Be the Media
It was May; despite all the marches and pleas, and against the weight of world opinion, we were bombing Iraq. In footage on the BBC, in Reuters Feedroom, it looked like, well, war: messy, bloody. Ordinary people doing what scared people do: waiting in hospitals, buying the only weapons they could get their hands on, single shot rifles, huddling with their kids in the dark. But here in the U.S., the war looked like a video game. Unrecognizable objects erupted into cool explosions at a distance. Beautiful tracers crossed the night sky above Baghdad, and the horizon glowed red.
I found myself huddling in the dark. One morning, I woke up and stared bleakly at the computer. The screen was black, but it still reminded me that somewhere on the other side of the world people were screaming. I shuffled to the shower and thought, I have to either do something or get Prozac.
That afternoon, I found three pictures on the web and took them to a print shop. By tomorrow? By tomorrow, they promised, two foot by three, laminated. When I picked them up, they were better – or worse—than I had imagined. The child with lacerations all over his face cried out in reproof or pain. The burned child, those empty eyes, was he dead or alive? The acutely beautiful grey haired man who held a girl – he held me accountable. And you could see that the colorful shreds hanging from her colorful pants were the shreds of her foot itself.
I got scared. I sent out email and made calls asking if any of my friends wanted to come with me. No one had the stomach. So the next morning, I put my kids on the bus, taped the signs to tall poles, two facing forward, one back, and started walking.
“Ugh! What’s that?” was the first reaction I got. (A homeless woman.) I explained. “We did that?!” She walked away, shaking her head, stopping several times to look back. An aging black man crossed the street to look closer and to encourage me. “You go girl!” I kept walking, across Capitol Hill and down into the heart of Seattle. The business district. The tourist district. “Do you think I want to look at that?” snapped one woman. “No,” I answered. “I don’t think the Iraqis do either.”
From nine to four, I walked my home town. Several people said thank you. Several said fuck you. Some stopped to tell their stories. From the print shop, the Pakistani man who had done the lamination came downtown and stood by me for several hours. Mostly people looked and looked again and looked away. I figured by the time I reached home, exhausted and shaky and not needing Prozac, between five and ten thousand people had seen those pictures. I am the media.
- Engage someone new. Your friends probably know what you think, and they probably think like you. Push outside your comfort zone.
- Go boldly. What you have to say is crucial. What you have to show is powerful.
- Go in peace. If someone engages you, either positively or negatively about what you are communicating, they already hold strong opinions. Those most open to your message and in need of it will pass in silence.
- Remember, you are planting seeds, not changing minds. Small bits of information and experience accumulate until they trigger radical shifts.