Each of us has a story that can move others to action. Hesitant as you may be to talk about yourself, recruiting others to join you requires developing a personal connection and sharing what calls you to leadership. If you don’t author your own story, one will likely be assumed for you.
Public narrative is a leadership practice developed by longtime organizer and Harvard professor Marshall Ganz that articulates a story of why you were called to lead, a story of those whom you hope to mobilize, and a story of action.
Story of Self
What calls you to lead—in this way, in this place, at this time? It’s likely that your values were a big part of that calling. Often, our values have been shaped by parents, friends, teachers, and others we have met along the way; in other instances, our own choices have shaped this life path. The “story of self” challenges you to communicate the values that have led you to where you are today.
Story of Us
Just as your values have led you here, each community is anchored by values that are shared among its members. In community organizing, it is often the case that those values may be at risk in some way; they may also be beacons of light in what can feel like a dark world.
Put yourself into the shoes of your constituency: What are the events that everyone remembers, or the stories your elders pass on to those who have recently joined? Moments of crisis, of triumph, disaster, of resilience, of humor—the “story of us” is a specific story about specific people at a specific time that still manages to tap into our wells of empathy and remind us of the values that we share.
Story of Now
The “story of now” communicates an urgent challenge you are calling on your community to join you in acting on, now. This urgency serves to remind your community that there is no day but today; that the specific conditions which exist right now, may not exist for long; it also calls forth a fervent hope for a better future, tapping back into your community’s shared values to remind each community member that an opportunity for change is within their grasp—but only if they seize it.
Practice Public Narrative
By learning how to tell a public narrative that bridges the self, us, and now, organizers enhance their own agency and create trust and solidarity within their campaign, equipping them to engage others far more effectively.
Develop your skills in public narrative and community organizing by attending a WiLD workshop.