Social Change via the Living Room

Mike de la Rocha, founder of The Living Rooms Across America Tour, talks about the art of cross-sector convening and storytelling to tackle gun violence in the United States.

Inspired by the home meetings of the United Farm Workers in the 1960s and 1970s, musician, writer and cultural activist Mike de la Rocha launched The Living Rooms Across America Tour. This multi-city tour convened elected officials, cultural influencers, business leaders, artists and others in the homes of local leaders for open conversations on gun violence issues. In 2012, de la Rocha visited 10 cities in 10 states leading up to the presidential election; in 2013, he partnered with Chicago Ideas Week and visited five cities. The grassroots initiative -- chronicled by filmmaker Dream Hampton in a documentary anticipated to release in 2014 -- used the power of story and music to help break down barriers, and change politics and attitudes.

Rachael Chong & Melissa Fleming: What were some of the outcomes of the tour?

Everywhere we went, we would highlight two community residents that were ending gun violence in their community. In New York, we went to interview Erica Ford in Jamaica, Queens, where for 340 days she and her team, I Love My LIFE, had stopped violence -- not a single shot, not a single murder happened. When I met her, the team was talking a 20-something male down from retaliating and killing someone who had just shot his best friend in the face. And while I was watching this, the landlord came in and said, "Erica, you haven't paid rent in a couple of months. At the end of the day, this is a business." That spawned a fundraising campaign, and we raised $150,000 for her in 30 days.

Also in New York, the cultural influencers, successful business leaders, and former Mayor Bloomberg staff members that participated in the Living Rooms conversation met two to three times afterward to create a public safety plan, which they presented to Mayor Bill de Blasio's transition team.

The tour's been remarkable in bridging gaps, raising awareness, and educating people about how we all have a role to play and how we can solve this issue if we all play our part.