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Hey guys — I’m Hannah Sassaman. For the past six years I’ve been an organizer at the Prometheus Radio Project — working to expand community radio station availability to every city in the country. As I transition out of Prometheus (and head over to do political communications with SEIU), I’m getting some perspective on the two major worlds I’ve come from — and my vision of how totally kickass policy change can happen, now and in the future.
Those two worlds. One of those worlds is a policy world. With my single, all-weather, threadbare suit, I’ve walked the halls of Capitol Hill, fighting the big broadcasters as they’ve tried to keep community radio out of our cities. With great allies like Free Press, Future of Music, the United Church of Christ, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and many other members of the Media and Democracy Coalition, I learned about horsetrading and bargaining and swaps. Our bill, the Local Community Radio Act, is on its way to pass this year or next — finally expanding community radio to thousands of towns, eight years after it was crippled by big broadcasters. What an education. What a ride.
But everything I’ve learned in Washington has been grounded in the work of communities across the country — youth who have decided that they want a radio station to talk about the dropout rate in their schools, or farmworkers using their radio stations to fight for rights in the tomato fields. We have been able to get legislators to buck the demands of the big broadcasters through many strategies — but the best one has been individuals and groups taking the time to speak directly to their legislators about what they need.
I ask myself the question all the time: why do we limit our vision of policies that really serve us, when we have such an incredible, growing movement of progressive and radical people fighting effectively for what they need? Why do we accept what policymakers tell us is winnable? When we deserve so, so much more?
As I get ready to leave telecommunications policy for awhile, I’ve developed more and more faith in the power of everyday people to internalize the nuances of policy debates, and, using their local connections, to get legislators to support measures that really represent them. But the most important piece of organizing around policy — and a piece that I think we have missed more than once in the media reform movement — is making sure that the vision for a future we deserve comes directly from communities. Once we know what we want — the most beautiful, radical vision of a media we deserve — we can work our magic policy powers to win that vision, and nothing less.
Today, almost a thousand people are gathering in Detroit, Michigan (one of them being new guest blogger at OpenLeft, BrownFemiPower for the tenth annual Allied Media Conference (http://www.alliedmediaconference.org). There are very few places I know where our vision of a better world can not only reach high heights — but be translated into practical policy organizing and alternative infrastructure building.
Here’s some of the folks holding it down at AMC right now:
— The People’s Production House in New York doesn’t just put high schoolers, domestic workers, and immigrants on the radio — it also brings these people into the heart of how the internet works in New York and around the country. When New York State fights to rubber-stamp telecommunications franchises for the forseeable future, these workers and students take the lead in fighting for the franchise to represent them, not the needs of big telecommunications companies. People’s Production House has designed the entire policy track at this year’s AMC — focusing on the future of the internet.
— The security session, held down by the Texas Media Empowerment Project and my friend Deanne Cuellar, jumps out at me as policy meeting practicality. Organizers fighting crackdown on immigration and the rights of poor people in our cities and countryside are worried about the privacy of their communications — and the limits and possibilities of fighting for justice online. If today’s FISA vote and the anger about telecom companies getting a free pass for spying on us, had ricoched across the movements of justice reflected at the AMC, would we have been able to keep CHC members, and CBC members like Congressman Clyburn and Energy and Commerce members like Butterfield and Rush from caving?
— INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence is spearheading a powerful suite of workshops. I’m especially excited about People’s Statistics: Putting Participatory Research to Work. The brainchild of the young people of Detroit Summer’s Live Arts Media Project , I can’t think of anything more practical than learning how we can research ourselves and the powers which limit our movements, then push forward change and policies that center on the truths we learn and know. What if our research was at the heart of new legislation and regulations from the local to the national level?
We have so much to learn when it comes to making and pushing policies that we deserve. In an era of incremental change and regression to level of stasis that we accept as the way things are, we have to put the voices of these leaders at the center of our political debate.
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