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Hello to all — we’ve met an amazing milestone. After two and a half weeks of extensive work, the station broadcast all day at the World Social Forum. I’ve never been involved in a barnraising where the initial launch of the station was accompanied by such a diversity of voices on the air — landless organizers from southern India, youth trainers from rural Somalia, elders from Zimbabwe. The world is deep and large and for one day in Nairobi, beautiful young producers wove some of the best radio I’ve ever heard from that world.
This station rose from what was, at this time yesterday, an open wound. Three of the women that helped to build this project — two Ugandans and one American — were working in the studio on Monday, interviewing each other. I am not going to use their names until I get permission to do so. The two Ugandan women are fierce, beautiful women who work with youth in Kampala, Uganda, and the American woman can match them step for step with her focus and clarity and intelligence. When three men showed up at the door of the studio with a gun — a real gun, one of the Ugandans promised later — they did the right thing by listening to their demands and lying down on the ground. The thieves, who had scoped out the studio earlier with a guarded curiosity, took the computer of a French producer, our two brand new mikes, a number of minidisc recorders (rare as gold in our group) and some other small valuables that we keep realizing are missing. The thieves put these three women in a shocked and guarded state, and put all of us into a place of reflection and decisionmaking. Were the thieves actually cops in disguise? Were we way too lax and flashy with our expensive computers, cameras, minidiscs and microphones? Did we feel safe going back to that space? As the thieves didn’t take any of the equipment necessary to actually broadcast (the mixer and transmitter were safe as houses) or any of Andy’s technical tools (they dumped out his canvas tool bag on the floor, filled it with their other valuables and left), we actually could go on air still, if we wanted.
After long conversation we decided that the space was ours and that we had a responsibility to ourselves to get our audio on the air and to keep broadcasting. The women who had been involved in the assault, encouraged us the most. And so on Wednesday morning, after a day of police reports, collecting more audio, one of the Ugandan women, quiet and powerful, was the first voice on 107.9, Radio Uhuru.
The day was magic — the exhiliration of a barnraising paired with a focused need to put as many world leaders on the air as possible. We have archived the entire day of broadcasts and once many of us are back in the land of broadband we’ll have photos, stories, and audio to post. Expect brilliant conversations with landless Indian community organizers, Somali women working on infrastructure, and Zimbabwean elders — and more! I’d like to write more now, but the only reason I’m enjoying the rare luxury of internet access is because I need to download audio editing and graphics editing software for our Ugandan allies who are about to head home.
More soon and with love,
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At 4.40 PM, on Friday, January 20th, the members of the Kenyan Independent Media Center were scattered across Nairobi. Organizers from Uganda, across Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and more are raising an antenna on the roof of the Moi Stadium. My fellow Prometheus organizer, Elena Botkin-Levy, and I are at an internet cafe, taking a small break from the work we have been doing collecting more radio pieces for the studio going up at Moi, the major center for the world social forum. Many incredible journalists, especially those from Uganda, have become new addicts to minidisc recorders and to audio editing with Audacity. In the past three days I’ve watched Safi, a computer science student, mother, and social worker, become an expert interviewer, and teach Anne from Kenya as well as Farida from Uganda some excellent tricks on the minidisc recorder.
These thoughts might seem scattered, and that’s because of a big lack of sleep and the fact that there are so many scattered but vitally important projects to do. In the past 24 hours I’ve helped a chef from Kisumu (an articulate critic of local Kenyan media consolidation) cook a ratatouille and chicken gizzard meal in the dark (big blackout yesterday), helped arrange an Air America interview with Laura Flanders and some of the African Indymedia delegates, and bartered for minidiscs, CDs, and transparency paper in ‘town’ (also known as downtown Nairobi, two matatu rides north of Karen, the green, fancy neighborhood where we’ve rented our convergence center space).
The delegates from Maseno University have arrived at the center and have teamed up with some of the delegates who have been around longest in the space to learn minidisc and interviewing skills, while a number of the other folks headed to Moi to help finish the transmitter and antenna, and hook them up to the computers, mixer, and more.
Today was the first day I didn’t work with young women building one-watt transmitters, and I want to get back to it, because some of the transmitters aren’t working. The Ugandan team is working on two transmitters, Patrick from a local station — Koch FM — is working on another (we need to go visit with him later this week), we’ve saved one for the Nigerian delegation that couldn’t make it, and reserved one for Kangemi, a community two hours north of Nairobi that hosts a community center perfect for radio. That’s it for the one-watters — now I have a bunch of quarter watts left.
Distributing and working on these transmitters has been exhilirating but difficult — when Suleiman from Uganda asked why the Ugandan delegation couldn’t take home a third transmitter for his part of Kampala, and I explained that other community representatives had started building them, he asked why I couldn’t get more, and it’s hard to answer. We don’t have the resources, that is for sure, but I wish we did. I hope I can pull him aside later to talk through where these transmitters can be acquired and to let him know about other radio resources.
This has been a difficult but inspiring trip. I hope to write more — but this is the first internet access I’ve had in days. Check out http://www.exclamationradio.org to learn more from Andy, the brilliant technician helping raise an antenna on the roof of the stadium. I don’t know if we’ll have any access when we head west to Maseno — but we’ll know soon.
Keep checking kenya.indymedia.org for great audio and more — Feizel did some great rough interviews under the ‘Bread for Children’ post on the newswire.
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I had lots of plans to write up my thoughts on the National Conference for Media Reform, the incredible foundation of work that activists who attended are building there. Then I wanted to talk about the intersection between grassroots, social-justice inspired organizing for media policy change and the very different policy world that the thousands upon thousands of folks will bring to the World Social Forum next week, and how excited and humbled I felt to be bringing what I know to share and mash up with what media makers from Cameroon, South Africa, Brazil, Kenya, and beyond will be bringing. But I’m out of time — at least I’m packed, teeming to the brink with transmitters, soldering irons, organizing documents, and even a few clothes.
Onyango Oloo, a lead coordinator of the Forum and of the new and growing Kenyan Independent Media Center, wrote this — and it captures the reason I’m excited to go to Kenya –
“Unlike other international gatherings, we will not attempt to sanitize underdevelopment or criminalize poverty in Kenya by locking up all the street kids, beggars, hookers or carting off other members of society who are on the margins of the Kenyan neo-colonial periphery, locked out from sustainable development and denied a chance of thriving; there will be no attempt to stifle those vocal voices of protests who yearn for a Kenya and an Africa that is peaceful, democratic, progressive and prosperous.”
I hope our conversations at the Kenyan Independent Media Center Convergence are alsu unsanitized, and unsanitary, and teeming with methods, plans, and tools to help the world speak.
Shall try to post from Nairobi and from our second stage of our radio production and education trip, in Kisumu, on the west side of the country, on Lake Victoria. If you need to reach me, get my cell phone number in Kenya from the folks at the Prometheus Radio Project. Much love to you all!
I’m writing this from the last leg of a seventeen hour drive to Memphis, Tennessee, haven’t slept much, so this is rougher than I’d like and might get some edits later on! Prometheus, at this point in the game, has developed some expertise in loading a van with gear, volunteers, and enough of a good attitude to get us where we are going. Usually we’re trucking one or two vans worth of radical radio experts to one of our barnraisings, where we build an entire radio station over the course of a three day weekend. This time around we’re headed to the National Conference for Media Reform.
What is a conference, exactly? If my rudimentary Latin doesn’t fail me, it’s an opportunity to confer — to talk to fellow travellers, people with different kinds of knowledge, about problems, how to solve them.
I know I have a lot to learn, and that many of the people that I want to learn from will be travelling to Memphis with the same hope.
When I look forward from my cramped corner at the back of the van and ask people in the van what they’re interested in doing, it’s everything and anything from spreading the word about independent films, to getting the word out about the last chance in a generation that we’ll have to build our own full power radio stations in the USA. Others will be focused on defending and protecting their public access TV stations, or holding local corporate media accountable to youth and to people of color.
I’m always really struck by the deep and broad literacy that many of the activists I meet hold on a deep diversity of issues under the media reform umbrella. When we woke up from our fitful upright naps, squished between boxes of information about full power FM and sleeping bags and irregularly shaped Tupperwares of baba ghanouj, we stopped at a truck stop for breakfast. I spent a lot of time talking to Howard, who had just returned from Jordan, where he and his wife worked with the Prometheus delegation to build radio stations with a women’s community center. Over weirdly sweet sourdough bread and eggs, he argued fluently for net neutrality, solar powered Wi-Max wireless infrastructure in Sierra Leone, and the nefarious history of the founding of the FCC. Howard is multifaceted — on the surface, I might think he would not be at home at a power lunch or a media convergence space, but it’s his fluency and ability to cross-reference in many issues that makes him so valuable as a colleague, and just the kind of person that I hope many people want to meet in Memphis.
This weekend in Memphis, in the background of the essential and huge debates on stopping the consolidation of media ownership, will be a quiet and insistent conversation on the last frontiers of open spectrum in the United States, and how important it is for the grassroots and the policy shapers to come together to claim that territory for the American people. Presenting on over a dozen panels will be pioneers and architects of media justice and media accountability, looking for allies and backup for their incredibly successful work taking down the corporate media that marginalizes their communities.
If we approach this conference with a lot of hope and with open minds, we’ll have the chance to build relationships that bridge distances. Lots of different kinds of distances, like the geography between San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Nashville, and all the way to and beyond Washington DC. I also want to think about what sometimes seems like the insurmountable distances between organizing strategies, different pieces of this movement. Maybe if we treat everyone like experts — pirate radio operators working in Springfield, Illinois, and policy crafters from across the Atlantic — we’ll be able to prioritize and strategize better, together, to win in all the ways we want and need to win.