Blogger Public Awareness Committee

Language to Build Bridges

This past weekend marked the fifth annual Activist Academy Training of the Idaho chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). From an engaging workshop on power analysis, to an informative session on lobbying, it was a day packed with information for any aspiring Everyday Advocate.

Looking for a simple way to craft a message for your legislator? Check out the “Five Finger Guide” that’s part of the “Lobbying 101 Toolkit.”

Coming away from a day full of learning with a tool like this was a definite win! There was one question, though, that I wrestled with long after the training was over: when using language to make an ask of our legislators, or, when articulating the value of the services that we provide to children, families and communities, how does the language that we use unite or divide?

In a break-out session on media and messaging, we were encouraged to craft a message that has a clearly defined opponent (“them”) and a clearly identified challenger (“us”). There are many times and many places where we will have to draw our “line in the sand,” so to speak, leaving us little choice but to create an “us” and “them.” Within the framework of Everyday Advocacy, though, an initiative that places individual relationships at its core, and that seeks to “build strong relationships with…children, parents, adults, our bosses, our bosses’ boss (or bosses), our co-workers, our elected officials, our press and media colleagues,” how can we use language intentionally, to build bridges and not isolate?

In my library community, for example, the phrase “Read Banned Books!” summons all sorts of fears in parents. Our Library Director, ever-wise to the culture around her, suggested that we reframe “Banned Books Week” into a “Freedom to Read Week” – highlighting the exact same books, but in a way that doesn’t further isolate patrons. The goal, she says, is to appeal to shared values and celebrate what we have in common.

What do you do in your community (or in your very own workplace) to come to a shared understanding with those you may not naturally agree with? Know of any good books or articles that address this topic? Please share in the comments below!

Photo of Skye Corey

Skye Corey, Youth Services Librarian at Meridian Library District (ID), is writing this post for the Public Awareness Committee. She can be reached at

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