Public budgets are moral documents that reflect our values and priorities through decisions on how to tax residents and businesses and spend these collective resources. These decisions impact what families have to spend on basic needs and invest in their future, define the size of the government and its role in the national economy, and affect the lives of all Americans. EOF hosts an Annual Budget and Tax Briefing to explore why federal and state budget and tax work matters to national, state, and local philanthropy.
See a summary of the first plenary session from our 2023 Budget and Tax Briefing below.
Making the Case for Government and Taxes
This session explored narrative and communications initiatives working to build public support for a government for the people and by the people, equitable tax reform, and increases to revenue streams to ensure an economy that works for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, immigration status, education, income, religion, gender identity, disability, or age.
- Messaging that Moves and Mobilizes on State Revenue, Anika Fassia, We Make the Future
In recent years, the public’s trust in the government has diminished. These misgivings pose a challenge for activists who advocate for a robust role of government in program development and spending on essential services for and investment in communities. Panelists discussed the importance of developing narrative frames that will enable the public to understand the numerous benefits that government programs and a fair and adequate tax system can provide.
The country has been in an acute crisis for the past several years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Times such as this are moments when the public can more readily develop new perceptions and awareness of society and government. Therefore, it is vitally important that advocacy organizations coordinate their messaging to promote a unified vision for the future.
This messaging will need to fight the pervasive cynicism among the target base. One way to accomplish this is to tell stories of past successes. Doing so can remind the public that change has happened before and can be accomplished again.
Panelists in this session shared several field-tested messaging strategies that have been effective in shaping public perception of the government and taxes.
For instance, framing taxes on the wealthy and corporations as “paying what they owe” has been more useful than describing them as “paying their fair share,” as advocates have found that what “fair” means can be subjective to each individual. Further, individuals have responded positively to narratives that frame workers—rather than businesses or corporations—as the main drivers of the economy.
Another effective messaging framing device is the Race Class Narrative, which We Make the Future describes as “an empirically-tested narrative on race and class that neutralizes the use of dog-whistle racism” to build collective power around joint economic interests.
Given the power of messaging and narrative framing, funders should understand the importance of supporting dedicated communications staff and strategies. Doing so will enable the groups to better counter opposition and be proactive in building public support for government and taxes.
Cynicism is our biggest enemy. People don’t believe change or collective action is possible. We have to remind people we have won in the past and we can do it again.
— Anika Fassia, We Make the Future and We Make the Future Action
We’ve got to ground ourselves in abundance. That has to be our pervasive mentality in the organizing space…We have to ground ourselves in the idea that more and better is possible.
— Elaine Mejia, Topos Partnership
- Tax Reform in Washington State: From Cultural Third Rail to Common Sense, A Think Big Case Study,Topos, April 2023.
- Acting on Our Values is a Good Economics: A Narrative Paradigm Shift to a People-First Economy, Topos, March 2023.
- Fund Our Future 8-State Campaign: Fund Our Future is an eight state cohort of legislators and advocates who are working together, across states, to build a national movement for tax justice.
- Digital Toolkit, Fund Our Future, Last updated October 14, 2022.