ABOUT

Our Story Logo

If we are to make the bold changes our country and our times demand, Americans must understand and embrace our values and our core beliefs about creating a just society. Narrative is fundamental to making the cultural change that is essential for social and political change.

Mission – The mission of Our Story – The Hub for American Narratives is to support and develop the capacity among progressive organizations and leaders for powerful, values-based communication on core American beliefs.

What we do – Narrative should be a core capacity in every endeavor to make change. We can help you develop that capacity:

Our Story is a project of the Proteus Fund and Proteus Action League. We work with non-profit (501c3) and social welfare (501c4) organizations and with elected leaders. Many times we are able to provide services and support from our foundation grants. In other cases, we may need to ask for financial support to assist you. Contact us to see how we can work together.

Who we work with – At Our Story, we work with a broad array of progressive organizations and leaders, including: community organizations, constituency groups, issue campaigns, elected officials, labor unions, think tanks, communications groups, state narrative projects and public opinion researchers.

Who we are – The Our Story Advisory Committee forms a learning community to develop and strengthen powerful values-values based communication.

The Our Story staff includes:

Richard Kirsch
Richard Kirsch

Richard Kirsch, Our Story Director, combines a wealth of experience in developing and communicating narrative with an outstanding record of accomplishment leading national and state efforts to win social change. He led the development of the Progressive Economic Narrative Project and has worked with issue partners to develop narratives on economic issues and issues as diverse as the U.S. Role in the World, and public education. He has done extensive training with organizational leaders and elected officials on delivering powerful narratives.

Mr. Kirsch brings 30 years of coalition building, outreach, policy, organizing and communications work at the state and national level. He served as the National Campaign Manager of Health Care for America Now, from the Campaign’s founding to its successful conclusion with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. HCAN was an 1,100 member coalition, led by major progressive organizations, that deployed staff in 44 states and spent $47 million to organize for comprehensive health care reform. As HCAN’s chief spokesperson, Mr. Kirsch appeared on PBS’s The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, CNN, ABC’s World News Tonight and Good Morning America, Fox, CSPAN, and the Colbert Report and was frequently quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

Richard Kirsch was a Senior Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute from 2010 through 2016. He is the author of Fighting for Our Health: The Epic Battle to Make Health Care a Right in the United States. From 1985 to 2008, Mr. Kirsch served as Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York.

Spencer Olson
Spencer Olson

Spencer Olson is the director of Washington State’s Communications Hub and Heroes’ Narrative program. Mr. Olson brings a rich background in grassroots organizing, community engagement, and political communications to his work developing and implementing story-based messaging for issue campaigns. As director of the Communications Hub, Mr. Olson oversaw the research and development of the Heroes’ Narrative’s latest handbook and leads implementation of the narrative in the field. Mr. Olson has had particular success with engaging “rising American majority” communities in the creation and use of the handbook, adding a racial equity lens to the Heroes’ Narrative.

Prior to leading the Communications Hub, Spencer worked in HIV/AIDS advocacy in Washington, DC supporting LGBTQ youth in the fight against the disease and was recognized by the White House as one of “the Next Generation of LGBTQ leaders” in 2012. Spencer has also organized around the country, working with groups including CREDO Action, NRDC, and Energy Action Coalition.

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Narrative – a powerful tool for social change.

To access the Speaker notes: on the Google Slides control panel 
select the options button (gear icon), then open speaker notes.

… public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment … makes statutes and decisions possible or impossible. —Abraham Lincoln

Narrative – a powerful tool for social change. At Our Story, we define narrative as a values based story about our core beliefs.

Powerful narratives, used over and over again over time, can change how people view the world and shape cultural common sense. Values and story are essential elements of narratives that move people.

Core beliefs – narrative and the 3rd face of power. We think of politics as what happens in elections, in legislative bodies and in our courts – that’s the 1st face of power. We see how entities – organizations, corporations, labor unions, political parties and more – work to shape politics – that’s the 2nd face of power.

But, as President Lincoln said, how people understand their relationship to the world around them, how they understand society, the economy, the role of government – is the dominant 3rd face of power. The prevailing worldview is the environment that defines what political change is possible.

Effective narratives, used smartly over and over again over time, can change worldview. And changing worldview is a powerful lever to make major change.

Values – It has been said that “morality is the extraordinary human capacity that made civilization possible.” Values – concepts that organize our morality – have tremendous emotional and explanatory value. And as Aristotle noted 2,000 years ago, emotion trumps reason in public persuasion. Powerful narratives spring from our values.

Story – We organize our world through stories and powerful narratives are based on stories. The epic stories – from the Iliad through Star Wars – are about how heroes vanquish villains to win their quest.

Powerful narratives use these story elements to help us understand our world.

  • What do we seek – our quest.
  • What is the problem – the villains and their threats.
  • What is the solution – the heroes and their tools.
  • Call to action – how the heroes vanquish the villain to win the quest.
  • Washington States’ Heroes’ Narrative explains the basics of epic story telling narratives.

Over and over again over time – Repetition is key to persuasion. People are much more likely to believe something they hear repeatedly. In fact, repetition can actually build new neural pathways. Repetition creates a pattern, which creates the comfort of familiarity. For narratives to drive change, we must repeat our story – including similar language – over and over again over time.

What we do – Narrative should be a core capacity in every endeavor to make change. We can help you develop that capacity:

Advisory Committee (In formation)

Mike Podhorzer, Carla Engle

AFL-CIO

Blaine Rummel

AFSCME

Mike Lux

American Family Voices

Anat Shenker Osorio

ASO Communications

Dana Laurent

BISC (Ballot Initiative Strategy Center)

Benton Strong

Center for American Progress

Jeffrey Parcher

Center for Community Change

Anita Jain, Tony Perlstein

Center for Popular Democracy

Jessica Kang, Dennis Chin

Center for Social Inclusion

Paco Fabian

Change to Win

Robert Kraig

Citizen Action of Wisconsin/Progress Centered Communications

Tamara Draut

Demos

Larry Mishel, Liz Rose

EPI

Ellen Bravo

Family Values @ Work

John Neffinger

Franklin Forum

Spencer Olson, Sarah Jaynes

Washington State Heroes Narrative (FUSE Washington & Progress Alliance of Washington)

Richard Healey

Grassroots Policy Project

Arkadi Gerney

The Hub

Liz Cattaneo

Jobs with Justice

Celinda Lake

Lake Research Partners

Amanda Ballantyne

Main Street Alliance

Anna Chu

National Women’s Law Center

Mitch Hirsch, Norman Eng

NELP

Ben Palmquist

NESRI

Julie Rowe

Opportunity Agenda

Libero Della Piana

People’s Action

Tim Lilienthal

PICO

Bernie Horn

Public Leadership Institute

Lonnie Scott

Progress Now

Sarah Jaynes

Progress Alliance of Washington

Lynn Fahselt

Rethink Media

Marcus Mrowka, Dave Palmer

Roosevelt Institute

Dan O’Sullivan, Becky Wasserman

SEIU

Anna Fahey

Sightline Institute

Jon Monteith

State Innovation Exchange – SiX

Matt Brix, Gabi Porter

State Voices

Maria de Cambra

Strong Colorado

Meg Bostrom

Topos Partnership

Jesse Ulibarri

Wellstone Action

Joe Dinkin

Working Families Party