“You people don’t drink much decaf,” the barista in the basement of the Bowling Green State University Student Union told my friend as she purchased her morning cup. “What is this conference all about? It’s Sunday morning and we haven’t sold a cup of decaf all weekend.”
The eighth annual Allied Media Conference (AMC) had gathered in this small college town south of Toledo for the weekend of June 23-25. The weather was exceedingly pleasant, the energy was high (and not just because of the strong coffee), and more than 500 conference participants representing the cutting edge of the media movement were there to push the limits of activist media.
The theme of this year’s AMC was “From Truth to Power: Because being right is not enough.” The conference organizers posed the questions, “How can alternative media go beyond merely “speaking truth” and actually change the material conditions of our world? How do we construct popular media projects that effectively build grassroots power and advance social justice?”
This critical framework was a direct challenge to the notion that activist media can be effective if it is separated from actual organizing. As producers of the conference, we aimed to use the AMC to blur the distinction between media activism and social justice organizing.
As AMC organizers, we see the future of social justice media not in the hands of an increasingly adept and politically attuned corps of journalists, but distributed throughout the movement for racial, social, and economic justice. Just as the proliferation of participatory media has blurred the line between media consumer and producer, the line between activist and media activist is disappearing.
Since 2005, the AMC has centered the work of media justice groups with a strong race, class, gender analysis and who are committed to community organizing and movement building. This year’s conference grew to include many more young people and was much more racially diverse than it has been in the past.
We see that a political analysis formulated by the people most impacted by the media system combined with an alternative communications infrastructure emphasizing direct participation can be the basis for a mass movement to radically transform our local communities and the way we connect them across the globe.
For eight years, Bowling Green has played host to the Allied Media Conference. At this year’s conference, a major announcement was made: the conference is moving to Detroit. The AMC has traveled a long road from where it was in 1999 to where it is in 2006. But the road from Bowling Green to Detroit will take it to a place of even greater transformative possibility.
This year’s AMC saw a large number of participants from Detroit who brought the history, vision, and vitality of the city with them to the conference. Detroit Summer brought nearly two dozen young Detroiters, adult organizers, and artist mentors to the AMC, using the weekend to launch the group’s summer program, the Live Arts Media Project.
“[The AMC] was one of the best conferences I’ve been to,” Michelle Lin, a member of Detroit Summer, said. “It was great to be from Detroit. At the AMC, Detroit represented hardcore.”
While the delegation of Detroiters attending the AMC left the conference excited and energized, we recognize that the task of bringing the AMC to Detroit will not be easy.
As organizers of the conference, we have a lot of work to do to make this national independent media gathering something that is relevant and accountable to Detroiters. We are building towards June 2007 with a sense of humility and opportunity. There is a tremendous legacy of social movement in this city; to organize here is to walk in very large footsteps.