I recently heard a pundit say after a political debate, “People don’t care about the facts. They want to hear a story they can relate to.” In my role as executive director of the Loft, I am not sure whether to delight or despair at this comment. We know that compelling narrative always gets people’s attention, but do we have to give up the facts to get our point across? I vote no.
For instance, what if I wanted to write a commentary about the voter ID amendment? I could share the facts with you about disenfranchisement of the young, poor, and elderly and cite budget numbers about how much such a new law would cost. But you might glaze over and move on to the comics. This is where storytelling comes in. Instead of diving straight into the facts, start with the drama.
Four days before my mother died, she rose from her hospice bed, and voted with an absentee ballot. A lifelong activist, my mother cared deeply about the issues that impacted the quality of life in our state. She read the newspaper daily and often talked back to it when there was no one else to listen by making elaborate notes in the margins.
During her life she had chaired commissions, worked in government, and volunteered on causes. By the time she reached her final five years, she had lost her drivers’ license, her passport had expired, and she had no ID. But she followed the issues and understood what was at stake.
She still had strong opinions (and no Mom, I’m not going to change my hairstyle but thanks for suggesting it). She deserved to vote. Thankfully, she was given the chance. An absentee election judge went door to door at the nursing home and my sister served as my mother’s witness.
If my mother had been denied her vote because of the lack of photo ID, she would have had lots of company.
- 18 percent of elderly citizens do not have a government-issued photo ID.
- 15 percent of voters earning less than $35,000 a year do not have a photo ID.
- 18 percent of citizens aged 18-24 do not have a government-issued ID with their current address and name.
- 10 percent of voters with disabilities do not have a photo ID.
- 25 percent of African-American citizens of voting age do not have a current, government-issued ID
My mother voted and smiled through her pain, knowing that she still had a role to play in our society. We later joked that it was a good thing she did not have to live with the outcome because the electorate swung against her stance. My mother died on Election Day, but on her last gasp, she was able to weigh in to our democratic process to cast her informed vote for the common good. She was proud to vote and told us so before she drifted away.
The lesson for a strong opinion piece is to lead with a story and weave the facts into the fabric.
Jocelyn Hale is executive director of The Loft Literary Center. Her opinion pieces have been aired nationally on Marketplace Radio and published in the Star Tribune, MinnPost, Minnesota Woman’s Press, Minnesota Daily, and the Southwest Journal.
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