Ending the era of outdated stories

Below is an excerpt for CSS Executive Director Patrick Reinsborough’s speech at our recent Flock Together Party & Fundraiser in Oakland, CA.


Effective strategy is rooted in a critical analysis of the systems and power relationships we are working to change. The story-based strategy approach is grounded in a narrative power analysis which means examining power relationships through the lens of the stories and cultural assumptions that frame public understanding of what is legitimate, desirable or even possible. 

When we look at our current world through this lens we quickly see that this is an Era of Outdated Stories – a time when many of our dominant political and economic institutions are still shaped by destructive stories rooted in the violence and exploitation of the past


Giant oil, coal and gas corporations (backed by the US government of course) are still telling us we need every last bit of fossil fuels, even if it means blowing up mountain tops, poisoning our kids and destabilizing our climate. That’s an outdated story. 

McDonalds and Walmart claim, despite their massive profits, they can’t afford to pay their workers a living wage. That’s an outdated story. 

Politicians repeat old racist lies: that people murdered by the police deserved it and that black people leading the fight for freedom, dignity and racial justice are thugs. That’s an outdated story. 

And of course, the onslaught of pervasive, and ever more personalized advertising telling us that happiness and progress means consume more, more, more(!) regardless of the price tag to people and planet. That’s an outdated story.

But just because these Outdated Stories are pushed by powerful, ruthless interests, doesn’t mean that they are strong. In fact, with their obvious hypocrisy and contradictions they often can’t withstand the power of public scrutiny. At CSS we believe that in many ways they are the Achilles heel of our current unjust system. And they are being challenged every day by the transformative organizing that is happening across this country. 

  • These outdated stories are getting challenged by an inspiring new generation of black leaders emerging from the Black Lives Matter movement. [blacklivesmatter.com]
  • They are getting challenged by workers across the country organizing in the Fight for $15. [#ChangeTheMcStory]
  • They are getting challenged by actions like what’s happening in Seattle right now as people physically block Shell’s Arctic oil rig on both land and sea. [shellno.org]

So, CSS started thirteen years ago with a simple idea: to End the Era of Outdated Stories.
And when my co-founders and I imagined a vision of how, we knew our little piece of that much broader work should begin by building the capacity of people, organizations and communities on the frontlines to change the stories that were hurting them. 

CSS continues our training and support for our grassroots partners so they can:

  • Co-create shared narratives that unite diverse stakeholders
  • Push back against industry propaganda by reframing the issues and shifting the terms of the debate 
  • And perhaps most importantly, story-based strategy helps us anchor our resistance in compelling vision: reminding us the power of telling new stories that invite our audiences into co-creating a different, better future.

Thanks to the hard work of countless ordinary people stepping up to be leaders and organizers in diverse communities across the country, our movements are growing in skill, vision and scale. We are showing ourselves that together we are stronger than greed or fear. We are collectively changing the story of what is possible.

At CSS we’re more committed than ever to build movements that can End the Era of Outdated Stories and lead us towards a truly democratic, equitable and ecological sane future. We know you are with us. What outdated stories are you challenging? 



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