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This Week in PopTech: Irrationality, Violence Interrupters and Smart Growth


  • We went behind the scenes to learn about the work of Violence Interrupters in Chicago.

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On the Street With Violence Interrupters

Several weeks ago, PopTech held a brainstorming session in Chicago to investigate how social mapping tools can be used to create positive social change. As a test case, we talked with CeaseFire Chicago.

To learn more about CeaseFire’s work to prevent gun violence, PopTech caught up with several members of their team who attended the brainstorming session. What follows comes from several conversations that I’ve had with Dr. Gary Slutkin, Executive Director of CeaseFire, and CeaseFire Interrupters Timothy White and Eddie Bocanegra.

Gun violence in Chicago. It happens over money or a girlfriend or a neighborhood block. It happens over the smallest and most common of things. Someone steps on someone else’s shoes. Someone looks at someone the wrong way. And once it happens, retaliation is likely.

“They’re angry. And they have a reason to be angry,” Eddie Bocanegra, told me recently. “You know, maybe their closest friend just got shot. Or maybe the individual himself just got shot and he’s sitting in the hospital with a gunshot in his leg, and the only thing in his head is I’m going to go back as soon as I’m able to walk.

“Think about it. For the past two or three years, who knows, probably even longer than that, he’s seen his friends getting shot, and it becomes normal… In his mind it’s like Ok, this is how we live."

And that was exactly what went through Eddie’s mind when his close friend got shot and wound up paralyzed from the waist down. He was angry and ready to act on what he’d learned from the streets. “My intention was to go back and shoot somebody and inflict the same kind of pain that my friend was going through,” he told me.

Eddie Bocanegra describes the past that inspired him to support young men who turn to violence as a coping mechanism for anger. Video shot by our friend, Daniel Stephens.

Like Eddie, Dr. Gary Slutkin grew up in Chicago. But while Eddie spent fourteen years and three months in prison, Gary spent a large part of his career in Africa, working on some of the developing world’s biggest health issues – AIDS, TB, and cholera. When he returned home to Chicago in 1995 Gary focused his attention on an epidemic much closer to home.

“People told me about children shooting other children with guns, and I saw the magnitude of the problem,” he told me last year. “I asked people what they were doing to try to address it, and the things that were being expressed to me didn’t make any sense. I didn’t know what we would do, but I knew that what was out there had no chance.”

Gary established a violence prevention approach called CeaseFire. Over time, he says the violence plaguing his hometown began exhibiting to him all the signs of an infectious disease. His work evolved in recognition of this, and today, based on behavior change and health/epidemic control methods, CeaseFire is reducing shootings and violent crime in the inner-city Chicago neighborhoods where it is employed, by an average of 45%.

Part of what makes CeaseFire unique and successful is its use of Violence Interrupters, men and women who have or build a rapport with gang leaders and other at-risk youth, and who intervene in potentially violent situations before anyone pulls a trigger. The Interrupters typically have a background on the streets and have spent time in prison. Ex-offenders usually have an extremely challenging time getting a job after they’re released from prison, yet when Eddie applied to work as Interrupter his background was an asset. Like the other Interrupters, Eddie can read the streets fast, and knows what will or will not work in any given situation.

“Most of the time it’s that anger and the ego…and the friends on the sideline cheering them on telling them ‘go do this, go do that’," he told me. “I might get another Interrupter to calm the cheerleaders down… Then I’m able to pull him aside and have that personal communication with him, and I can feel my way around him. It’s like doing a psychological analysis to decide what approach I’m going to take with him. Every situation is different.”

“A lot of times I’ll share my experience… ‘Hey, everything you’re going through, I’ve been through before. But the difference is that just like you, I didn’t know how to control this anger. I didn’t know how to vent. I didn’t know exactly what avenues I actually had. So I’m here to help you with that. Vent. Talk to me. How can I help you?’”

He talks more quietly, trying to control his emotions, “I didn’t have anybody back then to kind of process this stuff”, he told me, “With CeaseFire, I’m given that opportunity to actually make a difference, to maybe reach out to individuals such as myself… well, just to reach out to individuals…who are living the way I was living at one time.”

I am reminded of talking to another Interrupter, James Highsmith last year. He said, “I helped create this beast, so I feel like I have no other choice but to do something… This is what you’re supposed to do. I be thinking What can I do, what can I do more, what magic thing can I do to make this stop….? This is what I think about every day. What the hell can I do to make everybody stop killing each other?”

Eddie Bocanegra
Eddie Bocanegra

Driving his beat in West Chicago, Minister Timothy White waves to people who frequently call out to him. His charisma is palpable. “This is the area I grew up in,” he tells me. “This is also the area that I ran the streets in, so I’m familiar with this area, and a lot of people are familiar with me.” This is the hallmark of the CeaseFire Interrupter. He tells me that fathers, unwilling to call the police on their own sons, and equally unwilling to have their sons kill someone, have called him in desperation. “My son’s in the basement loading up. Can you talk to him?” And later, both father and son have thanked him.

He tells me that if he himself can’t stop a potential act of retribution, he’ll know someone who can. “I’ll threaten to call his uncle…And he’ll be like, ‘WHAT?! You’re going to call my uncle?’ ‘He the only one you listen to. So I’m going to see what he says about you going out and killing everyone today.’"

Tim has a social fluidity that’s quite unusual. He understands how to do the violence mediation in an effective way because he has real social credibility with people active in the streets. At the same time, he walks into the PopTech brainstorming session with complete ease.

He explains to the group that currently the Interrupters’ use of technology is fairly basic, simple text messages back and forth between Interrupter and the streets that deliver information about the location of a situation that’s unfolding. Most of the real communication happens in person. Like Eddie, he points out that each situation is different, and his work depends heavily on human experience. “It’s almost as if it’s intuition. When you’re out there, there’s no one particular method. You just have to read the situation.“

Driving around, one of the few places at which we slowed down is Tim’s father’s church: “My father is the pastor… My father was a real busy man ministering to other people. Sometimes he didn’t even see what I was doing… until it was too late.” Tim puts his own kids in basketball and football, and tells them who he was and the mistakes he made. And his children have kept out of trouble. He tells me, “God covered them… I slipped through the cracks …Sometimes one or two will slide through the cracks; here and there you get a bad apple. But that wasn’t bad because what the devil meant for evil, God has turned around and worked it for good, so my background became my resume."

With his troubled background as his resume, Minister Tim White now works with Ceasefire to intervene in troubled situations before conflict turns to violence.

Dr. Slutkin doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about how he feels about saving lives, he told me last year. “I keep my mind on the idea of the program. I am interacting with these Interrupters and the outreach workers, and I think I spend more time thinking about them and who they are, and in a way, kind of how much I love them really. I’m really inspired by them and what they’re doing and how much they’re putting into it. So my mind is on how exciting and cool and challenging and brilliant and committed they are…And how much we’ve got to get help to get it to another level…My mind is so much more on the unfinished business.”

I asked him why he does this work. At first he reacted as though the question simply didn’t make sense. Why does anyone do what they do? “At one level, I think you don’t even know.” He hesitated and sighed, “I mean I’ve been working on the largest issues I could find time after time because what else should you do with your time?

“I feel that as a result of the interaction of all of the experiences that I’ve had – you know I’ve really trained under some amazing people, you know, people who lead the smallpox campaign, who lead the AIDS campaign for the world… And now I’m learning from all these guys on the street and… we’ve GOT to do it. It’s an absolute obligation to take this as far as we can take it.”

Check out presentations and more behind-the-scenes videos from our Social Mapping Workshop and Salon in Chicago.

Science, Living Systems, and the Edge of Change: A PopTech Salon

On June 22, 2010 from 6:00pm – 9:00pm (EST) in the Alfred Noble Hall at the House of Sweden in Washington, DC, PopTech will bring together three speakers and a musical guest for a special salon event featuring a new generation of scientists who are exploring, mapping, harnessing, and shaping complex living systems. Their work has profound implications from conservation to medicine; social networking to environmental cleanup.

Request a Registration
Seating is extremely limited – Event is free, and an RSVP required. (hashtag: #poptech)

Edge of Change

In this special PopTech Salon you’ll meet scientists and researchers including:

Beth Shapiro, the geneticist who is shedding new light on how species respond to environmental change
Justin Gallivan, the biochemist who is ‘programming’ bacteria to eat pollution
H. Sebastian Seung, the neuroscientist who is helping computers see the connections between the brain’s neurons

Special Guest:
Christen Lien, the “viola artist” whose music has been described as “ethereal and otherwordly; a bridge to the divine.”

PopTech would like to thank the National Science Foundation and the Intel Corporation for their generous support of this program.

Social Mapping and Social Change
Read our Recap of the PopTech Social Mapping Salon

Questions? Let us know in the comments. We hope you’ll join us on the 22nd!

On the Upside of Irrationality: Catching up with Dan Ariely

On the heels of his best-selling 2009 book – Predictably Irrational – about the emotional and social aspects that influence people deciding on financial matters, Dan Ariely has written a second book about his research. Last week, PopTech caught up with the behavioral economist to talk about his new book, entitled The Upside of Irrationality and what the success of his previous book taught him about his own research.

Upside and Dan

Tell me, what drove you to start writing for a general audience?
I have always been a very applied researcher. I started research on pain because of my own experiences in life. [During his service in the Israeli Army, Ariely was caught in an explosion that burnt more than 70% of his body. He spent three years in the hospital recovering from his injuries. Because of his experiences, Ariely later became to study how people experience pain. He learned that people register less pain when the experience is lower intensity, even if it a much longer duration than brief pain that is a higher intensity.] Social science is the science of everyday life. Everyday is an exercise in psychology. Economics has been so successful in convincing people that we’re rational all the time. Yet my research suggests something different, and writing these books has made it possible for my research to start having more of an impact beyond the academic world.

The experience has been transformative for me. I published Predictably Irrational in a good or bad point in time. All of a sudden, people realized that irrationality was important in economics. People might say that [my] experiments are cute but none of this will work out in big markets. The financial crash has really helped to illustrate my point.

In fact, the financial crash presents a lot of interesting problems. It has also allowed me to be exposed to many more people and situations. For example, I met with some people from a big commercial bank. I asked them, how do people decide which loans to pay back first, or faster? It seems it should be the one with highest interest rate. However, I discovered that rather than pay loans with highest interest rates, they pay the smallest loan first. I even thought that financial decision would have a very negative impact over time.

You’ve written that “Our irrational behaviors are neither random nor senseless—they are systematic … We all make the same types of mistakes over and over.” Yet the applied nature of your research also encourages people to make behavioral changes, which is actually quite difficult.

In general, I don’t think people can change completely, but I do think that even changing one thing is significant. I get emails all the time from people who write to tell me that they changed one critical thing in their lives. Every time somebody changes something, it is a great thing.

I also think that we can’t solve everything by ourselves. It’s also about regulation. We need to understand the mistakes that people make and then we need to think about what kinds of regulations we should be making. Think, for example, about the structure of a cafeteria. If you set up the vegetables first, and the burgers and fries at the end, people will be more like to at least pick up a few vegetables on their plates. Or if you think about roads, without speed limits, people are much more likely to drive too fast and take risks. The question becomes how to create regulations that encourage the kinds of behaviors that encourage people to make decisions that take emotions into account.

One thread in The Upside of Irrationality, as well as in your previous book, is the role of failure. Can you tell me more about that?
Failure for me means a kind of success. If you think something will work out a certain way, and then it doesn’t happen that way, you have really learned something. It advances how we should think about behavior.

Does failure play the same role at the societal level?
Too often, it doesn’t. The wrong lessons are drawn from failure. It rarely plays the role it should play. People often push their heels down and pretend that nothing has happened. So far, that’s what’s happened with the banking system. It will be an incredible waste if the recession and the banking crisis do not lead to any larger changes moving forward.

I noticed that the Upside of Irrationality focuses on more deeply personal issues than your previous book.
It is. Half of the book is about irrationality in the workplace, of which the first chapter is the lecture I gave at PopTech, and how we take credit for other peoples’ ideas. The second half of the book is about the home, and about happiness. This half of the book is very personal, and how irrationality has changed how it has changed my thinking.

For example, there is something called “associative mating.” What makes somebody an attractive date? The thinking is that somebody who is incredibly attractive will pick somebody who is also quite attractive. Usually, people get used to where they are in this hierarchy, and it is something they carry with them from such a young age, it feels natural. For me, I had this serious injury and I was less valuable for looks and dating. This made me think very differently about finding a mate. How would I have to settle? How much have things really changed? It changed my thinking about my research. How do people make sense about who they are in the social hierarchy, particularly when that changes suddenly?

I explore another example in my new book. After my injury, I stopped taking Novocaine when going to the dentist. I wondered, do we develop a different approach to thinking about pain? What I discovered was that a people experience [pain] all the same, but they might care about it in a different way. The kind of pain I had was connected to a traumatic injury. I underwent many painful operations but pain was associated with good things, with getting better. In other words, I didn’t care about pain as much because I had begun to associate with positive changes. By contrast, people who have chronic injuries associate pain in a more negative way. Pain reminds them that they are going to die soon; pain takes on a very different aspect.

Writing about the highly personal aspects of my research has been much more difficult to write. I also care much more about what the reaction to the book will be, which so far has been very positive.

Best of luck to you on your book tour.

A list of Ariely’s speaking engagements is available on his website.

Watch Dan Ariely’s 2009 PopTech talk on Irrational Economics here.

Urban Pioneers of Braddock, Pennsylvania

Editor’s note: Inspired by Mayor John Fetterman’s 2009 PopTech talk, Sarah Graalman became fascinated with the vibrant art collective movement growing in Braddock, Pennsylvania. Graalman is a writer and storyteller who performs her original works all around New York City.

Artistic communities often arise from abandon and ruin: artists, always hungry for inexpensive space, are drawn to these centers, and from there you can follow the art-crumbs. Artist finds cheap space. Artist wants good coffee. Artist wants cheese plate. Shops open, others want to live in artistic neighborhood… and presto! Rejuvenation.

These movements also spring from struggling communities’ need for art, and the inspiration so many artists derive from the hidden beauty within devastation and decay – whether it comes from a desire to heal or to educate future generations. Like modern day etchings on a cave wall, art born from urban revitalization and community rebirth is often how we preserve our stories for future generations.

Welcome to Braddock

Which brings me to Braddock, Pennsylvania. At PopTech last October, Mayor John Fetterman told audiences of Braddock’s near-catastrophic struggle, losing 90 percent of its population after the steel industry collapse of the 1970’s and subsequent pummeling by the crack epidemic of the 1980’s. By the turn of the century, the town was in ruins with a population of barely 2,000. Though rebuilding a town nearly left in ruins is certainly more complicated than simply putting up a community canvas, the call for creative thinkers is at the heart of Braddock’s new pulse.

In many cities, rising costs of rent and art-studios are squeezing out those who must work double-time for rent, making time for their passion a nocturnal coffee-fueled endeavor. In Braddock, Mayor Fetterman has called for the “urban pioneer, artist, or misfit to be a part of a new experimental effort” in making Braddock home. Thus far, a few dozen have come into Braddock since its revitalization began.
The result? A small art boom.

Unsmoke Artspace
Gold In Braddcok show, image by Stephanie Armbruster, courtesy of Unsmoke Artspace

UnSmoke Artspace is a gallery/studio housed in a repurposed Catholic school building, which provides studio space to 7 artists and 1 resident writer. Currently, it’s hosting Gold In Braddock, pulling in artists from LA, NYC, Philly, and Pittsburgh. The show, running until June 5th, exploits the polarity between the exterior context (the steel town) and the interior space (the art gallery) to raise questions and inspire reflection. In the spirit of Braddock’s renewal, this show is also an experiment. It asks, “what can art do in this context?” These artists will return to their communities having shared in Braddock’s experiment in renewal.

Image courtesy of Christina Ray Gallery and Fountain Art Fair for a Transformazium benefit show, Idea For the Here and Now

Transformazium was created by four former NYC residents who relocated to Braddock. These artists intend to transform an old church into a community skill-sharing center. They have stated that they want to explore the challenges of the post industrial city, especially the intersection of art and community. Renowned Brooklyn Graffiti artist Swoon, who is part of Transformazium, said recently that part of the work in Braddock “is about trying to understand the world, to gain a consciousness of what’s happening, and then creating a work that’s a document of that process.” They also work with the youth of Braddock, creating site specific out-stallations, breathing life into former ruins. Artworks now cover buildings, bridges, and underpasses, turning Braddock’s abandoned exteriors into an outdoor museum.

Perhaps Braddock will pull in more pioneering artists, drawn to the town’s low housing costs and need for creative, strong minds to rebuild a town that was almost devastated. Mayor Fetterman has often said that rose colored glasses don’t work when it comes to looking at Braddock’s future, where the road ahead is thick with pock-marks (the largest employer, UPMC Medical closed on January 31, 2010).

One could draw inspiration from a speech delivered by Orson Wells in Third Man: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Comparing Braddock to pre-renaissance Italy may seem a stretch, but this historic steel town’s citizens are realistically facing their trials and attempting to spin a small town revolution. Who knows what might come from Braddock’s rebirth? A town that is proving, despite the setbacks, it will persevere. One thing is for certain: Some artists are hearing the call of a town that has embraced the spirit of the artistic pioneer.

Crude Awakening – New technologies being used to stop and track the oil spill and what you can do to help

Editor’s note: Sloane Berrent currently resides in New Orleans. She co-founded NOLAlicious, a weekly e-newsletter about New Orleans and organized the first CrisisCampNOLA.

President Obama made a stop in the Gulf Coast region last week to survey the damage and while he was here issued a 6-month moratorium on new offshore drilling. Major news organizations have extended their stay on Louisiana’s coast, citing what residents already know, that the environmental and economic impact are far greater than anyone could fathom or dare imagine.

Chandeleur Islands
Chandeleur Islands Balloon Aerial Imagery from Grassroots Mapping

The “Crude Awakening” as it’s been called is causing a lifetime of damage to the Gulf Coast, spurring over 45 rallies nationwide to demand BP step up and take responsibility for its actions and that the government pass stricter regulations on offshore drilling. The spill, which occurred on April 20th, still hasn’t been stopped, and crude oil continues to spill into the Gulf Coast region.

In the mayhem and despair, citizens and activists are in a constant state of emergency and disaster mode. Anne Rolfes, Founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, told me, “Our office is bombarded every day by phone calls and people who walk through the door wanting to help in the face of this impossible situation. We are putting them to work to document the problem – gathering data, making the people-to-people connections that will help the real story be told. When the spill stops BP has a public relations machine ready to minimize this and pretend it didn’t happen. We don’t have a machine but we have something better – real people who are passionate and determined.”

The first week of June marks another important date for the Gulf Coast region. It’s the official start of hurricane season. With wetlands and marshes already under attack, meteorologists and hurricane experts warn this year’s hurricane season is more dangerous than ever. Imagine cities not only suffering water damage but covered in oil.

It’s hard not to be despondent, and worse, not know what you can do to help. Listed below are organizations making a difference and bringing together technologies being used to stop the oil spill from spreading and tracking the spill, providing a dataset open to the public.

Consider supporting these organizations and finding a way to get involved.

Grassroots Mapping, a creation of Jeffrey Warren from MIT Media Lab’s Center for Future Civic Media, is producing imagery created by volunteers and owned in the public domain. By using balloons and kites equipped with inexpensive digital cameras, these “community satellites” are able to georeference and create maps with 100x higher resolution than what is available on Google to be used in the environmental battle and litigation proceedings in the coming years. Orientation sessions are being offered in New Orleans or a DIY wiki is available on their website.

What you can do: Grassroots Mapping is currently running a Kickstarter project to raise money for more kites and helium tanks to put in the hands of volunteers in New Orleans. They are looking to raise $5,000 in the next 20 days. A donation of $10 or more gets you a print of any photo in their public domain dataset.

Matter of Trust – When hair can mean more than hair. Salons all over the country, and internationally from countries including the UK, France, Germany, New Zealand, Japan and Brazil, have been taking hair to drop-off points or sending discarded piles of hair to Matter of Trust to make booms by stuffing hair, fur, wastewool and other applicable material into the donated recycled nylons and mesh to absorb oil and stop the spill from spreading.

What you can do: Donations aren’t coming only from “people” salons but from pet groomers, and farmers sheering alpaca and llamas. The most recent call to action? Nylons. You can send nylons new or used (with runs) to their warehouses to help make booms. There are over 2,600 oil spills every year, so this otherwise discarded waste will continue to have a usage for other spills. Sign up here to get involved or make a donation.

Real time reports from Oil Reporter

Oil Reporter – The folks from CrisisCommons and Ushahidi (and scores of volunteers) have created free iPhone and Android applications that enables citizens on the ground to upload photos and videos and notes to report sightings of oil, harmed wildlife and conditions of the wetlands and beaches. Oil Reporter data is open and available to anyone via its open API. A team from San Diego State University’s Visualization Center will be the data repository for Oil Reporter. Oil Reporter will be hosting an Adopt-A-Beach initiative for virtual volunteers to adopt a span of beach along the Gulf Coast.

What you can do: Through the use of high resolution imagery, volunteers will be provided a specific location and training to map data elements of what they see such as perimeters of oil presence and injured wildlife in remote areas where physical assessment access is limited. Details and dates are being announced later this week.

St. Bernard
Image courtesy of the Community Center of St. Bernard

Community Center of St. Bernard – St. Bernard Parish was overshadowed by the mass media post-Hurricane Katrina for the Ninth Ward. A working class community, only 2 homes in St. Bernard were not affected during Katrina. Many of these families still haven’t been able to return to their homes, almost five years after Katrina and are still struggling with debt and repaying their SBA loans, yet this community is being hit again by the oil spill. Commercial and recreational fishing bans are currently in effect, and as many of these residents rely on the fish and seafood industries, they are now being forced to sign up for food at the food pantry so that they will be able to feed their families until they can find other work.

What you can do: Donations go towards food, clothing and services for families in need.

More ways to get involved: A recent Gulf Aid concert in New Orleans on May 16th raised over $300,000 for families in need and included performances by Lenny Kravitz, John Legend, Ani Difranco, Allen Toussaint, The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Mos Def. Donations are still being taken through the Gulf Relief Foundation or you can text “GULFAID 10” to 27138 to donate $10 to Gulf Aid.

There are discussions that another series of concerts will be held on July 1st with all proceeds benefiting Gulf Coast families. If you’d like to be involved or create a fundraiser of your own, it’s easier than you think. Identify an organization to direct your donation and contact them. The first point of contact is sometimes all we need to get started.

Don’t know where to start? Leave a comment below and we’ll help you. This is too important for us all not to jump in and find a way to contribute.

Street Level Media: A Conversation with Beyond Bullets' Stephanie Skaff

Editor’s note: Over the next few weeks, you’ll hear more about the PopTech Salon on Social Mapping in Chicago. We’ll also have an update on video artist Lincoln Schatz and Ceasefire’s collaboration, Cure Violence, a groundbreaking digital hybrid of public art and public health outreach designed to empower communities to take control of the violence epidemic.

In mid-May PopTech held a salon workshop to highlight Ceasefire’s innovative efforts to “intercept” gun violence and to discuss how new information technologies might help broaden the impact of these initiatives in various communities.

To continue our exploration, PopTech recently caught up with Stephanie Skaff, the project director of the Downtown Community Television Center initiative called Beyond Bullets. The project is using youth-produced media – and media production – as a critical component of gun violence prevention.

What follows are excerpts of several conversations that I’ve had with Stephanie in the last couple weeks.

Beyond Bullets just wrapped up a weeklong tour to a number of schools in New York City, highlighting the media that the team’s young journalists have recently produced as part of the second year of this initiative. How did it go?

The biggest story to come out of the tour was our MC, Ronald Merritt. Ronald is a 23-year-old filmmaker from Jamaica, Queens. He knows 36 people who have been killed. When he got a camera, that’s when his life changed.

Ronald Merritt

On the tour, kids would ask him, “Where do you live now? How do you go home everyday?" He still has to go home to the projects, where he lives, and deal with street life. But now that he has a camera, he has an identity as a camera guy. He used to be known as “Du da Shooter,” because he was always handed the gun when his friends needed a shooter. After learning how to use a camera, he changed his name to “Du U TV” and put down the gun.

Before he starting filming, he had never gone 5 blocks beyond his home turf. Now he’s obsessively filming, going out and talking to new people, and working everyday.

So these kids can see that it is possible to stop the violence in their communities because he’s an example of someone just like them who is doing it.

Ronald’s story illustrates an earlier conversation Stephanie and I had about the power of stories to help prevent the sort of violence that Ronald has experienced.

Beyond Bullets uses existing technologies to focus on the stories that highlight not only the devastating impact of gun violence but also the efforts of young people to be leaders in their own communities. Beyond Bullets shares these stories in a number of ways, using the production of those videos to empower young people, and then posting these videos online as well as screening them in communities that are most affected by gun violence.
We really need to tell the stories behind the statistics – to understand the suffering that comes from the deaths of the 30,000 people who have been shot and killed in this country. If you start to isolate stories, you can actually start to dig into the depths of this problem. If you tell a story about one mother who lost her child to gun violence, which leads to how that affects the brother and the sister and the father and the best friends, and the school, and the community center, everyone who was surrounded by that single person who was shot and killed.

I think having young people produce this media is really critical because you can get their perspective. Young people are disproportionately affected by gun violence, and they have a lot to say about it.

May 2010 Beyond Bullets tour

How do these stories get to the heart of the Beyond Bullets project? Tell me more about how this project emerged from an autobiographical film?
The project started in 2005 with a (DCTV) youth media student, Terrence Fisher, wanted to make a project about gun violence in his neighborhood in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. So he started making this film and in the middle of making it, his best friend, Timothy Stansbury, was shot and killed in front of him by a police officer. The film itself took on special significance for him. He finished the film, which was called Bullets in the Hood, and it did really well at Sundance and at the Tribeca Film Festival. He realized that although it did really well in the film circuit, his own community hadn’t gotten to see it. So he screened it in his own community. DCTV took their “CyberCar,” which is really a former passenger bus that was converted into a media production and exhibition vehicle. It has a video wall on the outside to screen the film. They took the film around New York City and up to Hartford, Connecticut. There were “talk backs” after the film to talk with teenagers about gun violence in their communities.

There were a number of reasons that film was successful. The primary one was that Terrence was a teenager, and it became a great outreach tool for other teenagers. Terrence’s voice was really critical in reaching out to other teenagers, mainly on youth violence in cities.

Beginning in 2008, Beyond Bullets received support from the Ford Foundation, the Community Information Challenge of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the New York Community Trust. The project has focused on building a national presence as well as fostering local partnerships to help extend the impact of youth-produced media, but also on highlighting the work of amazing individuals who are transforming their communities everyday. Tell me more about this.
The first year we were really focused on identifying the problem. I was really shocked to learn how normalized gun violence has become in communities. It’s become accepted. Now we’ve started to identify solutions.

We’re focusing on getting youth filmmakers to pick up cameras to tell the stories of local heroes like 22-year-old Shaina Harrison. She’s really quite an incredible young woman. She grew up facing a lot of the same choices that her peers were facing, without solid role models or parental guidance. She was around drugs, she was around gangs, she was around a lot of things that could have taken her on a different path but made deliberate choices to move beyond those things. She had teachers and leaders who saw something in her and gave her opportunities that her peers never got. She runs a program called “Reaction,” a group that meets once a week after school and basically reacts to gun violence in their communities. It’s actually become the most popular after school program – this is at the High School for Public Service in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. 100% of her students have graduated, and 90% of the students in the program have gone off to college. They come in to talk about their own experiences and they learn about gun laws nationally and locally. Hopefully, DCTV will start teaching her students to make documentaries so they can become their own anti-gun violence journalists.

Part of the real impact of Beyond Bullets is that the organization makes stories like Shaina’s, and the success of her particular strategies, visible to other communities as well. Stephanie and I spoke some more about the project’s outreach strategy and the direct community action component.
If we can get policy makers to the site, legislators, and other community leaders to the site, just in a way to confront the things that are happening in our city streets, then that in some way is a kind of intervention. But we’re not lobbyists, we’re trying to showcase the issue.

But really, local partners are most critical to our campaign. We want kids to be contributing [to the website] as often as possible. If we can get as many people as possible posting stories to the site, who have been affected by this issue, then that, in some way, can really help. So we have to get to the people that kids admire, and work with them. Give over our tools to people who work with these kids on a daily basis. They have the answers to their own communities. We want local partners to use the tools that work the best for them, and they don’t have to be managed by us.

So after your spring tour, what’s next for Beyond Bullets this summer?
Right now, we are focusing on New York City right now so we can really work on what’s going on in each of these neighborhoods and so that local communities can use our site as a resource.

Starting this summer, and into the fall, we’re going to be working with a lot of teenagers that have been affected by gun violence, or have grown up in communities that are affected by gun violence. And the more young people we can have picking up cameras instead of guns in these communities, the better: to become unafraid to talk about this issue, and become unafraid to document it, and stand up to it, the better.

The Beyond Bullets initiative is still in its early stages but it suggests the power of stories to make change. It also suggests the impact that aggregating these particular stories about young leaders whose hands-on approaches can truly impact their own communities. As the Beyond Bullets team of teenagers, cameras in hand, take to the streets of New York City this summer, PopTech will be checking in on their progress. Stay tuned for more.

No Soul for Sale: A Festival of Independents

In its second iteration as a participatory art festival, No Soul for Sale: A Festival of Independents celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Tate Modern in London. No Soul for Sale’s first iteration was in June 2009, at the X Initiative in the old Dia building, in Manhattan. The show itself is a collaborative effort by curators Cecilia Alemani, Massimiliano Gioni and artist Maurizio Cattelan.

No Soul for Sale

The festival is a collection of 70 different artist spaces, galleries, artist collectives and various art organizations that have distinctly independent ways of performing art around the globe. The participating groups vary in size and location, from Istanbul (PiST) to Australia (Y3K). As it was in the first iteration of the festival, all of the work was staged together creating a large patchwork of groups, filling the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall with projects. Turbine Hall had taped outlines on the ground assigned to the individual spaces, so that viewers could read the names of the groups as they passed through. One of the participating groups, Kling & Bang (Iceland) had an installation called Tower of Now by Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir and Sirra Sigrún Sigurðardóttir, consisting of hundreds of strands of heat-sensitive roller tape suspended from the top of Turbine Hall and weighted down by Icelandic coins.

Tower of Now
Tower of Now by Kling & Bang and Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir and Sirra Sigrún Sigurðardóttir

The organizations selected for this festival hold a couple things in common, the most important of which is that they are all using innovative social formats for moving information around. Some of the non-profit spaces like Rhizome are globally dedicated organizations. Rhizome’s particular interests are in spreading digital culture and providing formats for digital artists to present their work online. The project they produced was entitled “Mail Nothing to the Tate Modern” in collaboration with David Horvitz. The concept was that people were invited to take a predesigned mailing slip Rhizome provided and mail an empty package to the Tate Modern then give Rhizome the tracking number. The tracking numbers are posted online creating a portrait of international mail systems.

Mail Nothing
Mail Nothing to the Tate Modern by Rhizome and David Horvitz

The way groups self-represent in these types of settings, sheds a light on how they operate within the circles of aesthetic information distribution. Many of the participating entities sent in informative literature about themselves or projects they produced. Several projects were sponsored works by single artists produced by the participating groups in the show. There was a dedicated space in Turbine Hall for performance events and presentations, which a good portion of the groups utilized. Some of the groups curated a few works by separate artists, or asked a group of artists they usually work with to participate on a larger collaborative piece. However the participating groups worked it out, there is a reoccurring sense in No Soul for Sale, that the exhibited works of art themselves are seen more as a creative democratic process than a presentation of aesthetic goods, which many art fairs and festivals end up being.

It can, and has been said, that these newer interactive forms of artistic production are the future, especially in relation to how many non-profit or alternative art spaces are beginning to distribute art to the rest of the world. This may be a way of marginalizing what is so important about works like these. The works presented in No Soul for Sale are not the way art will look in the future; it is what art looks like right now, and in some cases a few years ago. It is vitally hard to keep up with what all of the different artists in all of the different venues around the world are doing. We have a chance of seeing many of these different ideas together when they are presented the way they are out at Turbine Hall.

For a list of other participating entities, or to find out more about this show, go to:
No Soul for Sale: A Festival of Independents
Tate Modern

Introducing Emily Qualey; Last Post from Kristen

The PopTech community is an extraordinary one—filled with people whose words are as strong as the actions they take toward creating a better world together.

It has been my great privilege to serve as your chief blogger here on the PopTech blog, as part of my role as the Director of Community for PopTech. In the past year, we have made great strides weaving online threads of interaction as ephemeral as continuing Twitter conversations, as serious as in-depth guest blog posts that examined new work in the social good sector.

The small staff of PopTech (we are a dozen, a generous baker’s dozen all in) is comprised of fascinating and talented people that I respect as colleagues and in many cases, as friends. Andrew, Leetha, Beth, Louis, Keryn, Fil, Jen, Ollie, Heidi, Cordelia, Sarah, Annie, Dan, Colleen, and Emily—happy to have worked beside you.

As a staff, we often point to the Social Innovation Fellows as inspiration on a daily basis for our work, and one of the greatest parts of my PopTech role has been to interact with them as they rocket skyward. I hope they know I am their biggest fan and ally in the challenging work they have chosen.

I am now moving on to new projects and adventures, but know that I remain part of the PopTech extended family—I will see all of you at the PopTech 2010 conference in person or on Twitter—and I continue to watch this field that you are shaping into a force for good.

And now, let me introduce Emily Qualey, who knows the PopTech community well and lives in Camden, Maine. She has been part of the PopTech conference team for years, and more recently, has made the PopTech Tumblr blog a very exciting online reflection of what we are watching and find exciting and interesting.

Emily Qualey

Please welcome her as your guide to PopTech online; she will be a wonderful one as we move through an exciting summer of new videos, content, and events on our way to the October conference.

Most especially, thank you for all your smart comments, thoughtful suggestions, and excellent, quiet work building this community of ours into a strong network we are all proud to be part of.

Recap of the PopTech Social Mapping Salon

Yesterday, PopTech convened a salon and workshop in Chicago on social mapping and social change.

During the day, workshop participants—including leading thinkers in mobile, geolocative services, social good, and philanthropy—discussed how their respective systems of organizing information and intervening in their local communities might fit together.

The day began at Google Chicago, where PopTech’s Executive Director Andrew Zolli and Executive Director of Ceasefire Gary Slutkin welcomed participants.

PopTech Social Mapping workshop

Filming took place for video that we will share with you in coming weeks.

PopTech Social Mapping workshop

The conversation spilled into breaks, lunch, and the late afternoon to talk strategies and behavioral modifications.

PopTech Social Mapping workshop

Peter Durand, who is a favorite part of every PopTech conference—he illustrates ideas from speakers on the stage—recorded all of the workshop presentations and salon talks graphically. He tells us why he wanted to be part of these discussions since last fall, and what he learned during the day:

PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Josh Nesbit, another workshop participant and the founder of Frontline SMS: Medic, told us what he thinks is important to remember in these conversations, and what he wants to learn more about:

In the evening, a salon convened at the beautiful Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts with speakers Ceasefire Executive Director Gary Slutkin, information designer Laura Kurgan, and Director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi Patrick Meier.

PopTech Social Mapping salon

The audience asked smart questions (this is Justin Massa of Movesmart.org), and the panel talked about what they learned during the day from each other,

PopTech Social Mapping salon

and the conversation continued afterwards,

PopTech Social Mapping salon

with PopTech speaker alums and Social Innovation Fellows in attendance (here, PopTech Social Innovation Fellow Hayat Sindi speaking with PopTech’s Director of Fellows Leetha Filderman),

Hayat Sindi and Leetha Filderman

and we look forward to the next gathering of thinkers and leaders active in their communities, causing social change.

PopTech Social Mapping salon

Look for the speaker videos and more from this week in Chicago soon, and thank you to everyone who participated in yesterday’s vibrant discussions.

View graphic facilitation of the workshop and salon by Peter Durand of Alphachimp Studio Inc.