Top 10 Communications Favorites 2019

Season’s greetings,

Every December, I like to send an update to friends, thought partners, and clients I’ve connected with, as a way of expressing appreciation and reflecting on the year. 

In 2019, I had the pleasure of supporting clients to advance civic engagement, addiction recovery, youth sexual and reproductive health and rights, feminist organizing, disability rights, and ending commercial sexual exploitation.

If my apps are to be believed, this year I read 45 books’ worth of internet essays, and listened to 152 hours of podcasts. I wanted to share some of my 2019 communications favorites—essays, research, interviews, messaging guides, books, etc. I spent a lot of time this year thinking about how—and why—social change strategies can move toward bridging instead of breaking, and decentering the binary rather than reverse discourse. You’ll see this throughout the favorites.

Looking forward to collaborating in 2020,

“Culture is a battleground where some narratives win and others lose. Whether we believe someone should be locked in a cage or not is shaped by the stories we absorb about one another, and whether they’re disrupted or not. At a time when inequality and white supremacy are soaring, collective opinion is born at monuments, museums, screens, and stages—well before it’s confirmed at the ballot box.” - Elizabeth Méndez Berry and Chi-hui Yang (see #9)

2019 Top 10: Communications Favorites

  1. Tie: Cultural Strategy: An Introduction and Primer - Art/Work Practice; and Notes on a Cultural Strategy for Belonging - Evan Bissell of the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley—both are reports that name and expand our understanding of how we can use culture as a site of change

  2. Bridging: the Art of Solidarity - Brian Stout, weaving together concepts crucial for transformational social change, from bridging to empathy to transcending binaries

  3. The 1619 Project (highly recommend the podcast version) - The New York Times Magazine, an initiative observing the 400th anniversary of the beginning of American slavery, and reframing the country’s history to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the center of the stories we tell ourselves about who we are

  4. Pleasure Activism - adrienne maree brown, a book of mindset-altering essays from amb and other feminist thinkers building new narratives about how politics can feel good and how what feels good always has a complex politics of its own

  5. The Roots of Extremism, with Deeyah Khan - The Ezra Klein Show, a podcast episode in which Khan describes the surprising learning from her months interviewing both white supremacists and jihadists: that the core psychological draw of an extremist movement is not ideology, but a sense of belonging and purpose

  6. Lessons for Social Change Communications Strategy From the US Marriage Equality and Antismoking Campaigns - Doug Hattaway, on how tapping into people’s “aspirational identities” is key to durable attitude change 

  7. This Land - Crooked Media hosted by Rebecca Nagle, an 8-part podcast series on how narratives about Native people reinforced policy which reinforced narratives…all the way to a Supreme Court case that will determine the fate of five tribes and nearly half the land in Oklahoma

  8. ‘You Can’t Lift People Up by Putting Them Down’: How to Talk About Tough Issues of Race, Poverty, and More - Trabian Shorters, on why deficit-based framing is insulting, inaccurate, and ineffective—and how we can both tell stories better as well as improve social impact by focusing on aspirations and contributions instead

  9. The Dominance of the White Male Critic - Elizabeth Méndez Berry and Chi-hui Yang, on why it matters that for decades, those who have been given the biggest platforms to interpret culture are white men

  10. Confronting White Nationalism in Schools - Western States Center, a toolkit for parents, students, teachers, school administrators, and the wider community, focused on responding to white nationalist targeting and recruitment of students

Bonus: Top 5 Podcasts

Podcasts are quickly becoming my favorite form of media. I listen to them on walks, while cooking, on road trips to visit my nieces in Seattle…Here are some episodes/series that stood out for me this year:

  1. Real Estate Capitalism and Gentrification with Samuel Stein (episode transcript here) - The Dig, a deep-dive into what it means that 61% of the world’s assets are now invested in real estate, most of it housing—capitalism’s most prized way to store wealth

  2. Mariame Kaba and Prison Abolition - Justice in America…If the idea of prison abolition currently sounds radical to you, give it a listen and let me know what you think by the end

  3. Voters with an Authoritarian Personality - The Good Fight with Yascha Mounk (starting at 4:44; I can’t recommend the intro), an interview with researcher Karen Stenner, exploring the psychology behind why so many people are embracing authoritarian leaders right now, and the implications for democracy—as well as communications strategies (Related: this Ezra Klein Show episode on demographic change)

  4. Philanthropy vs. Democracy - Future Perfect, a series on the tension between philanthropy and democracy (especially the episode He Bought the Law)

  5. Wonderland - Pop Culture Collaborative hosted by Bridgit Antoinette Evans and Tracy Van Slyke, a series exploring the connections between pop culture, human nature, and social change (published 2017)

There is so much out there. What were your favorites of 2019?

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