We could have never guessed a single story would launch a movement. Nearly 20 years ago, The Working Group sent a film crew to Billings, MT to document a story about working people, ordinary people, who stood up for their neighbors when they were under attack by white supremacists.
After attacks on a Native American woman’s house, an African-American church, and a Jewish family’s home, the entire town refused to be silent and fearful. They stood up together. They said, "Not In Our Town." That became the title of our landmark media and engagement project, “Not In Our Town.”
It changed the way we made films, and it changed the way we thought about the process of community transformation. The Billings story opened up a conversation about how we deal with hate crimes. Few states had hate crime laws back then; it was an issue that often surfaced but was not dealt with. The Billings story demonstrated that the responsibility for dealing with intolerance lies with all of us.
We first screened the film in a small California town, curious to see what happened when a community unlike Billings watched the film. There were teachers, students, rabbis, priests, and city councilmembers. When the film ended, they didn't want to talk about Billings, they wanted to talk about their town. They wanted to talk about how people were treated in their community.
It was exciting. We took our film to town hall meetings across the country. We watched as communities formed their own groups. They were saying Not In Our Town in Illinois and New Jersey and Colorado. University students in New York and California were saying Not On Our Campus, Not In Our Residence Hall. In Lewiston, Maine a middle school principal started the first Not In Our School campaign. Not In Our School is now a national leader in bullying prevention, working with national teacher unions and the PTA.
Like Billings, the solutions came from the ground up. They countered division with unity. There were songs and flashmobs. Signs and pledges. They went to their city council and human relations commission meetings. They wrote to their local newspaper. They raised the issue of hate crimes, said that no resident should be targeted because of who they are. Some worked together to heal after murder, other worked to prevent tragedy before it happened.
For two decades, we have been filming, sharing stories and tools, and helping to empower communities.
Listen to a Podcast on the Not In Our Town movement
We've compiled this podcast—available to listen here or to download on your MP3 player—based on our Link TV special that chronicles our history from Billings, Mont. to the launch of NIOT.org in April 2010.