Eva Millona: Media as a Tool for Change

December 16th, 2010

Using media as a tool for change has been a winning strategy for MIRA. Social media is the next step towards engaging the skeptical middle and gaining political clout.

Eva Millona, Executive Director of Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) discusses her organization’s success in using the media as a tool for change.

Kim Turner: Moving an agenda forward is about persuading and recruiting the “skeptical middle.” What tactics has MIRA used to do this?

Eva Millona: First, let me say how much we appreciated the conference in The Hague. It really reinforced the importance of ‘local’ on these issues. And some of the examples in the Marketplace of Good Ideas were in my own backyard! Now I know where to find them!

Here in Boston and at MIRA, the failure of the Immigration Reform Bill and the more recent loss of Senator Kennedy’s seat to a Republican was a shock. We don’t want Massachusetts, with its long successful history of support on these issues, to be feeding into the anti-immigration hysteria. We want to take the tarnish off our hugely successful record on integration in Boston and in this state. We are working to change things.

Starting with support for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. He is the first governor to see the economic benefits of immigration to the state and how much immigration contributes to our well-being.14.9% of the population is foreign-born (6.5 million). Immigrants make up over 17% of the workforce. 50% of all PhDs in the state are immigrants! We’d suffer without them.

So we are working closely with the state office to support their integration agenda. We are inviting migrant voices to the hearings, working with media ahead of time, so all the facts, the stories, the right messages are ready to go.

Reaching out and educating media is important. Successful media engagement helps move the legislature and is proactive to the needs of the immigrant community. The governor is very concerned about Arizona. Patrick is a visionary and an important ally.

KT: Blogs and social media are becoming a media of choice – what impact have they had on your work and what advice do you have on the new ‘channels of change’?

EM: MIRA is like other nonprofit organizations, with our feet in social media (FaceBook, Twitter, MIRA Blog). It is important because it’s a way of networking a constituency that’s NOT in the immigrant community, groups that can change voting outside cities, and in the middle of the state.. It’s one more tool you need in your arsenal when you launch a media campaign.

Social media is really about building relationships with allies and coalitions. We need to get more involved with Twitter as a media channel. Media is increasingly using Twitter to follow news. It’s important to how we tell our story.

KT: Paris-based Rokhaya Diallo, television host and president of Les Indivisibles, uses irony and humour to combat racism and stereotypes. Is it a tactic that you see MIRA using?

EM: We don’t use humour at MIRA, no. The issues are so grave. But we really stress storytelling, telling true stories. Using theatre to tell true stories is very effective.

You need a variety of ways to reach audiences. For example, Facebook audiences are part of a “John Stewart” generation (popular talk show host and comic) that likes wry attitudes. Blogging has also taught us to take a more relaxed tone. You have to step up and find the right voice.

KT: In the New Bedford campaign, MIRA’s ability to co-ordinate various agencies and immigrant groups to speak with a consistent message had a huge impact. What advice do you have for others who want to replicate this success?

EM: That received a lot of media attention. The first thing we did was pull together key people and members from across the state. We did a press release every week with a new story every time, a story people could relate to, about ordinary people. This was empowering -to our members and to the wider community. It encouraged them to tell their stories.

When the state government came on our side, it became a story about the power of the state to influence a national agenda. MIRA wound up developing humanitarian guidelines for how to help people and families in detention centres, especially women and children, for the US Dept of Homeland Security.

KT: How can we bring more immigrant voices more actively into this discussion so that others are not speaking for them?

EM: Media training is highly recommended. Identify community members who can speak to issues. Choose successful people who have a great story to tell. Their eloquence will generate more support for the community.

Look at the social technologies that are raising the issues and the profile of immigrants who might not otherwise be heard, like YouTube, blogs. Be aware of the constraints of language. Good communication counts.

KT: What was the most important lesson you took from the Cities of Migration conference?

EM: The power of best practice to convince and the focus on local and committed leadership. We can all come up with models of great integration practice that can make a difference.

KT: What makes Boston a great city and what can other cities learn from Boston?

EM: Boston is the most diverse city in the state of Massachusetts. We have 146 languages that are being spoken by 30% of the city population. No single ethnic group dominates the city -Irish, Russian, Venezuelan -it is a wonderful place.

And we have a wonderful mayor. Mayor Thomas Menino was one of the first mayors in the US to create an Office of New Bostonians.

KT: Favourite blogs?

EM: America’s Voice, Migration Policy Institute, Immigrant Impact

KT: Favourite city?

EM: Paris!

About MIRA

MIRA works to advocate for the rights and opportunities of immigrants and refugees. In partnership with its members, MIRA advances this mission through education, training, leadership development, organizing, policy analysis and advocacy.

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