When was it?
In the spring of 2007, before Avaaz became the powerhouse of global online politics it is today, we were approached by its founders. They were ready to launch the organization, and wanted a powerful web video that would not only reframe one of their core issues, peace in the Middle East, but also introduce Avaaz to the world.
What was it?
They wanted to up-end the stereotypes that were fueling the view that Islam and the West were two warring religious camps locked in an endless and inevitable “Clash of Civilizations.” They came to us with a rough initial concept based on a culture jam of the HSBC ads popular at the time. The idea was to flip the dyads “Exploited/Liberated” and “Friend/Enemy” and unhinge them from the stereotyped images we normally associate with them.
From that starting point we collaborated very closely. Countless iterations of script, storyboard, animatic and finished video had to pass back and forth between Avaaz and Agit-Pop before we both felt we’d nailed it. The task was an obvious political minefield. Reframing Middle East politics is, like, um, never easy. Somehow we had to be bold, irreverent and hyper-culturally sensitive all at the same time. And more than this, we had to touch people’s hearts. If you’re going to try bring people who don’t trust each other to a place of common ground, the getting there has to feel real.
Setting it up as a conversation between two women across the cultural divide helped link micro and macro, and ground the inevitably complicated politics in the fundamentals of the human experience — in love and loss, hope and solidarity. Finally, to power the narrative arc, we collaborated with DJ Spooky to cut a haunting hip-hop backing track that included both Western and Islamic influences. Oh, and then we translated the whole thing into 11 languages and threw them all up on YouTube.
Well, not nothing, exactly, but not much. Fifty thousand people watched it, and ten thousand of them signed Avaaz’s petition calling for real Middle East peace talks. It got a bit of good press and was critically well received. Then it caught the eye of Steve Grove, YouTube’s Political Editor, and he featured it in his section. Again nothing much happened. It took a 15-year-old skateboarder kid from some suburb in upstate New York, who just happened to be guest curating for YouTube that week to take it viral. He saw it on the Politics list and promoted it to the YouTube front page.
How was it?
From there, things took off. Petition signatures and click-thru’s to Avaaz.org shot up. Views exploded, eventually hitting almost 3 million. Comments, especially, took on a feverish exponential growth rate, eventually hitting 63,000+ comments, and for a while becoming the second-most commented-upon political video in YouTube history.
Stop the Clash was awarded YouTube’s Best Political Video of 2007, as well as the Best of Show award at the 2007 NTEN conference. It introduced millions of people to Avaaz, and shifted the hearts and minds of countless thousands on this very difficult issue. We know more than a few people who cry every time they watch it.