I’m about to give you all of my secrets…
Lessons learned about advocacy communications in the Trump years.
This is Jesus Lara with two of his children outside the supermarket in Willard, Ohio (July 2017). The campaign to stop his deportation is where I learned the power of photos to tell a story.
For strangers to connect with the person you are advocating for, they need to see their humanity. We know they are humans, but the rest of the world doesn’t know them. I’m sorry and I wish this was not true. This is my experience.
These days, people are often suspicious about what they read in news articles. They have been told it is biased. Good photos let them see the subject for themselves, a “messenger” they trust.
Jesus is an Ohio father. He is an “immigrant,” but that’s not the lede. It’s just one thing about him. You might know Jesus. He might be one of the parents who picks up his kids after school, like you. He might be the guy working out at the gym. He might be your Lyft driver. You might serve him a drink. He’s a man, a person, and all of the things God made us to be. He’s not defined by one thing.
Use words that set borders, like “community,” very carefully. Delineating “communities” by race, ethnicity, and other personal characteristics can divide us into tribes and make it harder for people outside our tribe to connect with us. The word can also be used to strengthen a group’s power, so deciding when to use it is contextual.
Jesus is not ashamed of being Mexican, but that’s not all of who he is. He was part of the Willard community until he was forced to leave. Jesus is all of us.
In immigration advocacy, the higher powers are the judges until Congress passes immigration reform. Judges want to know, “Who is harmed? How?” We have to show them. Sometimes it’s impossible to get affidavits from people who were harmed. They are in hiding. But journalists can tell their stories in an ethical way and provide evidence to use in court cases. LMK if you need tips.
Which brings me to the last topic. As a U.S. American I know what will move people. It’s telling your story (using the guidelines above). I am not going to push you. But someone has to speak out.
Many immigrants whose stories need to be told were resisters, warriors, bad-asses (my preferred, probably unethical phrase) and that’s why they came to the U.S. Some of them and their kids want to speak loudly. Some don’t. I would never push someone. But communications professionals can help them own their power, if they do.
Black Mauritanians would never have achieved a dramatic reduction of deportations during the Trump era if they didn’t speak out.
It was hard for them. I had to learn a lot. I hope I did this ethically. You can tell me if I did not, I will always be ready to learn.