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Case Study - Not in Our Town



Patrice O’Neill (The Working Group, 1995-2011)
www.niot.org; www.nios.org; www.pbs.org/niot

In 2008, Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero was murdered in Patchogue, New York. Marcelo's death was the tragic culmination of a wave of anti-immigrant violence in the community. Light in the Darkness chronicles the journey of Marcelo's family and community members as they react to their loss, the crime and the root causes of violence. The latest in the Not in Our Town series, the film carries on the tradition of documenting how communities organize and act together to prevent and repair the problems of hate crime to create an environment of safety and respect.

Mark your calender to see the film!


The Center for Social Media will be hosting Patrice O'Neill for a Pull Focus interview, graduate film master class and screening of her latest film, Not in Our Town III: Light in the Darkness, as part of the 2011 Human Rights Film Series.



Abstracted from

Jessica Clark and Barbara Abrash: DESIGNING FOR IMPACT

For more information about the report, please visit HERE;

To read the full report online, please click HERE;

To download the pdf version please click HERE.


Overview __________________________________________________________________________

Not in Our Town (NIOT), a project of The Working Group, is a multi-platform strategic media campaign that documents and supports positive community responses to hate violence. Centered on storytelling, the project encompasses 45 documentary films, social networking, and additional resources tor community engagement.

NIOT began in 1995 with a PBS special broadcast of Not in Our Town I, a 30-minute documentary about the creative ways in which citizens, elected officials, civic leaders, and faith groups in Billings, Montana responded to white supremacist threats and developed a durable model for an inclusive community. The Billings model inspired adaptations in schools, workplaces, and cities across the United States, and evolved into a national movement with NIOT as the hub.

The project’s systemic influence on civic behaviors and practices in response to hate violence is growing, as the NIOT model is adapted in hundreds of cities, towns, schools, and workplaces and informs the training of educators, law enforcement officials, and civic leaders, as well as high school curricula. Not In Our Town III: Light in the Darkness is scheduled for national PBS broadcast in September 2011.

Formats ___________________________________________________________________________

Not in Our Town I (1995) is a 27-minute documentary; Not in Our Town II (1996) and Light in the Darkness are each 56 minutes. All three films have been broadcast on PBS. The project includes 45 videos of varying lengths, available on DVD and streaming. In addition, NIOT’s website (www.niot.org) has recently been redesigned to embrace web 2.0 features.

Issues _____________________________________________________________________________

NIOT, which originally focused on positive community responses to white supremacist threats, currently embraces a variety of issues, including:

  • gay, lesbian, and transgender violence;
  • bullying in schools;
  • anti-immigrant crimes; and
  • violence based on ethnicity and race.

Catalyst ___________________________________________________________________________

In 1994, The Working Group (TWG) crew went to Billings, Montana to film a story about how union members contributed to the response to a series of racist and anti-Semitic attacks in their local community. Their story was featured in a Labor Day special for public television stations. TWG producers returned to Billings to capture the larger story of the community response to hate crimes, and created a half-hour film called Not In Our Town, which was presented to PBS in 1995. The Not In Our Town broadcast in December 1995 was accompanied by a national community outreach campaign in partnership with the Institute for Alternative Journalism and Benton Foundation. Many features of that campaign, including grassroots screenings, town hall meetings, local coalition-building, and press coverage, became hallmarks of NIOT strategic outreach.

Not in Our Town II (PBS, 1996) highlighted six communities among the many—from Bloomington, Illinois to Medford, Oregon — that had spontaneously adopted the Billings model. These broadcasts inspired an ad hoc movement of hundreds of communities across the U.S., coordinated informally by The Working Group’s NIOT project.

Goals ______________________________________________________________________________

NIOT identifies tolerance and citizen engagement as core values of American life. The primary goal is to expand the capacity of local communities to respond to hate crimes and create safer, more inclusive environments for all residents, by:

  • creating public awareness of hate violence;
  • providing positive anti-hate violence models and resources; and
  • building infrastructure for a sustainable anti-hate violence network.

Target Publics _____________________________________________________________________

PBS broadcasts reach a broad general public. NIOT resources are specifically designed for:

  • community leaders;
  • elected officials;
  • law enforcement; and
  • teachers, teenagers and school children.

Strategic Design ___________________________________________________________________

The 1995 PBS broadcast of Not in Our Town I inspired spontaneous adaptations of the Billings model in diverse places across the country. The 1996 PBS broadcast of NIOT II, which documented six of these projects and their
outcomes, spawned an ad hoc movement of hundreds of communities, with NIOT at the hub.

The NIOT project provides stories and resources to support positive local responses to hate violence. Its strategies have evolved over fifteen years, in response to technological opportunities and the needs of the communities it serves. It has developed distinctive narrative strategies and resources to maximize the power of its storytelling, and to inspire and circulate grassroots models through national circuits.

  • Narrative strategies: NIOT documentaries invite and frame public discussion, and foster engagement. These empathetic stories, which invite personal identification and offering many viewpoints, successfully refocus typical crime reporting. They highlight the positive responses of “ordinary people,” visibly identify the responsible role of public officials, and dramatize moments of transformative change.
  • Resources: Films are accompanied by toolkits with resources for using media effectively, involving city officials, and staging public events. Emphasis is placed on incorporating successful efforts, such as school initiatives and police training, into civic culture and creating durable structures to support them. NIOT.org is a cross-platform participatory storytelling and resource-sharing website featuring blogs, media streaming, an interactive map, and practical resources which (along with outreach across Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media outlets) supports a growing network. A special section of the site, NIOS.org (Not in Our School), serves students, teachers, and youth leaders.
  • Media strategies: NIOT is often asked to film in communities dealing with hate violence. The presence of the film crew may affect local events by making a community conscious of its efforts. In some cases, NIOT staff works with

local newspapers to reframe reporting on hate speech in ways that contribute to public conversation. NIOT.org invites user-generated content, including video, which is streamed and available on YouTube. NIOT stories, including short videos and user-generated uploads are circulated on multiple platforms, from print media to an interactive website to YouTube, providing local efforts with sharable content and the strength of a national network.

Partners ___________________________________________________________________________

NIOT partnerships expand the circulation and adaption of NIOT models and tools, and form the basis of a potentially durable infrastructure for anti-hate violence initiatives. A partial list includes:

  • Media organizations: PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Public Insight Network/American Public Media, National Center for Media Engagement, Bay Area Film and Video Coalition, Link Media, AlterNet, and more.
  • Social justice advocacy organizations: ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti-Defamation League, Amnesty International, AFL-CIO, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Welcoming America, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), state human rights commissions, and more.
  • Civic and Government Organizations: YWCA, National League of Cities, American Library Association, Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Service
  • Education: Facing History and Ourselves, Teaching Tolerance, AFT, NEA, National Association of Middle Schools

Funding Model ____________________________________________________________________

NIOT.org is a project of The Working Group, a 501(c)(3) organization. Grants from foundations are its primary source of financial support.

Major funders include the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS, the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, Righteous Persons Foundation, and the California Council for the Humanities.

Obstacles & Responses ___________________________________________________________

NIOT faces one pervasive challenge in all of its projects.

Maintaining civil discourse: Social networking sites are vulnerable to hate language that blocks productive conversation.

Response: NIOT retains the right to control, delete comments, and ban users who violate its content policies. It will not publish anonymous, vulgar or slanderous comments, hate speech, or personal attacks. NIOT policies apply to NIOT.org and all NIOT social media pages.

NIOT also faces three long-term challenges:

Capacity building: The advantage of ad-hoc networks is their flexibility and adaptability; the downside is the difficulty of knowledge- and capacity-building for long-term durability. As NIOT, chronically under-resourced and understaffed, became the de facto coordinator and resource provider for a growing anti-hate violence movement, it was strained to provide adequate services, or to adopt and deploy rapidly changing technologies.

Response: NIOT.org, an interactive website, was designed as a response to these obstacles. It formalizes the organization’s role as a coordinator of a largely self-organizing network and its capacity to maintain the site. NIOT.org is now in its second phase of development and is poised to integrate mobile interactivity into the site. The nascent National Public Lightpath is a fiber optic network linking libraries, schools, and government agencies where NIOT’s digital tools and high resolution videos will be made available to universities and non-profit organizations as an active application.

Sustainability: NIOT, which raises funds on a project-by-project basis, lacks the resources for sustainable long-term planning.

Response: Organizers plan to raise awareness of the value of its work in the philanthropic community to attract high-worth donors and to create mechanisms for community and network contributions.

Evaluation mechanisms: An increasingly complex interactive network across platforms requires appropriate quantitative and qualitative measures of evaluations.

Response: Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) and NIOT are developing an impact dashboard which will help the project track reach, influence, and responses.

Impact ____________________________________________________________________________


Not in Our Town encapsulates the evolution of social issue documentary films from empathetic stories of social inequity, seen mainly on public television and in schools, to its present position at the center of cross-platform participatory strategic campaigns that are adapted and used by NGOs, communities, and other stakeholders.

In a time of rampant bullying among teenagers and hate crimes against immigrants, gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals, NIOT’s strategies dampen violence and provide positive models. Intergenerational relationships and youth leadership are growing rapidly, with the help of a new initiative, Not In Our School (NIOS.org). Overall, the NIOT project demonstrates how grassroots models for community action, spontaneously adapted and developed, may become the basis for a sustainable national knowledge-sharing network and virtual community that strengthens the social fabric and civic life.

Evidence of Quality

Since 1995, Not in Our Town documentaries and educational materials have been trusted resources for civic governments and officials, faith groups, social justice advocates, educators, and NGOs. In addition to PBS broadcasts linked with local station initiatives, NIOT has inspired a curriculum developed by Facing History and Ourselves, and been featured as a model by the California Council for the Humanities and other funders. On a local level, the appearance of NIOT crews in times of crisis often validates the work of local leaders and
citizens and provides a mirror in which a community sees itself.


The NIOT approach is reaching its original target audiences: the general public, communities contending with hate violence, and public officials. It is also extending internationally.

  • NIOT PBS broadcasts typically draw approximately one million viewers.
  • The project has been invited by groups in Hungary, Germany, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Russia, and South Africa.
  • NIOT.org, which launched early in 2011, had received over 90,000 visits by May, totaling nearly 250,000 page views from visitors of 160 countries, including the US, Canada, UK, India, South Africa, Australia, China, Germany, the Philippines and New Zealand in its first six months.
  • NIOT.org homepage traffic is concentrated on general usable information. The project’s forty-five video titles and the Not in Our School page draw the most specific searches. There has been an increase of 25% in new visitors to NIOT.org, largely due to the introduction of the Not in Our School initiative. A significant number of hits arrive via Twitter (with 640 followers).


  • Attorneys General in West Virginia and Arizona have incorporated NIOT resources into law enforcement training.
  • NIOT is included in a Facing History and Ourselves (FHO) curriculum, reaching high school students throughout the U.S. and abroad. It is also included in FHO’s travelling exhibition, Choosing to Participate. The teaching organization Facing History and Ourselves and sites like Care2.com, which include NIOT content, also drive traffic. Commentary is most active on Facebook, where readers often share NIOT blog entries with their own communities (6,500 fans) and YouTube, which has registered over 380,000 views of NIOT videos.
  • A NIOT.org TWG-produced video feature, “Gunn High School Sings Away Hate” went viral when Ellen DeGeneres tweeted about it. This video alone has had more than 227,000 views. Videos about actions in response to the Westboro Baptist Church have been consistently popular, and have been used in communities where Rev. Phelps’ group appears. Patrice O’Neill reports, “When the WBC threatened to picket the funerals of the Tucson shooting victims in January, and the local community wanted to create angel costumes to shield the grieving from WBC protestors, our film Angels Turn Their Back on Hate became the most popular on NIOT’s YouTube channel. NIOT collected these videos on a single page (www.niot.org/niot-video/responsestohategroups), which received 2,500 unique views in three months. Similarly, when bullying became national news, views of Students Teach Students to Stand Up to Bullying nearly doubled in views.”


NIOT projects are grounded in national and local partnerships that contribute to an infrastructure for sustainable networks that strengthen civic engagement. NIOT films and resources are used as in training programs by human relations councils, police departments and community organizations. In 1997, for example, the West Virginia Attorney General and the West Virginia Human Rights Commission announced a “Not In Our Town, Not In Our State” campaign, calling “communities of this state to take a stand against hate and intolerance and to act collectively, creatively and decisively against hate and intolerance.”

Since NIOT.org was launched in April 2010, it has been featured in places as diverse as the Huffington Post, O: the Oprah Magazine, and ThinkMTV. The ripple effect of NIOT was evident in 2010, when Huntington, West Virginia responded to the threat of a Klan rally with a NIOT-style “Unity Day” celebrating the town’s diversity.

Network Building

NIOT has become an incubator for new spaces and practices of media for antihate crime initiatives and inclusive civic participation, which have been widely adapted and shared in communities and institutions throughout the country, now reaching to Northern Ireland, the Ukraine, and South Africa.

NIOT projects are grounded in national and local partnerships that contribute to an infrastructure for sustainable networks that strengthen civic engagement. These partnerships are strategically positioned to foster the circulation and adaption of NIOT models and tools. Digital technologies speed communication and community participation, as they strengthen local projects with the power of networking. NIOT.org, for example, anchors an emerging network of local initiatives.