Rutherford County Residents Lead Statewide Campaign, Calling for End to Negative Stereotypes

Murfreesboro, Tenn. – A non-profit organization with 40 years of experience working to improve social, economic and environmental conditions around the state of Tennessee has increased its reach into Rutherford County, resulting in the development of a statewide campaign calling for an end to stereotypes in the media, with Rutherford County residents taking the lead. A growing group of local members of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) has held regular meetings in Murfreesboro since September of 2012. Members of the community will be going door-to-door this weekend to survey the community to understand the biggest challenges ordinary people face, and how to work together for solutions.

Since its beginning in 1972 in coal-mining areas of East Tennessee, SOCM – known as Save Our Cumberland Mountains until 2005 – has led the fight against strip-mining and mountaintop removal, worked to preserve our water quality, and worked with partner groups to help to decrease state sales tax on food. SOCM has over 2,000 members around the state, with existing chapters in Jackson (Madison County), Knoxville (Knox County), Bedford County, Maury County, Cumberland County, and elsewhere. The organization also has statewide committees that focus on social justice issues, promoting a green economy with good jobs, environmental and ecological issues, and anti-racism education.

SOCM members in Rutherford County are helping to form the organization’s new social justice committee, which is working on a project to combat negative racial stereotypes in local media.  These stereotypes of communities of color – including portrayals of Hispanic immigrants as “illegals,” African Americans as criminals, and Arab Americans as terrorists – have helped fuel the undue racial tension in communities across the state, and the problem is particularly acute in Rutherford County. The goal of the racial stereotypes project is to promote a broader understanding of the structural racism issues that continue to plague so many of our communities.

SOCM members attended a workshop on identifying stereotypes and bias in the media Tuesday night at MTSU. Communications professor Clare Bratten and students in her graduate seminar “Race, Class, and Gender in the Media” led the training. The session focused on common stereotypes of Latinos, using copies of newspapers from around the state to demonstrate those patterns.

Rutherford County residents are working to develop a new SOCM chapter in Rutherford County that will include a SOCM student organization on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University.  About half of the current membership in the local group is made up of MTSU students.  The organization’s membership is diverse in terms of age, race, class, and religious affiliation.

Community members who are interested in getting involved with the work of SOCM can contact the local organizer, Brad Wright, by emailing brad@socm.org or calling 865-249-7488.

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