“‘Culture eats policy for lunch’ is a quote that I think about a lot,” says Talia Gad, Communications Director at Partnership for Safety and Justice in Oregon. “If you don’t shift the culture, you can pass all the policies that you want but they won’t necessarily be implemented appropriately. A culture shift must happen whether we pass laws or not… It’s essential.”
As we grow the narrative power ecosystem we need to win we like to highlight the awesome strategists we get to work with. Gad is a participant in the Northwest Health Foundation Fellowship and we took a few minutes to check-in on how she is doing.
Gad enters her work from a public health background and currently spends her time at Partnership for Safety and Justice (PSJ) working to change the way the public safety system is viewed and operated. PSJ is about transforming society’s response to crime and violence in a way that centers accountability, equity and healing. It is the first policy-advocacy organization in the country to take a holistic approach of bringing together folks who are victims of crime, folks who have been convicted of crime and the families of both to address the challenges Oregonians face when dealing with the root of the issue, public safety and the lack and dysfunction in the criminal justice system.
What narratives do you believe are important to lift up in the work you do?
Gad: “One narrative would be that public safety looks different for different people. What our systems put forth as public safety is rooted in systemic racism and punishment, and it just doesn’t offer true public safety for real people, in particular for communities of color. Another is that we cannot solve homelessness, addiction and mental health crises with the carceral system. Those are a couple of the main narratives and narrative frames that we need to rebuild in order to make our public safety system more effective.”
I often think about if we could eliminate barriers in education, housing, healthcare, public health, transportation, and all of these other public services and deliver true healing services for people who seek treatment and other approaches to healing, what then could our public safety system look like? So there's a big prevention component here. There are certainly elements that we are working to get rid of but we really don’t frame our work in terms of what we are trying to deconstruct. We are framing our work in what we are trying to build.”
What are the goals of PSJ and what work are you doing to push towards those goals?
Gad: “PSJ has 3 strategic goals: Invest in local solutions to build up a public safety system that achieves true accountability and healing, shrink the current corrections system that disproportionately harms Black and brown families, and transform people’s expectations and ideas of what the public safety system is supposed to look like.
We are currently testing the way we talk about needed policy reforms and framing them as values that we share. When we view needed policy changes as values that we all want for our own families, and when these values are communicated by the right people, our hope is that we can create a more vivid picture of why we need to eliminate unnecessary barriers and give more people an opportunity to succeed.”
What brings you hope in the work you do and what keeps you inspired?
Gad: “I am really excited about this current wave of the civil rights movement. As a person who has not been systemically impacted by the system, I have to be led by people who have something to say about it. There’s humility in stepping back and making space for the right voices and right stories to be leading the movement and I am deeply influenced by those people. The movement also makes me feel hopeful because folks are taking the time to listen to impacted people, and you can’t unknow those stories. There is a wealth of knowledge and information that people are constantly being exposed to and you can’t unknow things that are now in the water.”
What do other community led organizations need to understand or do better when it comes to narrative and comms work?
Gad: “Stories inspire emotions, stories inspire feelings. If you can make people feel things, you can make them change things. This is the heart of why it's so important to make people feel what the status quo is doing to families and communities and the urgency to rethink what true public safety should look like for communities in Oregon.”
To learn more about the fellowship, check out this blog.
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