Daniel Nocera on personalized energy
Robert Guest on the greatness of America

Amanda Geppert and Lincoln Schatz aim to "Cure Violence"

I'm tag-teaming today and tomorrow with my partner in crime (and husband) Ethan Zuckerman to liveblog the 2009 iteration of the fabulous Pop!Tech conference in Camden, Maine. You can read about today's events at the Pop!Tech blog, or via the Pop!Tech 2009 tag at Ethan's blog and via the Pop!Tech 2009 category here on this blog.

If you're new to Velveteen Rabbi, welcome. Here's some information about me, and here's my comments policy. Enjoy the conference posts -- not my usual fare, but hopefully interesting. (And to longtime readers: never fear, I'll return to my usual subject matter in a few days.)

The final long session of the day is called Challenging Conversations, and will involve a series of speakers whose work falls under that rubric. "We're going to hear from four very different points of view about the Amercan experience, the American moment," says Andrew Zolli. First up is Amanda Geppert (here's her Pop!Tech bio), who comes to us from CeaseFire: the Campaign to Stop the Shooting. Geppert is speaking alongside Lincon Schatz.

Lincoln Schatz is a video artist. "I use chance to break habitual modes of thinking." He presented his work here last year and one of his co-presenters was Gary Slutkin from CeaseFire. "I thought to myself, my God, how can I get involved?" They had lunch in Chicago the next week, and from that was born Cure Violence, a project that's being launched today at Pop!Tech. Cure Violence empowers communities to openly and safely discuss the causes -- and more importantly, solutions -- to violence.

Geppert says, "As many of you know, America's communities are plagued by violence." CeaseFire treats violence like a disease, and look at it epidemiologically. "CeaseFire is scientifically proven." A US Department of Justice study shows that CeaseFire has decreased violence radically in its zones. "CeaseFire saves lives, and makes communities healthy, safer places for the people who live and work in them."

How do they do this? Through using networks. They employ credible people, often ex-offenders and former drug dealers, many of whom have been gang-involved. These folks go back to their communities, and use their contacts to identify people who might be at risk of violence and work with them. They work with the highest-risk people, people at the most risk of shooting/killing someone or being shot themselves. "They are the message that they bring, that change is possible."

Outreach workers and violence interruptors work one-on-one with clients and help them seek alternatives for a different life. "These opportunities will lead them to a different future, a future where there's an option after age 25 besides a grave."

We know we can reduce shooting and killings, Geppert says, but community norms need to change so that violence will no longer be a viable way of responding to conflict. This spring the institute of design worked with CeaseFire on a campaign for violence prevention. They spent three months interviewing residents, and heard over and over again that there's "no good news in our communities." Rumors and gossip spread through community networks and that drives conflict. The residents said, "Nobody listens to us. We stay in our homes, we don't go outside, we try to keep the people in our lives safe." Changing social norms is about expanding the zone of concern. CeaseFire is making that a top priority.

Schatz explains: we go out with cameras and ask two questions, what's causing the violence and how do we stop it. They use software to combine the footage into a stream of information which crosses community lines, gang lines, race lines. (The duo shows us part of a video which arose out of this collaborative process, and it's powerful and moving -- listening to real people talk about the real violence in their communities, encountering their voices and their faces, humanizes the statistics into a real, living situation.)

The second part of the project is working with 3,000 kids in the Chicago public school system who will shape the conversation in their schools and communities. They're going to start uploading their content this month, and with their instructors will raise the discussion to a thoughtful level. They're also creating two types of curriculum: semester-based and also a module you can download -- "anybody can do this -- with cellphone/SMS text and photos, take it and upload it to our site."

The third component of the project is a website, which will be where the media is tagged and aggregated and where the international community can have a conversation. (The website is here, but isn't accessible to the general public quite yet -- the project is in closed beta for the first 7 months while they're building content with the students.) "We need help scaling this project to have real impact; we need financial support and corporate partners," Schatz says. "Please join us and help us stop the killing."