How to Highlight the Human and Economic Cost of the US war in Iraq
We originated the Eyes Wide Open (EWO) exhibit, in which pairs of combat boots are arranged in rows, each with a tag that has the name of a US soldier killed in Iraq,to focus attention on the human cost of the Iraq war. In the four years since, we have toured the exhibit to more than 100 cities across the country and started 45 smaller EWO state exhibits.
We also created the Dreams and Nightmares exhibit to educate about Iraqi casualties and the new Cost of War exhibit. Because of this experience, we get emails and phone calls from folks all over the country who are interested in drawing attention to the human and economic costs of war. Many of them want to work with us to bring one of our projects to their communities, while others have their own unique projects planned and are looking for advice on how to make them successful. Here are some lessons we've learned.
Make It Visual
One of the strengths of Eyes Wide Open is that one can imagine the soldier who used to occupy the pair of empty boots used in the display. This helps the viewer to comprehend the large number of casualties. People around the country have developed their own displays using crosses, candles, flags, or coffins. We have also staged "die-ins" having 100 volunteers lie down in a grid pattern and cover themselves with white sheets to represent Iraqi casualties. As people passed by this dramatic tableau they also saw volunteers placing red carnations on the bodies.
Break Down the Large Numbers
Using a strong visual symbol helps to make some numbers easier to comprehend. Some numbers are too large to represent in this way, but we can endeavor to make them less abstract. For instance, the more than one trillion dollar cost of the first four years of the US war in Iraq boggles the mind. To present this in a more comprehensible way, we decided to break the cost down: each day that the war continues the US government is spending $720 million. Using large, colorful banners, we dramatize this number, e.g. "One Day of the Iraq War = 84 New Elementary Schools." Federal budget numbers are also hard to represent. We have created a 40-foot banner or "quilt" that shows how much money is spent in each category. The military budget takes up more than half of the quilt!
Bring It into the Open
The more foot traffic the better! One of the best things about being in an outdoor place is that people who wouldn't have ordinarily sought out our exhibits happen upon them. This allows us to bring our message to those who might not otherwise be open to it. You don't have to live in a big city to be near lots of people. Our Cost of War exhibits have been displayed at state fairs and summer festivals all over the country. Try public parks or plazas, in front of government buildings, near busy intersections, or at schools or universities.
Back it up with Facts
Once you have drawn the public in with your visual display, you
want to make sure to educate the public with factual information.
We make sure to have what we call a "day of" flyer
that explains why we are there that day to hand out to passersby,
and a table with information for those who want to know more and
To Get Involved
To estimate the cost of supplemental funding for the war to your local community, see the National Priorities Project, www.nationalpriorities.org.
Local action resources, photographs, and more tips:AFSC Chicago, 637 S. Dearborn, 3rd floor, Chicago, IL 60605, 312/427.2533 www.afsc.org/iraq/local-action.htm, www.afsc.org/eyes, www.afsc.org/cost, email@example.com.
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