Partners for Peace -- Jerusalem Women Speak Tour: A Case Study in Generating Media Coverage
Activists who despair of getting mainstream media coverage of evenhanded efforts to acquaint Americans with Middle Eastern realities can take heart from a recent highly successful coast-to-coast tour of three women from Jerusalem. Nahla Asali, a Muslim Palestinian, Michal Shohat, a Jewish Israeli, and Claudette Habesch, a Christian Palestinian, visited 10 U.S. cities in 17 days between Jan. 6 and Jan. 24.
Habesch is secretary-general of the Jerusalem Holy Land office for the Catholic relief organization Caritas. Shohat is a three-term member of Jerusalem's municipal council from Israel's Meretz Party. Asali is an instructor in English literature at Birzeit University on the West Bank and co-founder and chair of the Saraya Center for Community Services in Jerusalem.
The cities were: Minneapolis/St.Paul, St. Louis, Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, Roanoke, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Princeton and Washington, DC. The goal of the tour was to expose U.S. audiences to the hopes, fears and frustrations of three wives and mothers who are active in their communities and who are personally distraught over the current statemate in the peace process.
The three women, recruited by Jerri Bird, executive director of Partners for Peace, a Washington, DC-based non-profit organization, were asked to come under the banner: "Jerusalem Women Speak -- Three Women, Three Faiths, One Shared City -- Jerusalem."
They did not know each other and met for the first time over tea about 10 days before they arrived in the United States. They came to Jerri Bird's home directly from the airport and were met there by Caryle Murphy of The Washington Post, who was the first to interview them. It was only then that they heard each other's views. Audiences were fascinated with these facts and always asked, "Do you fight?" Throughout the entire 17 days the answer remained, "Not yet!"
From day one the tour was designed with the media in mind. When we selected the women we immediately asked them for bios and later asked each to write a 600-word oped which gave us additional material to work with. The comprehensive bios were very helpful. For example, Nahla Asali attended a university in the Midwest in the 1960s. We contacted the alumni publication and they accepted the op-ed she wrote. Her message reached an additional 60,000 people.
We informed the women the tour would include radio, TV and print interviews and talk show appearances and provided them with a few hours of basic training when they arrived in how to handle interviews.
The theme of the tour was designed to attract media interest and also gave us a number of different "news pegs" on which to hang our story. We used the "women angle," the "religious angle" and the "foreign policy angle."
We contacted religious press, secular press, periodicals and radio and TV talk shows locally in each city they visited and syndicated national media outlets. Our press contacts started several months before the women arrived.
Partners for Peace in Washington approached "key people" in each community to handle local logistics such as home stays, local transportation and publicity. These key people were essential in designing the local events and advising about important local media contacts. The tour could not have had such enormous impact without their devoted efforts
We made it clear to the organizers in each city that our goal' was to reach the entire population with the message of the three women. For example, in the Twin Cities area in Minnesota we provided the organizers with a sample press release and, if asked, made calls to key reporters for them. The local organizers were a great assert.
There was a troika for each city -- the key people, the Partners for Peace Washington office and the writer of this article, a media specialist working on contract. …