Two organizations dedicated to supporting nonprofits as they shape social justice narratives have teamed up to distribute lesson plans and discussion guides to promote difficult conversations about economic justice in our schools and communities. communities. They follow a long tradition across the world of amplifying voices through striking visual imagery in the hopes of turning the tale of despair into action with purpose.
Last week the Opportunity agenda and Amplifier launched the We Can Thrive Together: Seeing Economic Justice for All initiative, a set of papers and guided questions that focus on the intersection of economic justice, systemic racism and inequity, recognizing that talking about pervasive poverty can be quite difficult. Four original works of art by Rommy Torrico and Noa Denmon have been commissioned to accompany the guide and help people visualize and inspire conversations about the world we want.
Elizabeth Johnsen, Director of Communications and Editorial for Opportunity Agenda, says poverty and inequity are often seen as insurmountable problems, and she hopes the âWe Can Thrive Togetherâ documents can help change that.
âPart of our theory of change is that we have to use art and culture as an entry point to really show affirmation,â says Johnsen. âWhat does an economically just, inclusive, racially just world look like? What does it look like? “
The messaging guide was created through active listening and focus groups around four core values: voice (having a say in decisions that affect you); community (recognizing that we need to work together and support each other); opportunity (the chance to achieve your dreams and to go far in life); and security (having all of your basic needs met).
Torrico and Denmon’s artwork presents a world of abundance, security, inclusion and freedom of creative opportunity to thwart the capitalist agenda of scarcity, individualism and competition. Its premise is that in order to build an economically just society, we must first âbegin to envision a world where these shared values ââcan thriveâ.
As a communications resource center, Opportunity Agenda has a research team that conducts polls, focus groups, social listening (media), and historical analysis to craft messages and shape public opinion. Their partner on this project, Amplifier, is a Seattle-based design lab that is partnering with artists, advocates and educators across the country to amplify social movements. You might recognize one of their most famous contributing members: Shepard Fairey.
âFor me, culture change, art and music are so important to a movement. They are essential in my mind, ânotes Johnsen. âIf we look back, from the AIDS quilt to historic civil rights marches and the use of song, it has all been essential for a culture change. And you can’t have a policy change without a culture change first. “
The goal is to distribute this material to 15,000 teachers, 5,000 parents and 15,000 advocates across the country. They are available for free online, including all four works of art, and are also distributed through direct partnerships with local schools and advocacy organizations. The Parents Guide has had the most downloads so far, demonstrating the need for parents to be guided through difficult conversations with their distant students in the present day.
A second phase is already underway to broaden the reach of the broadcast, including bringing in more illustrators and through webinars and guided dialogue.
âWe want to go beyond the typical economic solutions that we’ve seen in the past, because if we’ve learned anything from the last year it’s that these aren’t good enough,â says Johnsen. âWe want to inspire a national conversation on broader thinking on economic justice that helps advocates unravel the weeds of political debate and focus on visionary solutions. “âSofia Jarrin