Kit Miller was among the hundreds who participated in what began as a peaceful rally in downtown Rochester on Saturday to protest the death of George Floyd, a man who died in police custody in Minneapolis.
Miller, who like many others attended the rally in the spirit of nonviolence, is director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. Her team has just begun MKGI’s latest Nonviolence Now media campaign.
Designed as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on the social ecology of families, networks and neighborhoods, the interactive campaign presents nonviolence as a solution for young people. It promotes love and solidarity, and underscores the power of individual choices.
The campaign is a collaborative effort of MKGI and community members including Causewave Community Partners; Judy Livingston, associate professor of graphic design at Alfred University; and Liz Chatterton, copy writer at Article Group. Monroe County, the city of Rochester, Regional Transit Service and Lamar Advertising Co. have also offered support. The campaign is funded partly through a fundraiser organized by men participating in the Youth Assistance Program at Attica Correctional Facility.
Nonviolence Now made its first appearance in Rochester on RTS buses last June. In addition to circulating on 15 buses from May 8 to mid-July, the current campaign will be featured on six Rochester billboards.
The bus ads and billboards will be accompanied by a social media campaign that encourages individuals of all ages to share their answers to the questions prompted by the ads. Responses can be a few words, a song or take creative form in a poem, a photo or an essay. The most creative and thoughtful response gets a chance to win a social media contest.
Now, the campaign takes on increased urgency as Rochester heals from street violence last weekend.
“When structural inequalities worsen, interpersonal violence tends to follow,” Miller says. “We seek to interrupt this pattern as much as possible.”
The Rochester Beacon posed a few questions to Miller about the campaign. She shares her thoughts below:
ROCHESTER BEACON: Why does this campaign ask Rochester to choose love and solidarity?
KIT MILLER: This campaign is a part of the Gandhi Institute’s Nonviolence Now Project and is a response to the pandemic’s impact on the social ecology of families, networks, neighborhoods and the greater community. Causewave Community Partners supported the project through the efforts of two of their fabulous volunteers, Judy Livingston and Liz Chatterton. Both Judy and Liz were inspired by the restorative school climate work that we and many others have worked (on) to cultivate in Rochester schools, and other parts of the Rochester community, over the last decade or more.
Restorative practices are community-based practices for addressing harm when it occurs, that emphasize accountability and the ability each of us has to understand others even when harm has occurred, and to heal. Because there are no “one size fits all” answers for human beings, we left the statements in the campaign open, to encourage choice and creativity. There are some one-size-fits-all principles, however, that the campaign reminds all of us to enact: to love and care for one another, and to think before reacting.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What are your goals for this campaign?
MILLER: The entire Nonviolence Now project has focused on using best practices in marketing to present nonviolence in fresh ways, especially to younger people. Our goals for this particular campaign are to support people of all ages to exercise creativity and agency in taking care of themselves and others. Unemployment and poverty have worsened since the pandemic began. When structural inequalities worsen, interpersonal violence tends to follow. We seek to interrupt this pattern as much as possible. Over 400,000 weekly views from the billboards and buses will occur during the two-month duration of the campaign, in addition to a social media campaign and contest. Finally, we hope to increase the public’s awareness of a variety of virtual opportunities for insight and education that are available on a donation basis through the Gandhi Institute. These offerings include workshops on anger, conflict transformation, and grief and support groups, among others.
ROCHESTER BEACON: This is an interactive campaign, unlike previous iterations. How would you measure success?
MILLER: We already feel successful due to the number of organizations that were inspired to support. We are thankful to Regional Transit Service and Lamar Advertising for their generosity, as well as to the city and county for their support. A number of other groups and organizations have pledged to help get the message out as well. We will also measure success through the amount of online engagement and through collecting anecdotal evidence from Rochester residents who share their reactions to the campaign.
ROCHESTER BEACON: How do communities like Rochester stand to gain from sharing stories?
MILLER: My favorite TED talk is called “The Danger of a Single Story,” featuring author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie reflecting on her experiences of being seen through a single story (as a person who grew up in Nigeria), as well as her own moments of seeing others through her single story. Sharing our own stories of efforts to love and care for one another, of ways to keep our cool, offers the everyday truth of our lives. This stands in contrast to the single story circulated and strengthened through mass media, including social media, that human beings are violent and therefore untrustworthy and need to be controlled. That story creates the conditions for deaths like that of George Floyd and countless others.
As Iraq vet and West Point graduate Paul Chappell notes, if human beings were inherently violent, we would not become traumatized by perpetrating or experiencing violence. We could not become traumatized even witnessing violence. It would not cause stress and damage to our minds and bodies. And yet violence does this damage to us all. This was made manifest once again on Saturday after the conclusion of a well-organized march attended by hundreds in protest of police brutality that was used as a cover afterward by others for destruction and later, by still others, to loot and trash. If we were immune to violence, if violence were truly natural to the human spirit, these later events would not have shaken us so. We hope this campaign supports the hundreds of moments of choice each day offers to be our best selves, no matter the circumstances. As Dr. King reminds us, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.