The Value of Our Voices
After such a divisive and vitriolic presidential campaign, a hole started to grow in my heart. I felt hopeless. Saddened. Selfishly, I longed for comfort. Selflessly, I prayed for national unity. I became desperate for a dialogue centered on what we all value as Americans: respect, love, acceptance, common good, compassion.
As a designer, I wondered how my creative voice could contribute to this dialogue. Do I design a unity poster? Or, do I just permanently pin an Obama button on my shirt to remind myself of the boundless hope that, just eight years ago, seemed ubiquitous.
My answer came in mid-November by way of a request.
Andrea Weiss, a dear friend and brilliant biblical scholar, sent me an email that began, “We study Torah in part so that we can turn to our sacred text at times like this, when we and those we serve most need guidance, comfort, and support.” Goose bumps. She continued, “At this particular moment in our nation’s history, our elected officials and our fellow citizens might welcome the insights of scholars of religious texts and teachings, individuals with an important voice to contribute to our national discourse.” My curiosity was piqued.
Andrea wanted to create a nonpartisan, national campaign to bring together people of different religions, races, genders, ages, political affiliation, sexual orientation, and geography—“precisely the type of diversity that characterizes and strengthens our country.” She knew these voices could effectively articulate the core American values that have grounded our nation in the past and that should guide us forward now at this pivotal time of transition.
Each participant would write one letter to President Trump, Vice President Pence, Cabinet Secretaries, and Members of the House and the Senate, offering insights drawn from the wisdom of his or her faith tradition. In a nutshell: 100 letters sent during the first 100 days of the new administration. A big idea to be sure, but one that seemed so powerful and timely.
Andrea’s email ended with, “Would you be willing to lend your design expertise to the campaign?” My answer: YES! Not only did I love the idea but I knew that, like me, my co-workers would feel a sense of connection and inspiration from the campaign. We all needed it.
On Thanksgiving weekend we had our first meeting, fueled by kale smoothies and Andrea’s freshly made pumpkin bread. Together with Advisory Committee member Dr. Elsie Stern, we arrived at the campaign name: American Values Religious Voices: 100 Days. 100 Letters. The campaign was officially born and the race was on!
We had 55 days to build the campaign before the first letter would make its way to Washington on January 20, 2017. Andrea and her advisory committee took on the monumental task of identifying and soliciting the “voices,” while we at MGD were charged with creating the campaign’s “face” (visual identity) and building a platform for the 100 voices to be heard. This included developing a plan for social media and a website.
Once the campaign graphic and identity were created, the marketing and communication effort was full speed ahead. ValuesandVoices became the campaign’s social media handle on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as its hashtag. Working collaboratively with Andrea and her passionate campaign staff—Hillie Haber and Thalia Halpert Rodis—we generated visual assets and ideas for daily social media posts.
In keeping with the spirit of the campaign, the design and development of the website was a huge opportunity for meaningful collaboration. I reached out to Philadelphia designer Roni Lagin and asked if he would blend his amazing talents with our team. With just a month and 10 days until the website launch, Roni responded, “I’m definitely interested.” Days later, we convened a planning meeting and his creative voice was officially on board—making the effort that much stronger! Additionally, web developer Jason Dyniewski jumped in to provide last minute assistance, for which we are grateful.
Almost immediately, the hole in my heart began to shrink as the campaign started to fill the void. Scholars began to accept their invitation to participate and by mid-December, the first letter was submitted to the committee. In it, the author cited a passage from Deuteronomy to underscore the importance of our political leaders to do “what is right and good.” We were so inspired.
This was just the first of several letters Andrea would share throughout our work together. Each letter was a reminder of the campaign’s guiding principal: Individually, it is hard to feel that one can have an impact. Collectively, we have the potential to speak more powerfully. As the days passed, acceptances and letters poured in, and that sense of collective power was beginning to grow. Simultaneously, our reach on social media was expanding. People were engaged and excited. The buzz was almost audible!
Today, our team effort culminates in the launch of the campaign’s website. It seeks to celebrate what First Lady Michelle Obama identified as, “Our glorious diversity—our diversities of faiths and colors and creeds—that is not a threat to who we are, it makes us who we are.” We are so proud that starting January 20 and for 100 consecutive days, the voices of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs—individuals who represent the full spectrum of each faith tradition—will be heard. Their letters reflect their perspectives as Americans, some as African Americans, Latinas and Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and people of color from around the world. They write from their unique sense of self, some as gay women and men, parents and grandparents, activists, immigrants, teachers, people trying in various ways to make a difference in the world.
As a collective voice, the campaign reaffirms who we are as Americans, and teaches us the importance of learning from one another and working together for the common good. We hope American Values Religious Voices will begin a meaningful national conversation—not just with the new administration but with all people across this great country. Take the next step. Be a part of the dialogue!
• Visit the The Letters section of the website starting January 20, 2017.
• Subscribe to the letters on the website.
• Follow the campaign on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
• Tweet and post about the campaign using the hashtag #ValuesandVoices.
• Share the campaign with your friends, community center, house of worship, school or professional organization.
• Listen to and value one another’s voices.
It is up to each of us—and all of us—to protect and defend all that is (already) great about America.