Alan Jenkins Transcript

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And Mr. Brown, I’m so glad to see you today on a, on what’s

turning out to be a beautiful spring day in the Bay

Eric: Area. I’m so glad to see you. That was a [00:01:00] little that was a little quick and perfunctory. You’re, you’re, Usually a little more enthusiastic. We

Kirk: have real stuff to get to today. This is a really big time.

You have no time for enthusiasm. This is a big time

conver. In fact, actually, let me set up this way. This was delightful. Delightful. What we’re about to hear was actually delightful, which is interesting given that the topic matter, the subject matter is a little bit somber, is not delightful. Very somber actually.

Actually. But the conversation and we’ll get into it afterwards, was completely delightful. So set this up. Get people into this cuz this is a, this is a another really, really good one. We.

Eric: We try Kirk, my guest. Well, can

Kirk: I make a comment? Yes. No. Yes. Some of us try harder than some of us try harder than others.

In, in one of our, one of our favorite to be one of our favorite listeners. Said

as you get on the podcast this week, remind Eric that he does all the work. And so I want,

I will. I will say that as we start. Uhhuh, thank you for doing all the work for this podcast, Eric. I really appreciate it. You’re very welcome,

Eric: Kirk.

It’s nothing. Okay. My guest this time. Is Alan Jenkins. [00:02:00] Alan is a Harvard Law professor. He is a former clerk to the Supreme Court. He is the co-founder of Opportunity Agenda. He was the director of human rights at the Ford Foundation. He is in short and overachiever. Yeah, but I think one of the more exciting.

Aspect of Alan’s career is now the fact that he is co co-author of one six, the graphic novel, a comic book, which is not just a regular comic book. It explores what might have happened if the January 6th mob had been successful, and as we have a conversation on the whatever in the aftermath of the first of what may be more than one indictment.

Donald Trump. I, I think having this conversation about that moment in our history puts things in an interesting little kind of

Kirk: package. So, once again, you’ve got another overachiever on the podcast. It is great to have Alan here and, and can we go through the details? So Alan, you can find Alan on Twitter at [00:03:00] Opportunity one.

The number one at Opportunity one and the graphic novel. So, and say comic book you can And I wanted to say that right up front. You guys talk about it at the end of the interview, but it’s one, you spell it out. O n e six and you’ll find it there on the page they put up with the Western State Center, which has been part of this.

But this is a terrific conversation. You guys cover a lot of, We’ll try to do justice to it when we all, when we come back, but let’s, let’s give this a, listen. This is Alan, Alan Jenkins with us on Let’s Hear It.

Eric: Welcome to, let’s Hear It. My guest today is Alan Jenkins, Harvard Law professor, co-founder and former president of the Social Justice Communications Organization Opportunity Agenda.

Former Director of Human Rights at the Ford Foundation and so many other things. And now Alan is the co-author of one six, the graphic novel, which explores what might have happened if the January 6th mob had been successful. Alan, [00:04:00] it’s great to see you. Thank you so much for coming on. Let’s hear it.

I’m just, I’m thrilled to,

Alan Jenkins: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me on, Eric.

Eric: This is great. I’m really looking forward to this conversation. I always say that, but now this time I actually mean it. No so anyway, I didn’t even actually, I just say that to all your guests. I say that to all the guests, but this time I really mean it.

Great. So I didn’t get halfway down the list of your accomplishments. And on LinkedIn it says when you go on LinkedIn, it, you know how it says like, Additional, it says Show all 23 experiences. So you, when you were a clerk on the Supreme Court, did you think that, you know, you’d also be the author of a

Alan Jenkins: comic book?

You know, actually when I was 16, I would’ve thought that I would be the author of a, a co-author of a comic book when I was clerking in the Supreme Court. Maybe not so much.

Eric: I’m so interested. You’ve had such an interesting career that to me, feels like it goes in, in a [00:05:00] curvy line, but it moves in one direction.

I mean, your work has been connected with. Justice, civil Rights, an understanding of how to advance causes that matter. And obviously you got big started in the law, but then you, then you went to, wait, did you go to Ford? And then Opportunity Agenda. Can you gimme the Yes, the, the quick. So you went to Ford and made grants and then started your.

Co-funded, founded Opportunity Agenda. Why? How did that happen? Why? Why did you feel like that was the time to start a new organization? What were you trying to achieve?

Alan Jenkins: Yeah, so, you know, a, as you alluded to my career, and actually the entirety of my career has been at the intersection of storytelling, law and social justice for positive change.

Every job that I’ve had has followed that [00:06:00] through line sometimes in obvious ways, like the opportunity agenda and I, I. Circle back and answer your question sometimes in less obvious ways. You know, when I was arguing the Supreme Court, for example, with the Justice Department, I, that’s also about storytelling.

It’s about legal research and precedent and the text of our constitution, and it’s also about values. And and the story of us similarly, when I was at NAACP Legal Defense Fund as a civil rights lawyer, doing more kind of trial level and sometimes appellate level litigation, but also working with communities at the in, in that instance that were suffering from both racial discrimination and often socioeconomic exploitation.

Also about storytelling and about flu. Right. To be able to talk to courts in a language that they can understand and to be able to talk to everyday folks, rural folks in the Carolinas black folks, for example, in my first cases formerly incarcerated people [00:07:00] undocumented people, but also. Folks at the White House, you know, in the, in the executive branch and Congress and the like.

So all of that was of a piece, and I think every job I’ve had has been kind of developing that fluency and that skillset. To answer your question, when I was at. Foundation. I was ultimately my last job there was Director of Human Rights, so I was responsible for overseeing grant making in the US on rights issues, racial justice and women’s rights, and L G B T Q, and Immigrant Rights and Reproductive Rights and others I, and also human rights programming across at that time, 11.

Regions, China, you know, north Africa, the Southern cone, very diverse kinds of places. And what I kept seeing over and over again was that, especially in the US we were not taking communications or cultures seriously as change strategies. And so we would win a lawsuit. Only to see it [00:08:00] overturned by a ballot initiative.

Thank you, California. Or we would fund a big report with a big, you know, and, and then it would gather dust and nobody would pay attention to it cuz it was written in a language that only five people could understand. And so it seemed to me that we needed to get better at that. I did a lot of grant making around.

I got a master’s degree in media studies while I was at Ford, and I decided over time I did not start with the idea that the world needed another social justice nonprofit organization, but ultimately I concluded that the world could use one that was working with and within the ecosystem of change organizations, which is why I co-founded the Opportunity Agenda.

And as you know, we worked and the organization is still thriving and working with all kinds of change makers, advocates and organizers and policy makers and business leaders and labor leaders and faith leaders to tell a more connected and more powerful story about [00:09:00] opportunity and, and human rights in the us.

That was a long answer to your question, but that’s that’s what my journey was, at least up to that point. We’re all

Eric: talking about storytelling. We need, they always say that the, you know, the lawyer that tells the best story tends to carry the day with the jury, for sure. Maybe now with the Supreme Court, maybe they’re a little more inure to it, but still the idea that we, we ought to be able to articulate what our vision is and, and.

Be compelling in ways that bring people in. But I have also, the more I think about it, the more I think storytelling without a strategy is also is, is great, but it doesn’t get you where you need to go. And it feels to me, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, that opportunity agenda and other work that you’ve done is, is really looking at at outcomes at what it.

What a better world looks like and how to get there. We’ll get into the, the comic book soon, the graphic novel comic book. Call it what you Want soon, because I, I, I’m feeling like that’s where you’re moving with this, but can you talk a little bit about how you take [00:10:00] storytelling and wrap it into a strategy with an understanding of what change, what changes you’re looking for, and how you’re going to get.

We’re all

Alan Jenkins: communicating all the time. All of us who are in, whether in philanthropy or you know, the academy where I am now, or you know, organizers, advocates, we’re all communicating, but not always strategically and sometimes not strategically at all. And so what that means for me, and now I teach, you know, a class on this at Harvard Law School, among other things, is understanding what are your.

Who are your audiences, the ones that really matter the most, whether they’re decision makers or influencers or or others, consumers, et cetera. What values are important to them and what values do you share? With them. So not speaking only in a language that, you know, values that they, your audiences believe if you don’t hold those values, but also not just talking about the issue from the, your [00:11:00] perspective of why you care about it.

And that part is a mistake that we make. All the time in the social justice world. And then making sure there’s alignment between your message, your narrative, your framing, and also the vehicles by which you’re communicating in order to reach and move those audiences. And, you know, a couple of other things just based on my experiences and I would say occasional frustration with with philanthropy on this you know, one.

In order to win on the vast majority of issues that we work on, we have to both inspire the base and activate the base on the one hand and persuade the undecided. Sometimes you can do just one of those things and win the NRA, for example, only engages their base and they win over and over again. And we could talk about why that is.

I, you know, probably you and I have both have studied that example. Sometimes you can win very rarely by persuading the undecideds, but typically you’ve gotta do both of those [00:12:00] things. So that’s a, a big, I would say, mistake. I often hear funders say, well, you know, this is preaching to the, to the converted.

Yeah, you gotta do that. And as a movement, you have to persuade the undecided. And not every organization or communicator is gonna be well suited to do both. And so there has to be an overarching strategy that does both. But that doesn’t mean that every organization has to be trying to reach all those different audiences all the time.

And part of the, one of the things that I think funders can be good at, and some are. Is to have that big picture and recognize, okay, this group, they’re community organizers, they’re grassroots, or maybe they’re rooted in communities that are directly impacted. Maybe they’re going to empower the base to make change the way the NRA does, but for good, not for you know, mischief.

And maybe this other group is more institutional, maybe they have more resources, maybe. Are going to be more persuasive with undecideds, and that’s gonna be their piece. But we have to [00:13:00] have that coordination and we have to understand that all those things have to happen. Second thing I would say is, you know, make sure that the, the resources are being devoted to actually achieve the goals.

Don’t underfund. A communication strategy and then blame your grantees for not achieving the goals, right? Your grantees are gonna take whatever you can give them. But remember, think about, you know, many of us think of the marriage equality fight as the gold standard in terms of not just transformative success, which hopefully we can hold onto, but also a, a really.

Strategic communications approach that included culture, that included organizing based communications and included traditional communications. You know, there’s a great report, hearts and Minds by Proteus Fund or that they sponsored it. They invested 173 million, not Proteus, but the, the civil marriage collaborative, 173 million over a [00:14:00] decade to achieve one transformative change.

And a large percentage of that was for communications. So that’s not to say you can’t win any battles without. 173 million, but don’t make a a $50,000 grant and then come back and say, well, why haven’t you moved? Hearts and Minds. You know, it, it’s also the case that no individual funder necessarily has to be the only one to be funding.

You know, that you, it’s not just what you’re contributing, but what is what resources are the philanthropic field contributing? But check that out. Right. Actually find out what the answer to that is. I guess the last piece. Is timeline. There’s some things from a communication standpoint that we’re gonna achieve in a year or two years, and it’s actually possible to do that.

The marriage equality movement had a 20 year timeline. They achieved their goals in 11 years, but they recognized that it was gonna be a long slog. It was not gonna happen till in in a single grant period. [00:15:00] And that’s. That’s a very rare level of commitment from

Eric: funders. We’ve now got a course in strategic communications grant making here’s the syllabus.

Yeah, no, but it’s great. And I, I totally agree. And one of the things that you said, That struck me was not just about rose preaching to the choir and trying to move the movables, but it seems to me that I’m getting, I’m segueing very cleverly into your new project one 16, which is that it feels to me like you are.

You are reaching new audiences for sure, because this is a graphic novel, which not every policymaker is going to pick up. It’s not gonna end up in their inbox every day. So you’re reaching a new audience. But I also think that you’re reaching existing audiences in new ways. Because when I read the first chapter of it, I’m, I mean, I was, I was struck cold by the emotional experience of your.[00:16:00]

And basically what you are suggesting is what would’ve happened if the mob turned right and went into the Senate Chamber instead of being led away by an extremely brave Capitol police officer and they ended up going somewhere else. And obviously other things will happen. And I think the second section.

There will, there will be more story when it comes out, but the, the, I had a visceral experience about that day in sitting here and reading your, your book that I didn’t have. When seeing it on television, believe it or not. Mm-hmm. Or reading it or reading about it in the newspaper and it, it feels to me that you’re using a medium that has a different kind of power than many of the traditional ways that we get our news and information.

Can you talk about why, now we can get into your origin story of this project. What was it about this medium and this story that you felt went together?

Alan Jenkins: [00:17:00] Well, you know, Kind of weeks and months after January 6th, 2021, after the, the attempted insurrection. I was literally waking up in a cold sweat at 3:00 AM night after night worrying about our democracy and you know, whereas I already felt the na, the public narrative turning towards, wow, we dodged a bullet, you know, time to move on.

It was very clear to me that the forces behind that, and I’m talking about not just the mob, although a lot. Members of the mob, you know, have gone on to organize but the fake elector scheme, the disinformation, the attacks on, on the media and accurate reporting, the extent to which so many members of Congress supported the insurrectionist goals and tried to minimize what they were trying to achieve.

And so it seemed to me that one of the reasons why I was waking up in a cold sweat is because I’m a law professor now. I’m no longer in the business of either [00:18:00] communications or, or advocacy directly. And I, I’m used to being able to do something when when I feel the, you know, an existential threat to our multicultural democracy.

And it seemed to me that something I could do was to create. Engaging storytelling that could reach a lot of people who perhaps were not paying attention, who care about democracy, who care about a vibrant kind of multicultural America but are busy and are dealing with their own issues and may not have a chance to read the 300 plus page January 6th committee report.

And so comic books. And, you know, it’s a graphic novel, but that’s just a fancy word for a comic book. Really jumped out at me. I’m a comic book guy from way back in the day. You know, if your listeners could see my office where I’m speaking to you from, to the right to the left, I should say, is a giant wall of socially important comic books.

And I’ve got 3000, [00:19:00] 3000 more in my attic. Whoa. But, you know, comic books, a, a couple things about them. O one is they’re compelling visual storytelling. You don’t need an advanced degree to consume and understand a comic book. You don’t. They can be translated into multiple languages. You you know, you don’t need much time to read them.

There are people they, they tra. Ideology. You go into a comic book store and you will meet progressives, conservatives, libertarians, all kinds of folks they traverse. Age. If you’re 80 years old in America, you grew up. With comic books, or at least in the proximity of comic books. In fact, when you were born, if you’re 80 comic books, were one of the leading pop culture vehicles in America.

And today, if you’re 15 today, you’re growing up with comic books, comic books, superhero stories are the tent poles of Hollywood. They are receiving a resurgence and print form. They’re available digitally. So seemed like the right [00:20:00] vehicle to tell that story and importantly. And so first of all, Immediately approached my now co-author, go Golan, who is a New York Times bestselling graphic novelist, his previous works, goodnight Bush and unemployed man.

Just a creative visual genius. And you know, it seemed to me that this was a, a good way to tell this story, that it should be in the dystopian speculative fiction. The What If genre, which comes from Orwell and Octavia Butler and The Handmaid’s Tale, the Twilight Zone. All of those are of that genre.

And it’s also a very familiar comic book genre that we now, it’s now making its way into Hollywood. You know what if history had turned out differently and we also knew. That it had to be a creative, compelling, character driven story. Nobody wants to see just the illustrated version of the January 6th committee report.

Maybe some people wanna see it, [00:21:00] but those aren’t the people who were, we’re trying to reach. They’re already in it, right? So, you know, so we had to sit down and figure out who are the characters? What, what are the dramatic points? What happens? Where do we start telling the story? And so far, luckily, I think we made the right choices.

The book has been, it’s available now on, in digital form, on am Amazon and the issue platform. We’re, you know, 4.5 stars out of, out of five. It’s a tough crowd on Amazon, you know, we’re doing well and we got some great coverage. And the print version is coming out in a few weeks. We’re, we’re speaking you know, in third week in February, and it should be out in, in within two weeks after that.

Think we made the right choices, but that’s why we made them. Okay, we’re going to

Eric: be back in just a second. For a brief break, I’m talking with Alan Jenkins, the author of one 16, A graphic novel, which is also a comic book. And we’ll be back after the break to talk more about it. You are listening to, let’s [00:22:00] Hear It, a podcast about foundation and nonprofit communications hosted by Kirk Brown and Eric Brown.

Let’s hear. It is sponsored by the Communications Network, which connects, gathers, and informs the field of leaders working in communications for good, because foundations and nonprofits that communicate well are stronger, smarter, and vastly more effective. You can find, let’s hear it online at, let’s or on Twitter at Let’s Hear at Cast.

Thanks for listening. And now back to the show. And I’m back with Alan Jenkins, the author of 16 Harvard Professor, former Ford Foundation program director and the former, the co-founder and former president of Opportunity Agenda. And I, I just, like I said, the, the first chapter of this hit me like a ton of bricks.

It was, first of all, I love the fact that Ben’s chili Bowl was the, the center place of the, of the resistance. It, it just seemed right, but it [00:23:00] has also provided the kind of understanding that we actually could. Been in this place, even though it’s fantastical, there’s also something vaguely realistic about it because we are seeing just the kinds of concerns about, I mean, we’ve got members of Congress who are ardent January 6th supporters.

There’s, we’re not that far off. Is your sense, and you, you mentioned we dodged a bullet, but that might have been, you know, a quick dodge. Where do you see. Where we are right now. How is, how is this in your own mind playing out?

Alan Jenkins: Well, you know, we did dodge a bullet thanks to the courageous actions of Capitol Hill police officers and, and other people.

Mike Pence showed real courage and integrity on that day. And there were a lot of mostly Republican elected and appointed election officials who refused to be bullied and stood up for the truth. And that was Absolut. [00:24:00] Crucial. But if we dodged a bullet on January 6th, 2021, there are 10 more bullets behind it and they’re headed for us.

And you know, as you think about the, the challenges and the threats to our multicultural democracy anti-Semitism is on the rise. And we certainly saw that. On January 6th, and it continues hate crimes against people of color. Asian Americans and, and other people of color are on the rise. Disinformation and misinformation, especially on Twitter, but also on other platforms we see are are, appear to be on the rise.

There are at least 179 officials who were elected in or reelected in, in the 2020. Midterm elections who were election deniers or otherwise supporters of some of the, the lies behind that motivated the, the insurrection. And so I think, you know, our democracy is still on very, [00:25:00] very fragile ground, and that’s on top of the longstanding efforts to undermine voting rights and the access of people to, to be able to vote.

In free and fair elections and book banning you didn’t mention way back in the day. My status as an A C L U alum that’s right, was one of my first jobs in between college and law school. If you’ve had told me that in 2023 book banning would be on the rise, And that what would be targeted would be books about the accurate history of our country, positive, negative in between regarding issues of race and inclusion and gender and gender identity.

I don’t think I would’ve believed it. So we’ve got a lot of work to do and part of the effort of of one six, the graphic novel is to bring new audiences into that fight to have people recognize, okay, [00:26:00] you saw this scary story. It is very close to not only where we could have ended up, but where we might still end up.

Luckily, there are things that we can do about that to uphold our democracy and to ensure equity based on race and other aspects of our identity. And so we’ve teamed up with the Western State Center longstanding social justice nonprofit organization. To and both gon Golan, my co-writer and I are both senior fellows there right now, and they’ve been incredibly supportive.

We’re working together to create an education and action guide, so, which will be free and widely available. So as soon as someone reads the book, if they want to do more they can scan the QR code or just Google and find both ways to go deeper on the true story of January 6th. And to take action on these three prongs, which are represented in the book, [00:27:00] which are democracy, discrimination, and disinformation.

Specifically what they can do to uphold the first and to to combat the ladder. Two. And here, since I’ve gave my critique of foundations here, I have to say that we’ve been very fortunate to receive the early support of open society foundations of the Ford Foundation, of number of other funders who’ve supported that outreach work so that we can get this thing out and it’s gonna be available.

Free, not just the guide, but we’re making the thousands of copies of the comic book available free to nonprofit organizations working on those issues. Pro-democracy anti-discrimination to use in organizing to use in, in their own education campaigns. And that also is thanks to our, our philanthropic supporters.

So that’s really made a big difference.

Eric: So the, the book’s been out now about six or so weeks, came out on. [00:28:00] January 6th, of course. And and I’m just wondering if there are any, if there’s been any feedback or responses to it that you hadn’t expected, anything that has surprised or delighted you or maybe not delighted you?

Once something gets out into the world, you never know exactly how it’s going to land or where it’s gonna go.

Alan Jenkins: The first is a humble brag, I guess, which is Yeah, do it. People really like the story which is just wonderful. Obviously that’s what we were aiming for. But you know, you never know.

You, you put a story out into the world and this is just the first chapter of, of three. And you know, you don’t know how it’s gonna strike people. You don’t know what. You know, the worst thing that could happen is for it to be boring. And so it’s not boring. You know, we’ve gotten a few haters and, which I think is a badge of honor, you know, in terms not so much of the content of the storytelling, but, you know, they just don’t like the, the implications of it.

Mm-hmm. But we’ve. Got overwhelming positive feedback on the content of the story, which means people [00:29:00] wanna read it. It’s not medicine, it’s fun, it’s engaging. So I’m very happy about that and that significant aspect of that also is we went to a veteran comic book Illustrator, will Rosado. Who also was the illustrator behind LA Kenya, who, which is the first Puerto Rican female superhero story.

And will just brought all kinds of new ideas and kind of introduced visuals that we hadn’t even thought of. So all of that has been, I don’t know if surprising is the right word, but at least you know, I’m, I’m, I guess I’m pleasantly surprised to see the, the really. Reaction. And similarly, I think I, here, here’s an interesting thing that I hadn’t anticipated.

So we’ve been speaking with a lot of experts, you know, reporters, some of whom were there on January 6th, 2021 at the Capitol. People who study white nationalism and Christian nationalism and disinformation, and they’ve been excited about. [00:30:00] They, it’s a little like therapy, Eric. So you can tell that they’re so, at least the people we’ve spoken with, they also have these fears.

They’re waking up in the middle of the, of the night and they were there. So they’re actually reliving what happened. And they’re also the ones who were there, and they’re also. Worrying about the future. And so you get on Zoom with these folks and they just start going and telling you so much. And so we’re, you know, furiously taking notes, trying to figure out how we can incorporate the most interesting stuff into the future issues.

Mm-hmm. And so that’s been really wonderful and also a little surprising. And you know, the second issue, the first issue is set in the dystopian near future. The second issue actually jumps back and tells relates a lot of the true events that led up to the insurrection. And we’re very clear about what’s fictional, what is speculative, and what is based on.

Research and [00:31:00] reporting, and we’ve done a, a lot of research and the guide will similarly make clear. So there’s, you know, because that’s part of avoiding disinformation, right? Is making sure you’re transparent. So that part is where we’ve talked to the most the largest number of experts and their enthusiasm, but also catharsis in talking to us has also been, you know, really striking.

Eric: Where are you gonna go with this once you’re done with it, it feels to me like there’s a lot more material, or there are a. Opportunities to build on the success of this. And again, I just wanna put in another plug. It is beautiful. It’s chilling, it’s exciting, and I think it’s the sort of thing that parents can share with their kids, but I also think that it’s something that we all.

It’s just another way for us to think about important questions and another tool. The message that you’re sharing is really important, and it’s one of these things where we must not let our guard down, but where do you see this going next? It feels to me like there are many opportunities that will [00:32:00] emerge from this project.

Alan Jenkins: Yeah. So, you know, in terms of story, no spoilers, but you know, as I mentioned, issue two will be set in the. To the, the interaction and then the, the day itself issue three of the four will really be the pivot into alternate history. So in other words, as you said in your intro, The mob goes right instead of going left, and they do everything they said they were gonna do, which is reflected on the cover of the book.

And then President Trump does everything he said he was gonna do, and there we’re actually tying his words and actions in the book back to things that he actually said or did. While president or that have been done by other actors in our recent history. So for example, we are gonna be forcing readers to imagine, you know, think of kids putting cages, which happened just a few years ago.

Well, what if that were done on a mass? [00:33:00] Level instead of just for the most vulnerable people on our soil. We’re really trying to, to transport our readers to really think about the implications of all of the terrible things that have happened over the last several years. Not solely about former President Trump by any means.

So, you know book banning is a good example of. You know that that’s coming from other places. And then the, the fourth issue, the fourth and final chapter will be about everyday folks coming together. To try to restore our democracy. Well, let me, let me stop there. Okay. So I don’t give way too much, but what I will say about our characters, and you already saw this in, in issue one, is that they’re diverse.

There’s a, a Trump voter Yep. Who is one of our main characters who’s grappling with what’s true and what’s untrue. And, you know, where does democracy lie? There is a, a refugee, Congolese refugee. There’s you know, there’s really a [00:34:00] variety. Of characters from different perspectives who will see are gonna be bringing their superpowers, which come from their own experiences and their vulnerabilities, their kryptonite, which also come from those experiences.

And that’s, you know, cri critical to telling a compelling story. But it’s also, and it’s also critical to bringing the kind of information and perspective to our readers. You know, we just gave them a long report to read. They would not be getting

Eric: Well, this is, it’s such an exciting project and I challenge folks out there working in foundations and nonprofits to ask yourself whether you are doing the same old thing or are you coming up with exciting, engaging, innovative ways to.

Do great storytelling with a purpose. And I, for one can’t wait for the next issue. And, and the ones past it I’m just really grateful to you for, for doing this work and for being so clever [00:35:00] and and creative because it’s what our field really needs. So Ellen Jenkins, author of co-author of 16 and an incredibly great guy.

Thank you so much for coming on and talking.

Alan Jenkins: Thank you so much Eric and I. Last thing for your, your listeners is that they can go to 16, so o n e, ssis, X Sign up for updates, find out how to purchase the book, or just provide us feedback and input. So I hope folks will do

Eric: that.

Well, thanks again, Alan Jenkins

Alan Jenkins: and we’re. So what’d you think? It’s so fun to listen to this conversation. I am, I’m such a fan of Alan Jenkins

Kirk: and have been for years, and I’ve never

Alan Jenkins: met him,

Kirk: but when you look at this career, he is put together

Alan Jenkins: and you, you, you laugh about it in terms of his LinkedIn bio, but it’s like he’s been Harvard Opportunity Agenda.

Ford and you get

Kirk: into a lot [00:36:00] of stuff as you go through this, but let’s start there with just Alan and his journey because he’s done so many interesting things and I love how he worked at Ford and then said, you know, we’re not taking storytelling. And interestingly, he added to that we’re not taking culture seriously.

And he had gotten this BA in Media studies while he was working at Ford and he launches Opportunity Agenda. It might have been an MA of Ma. Okay. Okay. So, so what, what, what do you make of, of, of Alan and his just journey as a professional in this space? Because you’ve known him for quite some time.

Eric: It’s really wonderful. He’s a lawyer and a communicator take. It’s almost like you take out a co copy of what color is your Parachute and you like take all those pieces and you put ’em together and you end up with this incredible career that understands both the. The legal underpinnings of our democracy and the tools that you need to use in order to [00:37:00] ensure that you get to have a democracy.

Mm-hmm. And I tell people all the time, who ask me about career and does my career look like it, it makes sense, or does it go together? Mine certainly doesn’t. But what I say is that, you know, the law, the road is. And it’s curvy and life is long and it’s short. And so take advantage of the things as they come to you.

And I think that that’s what Alan is doing. He just seizes the day each and every time. And he’s seizing it now with a comic book.

Kirk: Well, and he starts, so this brief reflection you have about his work in law and his recognition that the legal process in doing that, Fundamentally a storytelling. It’s where we get the concept of framing from.

I think the notion that you have to frame the particulars of a case before you go in front of judge and jury. That is a jumping off point in that sensibility into all the work that he’s, he’s doing. So before we get into 16 and 16, the graphic novel, I want to talk. Alan as a professor, [00:38:00] because now he’s at Harvard teaching this stuff and, and, and right in the middle he drops basically the course curricula for his class.

That, that, that orientation to strategic communications. And we’ve talked about this podcast as something of an applied journey through the practice of strategic communications, and you’re hearing all these folks from different places and how they do that. I would love to make a list of all the people.

Teaching strategic communications from a purpose perspective across all these institutions and just get them on this podcast. Talk to them each in turn, because this teaching work that’s happening, of all the things that Alan is doing and has done, I feel like it’s this teaching work that almost is maybe the most important.

Because this sensibility diffusing it through this whole co cohort of new professionals coming forward, it might end up being the most important thing that anybody could do.

Eric: Well, I bet you that Anne Christiano at university of Florida has the answer to that question. Chance? Yeah. So she knows every single professor teaching strategic communications in the [00:39:00] country.

Unfortunately, my guess is. The reason she may know that is because there aren’t that many. Yeah, because talk, talking about communications to advance social interest to advance, not to advance causes, social causes is not nearly as popular as teaching communications for business communications, for marketing, for public relations, blah, blah, blah.

So, It’s dis, it’s depressing to me that we only have one center for social interest communications and we need many, many more. Then you end up with some very entrepreneurial professors like Alan, who are basically taking his law classroom and turning it into a communications classroom. But you’re quite right that the best story tends to carry the day in a, assuming you have the facts on your side in, in the c.

If you tell a good story and help a jury or a judge understand what we’re actually talking about here, that’s how you persuade

Kirk: [00:40:00] people in his capacity to draw on so much field perspective. As you went through this conversation,

Alan Jenkins: it was every couple of minutes. It was a whole new like primer in another really crucial part of what we think and talk about.


Kirk: He refers to this notion of don’t underfund communications and asks why you didn’t achieve your goals. And he talks about the famous $50,000 grant and then going back to your grantee and asking why you didn’t change hearts and minds. And can we please, can we please get the art authors of Hearts and minds the study on this podcast cuz he refers to the marriage equality fight as a gold standard.

And, and I have to say, Eric, this is one of those interviews where every single. Every single word that Alan had to say, I was just hanging on it cuz every, it was just so good, so agile, so many topics he went through. But he talks about this hearts and minds, this marriage equality fight being the gold standard that so many of us look to.

And what did that entail? It’s 173 million of spend, you know, a huge portion of that. Going to communications this 20. [00:41:00] Campaign. Can you think about that? The audacity saying, Hey, we’re gonna have a 20 year campaign that actually achieves it goal its goals in 11 years. And, and, and Alan is referring to all that stuff as he’s thinking about things like the one six novel project.

I just, I just love the depth and breadth of this field that he has command of as he talks about his work.

Eric: Well, I have a feeling that 173 million is less than Americans spend on ice cream in a single day. I’m guessing, but I wouldn’t be surprised and maybe a lot less. I mean, it’s not that much money if you think about it, and it’s so bad.

I mean, it’s just arou, it’s coins in the couch for a lot of the folks who live. About 25 miles to the south of me right here. So yes, the idea that you need to spend money on communications is really important and the idea that you have to be patient and you understand that things aren’t going to happen tomorrow or the day after.

And funders obviously need to understand that. And we see the big campaigns that have carried the day are ones that in which the funders were in it to, to win, and they were [00:42:00] willing to stay and they were willing to learn from things that didn’t. According to plan, and they built on their successes and their failures to make sure that the thing that they wanted to have.

Come true came true. So that’s, I mean, it’s just obviously a great lesson for funders, but it’s also a lesson for communicators that we need to be able to communicate what the context and what it’s actually going to take to achieve success is instead of saying, okay, in the next two years we’re going to.

Whatever do solve the problem. So a little bit of a, it’s really tricky cuz folks want the money and they want their funder to think that they’re going to get their money’s worth, but they also have to be realistic enough to understand that communications takes time and it takes a long term investment.

So, eh, that’s, that’s what we have to be willing to do. And that’s, that’s a tall order, but that’s what it.

Kirk: Well and be willing to experiment. So here’s Alan, who’s been doing this stuff for such a long time, and this horrible episode happens in our [00:43:00] collective history that we all watch happen as it happens, right?

Right. Real time. The one six insurrection and Alan steps back and says, okay, I want to figure out a way to intervene in this whole convers. I’m no longer in the communications advocacy space. I have a different platform, and so Alan starts getting creative and I have to say this conversation, it’s about 16 minutes into your interview where Alan makes the case for comic books, right, as a method to deliver a message.

I actually felt like it was like listening to a master jazz. Positioned starting to just riff. They, they know all the structure, they know all the chords, they know where you’re headed and all of a sudden they start throwing in the seventh, they start throwing in whatever the minor just, just because

they know they can and, and and you went

Eric: to 11 12th

Kirk: time.

There you go. Exactly right. All of a sudden the Trevor’s on some weird, but yet it’s exactly right.

Ed, I love

that exchange that you had about the comic book [00:44:00] and, and tell me, were you convinced, cuz I certainly was the case for the comic book is an advocacy. I mean, I think

Eric: there’s a broader theme or a broader philosophy at stake here, which is that different people get their information in different ways.

Yes. And that we have to be able to communicate to everybody in all the ways. So people will come to me ands like, oh, should I use Twitter or LinkedIn, or should I use LinkedIn? Or whatever. Right. He’s like, yeah, I I mean Twitter, let’s set Twitter aside because it’s all messed up right now, but Facebook or LinkedIn, Everything because your audience, a, it’s not your audience’s fault if they go uncommunicated with, and B, different people use different things in different ways at different times.

And if you wanna get to the greatest amount of folks, you gotta go everywhere. So as it happens, my wife, I started listening to the podcast once we started putting communications out on Instagram.[00:45:00]

So if I, if I wanna communicate with my wife about, just about anything, I need to send her an Instagram. Well,

no, that’s hilarious about that.

We need, we need milk, Instagram. And, and

Kirk: the other thing about a comic book in particular that struck me in, in what Alan is doing with this, is he’s bringing this creative element.

He’s saying, you know, it’s so, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Right. So it’s just the storytelling, it’s the, it’s, and it’s both, it’s, it’s all in all the forms, right? There’s a visual component too. So it’s really testing the envelope of what you can do with that, with that graphic novel

Eric: framework. Totally. And I didn’t answer your question, I don’t think, but what else is new?

But yes, I mean, I, he’s right that there’s a lot of folks out there who read comic books, and if you wanna reach. That’s their medium and that’s how you, you know, and I love the idea that he, he’s, he’s talking about comic books. Are they? They, it’s almost like sports in that it, it is not a [00:46:00] politically motivated or driven medium, not like, you know, documentary film.

Mm-hmm. Tends to be high brow, lefty, whatever. Mm-hmm. And this, this ain’t it. So people from the left or the right, the older, the young, more male than female, but more increasingly female. We’ll read comic books. And so if you, if you wanna reach those people, then that’s where you go. And yeah, I think you’re totally right about the medium itself, the how, how expressive it is.

And as I was telling Alan, I had an emotional reaction to one six that was more powerful by reading the comic book mm-hmm. Than it was by. The stuff, and I think some of it is I don’t wanna watch the worst of the footage, right? I, I, I just don’t, I don’t care to do that. And maybe Alan puts this in a venue that, that allows you to do that.

So, and yet it connects with you emotionally. So that you feel the important things you need to feel about this [00:47:00] day, which is that we came extremely close to losing our democracy and we were inva the capitol was invaded by violent people. Yeah. Who meant to overthrow the government. And you can’t say that enough times because it’s, it’s what happened and we have a tendency to kind of.

Shy away from that. And I think this thing at the same time brings you in and tells you the truth and attaches to your emotional whatever, connectors, so that you get that. That’s super cool and that’s a medium. The, he used that medium so well to tell this story. He and his co-writer and obviously the illustrator, I wanted

Kirk: to mention that.

So it’s Alan, it’s Long Golan and William Rosado, the illustrator. So Alan has this incredible network of folks he can draw in to do a project like this. And that’s what struck me too, this, this notion that we put this forward in this new medium, not old medium, right, but new in this context. And it allows people to place themselves in a story and access a [00:48:00] story in a way differently.

And it’s so striking that it’s that powerful given how dominant the story has been for a while. And yet, right? That subtext of what’s at stake is not so much the subtext that democracy was actually really hanging on a thread. And there was a handful of actors and unlikely actors. That helped affect something that could have happened truly awfully to all of us, and we just would’ve watched it unfold on our TV screens right in front

Eric: of us.

Also, as the comic continues, its additions come out. So the first one is out and the second one’s coming, and then it gets into speculative fiction. Yeah, which is what might have happened if Eugene Goodman, the brave capital police officer, didn’t move the mob to the left, and instead they went right and into the Senate Chamber.

And we will explore that speculative thing in ways that I think will be really scary. I mean, I have a copy of Plot Against America here, the, the Philip Roth novel, and we see these from time to time. There’s that [00:49:00] show on, I don’t know, I think it was on Netflix, which what had happened if the US had lost the war and, you know, Japanese and Germans ran this country.

Like those are things that are meant to. Actually help you better understand that this is for keeps, and I’m both excited and a little scared about reading the subsequent issues of this, of this comic because I got a feeling it’s gonna be pretty powerful.

Kirk: Well, and I feel like it would be a disservice to have this discussion without acknowledging too the resources that are going behind it.

So first of all, he did start on Kickstarter, so you can still find the original Kickstarter place where, where Alan got started with this. But The notion that foundations like Ford and others are coming forward to support this work and the notion that the Western State Center is serving as such a key partner to move it into the a advocacy sphere.

I keep thinking about this, how would it feel walking into your first meeting about this topic saying, okay, listen, I wanna pitch a comic book. Here’s why. Right? And, [00:50:00]

Alan Jenkins: and the ability

Kirk: for program officers and foundation staff to go on this creative journey and actually hold the head space, because everyone who gets excited has to turn around and sell it to somebody down the.

You know, sell it somewhere higher up in the, in the hierarchy and that projects like this are making it through that grant making process and that this kind of creativity is actually being pulled forward because people are trying to experiment and learn. That to me feels like a really important part of this story, that we shouldn’t dismiss or miss that, that it’s not just that what Alan is doing with 16.

But it’s, but it’s that he’s got partners that are saying, Hey, not only let’s support you in doing this, but also let’s get thousands of copies of this out in the hands of people all across the country, and to have a toolkit that goes along with it. On the advocacy side of things, again, Alan is clearly really gifted to pull these pieces together, but for him to have.

Partners in the process to say, yep, we’ll we’ll take this risk with you too. I just love that whole aspect of this whole [00:51:00] story.

Eric: Yes, thank you to all the folks that are funded forward and others who are funding Alan and his work in the Western states. You, we have to just continue to not think that we like that we are the audience, and I think that’s one of the most important lessons in communications is that you, when you are doing your thing, you are not the audience, it’s the people you’re trying.

Move. They’re the audience. And you have to, you have to understand what they care about, where they go, what they listen to, what they read and communicate in ways that make sense to them. Not, not just cuz you hear the music in your head and, oh well, like I don’t really understand why this thing is right.

And so if I just say it louder or quote more statistics, then they’ll get it. Cuz that’s not how communications works. That’s not how persuasion works. And as like Alan knows, He’s a virtuoso at it. He truly understands that he is not the audience and that he is trying, he, he’s communicating in interesting, [00:52:00] fun, engaging ways, and he’s meeting people where they are, not where he is.

Otherwise, he just, I don’t know, write a law book.

Kirk: Right, right.

We’re here to Storytelling With a Purpose. So Alan Jenkins, and you can find one six, the graphic novel. It’s not a comic book, it’s

a graphic novel. He says it’s a comic book. I know, I know. One

Eric: six graphic book. He, let’s just call it a comic. I dunno.

Whatever. It’s graphic novel. It’s very graphic.

Kirk: You can find it on Amazon. You can find 16 And go follow Alan on Twitter at opportunity number one. Certainly just such a fan of everything that Alan has done for all these years and keeps doing new and interesting work.

And Eric, man, so gracious for Alan to come here and talk about one six, but so fun to hear you guys


Eric: about it. Yeah, that was great. And yeah, it was great to, to reconnect with Alan. I’ve, I’ve known him for years, but I haven’t spoken to him and oh, and quite some time. So that was, that was super fun.[00:53:00]

Kirk: 16, go find it. Go buy it. And thanks everybody for listening. We’ll talk to you next.

Okay, everybody.

That’s it for this episode. Please let us know if you have any thoughts about what you heard today or people we should have on this show, and that definitely includes yourself. And we’d like to thank

Eric: John Beltran, our enthusiastic production assistant,

Kirk: John Ali, the tuneful and inspiring composer of our theme.

Eric: Our sponsors, the Communications Network and the Lumina Foundation,

Kirk: and please check out Lumina’s terrific podcast, today’s students tomorrow’s talent, and you can find We

Eric: certainly thank today’s guest and of course, all

Kirk: of you, and most importantly, thank you, Mr.

Brown. Oh,

Eric: no, no, no, no.

Thank you, Mr.

Kirk: Brown. Okay, everybody, till next time,

Eric: let’s hear it.