The Common Good

The Big Something: When A Campaign Gets Personal

The Iraqi flag painted on a wall.

It takes a lot for me to get excited.

Maybe I'm cautious, or maybe I'm just a tough sell, but it takes a big something to get me on board.

Today was that big something.

Last week, Pamela Geller of the Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, put up ads in New York City subway stations that read, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."

Well, I think that's a problem. And Sojourners thinks that's a problem.

Our world is a powder keg, and Geller flagrantly lit a blowtorch with these ads, which, in case you were wondering, are protected fully under the Constitution.

They may be legal, but they're not moral.

In the last three days, Sojourners has mobilized constituents in NYC and the surrounding area and has raised enough money to buy a counter ad campaign in subway stations across the city. The ads are in production right now and read, “Love Your Muslim Neighbor.” They’re that simple. 

Today, our CEO Jim Wallis debated Pamela Geller on TV. We're in Washington, D.C., and the station running the interview is in NYC, so Jim had to do something pretty funny, wherein he only gets to hear the moderator and Geller. He couldn't see them — he was just staring into a blank camera. It can be pretty disorienting, but he did a great job. Only Jim and I could hear the questions and Geller's answers. The only thing anyone else in the DC studio could hear anything was what Jim said. (I heard the audio feed in one of those ear buds that I thought were super awesome. They're not; they hurt — a lot.)

As we watied for the interview to start, I looked around the newsroom. Our producer, whose name I'll keep private, had a lot on his desk to keep me entertained. A mug from NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, a picture of him with his family, a schedule of the day's news stories, and a screen with 15 stations' video feeds playing simultaneously. It was pretty cool.

This producer couldn't hear the questions and didn't know what the interview was about. That's not his job. He sets up the shot and makes sure everyone can hear each other, but then he doesn't need to listen, so he doesn't, and he starts working on something else.

As the interview began, Jim talked about our ads. He started explaining how important it is for Christians to love their Muslim brothers and sisters. He deftly answered the questions Geller hurled at him, but then he started to push back. And as he did, I saw our producer pick up the line so he can hear what was going on in the NYC studio.

He began to listen. He started staring at the picture of him and his family on his desk. He looked at Jim and shook his head at another incendiary comment from Geller. The interview ended, and he put down the line. He looked at me, shook my hand and said, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

His thank you was not about getting Jim there on time and having the logistics of the interview go off without a hitch. This thank you was about our ads, about our message.

Three more producers and a photographer approached us afterward and wanted more information about the ads, about what's going on. All of them said how important this campaign is, how we need a voice for peace and non-violence, a voice for reason and not for hate.

Our producer walked us out, and once again he shook my hand — both of his hands covering mine. He seemed both grateful and frustrated, but smiled at me again.

That's when I saw something on his desk that I hadn't noticed earlier: An Iraqi flag.

Our interaction in that newsroom — that's the campaign.

I'm ready to put up more billboards and more ads. Are you?

Carrie Adams is Communications Manager for Sojourners.

Photo credit: Aleksey Klints/Shutterstock

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