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5 ways to "change the narrative" on war and violence

stack of newspapers
Photo: / AFSC

This list was created by Beth Hallowell and Jos Truitt from their workshop, "How to change a narrative: A guide for activists and peacebuilders," at AFSC's 2017 Centennial summit. See this list and others from the summit online at Download this list as a PDF here

1. Learn 

What does it mean to change the narrative on war and violence? At AFSC, we've been working to understand better what stories are out there on our key issues, and how we can change the way people think and talk about those issues. For example, you've probably noticed that the media uses stereotypes, violent imagery, and even outright misinformation covering social issues. We know from research that this coverage has an impact on how people think and feel about these issues. Fortunately, we also know from research how to change these narratives. In fact, there are a few simple steps that anyone can take to improve our national dialogue.
2. Use what you've learned to talk about Islamophobia
Once you've had a chance to educate yourself about the importance of framing - and reframing - key issues, try applying this to your daily conversations or your congregation's advocacy work. Check out AFSC's resources on how to talk more effectively about specific kinds of Islamophobia, like the Muslim and refugee travel ban, with your friends or congregation. You can call your Senator or Representative and when you do, remember to lead with shared values, like inclusive and flourishing communities. Then, describe the problem you want them to solve - in this case, Islamophobia as a threat to everyone's well-being - and how ending the Muslim ban is a key step in that direction. Finally, stay tuned for AFSC's new study on how to effectively speak out against Islamophobia, to be release in April 2017.
3. Use what you've learned to talk about "violent extremism"
AFSC has documented how extremism talk in the media draws a racist link between Islam and violence and focuses public attention on military solutions to conflict instead of nonviolent solutions. Journalists, however, need to know that people care about Muslims being vilified and violence being presented as the solution to problems. One way to help change this media coverage for the better is to write a letter to the editor when you see a particularly bad example of this kind of coverage. Another way is to share good examples of things that you've read online. It may sound like a small act, but pageviews, clicks, and shares help determine editorial decisions in today's digital media environment.
4. Use what you've learned to talk about immigration
We've seen our national conversation on immigration drop to new dehumanizing lows, especially since the election. Now is a critical time to speak out - as effectively as possible - to help everyone understand this issue better. Whether you are having a conversation on Facebook or talking with your elected officials, the concept is the same. Lead with shared values, like inclusive and flourishing communities, then briefly describe the problem - like border militarization or deportation raids. Then, follow quickly with a solution and an action - like bystander interventions or supporting #SanctuaryEverywhere
5. Join the conversation online
"Clicktivism" gets a bad rap: With more than a billion people using social media platforms like Facebook every single day, social media can be a powerful place to lift up messages of inclusion and community. AFSC has put together a number of resources for people who are interested in changing conversations online, including on immigration and children in detention in Israel-Palestine, or getting them started in the first place. This is something that you can do from home, or something that you can organize your networks to do with you.

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