There is More That Unites Us Than Divides Us: Reflections on Messaging through SoPL

By Caitlin Stuart, Community Engagement & Navigator Manager, Nourish Colorado and Member of the Nourish Colorado SoPL team

Our team, Nourish Colorado, joined HEAL’s School of Political Leadership (SoPL) as four women from vastly different backgrounds passionate about food justice and access on the Healthy Food Incentives team at our work, also called Nourish Colorado. As a brand new team closing in on our first anniversary of working together, we welcomed an opportunity like SoPL to help us develop a strategic campaign, bring us closer together, and help us feel out our vibe as teammates and as friends. Through doing this work together, we recognized a need for community organizing and deeper engagement around our nutrition incentive, Double Up Food Bucks, and we’ve spent the greater part of the last several months doing deep dives into barriers, equity, accessibility, and what it means to move from allyship to accompliceship in our work. We’ve worked on strategic planning, professional development, and reimagined our program together, and we’ve drawn nearer in the process. 

Left to right: The SoPL Nourish Colorado team (Lonni, Laurel, Caitlin, and Daysi), along with Community Food Navigator, Andrea Loudd, pose at the USDA’s Jamie L. Whitten Building during Nourish Colorado’s DC fly-in trip in January 2023

Nourish Colorado has an incredible opportunity to shape the way folks see and understand the importance of nutrition incentives, either through demystifying the program or by simply raising awareness, by using the tools we’ve learned in SoPL and building a transformative social media campaign. Because of the close bond our team has formed working together in this cohort, we are able to invest in each of our strengths and build out this campaign to be the best it can be. We’ve each taken on specific roles, making connections and tapping into our own gifts and expertise we bring to this space individually and collectively, from farming to community work, personal lived experience with food insecurity to being moms who care deeply about the world our children will inherit. We knew we had the passion to take on a project like a social media campaign, but SoPL helped us finetune the skills we needed to take it to new heights and use it to enact legislative support.

We believe that food is a fundamental human right, and through this campaign, we can build a people-powered coalition that sends a clear message to our legislators that Double Up Food Bucks is an invaluable asset and that community– across the political spectrum– believes in nourishment as strength and power and in its ability to unite us around a common goal. Building this bridge is essential to gaining traction in Colorado, a state that calls itself “purplish” due to its diverse political landscape.

In the fourth SoPL session, we learned all about using messaging as an organizing tool from Katie LeBlanc with Cornbread and Collards Consulting, who brought her blend of spice, ingenuity, and authenticity to the cohort, along with the always wonderful Marlene Manzo (Political Leadership Manager) and Marla Larrave (Political Education Director) from HEAL. On the first day, Katie introduced us to the cycle of organizing and we assessed where our team is in that cycle. We had several breakout sessions where we got to talk as a team around our campaign cycle, building our communications plan, and our theory of change. On the second day of the fourth session, we got to build even more on the skills we learned the first day, starting off with learning about our VPSA (Values, Problem, Solution, Action) model and joining another breakout session to craft our team’s VPSA messages. We had many opportunities to work together as a team as well as with the rest of the cohort, even working on a mock campaign fishbowl at the end of the session, where we got to develop a strategy around a campaign Katie used as an example, learning even more how challenging and ultimately rewarding campaign organizing can be.

A recurring theme throughout this session was focusing on the things that unite our communities rather than divide us, and how we can use common ground to develop effective campaign strategy and “win” with people who may otherwise not seem like likely allies. We have also found this to be true on our own team; we all come from very different backgrounds with different experiences that have brought us to this space, but we have so much in common and so much to collectively fight for– together. We know that we are stronger together. We plan to lean into this with our social media campaign as well as with the legislators we plan to influence with it.

Having the opportunity to experience SoPL not only as a team but also alongside so many bright, driven, downright incredible food and environmental justice advocates from across the country has been a gift. From our team in Colorado to the others in Georgia, Idaho, and Louisiana, we have seen that there is so much that unites us all and that what is good for one of us is good for all of us. Building resilient, just food systems that center BIPOC voices is always worth the fight, and we are so lucky to share space with this cohort and get to see these campaigns develop in real time. An investment like SoPL is not singular; we will see the ripples from these campaigns and the connections made in this space for years to come. We are endlessly grateful for this experience and all we have gained in the process.

About Caitlin

Caitlin is the Community Engagement and Navigator Manager at Nourish Colorado and a long-time small business owner who fostered a much-needed career change during the COVID-19 pandemic, delving into food systems advocacy and community work. She is a multiply disabled, neurodivergent parent who enjoys quiet evening strolls with her partner, kayaking, vermicomposting, music, disability advocacy and activism, and spending time outdoors as often as she can. A data, political science, and policy nerd with a penchant for rolling up her sleeves to problem solve, Caitlin is a rural Arkansas native committed to breaking generational trauma and brings that perspective to her advocacy work wherever she can

About Nourish Colorado

Building off of their current organizing work, Nourish Colorado will create a campaign to strengthen connections with and between farms, ranches, and communities so that all Coloradans have equitable access to fresh, nutritious foods. Through SoPL the team will also create deep connections within their team and community to organize and advocate for community-led and informed policy change for the 2023 Farm Bill.