By Sydney Fang 

I found myself in a yurt… in upstate New York…with a bunch of strangers. We were deeply engrossed in a conversation about the strategic use of meerkats in powerpoint decks.


It was the start of a journey that, six months later, would have me standing in front of a room of those strangers, now my colleagues and friends, talking about how I have transformed into one of my sheroes – Olivia Pope.

It all started with the first interview for the ReFrame Mentorship. I and Parin Shah, my supervisor at APEN, got on a video call expecting a run-of-the-mill interview. An hour later, we hung up and looked at each other a little shocked. We just had one of the clearest and challenging conversations about communications since I’d been hired. The program hadn’t even started and we were learning things.  

After another interview, I found myself in the #nerdyurt for the opening convening of ReFrame. Joseph showed us a picture of a soccer field where one team’s goal was located on top of a hill. It was a metaphor for the world where we are organizing to win racial, economic, and climate justice. We, organizations and movements, are the ones playing uphill because the dominant narrative is seldom in our favor. He said that our role as communicators is to “chip away at the hill.”

Photo credit: Advertisement for SKINS

Photo credit: Jen Soriano

Effective and strategic communications can enhance all other approaches on the playing field so that we can win. 

As I talked with my fellow mentees, I learned many of us have been running around responding to requests for flyer designs or email copy, all the while wishing for time to write more press releases. In the #nerdyurt, where we learned from leading communicators in the field–like Mervyn Marcano, Jung Hee Choi, Jen Soriano, Sally Kohn, and B. Loewe–it became very clear that “more press releases” is not the answer to winning communications.

We need integration and strategy, not the next shiny tactic. 

Equipped with some new tools and this fresh perspective, I returned to APEN, ready to take more ownership of my role as a strategic communicator. I was channeling my inner Olivia Pope. 

I once felt flustered by all of the requests I was handling for tactical communications support, but as “Sydnivia,” I am leading collaborative processes with my team and members to develop campaign communications strategy from start to finish.

This change didn’t happen all on my own. After the opening retreat, I met weekly with Jen Soriano, my mentor, where we talked about my learning objectives, troubleshot arising challenges, and pulled out important lessons from the work I was doing. I also attended the CSS advanced training, and a few webinar trainings on communications tactics.

The container developed and held by ReFrame allowed me to step into my Sydnivia role by giving the time and space to reflect, the support of an awesome mentor, and the peer-to-peer lessons from the other mentees. 

A couple of the biggest lessons from the six months I spent as a ReFrame Mentee: 

  • Targeted communications comes from a solid campaign strategy.
    • If the campaign requires communications to “the general public,” then it’s time to sharpen the campaign goals.
  • Communications is not a substitute for organizing; communications enhances existing organizing when we connect what’s important to our base to what’s important to those outside of our base. We first need to be in relationship with our base.

While I learned other things, these three points could spark a change in how most organizations approach communications. 

In that yurt on that dark night in the New York wilderness, they told us that we – the mentees – are the next generation of strategic communicators for social justice. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. I don’t think I could have predicted what a profound impact ReFrame would have  on my strategic vision and my ability to move that vision through my organization and the movements I am a part of. 

We are the next generation, and we are coming for you. 

ReFrame Mentees (l – r): Natalia Berthet Garcia, Sydney Fang, Shelly Ruzicka
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