NCMR: Independent Media as an Organizing Tool

Adrienne Maree Brown, The Ruckus Society (moderator)
Shivaani Selvaraj, Philly IMC Media Mobilizing Project
Jenny Lee, Live Arts Media Project
Kat Aaron, co-Director of People’s Production House

listen to the mp3 of this discussion

(Adrienne was just telling me I don’t take credit for things. I hardly think that’s true – see every blog post where I crib other people’s ideas – but I’ll take her advice and admit I proposed this session. I was pleasantly surprised that it was accepted by Free Press. These are some of the most inspiring folks in the movement, along with all of the people they work with.)


Adrienne Maree Brown, The Ruckus Society

This is media that changes the producer, the participant, and hopefully the receiver forever.

We’re going to talk about it, then we’re going to do some popular education workshops so you walk out of here knowing how to do this in your own community.


Shivaani Selvaraj, Philly IMC Media Mobilizing Project

I love being an organizer. I have an agenda for building a social movement in this country. I have experience with different models of organizing:

Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Compaign inspired by MLK
Media Mobilizing Project of the Philly IMC
Media Empowerment Project, affiliated with the United Church of Christ

Today going to focus on MMP:

The media is less about informing the public, more about transformation. Fighting for a just media alongside fighting for a just society.

Working with taxi workers, hotel workers, anti casino, anti gentrification, and a collaboration with Head Start, which is poor-led. We help with political education, an analysis of power, a discussion of frameworks.

Nijmie Dzurinko, also with MMP:

sharing a story about the casino fight. We got involved because we live in a time when the state is doing whatever it can to enhance profit, making up shortfalls in their budgets from federal cuts.

Neighborhoods were having trouble because of the images being fed to them, the inability to get information about what kinds of profits

Focused on completing 4 or 5 minute-long pieces that engaged key issues, broke down casino-propaganda machine. Showing how different groups that had been divided along racial and economic lines were united in this issue. Worked with groups to complete the pieces, then distributed 500 DVDs around the community to get people involved.


Jenny Lee, Live Arts Media Project

Ilana described phase 1 of LAMP in the previous session. I’m going to talk about phase 2.

LAMP grew out of Detroit Summer, which was started over 10 years ago by veterans of the Detroit Black power movement.

Addresses the school crisis in Detroit, in particular the dropout crisis, which is
evacuation from the auto industry has crippled the city
DPS closed 50 schools
95 more will close by 2008
Catholic schools all closed last year.
Those that remain are increasingly militarized. Dress code that lead to suspensions that lead to more dropouts.
DPS is now the number one employer in the city, which makes the union extremely powerful.

The goal of LAMP was to center young people’s voices in this debate.

We trained youth to do interviews with other youth, they interviewed other young people, as well as the principals.

We saw that the process by which we actually make the media is a method of organizing.

After the summer, they completed the CD, and started thinking about distribution. How to get it into schools and into community centers?

The production process had yielded a supportive network of educators.

The way we distribute it is also an organizing tool.

Wanted to apply creative methods to distribution, as with production. That process needed to centralize youth as well, so they turned to popular education to develop the popular education curriculum.

The teaching is also an organizing tool.

Played a clip about criminilization of youth in the schools. The montage of interviews went right into a hip hop song about it, “12 Steps to Oblivion.”

Jenny then asked the audience what stood out to them in the track and asked a few other questions to bring out the impact it had.

Taking the CD on tour.


Kat Aaron, co-Director of People’s Production House

Kat’s also a producer of Wakeup Call, on WBAI, of which her co-director, Deepa Fernandes, is the host, Everyone who works at PPH is a media maker and a media teacher. We partner with groups to help them make media that supports their organizing. Radio Rootz which works with kids, media production and media literacy. And CNPI that works with low-wage workers.

We organize for media justice

Participatory media is about creating and distributing media but also understanding how it works, how it gets to you. “Opening the doors to media is not the same as media justice.” Different people are told different things about what stories are valuable, who is important.

Not that everyone will be a journalist, but emphasizing to young people that their stories are important and helping them figure out how to communicate.

We teach people how to edit, which is incredibly important so it’s not them gathering stories that the experts edit. We want people to be able to leave our organization, so they need to have the full range of skills.

One of the groups CNPI works with is street vendors. A POC and mostly immigrant workforce, they call themselves the smallest of small businesses. They get ridiculous fines. They had been attending City Council hearings on those fines, but when they came as press, it allowed them to confront Councilmembers in a different way. Their presence at the City Council hearings has an impact on the decisionmaking because the Councilmembers know someone is watching.

Played clip from Domestic Workers United. DWU went to Albany to make their case and they brought their own reporters.

They play these clips not just on WBAI, but around their community for other workers and the people they are trying to organize.

The summer program matched a group of youth with a community organization, which helped teach the youth about organizing. Instead of just publicizing their own
work, they all chose to address issues in their community that were not being discussed.

Played clip from group that addressed the issue of South Asian gangs, which no one was addressing. Now the community organizing group uses the piece to kick off discussions around their community.

Everyone asks, how do you engage people in discussing media policy. Kat ran a small workshop they use to teach 12-year-olds about media consolidation. Everyone writes down their own, idiosyncratic station play list. Then you crumple them up and force them to collaborate, which ultimately yields the lowest common denominator.

(Here’s my station:
Wakeup Call
Radio Rootz hour
LAMP hour
BBC World Service
Yankee games
Brooklyn Hip Hop hour)

End with big plug for Allied Media Conference, where these discussions and models are the main focus of the conference.


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