corporate profits, but was nowhere near enough to help working people and families bounce back from a financial crisis similar to the one we’re currently experiencing.
So how do narratives of abundance factor in? Abundance messaging recognizes that decisions such as funding and resource allocation are expressions of values and priorities. It shows your audience that when we make the right choices, we can use our resources in a way that benefits everyone. The government’s earmarking of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars for corporations demonstrates that the U.S. does not have an issue with lack of funds, but a problem with distribution.
As your organization develops its response to the pandemic, it’s crucial to use abundance messaging to advocate for the equitable distribution of funding and resources to support the communities most impacted by the effects of COVID-19.
To learn more about how the federal stimulus package can provide relief and support for the people you serve, read my fellow Spitfire Annabelle Gardner’s recent blog, “Putting the Stimulus Package to Work for Communities.” And to learn more about abundance narratives and messaging, check out Amanda Cooper’s blog, “Abundance for the Win!”