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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 4/5/10

Not in Our Town: Communities Use Media to Combat Hate

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Are you tired of the relentlessly battering beat of bad news delivered daily by our media? Did you ever wonder if that same media could be used instead for good? If so, here's a story that will lift your spirit and might also encourage you to get involved and help make change" because when it comes to combating hate speech and acts of intolerance, it's bad-news-good-news-time for a change!


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The bad news is that stories of bigotry, prejudice, and divisiveness are sweeping the nation, as hate speech, hate crimes and recruitment for and involvement in hate-filled organizations such as the Hutaree "Christian" militia -- recently charged with conspiring to kill police officers as part of an alleged conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government are all increasing.

The good news is that there has been an even greater growth in the number of individuals and communities speaking out and acting together to counter the hatred. In the face of a rising wave of intolerance, people are taking action and taking a stand for inclusion and civility. Moreover, they are vastly increasing their reach and effectiveness through the adroit use of powerful new interactive social media and web tools that make it easier and cheaper than ever to communicate, network and respond in real time to the haters.

Case in point: the Not in Our Town movement, which for the last fifteen years has used media, including film, grassroots events, educational outreach, and interactive social networks, to provide more than one hundred different communities with helpful tools to fight bigotry and create inclusive communities and schools.

Not in Our Town is now launching a public web site NIOT.org, which will instantly connect you with people everywhere confronting bigotry and intolerance, and empower you to take action in your own community or school. Set for national launch this week at a gala event in San Francisco, NIOT.org is a powerful new interactive website and a stellar example of how people can use social media for real-world change, quickly and effectively. The site features Web 2.0 functionality, including mapping, video and film and active blogs, and allows people around the globe to connect, share ideas and model best practices for building safe, inclusive communities.

The Not in Our Town initiative began as a project of The Working Group, a not-for-profit media/social change organization based in California's Bay Area. (Disclosure: I am a member of the board.) It takes its name from Not in Our Town, an inspiring 1995 PBS documentary produced by Oakland filmmaker Patrice O'Neill about the residents of Billings, Montana who stood together in the face of hate violence that rocked their small community. With the support of community leaders such as the police chief and mayor but largely owing to the actions of the many "ordinary' citizens upset at an eruption of hatred in their community Billings successfully fought back and reclaimed the community from the haters.

The Billings response to racism and hatred standing up and loudly proclaiming "Not in Our Town! has become a national model. The NIOT group now enjoys an ongoing relationship with PBS, with co-branded content on PBS.org and the next broadcast planned for next spring. It has also given rise to numerous other videos chronicling creative community responses to hatred and bigotry. One recent example is this video from Palo Alto, where students cleverly resisted crazed homophobe Fred Phelps, whose Westboro Community Church and its small, vocal and profoundly loathsome group of gay-and-Jews-baiting haters descended upon Gunn High School.

The video has already garnered tens of thousands of views on YouTube already; clearly this is a story people want to see of young people taking positive action in the face of hate.

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Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor writes the 'Media Is A Plural' blog, accessible at www.roryoconnor.org.
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