Audio recordings and notes from Metaphor Project Training

On November 19, 2013, in Berkeley, California, Susan Strong, founder and executive director of The Metaphor Project, conducted a workshop for 20 divestment campaigners from 350 Bay Area, to train us how to talk about fossil-fuel divestment in a clear, accessible way. Her emphasis is on using stories, images, words, and metaphors that connect with Americans' experiences and expectations.

You can listen to these audio recordings of the workshop for an example of how the process works. The notes that follow are transcribed from sheets used during the workshop, including some brainstorming sessions. You can consult them while listening to the recordings as a way to generate your own ideas; they have not been critiqued (and only lightly edited), so think of them as a starting point for your own exploration of effective ways to communicate.

For an overview of Susan's process, read "Speaking American (Nutshell Version)" from The Metaphor Project website. Susan has also written about the more specific issues involved here in "Framing Climate Change Now." And her book, Move Our Message: How to Get America's Ear, is a more detailed discussion of how to mainstream the progressive message.

Here is the first part of the workshop (74 minutes):

Here is the second part (66 minutes):

Notes from Worksheets

American Framing Steps

  1. Check your audience
  2. Note their feelings and language
  3. Decide to “speak American”
  4. Create a problem-solving message
  5. Pick “American story” language that fits
  6. Brainstorm ways to combine the two
  7. Review and critique your new language


  • UC alums & retirees/UC students
  • general public/parents of kids
  • state workers & retirees
  • residents/officials of a city or county
  • unions
  • public employees
  • community college faculty & students
  • investment fund managers
  • faith groups in the community
  • teachers
  • mass media

Feelings and Language—Speak American

  • for parents/general public: hope, safety, protection, health
  • for students: future
  • for fund managers*: $, investment risk
  • for pubic officials*: legacy, career
  • for media: stories/drama/cumulative effect
  • for workers: fairness, 1% vs 99%, environmental justice, climate
  • for individual investors*: carbon bubble, stranded assets, retirement risk

*some groups are deciders, have direct control over investment/divestment; different focus

Create a Problem-Solving Message

A. What’s the problem?

  • too much carbon pollution, from dirty coal, gas, and oil
  • fossil fuel industry control of energy policy
  • asthma, risking children’s future
  • cheap gas
  • cost of prevention vs weather damage
  • fossil fuel industry is a dying industry—going to extremes to maintain its position
  • financial interests are propping up dirty energy
  • carbon bubble, making it difficult to move to new cleaner energy systems
  • pollution allowed for free, without any consequences
  • moving toward health and away from fossil-fuel addiction

B. How can we reduce the fossil-fuel industry’s power (political, financial, repetitional)?

  • discredit fossil-fuel industry
  • better choices shown to investors
  • develop grassroots power—harness the anger
  • pop the carbon bubble
  • build clean energy
  • tap into deep caring about preventing damage
  • take full responsibility

Brainstorm Ways to Combine Message and Story

  • carbon bubble will burst & strand our assets
  • divestment is required now 
  • divestment now is due diligence
  • reinvest in clean energy—a “pure play”
  • Big Oil and Wall Street are in cahoots to rob us of our clean-energy future
  • 1% bankers/1% oil companies are robbing us—they are tax cheats
  • They are gambling with our future, destroying our future
  • Big Oil in its death throes is dragging us all down, instead of letting us invest in clean energy
  • We’re at a crossroads
  • We have a choice
  • We can do this—yes, we can
  • We are a city set on a hill: we can show the way and lead
  • it’s up to us, individually and together
  • gambling re extreme sources—corporate waste
  • This is our money, and we don’t want our money destroying our future
  • the new energy crisis
  • we need insurance against a 95% chance of a burning earth—we buy home insurance against a 0.1% chance of a burning house
  • do you think there will still be a fossil-fuel industry in x years?
  • they’re gambling with our money, and the stakes are the planet
  • what will it be like by 2047? within our lifetime?
  • fossil fuels are a bridge to nowhere, no longer serving us
  • save the humans
  • save all of us
  • put your money in the solution, not the problem
  • “risky business”
  • Big Oil has gone too far: they’ve banked enough oil to cook the planet 5 times over and still want to look for more
  • threatening our home/homeland/home security/home planet
  • the voice of fossil fuels is too loud—we must be louder
  • shaming, lessening their power
  • hooked us on gasoline 
  • fee & rebate, not tax & dividend
  • we can have a clean economy; but the ff companies are blocking us 
  • natural gas is the bridge to nowhere
  • ingenuity—some of it is not serving us—and here’s what we can do 
  • close-knit community
  • fair chance for all: a society not controlled by fat cats

Review and Critique Your New Language

[Go to Training Preparation page for more information]

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