Hannah Sassaman — Banned from the National Association of Broadcasters Since 2002

viral organizing and the allied media conference
July 5, 2006, 11:07 pm
Filed under: radio, rants, the revolution

I’m at my grandparent’s apartment in northeast Toronto, surrounded by an office park and some solemn bridge playing. My aunt Amelia just died so in the midst of a raucous summer of media justice organizing for so many of us, in the midst of preparation for the last likely chance for community groups to apply for full power FM radio stations in the United States and battles for our control over the fundamental pieces of our communications infrastructure, I’m taking a break in Canada. It’s great to be here and to have the space to think about the past few weeks and the great places I’ve been.

Approval-hungry granddaughter that I am, after catching my grandparents up on what I was up to and yet again gathering another bemused, though proud, ‘that’s nice’ after I tried to impress them with news of how Prometheus moved major legislation that will expand US community radio last week. They kind of blinked at me, smiled for awhile. So I pulled out all the stops and brought out the ultimate grandparent weapon – the actual video of me doing something on national television. My grandparents, retired Canadians who escaped pre-Nazi Poland and ran a Canadian Maritimes dress shop respectively, squinted around their Windows 95 machine to watch me chat with Amy Goodman in my flashy glass earrings and shiny antique plastic glasses. Across an international border, sixty years of context and our very different ways of getting information and sharing it (my grandfather, deaf in both ears and basically blind, tries all kinds of schemes to be able to read the paper, the latest being a contraption that magnifies the letters onto a huge flatscreen monitor on a free lease from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind to my grandfather, a veteran), my segment on Democracy Now seemed to have an impact. My grandfather pulled me aside after watching the video clip 4 times (Gram had to call her twin sister from the upstairs apartment and a number of her friends to watch the video before I was allowed to help finish making dinner), and said, “So you and your friends are making sure that no matter what, two or three corporations simply can’t have a monopoly over the media, anywhere in the world, because they’ll be an independent resource available, right?”

Right, Papa Sam – that is exactly it. We build radio stations at Prometheus, but not because we love radio (though we do) or because we don’t want radio to die and are buoying up a fading medium. We are organizing for appropriate technology, appropriate community media, not for easy answers, not for one answer, not even for a rallying cry at a podium that causes us to raise our fists. That cry will hit some straight in the heart, it will wing others and leave them confused and unfocused. Others it will miss entirely. How can we hit everyone? Not with words and policy goals aimed like bullets aimed from one stage. I think we have to turn around and hit each other, or rather, embrace each other. Hugs are remembered so much longer than pithy turns of phrase shot like bullets from high above a crowd. Long conversations and popular education are the way to build allies, instead of an audience.

In the farmworker communities I mentioned on DN! — the communities of Immokalee, Florida and Woodburn, Oregon, where we have built radio stations or are about to be invited to build them — is one appropriate technology that the organizations at the core of labor rights in those towns use to effect change. But we aren’t so stupid as to say that the farmworkers of southwest Florida and midstate Oregon need only a radio station to complete their participation in their local community and global society. These farmworkers are using the phone system to plan and organize with family members around the world. They are walking door to door to gather thousands of workers and allies for state protests and national tours. They are sitting at computers – teaching each other computer literacy, in fact – and remaking the website, the blog, the podcast, in the model of their struggle and revolution.

At the Allied Media Conference in Bowling Green, Ohio, workshop leaders and facilitators offered history, best practices, and proven models – but no cure-alls. For those of us with a foot in local, state, and national policymaking, the need for answers, for strategies that won, burned in our stomachs like an acid. At my own panel I spent time shit talking allies and asking the room – begging it – to get together into awar room. Part of me wants one place where we can all come together with our various strategies for policy wins and success, prioritize those wins and fund them, coordinate them, and set them on the path to victory.

But that doesn’t last. If you are trying to build a media justice and democracy movement with the appropriate technology ethos at its core, you have to start at places like the Allied Media Conference, where no strategy or technology is the only way or even the hot way, the sexy way. There are so many many ways. The organizers there understand that it’s the people we work with and the media they make and how they come to decide that such media is what they want to be doing – that combination of local organizers and space to connect them — that leads to new great ideas like low power FM radio, or like a front of women of color bloggers.

Now that this conference is moving to Detroit, Michigan, easily accessible and in the midst of diverse, well-connected organizing initiatives that cross movements and connect them – I know we’ve created the right petri dish of chemicals for the next intersections of community organizing and media policy. We won’t find one solution but dozens, hundreds, and we’ll use gatherings like the AMC to connect them in important, countless ways.

Looking forward – really looking forward.