Become a social impact investor for as little as $50.
Storytelling can be a powerful tool for good. Harvard lecturer and activist Marshall Ganz says people are rooted in their values and interests, rather than particular issues. Shared underlying values can be unifying, unlike issues, which can be divisive.
We understand other people when we can relate to them, and the best way to relate is to know how we are similar, how our deep-seated personal values align. That’s why stories are important, especially if our goal is to build a social movement: stories help us understand and relate to each other.
The Arab Spring changed the way many of us think about civil society, specifically the role of technology in driving social movements.
The Arab Spring also demonstrated that storytelling doesn’t need a big budget or tons of editing time to be effective. For example, World Press Photo put together this powerful series on life in North Africa, giving an inside perspective not found in headlines, soundbites, or protest clips.
For myself and other bloggers covering local accounts during that time, if we didn’t actually know someone there, it was stories like these that connected us to the people on the ground.
These stories were reminders of the otherwise normal lives experienced by demonstrators on the other end of our WiFi connections.
Photos of graffiti, such as the one shown at right, captured during the uprisings are now preserved indefinitely. As an Egyptian friend and activist illustrated after Hosni Mubarak’s removal as president, a simple photograph can send a big message.
Likewise, Twitter can be a powerful and relatively easy-to-use storytelling tool. Twitter feeds with hashtags like #Egypt and #ArabSpring were stories unfolding by the minute, documenting the revolution and how the world felt about it, in real time.
Even now in the Middle East, Farah Baker, a 16-year-old, is tweeting the story of the Gaza invasion and its aftermath. When The Telegraph told her story on July 29, she had 30,000 Twitter followers. One month later, she has more than 200,000 followers, a clear statement on the power of Twitter as a storytelling tool.
Occupy Wall Street was another recent example of how stories can drive awareness and change.
The 99 percent sign phenomenon was a simple and powerful way to share the narratives of disenfranchised Americans who attributed economic deterioration to the fact that 1 percent of the population owned the majority of resources and power.
Each poster was a summary of the individual’s experience, illustrating what that person's story had in common with other stories on other posters. This iconic imagery was easily recognized and gave bloggers everywhere the ability to capture the movement and transmit the message to hundreds of thousands of Americans, despite a longstanding lack of coverage by the U.S. mainstream media.
Again, a picture speaks a thousand words, and the unifying effect of two numbers and a percentage sign has been an inspiration for social movements ever since.
But maybe it's easier to relate to Occupy, the Arab Spring, and Gaza because these stories are about universal human rights such as freedom. What happens when the issue becomes, as Ganz put it, more divisive?
I was lucky enough to be part of the team that won marriage equality in Iowa in 2009. We were faced with opposition from a variety of groups. Unlike the general concept of freedom, the freedom to marry was subject to interpretation. Maybe some folks didn’t have the big picture, the whole story.
That summer, the story we told spoke for itself. Team Lambda Legal joined the RAGBRAI Bike Ride through Iowa in July, carrying the message of equality across the state and sharing stories via social media. Lambda Legal’s Jim Bennett (also a comedian) shares one story here.
Not only were we able to share our stories with Iowans, but we heard their stories as well, and our shared values brought us together.
Are you ready to join Storymakers 2014 on Twitter for a conversation that spans the globe? On September 4, 2014, join other story makers from India, Libya, Kenya, and across Europe to the United States and Canada for an amazing global discussion on Twitter. And don’t forget the #storymakers2014 hashtag!
Image: Aya Tarek /CC BY-NC-ND
Chris Delatorre · Editor, science geek, remote work advocate · https://twitter.com/urbanmolecule
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
Close this window