ALMOST TWO YEARS AGO, tens of millions of people around the world marched against the buildup to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Many of their banners and chants accused the Bush administration and the United States of militarism, greed, and ignorance of the world's real needs. But what do the people of the world have to say to average, everyday Americans now, on the eve of our general election, when we have the opportunity to change our leadership and our policy? A new global online-video forum lets us find out by giving people from around the world a chance to show us their faces and voice their opinions.
Anyone who wants to speak directly to the American people -- or interview foreigners on their thoughts about the United States -- can send a 30-second digital video clip to TalktoUS.org, a nonprofit based in Seattle. The group encourages the foreign commentators to address topics like culture, the environment, globalization, health, human rights, peace, poverty, religion, war, trade, and dreams for the future. Anything goes as long as the end result is intelligible and tasteful. TalktoUS.org was started in March by independent filmmaker and former journalist William Brent. 'U.S. policies affect the whole world, but non-Americans have few ways to communicate directly with mainstream America,' says Brent. 'The international voices Americans do hear often represent only the extremes -- not ordinary people from around the world.'
In many of the videos at www.talk toUS.org, these ordinary people offer constructive criticism; others issue powerful personal appeals. Standing on a sunny Serbian city street, Boriana tells us, 'Try to help your own people at home . . . and don't help around the world if you are not asked for help.' Brian, from Uganda, pleads, 'HIV-positive people . . . they need help.' Another Brian, from Canada, points out similarities between the North American countries: 'We have politicians who don't understand the English language, and so do the Americans.' Pushing her dark hair out of her eyes, Marisol, from Mexico, says, 'I'm not sure I'd like to live in a country that creates war for no reason,' while Sayyara from Uzbekistan has a brighter image of America and delivers it as cars go by on a busy corner in the city of Bukhara: 'Everyone in the States smiles at each other,' she says. 'It shows they want to live in peace and harmony.'
Brent is confident that Americans who visit the site will feel a connection with the foreign contributors. Whether they live in urban or rural areas, they 'will see people not unlike themselves from around the world in our videos, and relate to them as people and not just as media stories,' he says. Brent, who lived in China for 16 years (where he and two others founded Shanghai Cinezoic, a production company for theatrical films and documentaries), says it's obvious to anyone outside the United States that there's a huge disconnect between how Americans think they are perceived in the world and how they actually are seen. He sees this as a particularly important problem today because, as he puts it, 'until now people have largely differentiated between the American government and its people, but that difference has eroded.' He hopes that TalktoUS will restore a healthy people-to-people consciousness, one video at a time.