At ReFrame, we believe that even small shifts in strategy and relatively small boosts in communications capacity at the grassroots organizing level can have tremendous impact on the success of organizing and policy campaigns. And when local organizations are networked through national alliances, as is increasingly the case, wins at the local level can be amplified to national audiences, with the possibility of ever larger national victories and narrative shifts.
Yet too often, grassroots organizations at the local level have extremely limited communications capacity, with implications for both local and national campaigns.
We started ReFrame to develop the next generation of social justice communicators AND increase the capacity of organizations to integrate communications as a core strategy. During our first two years, we’ve had the privilege to work with the communications team at the National Domestic Workers Alliance and have recruited three mentees from their local affiliates. And we’ve seen some powerful results.
“Organizing is communications” and vice versa
According to Shelly Ruzicka, the Communications and Development Director at Arise Chicago and a 2015 ReFrame mentee, it was partly a larger focus on communications work that led to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s signing of the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights in August 2016.
A victory that was five years in the making, the bill grants the state’s nannies, eldercare workers, and housecleaners basic workplace protections like the right to minimum wage, protection against sexual harassment, and a day of rest for workers employed for at least 20 hours a week.
Right before she started the program, Ruzicka’s role shifted from a development position to a communications position, one she had never taken on. As the NDWA affiliate in Illinois with the most communications capacity, Ruzicka was tasked with coming up with the communications strategy to convince the state’s notoriously anti-labor governor to sign the bill into law. ReFrame, she said, couldn’t have come at a better time for the organization and, as Ruzicka put it, it “allowed me to be more sophisticated and more strategic, and really allowed us to up our game.”
One turning point in the campaign came in September of 2015, with a large action at the state capitol that brought workers from all over Illinois to lobby for the passage of the bill. Working with her ReFrame mentor, Ruzicka was able to ensure that the entire action, from press work to the ways they engaged their targets, was crafted with communications in mind.
ReFrame taught her that “organizing is communications is organizing.” “Communications isn’t just digital media and the press,” she said. “It’s also how we’re communicating with our targets and showing up powerfully.”
Do you want to join the next generation of communications strategists? Apply for our 2017 cohort today: www.reframementorship.org