CHAPTER 11: This is a story about shared prosperity

At the heart of the Southern Mindshift project is a vision that workers and communities will have more power and prosperity, even in the most conservative places. It’s a vision of abundance that challenges the anti-worker and regressive tax pushes we see again and again in legislative sessions across the South and Midwest. These damaging policies and proposals, fueled by deeply entrenched conservative and racist narratives, often gain traction through ideas about the economy and the role of workers that defy evidence and logic—and the hard work of progressive advocates and organizers.

The Southern Mindshift project—through a partnership of cognitive science research and on-the-ground policy and organizing expertise—is working to create change on the level of ideas by focusing on the cultural common sense, the deeply held understandings that are pervasive, unquestioned, and have the power to shape people’s views and behavior. In short, we believe that to create lasting change (across issue areas), we have to shift the culture.

But HOW do we shift the culture? What does this process look like in practice?

It all starts with new, powerful ideas entering (and sticking in) the public discourse.

See our Theory of Change, and imagine your issue area here. ▶

Ideas in Action

Over the last ten chapters we’ve dug into elements of the Southern Mindshift project’s co-created three-part strategy that makes a pragmatic, empowering case for why we can and should insist on a better deal for all:

  1. People drive the economy; businesses rely on us.
  2. Taking active steps to build up and include ALL people makes both moral and economic sense.
  3. Some businesses exploit their workers, neighbors, or consumers; so we need rules and guardrails.

It’s a story grounded in ideas that feel like common sense, that work together synergistically, and that help people understand the information around them in new, more constructive ways. It connects the dots in ways that can change people’s thinking AND allow us to reach beyond our already engaged base.

The Missouri Budget Project puts it all together in this recent report:

Note that the 3-part strategy isn’t about specific language or word choice, instead it’s about seeding a shift in perspective. These are ideas that can be conveyed and reinforced in different ways via different messengers, depending on your campaign and context.

Below are additional examples that highlight each of the three components:

1. PEOPLE drive the economy; businesses rely on us.  Conservatives work hard to instill a cultural common sense that makes robust taxation and pro-worker policies seem anti-business and anti-prosperity. In the new paradigm, an important reason for the state to raise wages, improve working conditions, and increase public spending is because people’s contributions—their skills, labor, spending, civic choices, engagement, etc.—are what propel communities and the economy. Without people’s contributions, everyone—including businesses—suffers.

For example:

What leads to a good economy? People making good wages, having the ability to stay healthy and take care of themselves and their families, and accessing education and work supports. After all, it’s people’s contributions, skills, aspirations, and work (paid and unpaid) that make communities, businesses, and economies thrive. On the flipside, when our state puts business first, giving them tax cuts or allowing them to get too big to control, we weaken our economy, and more and more businesses end up declining when employees and customers aren’t doing well.

Why this works: “People before profits” is a catchy slogan, but many people don’t feel like they can insist on this. We bring power to our case by adding an economic rationale to our moral argument (bolstering, not replacing it). As Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families states: “we all know it is people . . . who drive our economy.”

2. Taking active steps to build up and include ALL people makes both moral and economic sense. If people drive the economy, then it follows that taking active steps to build up and include ALL people makes both moral and economic sense. Including every group and community to their fullest potential strengthens us all.

For example:

The more people we have contributing to our communities and our economy, the better off we all are. The more people who can reach their full potential, the more we benefit from the contributions everyone can make. We can improve our communities, our state, and our economy by removing barriers that keep people—Black and brown communities, immigrants, people with disabilities, justice-impacted people and more—from taking part and living into their aspirations and their potential.

Why this works: This paradigm shift can help show how racism, sexism, ableism, etc. are not only problems for communities that are directly affected, but thwart our overall collective well-being and prosperity. This strategy makes a case for investments and interventions that can support people in reaching their goals (whatever these might be), and adds to and bolsters our moral and social justice rationales for equity.

3. Some businesses exploit their workers, neighbors, or consumers; so we need rules and guardrails. We can remind people that some employers choose to make their profits by treating their workers poorly, grinding down people and communities AND that the government has a role in reining in this destructive behavior. While Southerners are no fans of government, they strongly support government rules and guardrails to regulate and stop the worst behaviors of certain businesses.

For example:

We need to insist on rules to protect people from corporations that take advantage of our hard work without fair pay or treatment. Corporations lured to our state have kept wages stagnant, stopped offering pensions and job security, and lobbied in the state house for weaker worker protections. Stronger policies and protections mean that working at a job can lead to security and progress for everyone, not just the lucky few.

Why this works: Focusing on those businesses that exploit provides an actionable and palatable role for government action without being fully anti-business. And, importantly, it shifts the focus from whether or not people are working hard enough (easily triggering the deservedness trap) to whether or not businesses are treating workers fairly.


Have you tried any of these strategies in your work? What have you found? What questions do you have for us?

Let us know what you think: