Our partners at the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network recently released two videos that we are proud to have collaborated on. These videos paint a vision for a more just world for the immigrants and southern border communities in the U.S. that RGV Equal Voice represents and supports. This vision is one that prioritizes human life and restores the border as a welcoming and vibrant place.
So what allowed for the ambitions and insights of RGV community members to be strategically channeled through video? Read on for a behind-the-scenes look! With this information, you can better imagine, assess, and approach your own video advocacy projects. Remember: to be most effective, video will just be one strategy within a broader advocacy process.
The Process | Resources | Lessons Learned
“The storytelling reflects the values of the RGV-EVN because it is family focused. Our goal is to see the wall be stopped and torn down, but to do that we had to introduce border community values that hold maternal elders in high regard. Our region’s cornerstone lies in the expanse of pure, motherly and unconditional love, and thus, creating a platform for these aunts and grandmothers to sound off on how they have seen the landscape and quality of life change.” – RGV EVN
“The video is a vehicle for people in detention to share their experiences and voice their demands. It has re-sparked the local conversation on immigration detention and ensured that as the media focuses on the manufactured “crisis” at the border, we aren’t forgetting that thousands of individuals remain in immigration detention and their lives are still in danger.”- RGV EVN
The year it took to make these videos was marked by the grief and upheaval caused by COVID19 as well as changes in the federal administration, making campaign creation all the more challenging and all the more remarkable.
- Research: WITNESS assessed storytelling strategies used in U.S. immigration advocacy videos. This was to identify common pitfalls, inspiring ways to tell crucial stories, and what is missing in this particular advocacy landscape. RGV created and sent out surveys to their members to identify the priorities and capacities of different organizations participating in the process.
- Training: In two-half days of online sessions WITNESS trained groups from EVN’s coalition on the essentials of video advocacy: objective, audience, story, distribution, impact, archive, and evaluation– as well as basics of filming and production. Live interpretation was available in the training. This allowed for more perspectives and supported the inclusion of older women whose views and participation strongly shaped the final product.
- Planning: During the training there was open discussion and practices like influence mapping to identify target audiences and plotting out key components of each video. After this session there were bi-weekly follow ups to refine audience, messaging, production plan. The audiences chosen were lawmakers.
- Production: For the Free Them All video, RGV EVN set up interviews with folks in detention and their family members who they were already in contact with through their work. Interviews were conducted over the phone or via the video visitation app used in detention centers. The group working on the No Border Wall video initially collaborated on a multi-region level, each tasked to find an outspoken older woman who could share her perspective on the changes she’s seen since the wall materialized. There were no other requirements aside from them being part of a border community. They were free to speak in their preferred language. RGV EVN developed a set of questions that would ask what it was like growing up on the border, how things are now, and what they would do to change things today. Videos could be recorded remotely via Zoom or a COVID safe distance.
- Post-production: Transcripts were made of interviews. Paper edits were done with the transcripts to narrow down to the most compelling and essential pieces. The video editor was hired and then cut down the raw footage to match the paper edit. Further edits were made to continue cutting it down. EVN met with WITNESS and the video editor to make decisions about what additional footage was needed (B roll, archival images, animated illustrations) to accompany the stories in the interviews. Decisions were made on color palette, music, animation style, and quotes to be highlighted. These were shared with the illustrator, motion graphics editor, and sound designer. Translations were completed in English/Spanish and made into subtitles.
- Distribution: After videos were complete, additional meetings were had to discuss distribution strategy– including a digital launch party and social campaign by both WITNESS and EVN.
Time: It took a year from first starting to plan until the release of the videos- largely due to delays in the training and production process necessitated by COVID19. The initial plan was 3-6 months for production and 3 months for post-production. The initial plan (pre COVID19 adjustments) is below:
People power: Making the videos took a dedicated EVN team responsible for coordinating with the production team (videographer, illustrator, motion graphics editor) and WITNESS. Roles on EVN’s team included interviewers, interviewees, filmers, communications planners, and writers for the grants and reports to funders. Prior to training and production, EVN also conducted internal surveys of their network of their members to gauge different priorities and perspectives shared by community members. Strong relationships were also a key part of the distribution process. Videos were boosted by partners and allies like Detention Watch Network, Angry Tías and Abuelas, Southern Border Communities Coalition, and more.
- Surveys with coalition members to decide: central issue trying to change, target audience, call to action
- Mini video advocacy plan worksheet
- Audience mapping chart (pictured below)
- Tools for recording remote audios and interviews
- Online transcription tools including Trint and Youtube’s free automatic transcription tools [copied and pasted text for creating edits for bilingual speakers]
- Phone cameras
$$$$ – RGV EVN had applied for and received a grant to produce these videos. The money largely went to pay the video editor, illustrator, motion graphics editor, and sound designer who worked on the videos. The footage used within the videos was captured by members of the EVN team or community members.
- Research helps steer storytelling strategies. Do narrative analysis on videos made by allies. What is working? What is missing? Having references of different types of advocacy videos can help with giving different frameworks that guide your own process.
- Power mapping of audiences in the training and in follow up helps bring to life the fact that advocacy videos are audience-driven. It helped get trainees excited because they were already familiar with a mapping process, so it helped the advocacy process feel less foreign. It helped for people to think about call-in instead of call-out messaging for Congressman Vela, and all the elements of the video fell into place.
- Video advocacy campaigns take time. They are not a rapid response tool. They require long term, deep engagement.
- Consider your capacity and plan accordingly. Think about your short and medium term campaign goals and consider how a video can help advance those goals.
- There will always be unforeseeable changes. The social and political landscapes were changing especially rapidly in this period. You need to be flexible and anticipate shifting targets and waning capacities. It is important to adjust expectations and prioritize taking care of ourselves and each other. Have solid objectives, action steps, and distribution plans to the best of your ability.
- Having time and space is important. Working on videos is a big ask, especially when it is all virtual. When the pandemic began and priorities were hard to identify, a month break was taken and everything fell into place much easier after returning.
- Advocacy goals can’t be forced. They have to be organically developed from what is going on and what people’s capacity and needs are.
- Appoint a lead that would set agendas and finalize decisions, rather than a horizontally formulated group that spent more time explaining and discussing wish list production. Having an open forum is good to earn trust, but can sideline you for time—if you have time constraints. It is imperative to be more firm on guidelines and decision-making instead of a passive role.
- There is a line between informed consent and being patronizing. Ethics and security are a central priority in any advocacy process. For the #FreeThemAll video, WITNESS and EVN discussed the risks of interviewing people who were incarcerated and of sharing that footage without anonymizing the speaker. Folks wanted to share their stories and wanted to be seen. Listening to those desires and needs is important.
- Trust and community-based knowledge is essential. EVN had a great understanding of the community and their needs and priorities, as well as a deep understanding of Congressman Vela (the target audience). That knowledge informed best messaging, tone, music, palette for a local campaign that could resonate and spark joy. They had access and trust to different people who were interviewed.
- Follow-ups are important for follow-through. Schedule these regularly to keep up momentum and make sure everyone can adapt together as needed.
Ready to take a deeper dive into each video?