Changing how we think about violence

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How do we change the way that Americans think about violence? How can concern and fear about social divisions, mass shootings, and violence in general be harnessed for social good? 

These questions are among those driving a national campaign coordinated by Rochester’s M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. Currently in its second phase, the Nonviolence Now project uses best practices in marketing to promote nonviolence and peacebuilding.   

Kit Miller

Harassment is now a feature of life online for many Americans: 43 percent of U.S. teenagers have experienced bullying online, and the majority have encountered hate speech in the form of racism, homophobia, anti-religion, and sexism. In its milder forms, it creates a layer of negativity that people must sift through as they navigate their daily routines online. At its most severe, online harassment can compromise privacy or even pose a threat to physical safety. 

The Nonviolence Now project—with partners Bylo Chacon Foundation, PVBLIC Foundation, and Peace Alliance—serves to strategically interrupt this trend and to awaken people’s potential to be their best selves online. As media psychologist Sophie Janicke notes, “Rather than simply seeing media as a negative influence to rein in, we’re beginning to understand its potential to spread goodness on a wide scale.” 

The power of positive media is particularly pronounced for youth, who spend an increasingly significant amount of time exposed to electronic media and who are at a critical developmental stage where the adoption of a particular worldview or social behavior habits may stick with them for the rest of their lives.

With this in mind, Nonviolence Now was created in January 2018 when the Gandhi Institute won a global, digital media prize from the Newman’s Own Foundation and chose to dedicate the campaign to marketing the idea of nonviolence itself, especially to younger people. 

The prize was administered by PVBLIC Foundation, a nonprofit media organization, and the project was launched at the United Nations’ celebration of Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th birthday, on Oct. 2, 2018. The team of volunteers and staff created such an effective campaign that the prize was extended, including a full-page ad in Newsweek magazine in December 2018. 

Photo credit: Nonviolence Now

In 2019, the Nonviolence Now team focused on launching and supporting its sister project, Nonviolence News. This e-newsletter shares 30 to 50 current stories of nonviolent actions and campaigns from around the world with subscribers each week. 

The second phase of Nonviolence Now launched via a petition campaign on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Jan. 20 with funds from a Silicon Valley-based family foundation. Focusing on the 25 U.S. communities impacted most by violence and on Rochester, ads for Nonviolence Now engage younger consumers ages 18 to 35. 

Daniel Wilkins, president of the PVBLIC Foundation, observes: “There is a huge amount of violent content in the marketplace, and anything we can do to help balance that content is important. This campaign is set up to specifically bring people into the Institute’s contact list for ongoing engagement, so our hope is that those people who do sign up for the petition and newsletter become champions for the nonviolence movement and share the Gandhi Institute’s content within their networks, further amplifying the message.”

The ads offer an opportunity to become supporters of the Peace Alliance’s national Blueprint for Peace campaign—calling on elected officials to implement effective solutions to violence—and to subscribe to the Nonviolence News e-newsletter. 

“Our Blueprint for Peace petition intends to expand, leverage, and mobilize the growing national nonviolence movement, advocating for U.S. policies fostering socially just, financially effective peacebuilding solutions,” says Judy Addicott Kimmel, chair of the Peace Alliance in Washington, D.C. “This petition spotlights five key peacebuilding sectors that are expanding and succeeding in our nation today; they include programs and policies that are proven effective in making positive nonviolence change.”

Nonviolence Now has engaged over 86,000 young adults since January, all of whom have become Nonviolence News subscribers, making it the largest nonviolence journal in the country. 

Nonviolence News Editor Rivera Sun reflects, “Each week, I find dozens of impressive stories of nonviolence in action from around the world. These are the stories that change—and save—lives.”

Sun calls Nonviolence Now a crucial intervention campaign that interrupts the cycle of violence and inserts true stories of the viable alternatives. 

“By doing so, Nonviolence Now is literally throwing a lifeline to those at the highest risk of causing or being harmed by violence,” she says.

As phase two of the project comes to an end, the Nonviolence Now team is looking ahead to digging into the data behind the campaign’s response rates, incorporating learning from this phase and identifying sources of future funding. Rochesterians interested in supporting Nonviolence Now can email [email protected] with questions and suggestions. 

Kit Miller is director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, a nonprofit that equips people to use nonviolence to create a sustainable and just world for all. With community partners, it focuses on nonviolence education, sustainability and environmental conservation, and the promotion of racial justice.

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