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The Politics of Storytelling

Huffington Post (New York, NY) , July 13, 2007

By Anthony D. Romero


I've learned a lot from Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan in my nearly six years as Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU.) They were, of course, vastly different leaders, and neither was a great civil libertarian. But they did share at least one common trait. They both knew how to tell a good story.

"I grew up in the pre-television age, in a family of uneducated but smart, hard-working, caring storytellers. They taught me that everyone has a story. And that made politics intensely personal to me. It was about giving people better stories." -President Bill Clinton Politicians tell stories for a reason. Whether it's a story of ambivalent, re-requited love; of a popular, but odd-ball basketball player; of a vet who invokes the past but blinks at the present; or of a tough parent who plays nurturer in a pinch -- we need to do more than just listen. We need to ask what are the values that underlie them. We need to scrub their stories and sort out why they're telling them.

The ACLU must deliver our message -- that we can be both safe and free, and that everyone in America has the right to live with dignity -- in a way that a larger audience will understand.

My belief that we need to tell the stories of Americans fighting for justice even as we fight against terror moved me to write a book of American stories, In Defense of Our America: The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror, with journalist Dina Temple-Raston.

Let's ask our leaders to tell the stories of our America -- stories of hope, of optimism, of courage and of American values that can withstand any storm that comes our way.

Subjects Covered: education

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