MomsRising.org

NN13 Day Two – Moms and Storytelling

Reference links – Mother Talkers and MomsRising (session 1) and Kate Stayman-London (session 2)

Friday dawned with a schedule that promised to be more about socializing than sessions. I’ll write a separate post just on the parties and Pub Quiz 🙂

Session 1 – Parenting Caucus hosted by MomsRising

When I go to Netroots (originally Yearly Kos), I always attend the Parenting Caucus. Run by Elisa Batista who is a founder of the Mother Talkers blog which I joined when it first launched, the parenting group is a small but active group of progressive minded parents. No, it’s not just moms – in fact once year Elisa insisted that her husband participate too (Markos of Daily Kos) along with a bunch of other dads. We’ve had a few “off campus” gatherings but recently it’s been a regular session, and she’s been inviting some great speakers to join in. Now she works for Moms Rising so this was technically their event, but it was still relaxed and fun. Elisa always hands out some great swag such as a sweet MomsRising supermom t-shirt! Oh, plus they fed us what was probably the healthiest food I had the whole weekend! A fabulous array of fresh fruits and vegetables and Naked Juice to drink. I always go in saying I am just going to be there to listen and support Elisa (and eat of course!) and then I always end up joining the conversation no matter what 🙂 We do tend to focus heavily on education of course, but also on issues like women’s access to health care – which allows us to control how many kids (if any!) we have – and also family and sick leave time for working parents. It really does boggle my mind that in a country supposedly as “wealthy” as we are that we have the *least* amount of paid family leave. Whether it’s to be home when a new baby is born or adopted, or to care for an elderly parent, working people struggle trying to balance those needs and remain financially stable in the U.S.

Session 2 – Why Screenwriters Make the Best Organizers: Using Storytelling to Build Empathy

I targeted this session because I thought it would help me with my developing writing skills and I must say I took some awesome notes!

The speaker was Kate Stayman-London – here is snippet from her NN13 bio:

You may know her writing from that one video with the cast of The West Wing, that other video with Cher and Kathy Griffin, or all those emails you get from Change.org (among other organizations). Kate worked for many organizations in the progressive movement (AFL-CIO, CREDO, etc.) before heading to Hollywood to get her MFA in screenwriting from USC.

Kate opened up by making us cry. Lovely! But really, when you watch that 6 minute silent montage at the beginning of Pixar’s UP, you probably start sobbing like a small child too. Why? Because great storytellers know how to build up empathy between characters and an audience. Here is the one sentence Kate told us all to write down to sum up that premise:

“Somebody wants something badly and is having difficulty getting it.”

The idea is to create a character people can relate to who is trying to achieve a goal or solve a problem. There are stakes involved of course. Either the high of reaching the goal or the drama and foreboding of what could happen if they fail. In that opener for UP, the initial sense you are left with is failure. The characters who you want to achieve their dreams are thwarted. First, it is the loss of their dream of having a child, then it is their inability to go on the dream adventure trip (which replaces the dreams of a baby) before Ellie dies. (dear gawd how I both HATE that movie for pulling on my heartstrings so much and also ADMIRE it for what it accomplished)

ANYWAY….(sniffle)

After she ripped us apart with that video, she went on to show how storytelling like that can translate into activism. When you are trying to motivate people to organize and support a cause, you definitely want to tell real life stories that pull people in like a movie, but the difference is you want to end the video with a sense of hope – your target audience needs to believe that they can change the ending. That their efforts will pay off to make life better for themselves and/or the people in the tale.

And that makes total sense doesn’t it? Given that the way you grab the attention of people right now is through images and, particularly, video, you can see how this screenwriter’s strategy would work. Six minutes is all it could take to move you deeply enough to say “I’ve got to DO something about this!”

Huh – look at that – 3 weeks removed from that session and just glancing at my notes brought all those thoughts/feelings/ideas back to me. Well done Kate!

More to come….including a picture of me with…a hip hop artist? Yep. Seriously.