Abstract: Organizing through Stories: The Role of Emotions in Increasing Support for Abolition (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

75P Organizing through Stories: The Role of Emotions in Increasing Support for Abolition

Thursday, January 13, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kristen Brock-Petroshius, MSW, PhD Candidate, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Laura Wray-Lake, PhD, Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: Black Lives Matter has caused a shift in public consciousness, pushing cities and counties to seriously consider the adoption of abolitionist policies – policies that reduce the funding and scale of carceral institutions and challenge the notion that policing, surveillance, and incarceration increase safety. As a complement to social movement uprising periods that allow for mass shifts in consciousness, there is a need for political interventions to prevent backlash and increase active support to eliminate structural racism. Deep canvassing is a particular organizing method that focuses on sharing stories. It has been proven to change attitudes and increase support for equity policies, but its causal mechanisms are unclear.

This study examines a deep canvass organizing campaign that aimed to increase support for an abolitionist policy. Our research question is simple: does sharing stories or expressing emotions predict attitude change towards an abolitionist policy? We hypothesize that the interaction of sharing a story and expressing emotions explains increased support for the abolitionist policy.

Methods: The community partner organization collected data during the Measure R campaign, an LA county ballot initiative aiming to divert funds from jail expansion into community resources. From August 2019-March 2020, 350 volunteer canvassers knocked on 18,120 doors and invited residents into a conversation about the upcoming Measure R vote. The organization strategically focused their canvassing efforts in majority white neighborhoods, in alignment with their focus of organizing white people on racial justice issues as part of a broader Black-led, multiracial movement. All voters answered questions about their policy opinion both at the start and end of the conversation. This pre- and post-intervention data and relevant registered voter data were analyzed using Ordinary Least Squares regression. Logistic regression and odds ratios were also used to strengthen substantive interpretation. The primary analysis focused on the 2,240 completed canvass conversations.

Results: Of those who completed a conversation, 31% substantively increased their support for the abolitionist policy. Emotional expression, after accounting for story-sharing and other factors, was a significant predictor of attitude change – but story sharing was not. There was a significant interaction between story-sharing and emotional expression, demonstrating that when combined with emotional expression, story-sharing did influence attitude change. Sharing a personal story and expressing emotions made someone on average 4 times as likely to substantively increase their support for the abolitionist policy.

Conclusions and Implications: The findings of this paper demonstrate that story-sharing and emotional expression are essential components of effective canvassing conversations and that deep canvass organizing can advance abolitionist policy wins. Measure R was approved with 73% of the vote in March 2020, paving the way for future abolitionist policy advances since the summer 2020 BLM uprisings. Additionally, this study serves as an example for the use of political interventions in social work and how to address racism at the source, in white communities. In alignment with Social Work’s Grand Challenges of Smart Decarceration and Eliminating Racism, this study provides an important example to guide social work education, practice, research, and policy.