Instigators Inspire CIW Attendees to Change the World in Small Ways

Child advocate and kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart shares her story of survival and hope with CIW attendees.

How would you tackle global poverty, wildlife preservation or peace in the Middle East? On Saturday, people like the It Gets Better Project co-founder Dan Savage and Sex and the City actress Kristin Davis answered: Start small — think a YouTube video or Facebook post.
CIW attendees packed the Cadillac Palace Theatre on Saturday.
Savage and Davis joined a group of incredible activists — including Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist Amber Lyon, Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry, Bluhm/Helfand Social Innovation (BHSI) Fellow Sasha Fisher and kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart —at Chicago Ideas Week’s Instigators Talk. Together, these “accidental superheroes” shared with a packed audience at the Cadillac Palace Theatre how ordinary people can fight the extraordinary fight.
For Smart, the fight starts with getting out of bed. As a 14-year-old schoolgirl, Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City on June 6, 2002, and spent nine month in captivity, during which she was repeatedly abused.
Speakers shared how they’re changing the world – and others can, too.
After her rescue, Smart chose not to disappear from the public’s eyes. Instead, she founded the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to protect other children and empower others by her sharing her story all over the country.
Her drive? Punishing her predator by living life to the fullest.
“We always have a choice, every single one of us, because each one of us will face something that’s terrible to us,” Smart told the audience. “Each one of us will face something that we just wish we could…stay in bed. Hide from it.… But that’s when it’s time for us to make our choice. That’s when it’s time for us to stand up and move forward.”
Sometimes, a global change starts with a simple online poster, as Edry found out. In March 2012, the Israeli graphic designer posted a Facebook image showing himself and his daughter along with the words, “Iranians, we will never bomb your country. We heart you.”
Ronny Edry started a peace movement with a Facebook post.
Edry did not expect it to turn into an international campaign for peace in the Middle East, but soon people from both countries were sending him their photos with the same message. Before he knew it, CNN picked up the story.
Today, the “Israel-Loves-Iran” Facebook page receives two million unique visitors a week. It has also inspired a myriad of similar pages, including “Iran-Loves-Israel.”
“This is all it takes to make a difference,” Edry said. “Just acknowledge the other side. Just say something nice.”
Like Edry, Savage discovered the power of social media when he and his partner, Terry Miller, posted the first It Gets Better video in September 2010 to support bullied LGBT youth.
That 8-minute video inspired a worldwide movement encompassing more than 150,000 submissions, including one from President Barack Obama. Savage said these videos have consoled countless teens who are shunned in school and at home because of their sexuality, giving them a glimpse of the bright future they would have.
“Because so many people did that doable thing, lives were saved,” Savage said about those offering support via videos.
Actress Kristin Davis also encouraged everyone to do their small part in helping to end the slaughter of elephants for their ivory, whether it be signing petitions, aiding campaigns, etc. The elephant advocate said she travels to Kenya at least once each year – and that every 15 minutes, another elephant is killed for its ivory tusks.
Davis said elephant poaching funds terrorism and impacts the world.
“All of the bad things in the world are being funded by this…slavery, sex trafficking…that’s why everyone needs to stand up,” said Davis, adding that at this rate elephants will be extinct in 10 years. “We live in a world where we can do something.”
Shera Wiegler, a Chicago attorney who attended the talk, said Savage’s story blew her mind.
“It’s incredible how an idea in the living room of your house can become so powerful,” the 35-year-old said.
Her biggest take away? To Think Out Loud.
“Sometimes we have thoughts and ideas, but we don’t vocalize them,” she said. “It’s really important to share your thoughts and motivate others to make changes.”
Written by: Jia You
Photography by: Jia You and Sara Serritella

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