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

Low Power FM Passes the House of Representatives!
December 17, 2009, 4:32 pm
Filed under: 'media justice', 'media reform', fcc, radio, the revolution, Uncategorized

A number of people have asked me to do a little bit of writing on a big moment for community media justice — the passage of the low power FM radio bill out of the House of Representatives last night.

The bill was brought to the house floor for the very first time on December 16th — directly after the joyful and bipartisan introduction of a resolution to honor A. Phillip Randolphorganizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a lion of the labor and civil rights movements.

Randolph believed in community media as a vital tool to build the movement for economic and racial justice.  In 1917, he founded The Hotel Messenger — a magazine that fearlessly espoused the political vision and personal stories of a community suffering greatly under class and racial discrimination and brutality.  The paper exposed corruption in uniform sales to sidewaiters in New York and regularly told worker and community stories.  He used his movement and his paper to plan visionary marches on Washington for fair employment and civil rights, and to engage in a rhetoric of change that rose above partisan argument:

“Our aim is to appeal to reason, to lift our pens above the cringing demagogy of the times… Patriotism has no appeal to us; justice has.  Party has no weight with us, principle has.  Loyalty is meaningless; it depends on what one is loyal to.”

That’s the kind of media that we need now – media that rises above a ‘cringing demagogy’ that oppresses rather than liberates us.  What an honor for the bill to expand Low Power FM to be brought to the floor the same day as Randolph’s resolution.

I spent the larger part of my 20s inside the low power FM movement — helping to build radio stations with the Prometheus Radio Project.   Low power FM stations are amazing and unique as snowflakes.  The transmitters are these incredible little boxes — shiny lights like computer servers with a thick coaxial cable coming out — winding up to a flagpole antenna on the top of a roof.  Pasquo, Tennessee’s WRFN-LP hoisted their tower up with ropes, pulleys, and a hundred hands after a rainstorm.   In Woodburn, Oregon, the Pineros y Campesinos Unidos de Noroeste put KPCN-LP’s antenna on top of a water tower.  Best view I’ve ever seen.

I remember building transmitters with Ugandan women in a blackout outside of Nairobi, producing radio plays in Tennessee, and the benediction given by the Holy Ghost priest who led the Southern Development Foundation at the first moments on the air of KOCZ-FM – Opelousas Community Zydeco radio.

When I think of community radio, I think of these moments of magic and how wonderful my time building these stations was.  But we don’t fight to expand community radio because of the magic and the beautyAs special as that is.  We fight to expand community radio because it – and all community media – is a necessary tool for survival and freedom in our society and in societies around the world.

Then-Federal Communications Commissioner Chairman Bill Kennard was invited at the turn of the millennium to South Africa to help their country build their telecommunications regulation — or so the story begins.  He was invited to visit Bush Radio — Africa’s oldest community radio station and an instrument of liberation and struggle that helped bring South Africa out of apartheid.  Kennard was scheduled to spend 20 minutes with station founder Zane Ibrahim and his comrades — but he spent over 4 hours studying how people built power with and through the station, how it developed leaders, how vital it was to the community.  The station houses a day care center, a radio school for kids age 6-18, a hip hop curriculum for musicians doing outreach around AIDS.

What Kennard saw, he wanted to bring to a movement that was already flourishing in the US.  Dozens of unlicensed stations were popping up – from Springfield, Illinois to New York to California.  The pressure of those pirate radio stations and the organizing of incredible leaders from faith, legal, and music communities made licensed low power community radio a reality.

Big broadcasters stood in the way for years.  Despite millions of dollars of impartial engineering evidence proving there was plenty of room, the big broadcasters kept low power FM out of almost every big city and most smaller communities in the United States.  For ten years.  But this year, the incredible coalition of deejays-turned-to-self-taught-engineering-experts, of rock stars, of Catholic, Methodist, and UCC churchgoers, of civil rights leaders, made it happen and passed a bill to expand low power FM to hundreds of new communities.

In the House of Representatives, that is.  But I can see the other side of the Senate vote.  In weeks coming — sooner than later — the vote will be done and then the real work will begin.

Low power FM radio station licenses are free to community groups.  Once the bill is fully passed, the FCC will start work and get ready to open a window — one more chance for unions and city councils and schools to get a voice that changes the face of their communities forever.  For those of us connected to incredible movement leaders nationwide — from Detroit to West Virginia to South Texas — we have a responsibility to help these leaders apply for these rare tools.

If we take responsibility now, and coordinate, our families and kids will travel through a future country filled with the sounds of our voices rather than the sounds of voices aimed at silencing us.  I can’t wait to live there with all of you.

Collected Resources on Helping Out in New Orleans Now
August 31, 2008, 5:44 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

(UPDATE — a few sites seem to be pointing folks this way, so i’m going to keep this post up and add more resources, like an update from the houma nation, to the comments.  keep checking the gustav wiki and brownfemipower, best sites for updates so far.  and i’ll keep posting practical ways to help over the next days, if that’s helpful — hjs)

hey all, hannah sassaman, formerly of prometheus radio project and now of seiu healthcare pennsylvania delurking to talk about the hurricane for a second.

i’m sure that many of you are trying to figure out what you can do to support people who are leaving new orleans and the regions surrounding it.  i’m in touch with a number of folks on the ground collecting money to buy resources to support people who must stay in the city or who are choosing not to leave.

one challenge that has come up is that many residents of the city don’t trust that they can leave, and come back, to their homes.  it took many of them 18 months to two years to get back to their communities.  so there’s an effort underway to raise money in cities outside of NOLA, where many folks are being evacuated to.  organizers on the ground are hoping that with a safety net of money and logistical support, more folks will be able to leave for their safety, while the communities battle hard for the right to return.  that project is still in development, but i’ll write more here when i know where folks are collecting money for that.  write me if you are available for it.

INCITE! women of color against violence is collecting money to bond out prisoners from the new orleans jails — http://brownfemipower.com/archives/2871

jim ellinger, who i worked with in 2003 when a number of us set up a licensed low power FM station with evacuees from the new orleans superdome, is working on communications support for new orleans.   he’s likely overwhelmed, but looking for equipment and funds for ham radio and other two-way radio infrastructure.  if you can help even a bit — or you have contacts with communications experts in the southeast — call him at 512-796-4332 or write him at jimedia@grandecom.net. not sure when he’s driving from austin to NOLA.

andy carvin is setting up an online resources page for volunteers hoping to help from afar — http://www.andycarvin.com/ — including the gustav information center — http://gustav08.ning.com/

and common ground relief — with many more resources than they had when katrina came through — is looking for donations to support their search-and-rescue work and immediate support work after the storm — as well as the work they are doing to help folks get out of the city right now — http://www.commongroundrelief.org/ .

any other news/links to share?  i’d really like to know how folks in houma are doing.  the houma nation, which applied for a community radio station, is right in the path of the storm.

The Future of Policy Organizing at the Allied Media Conference
June 21, 2008, 3:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Crossposted at Open Left and the Free Press Action Network.

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.

Up the Creek Without a Radio Station, Part II
May 1, 2007, 10:25 pm
Filed under: 'media justice', fcc, radio, the revolution, Uncategorized

Thanks to Free Press for getting the word out about Gerardo Reyes Chavez’s incredible testimony at the FCC Media Ownership hearing in Tampa, Florida yesterday. Gerardo is a senior leader from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, one of the most influential and effective farmworker labor organizations in the world — they recently triumphed over McDonalds in a battle to get the giant corporation to pay workers a fair wage for their labor in America’s fields. (Watch a PBS piece on their victory, produced by NOW).

I’ve gotten a lot of requests to post his full testimony here. Reclaim the Media, one of my favorite media justice organizations, already beat me to the punch but I thought I’d take this opportunity to not just repost Gerardo’s testimony, but to also thank CIW spokesperson Julia Perkins and CIW organizer and station producer Francisca Cortez for testifying during the public testimony comment period last night.

After flying in to Tampa from New York, and just before a long drive back to Immokalee, Francisca and Julia waited until 10pm to tell their stories to the full FCC and the gathered crowds. Julia spoke about the unique beauty and power of WCTI-LP — Radio Consciencia — in a South Florida FM dial where most stations broadcast the same 10 songs over and over. Francisca described the work she does as a radio deejay, organizing for women’s issues and voices at 107.9 and all over Immokalee.

Without further adieu, Gerardo’s testimony. If I can get Julia and Francisca’s, I’ll post theirs as well. These leaders of the media reform movement — using community radio to save lives — are our heroes at Prometheus.

Testimony of Gerardo Reyes Chavez
Organizer, Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Radio Consciencia
WCTI-LP — 107.9 FM

Before the FCC Media Ownership Hearing, Tampa, Florida
April 30th, 2007

My thanks to the Commissioners for inviting me here. My name is Gerardo Reyes Chavez. I am a farmworker, living in Immokalee, Florida. I am here to describe how important a local and accessible media system is to farmworkers – and to demand that the FCC not just stop the consolidation of media ownership, but expand and protect the truly local media we need to survive.

For a community like ours that has few economic resources and faces daily violations of our human rights, it is difficult to have access to commercially-controlled media most of the time. In the past, when we wanted our community to hear an important message about their basic rights, we had to pay for time on the air and only when the commercial station wanted to grant us that time.

Media consolidation risks thousands of workers’ lives. Many farmworkers indigenous languages like M’am, Q’anjob’al, Haitian Creole, and many times Spanish is our second language.. However, like everyone we need the media to reach us when danger comes. Farmworkers often live in trailers, are often frightened but confused when storms move through – and they cannot understand the warnings coming their way on the radio, especially if they don’t speak fluent English or Spanish. The smaller communities where farmworkers live, like Immokalee, lose detailed coverage in favor of larger markets like Naples, Tampa, or Ft. Myers.

In 2003 we built our own low power FM community radio station. Radio Consciencia, or WCIW-LP – broadcasts at 107.9 in Immokalee. While most workers have little access to the Internet, newspapers, or television, Radio Consciencia gives Immokalee a voice and provides our community with the information it needs.

When Hurricane Wilma hit Immokalee in 2005, we realized the deep value of Radio Conciencia. All local radio stations were transmitting alerts on the impending hurricane, but Radio Conciencia was the only radio that was transmitting information on where to go and what to do in Spanish and in the indigenous languages spoken in our community. Many of the farmworkers had to work in the fields as the hurricane approached and did not return home until transportation to shelters being provided by Collier County had stopped running. When people were confused about what was happening they were able to contact us at the radio station to find out the current situation, the imperative of evacuating trailers, and where to find shelter. Radio Conciencia received so many calls from people who were stranded in trailers that we knew the unmet needs of our community. We mobilized 2 vans and transported over 350 people to shelter until late into the night. After the storm we saw that several of the trailers in the camps from which we evacuated people had been completely destroyed. After the storm Radio Conciencia continued to transmit information after the storm on where to find food and water and safety measures to take. By this time the County had realized the importance of Radio Conciencia to the community and had loaned us a generator so that we could continue to communicate these important messages in the aftermath of the storm. This is just one example of the many times Radio Conciencia has made a safer environment for our community.

I want to tell other farmworkers and communities like ours to build their own LPFMs. I’d especially like to see LPFM stations in communities to the north where migrant workers go when the season in Immokalee is over and where farmworkers are more isolated and have even less access to information, communities where workers face severe violations of their human rights including continuing existence of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. But the FCC already gave away most of the frequencies that they could use. Those spots are now filled with translator stations, which bring listeners no local content – but instead repeat a signal from Twin Falls, Idaho across the nation. The Commission must prioritize new local broadcasters over these distant-fed translators, and stop silencing community radio hopefuls, waiting years to broadcast.

You have chosen to listen to Florida’s people tonight, and to give our voices the strongest weight in your decision. I ask each of you to stop media consolidation, and to expand and protect access to low power FM. Listen to your conscience – and build the media system that you know, in your hearts, that we need. Thank you.

Just A Few Hours Left
February 5, 2007, 11:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

A number of posts I’d started about our trip to Kisumu and Maseno — on the shores of Lake Victoria, at the equator, and at the intersection between higher education in East Africa and the power of technical resources in that education — were deleted by the insane virus that has dogged all of our PCs since we landed in Nairobi. So this is a quick post as we get ready for 23 hours of travel back home and a lot of thinking, processing, feeling learning, and reenergizing for American battles, working with communities we met across Africa, and so much more.

There’s a conversation happening on the IMC-Africa (Independent Media Center Africa) list about whether or not the IMC convergence was successful, and what the Northern and Western delegates could have done to lend more power to the African delegates. I don’t have the internet speed or time to read it thoroughly, but I know all of us Prometheans will take that time soon. About half of our trip was spent working as part of the convergence, but the issues under discussion on the list apply to our personal interactions with IMC delegates from across Africa, they apply to the relationships with the University, the Communications department, the students, and the Maseno community, they apply to our deeply satisfying and ongoing relationships with organizing groups ProActive and Koch FM in Kangemi and Korogocho, two large Nairobi slums.

Did we make the right choice by bringing minidisc recorders for people to use during the Kaserani/Moi Stadium based World Social Forum? Many of these were stolen in the armed robbery at the station, and those who became most fluent with the tool couldn’t leave with one,a dn even if they did, there would be no real way to replace it if it got broken or stolen later. (Did you know that you can’t use EBay or Paypal in East Africa? I’m pretty appalled that these companies won’t support entrepreneurial endeavors by African artists, businesspeople, students, etc., when these groups and individuals could sell their wares and services at fair rates and make so much more in the global internet economy than they could at home). Should we have brought no computers? Somehow found a way to bring extremely solid and fancy computers that we could leave here? We brought older computers, some to donate, others that we needed to take home.

I have a lot more thinking to do. On Friday a number of Prometheans went to a community center in Kangemi, the breezy and basically electricity-free former police station in the slum neighborhood.  It was pretty awesome to see the room filled with beautiful, powerful young men and women, peppered with so many experts at community organizing and fundraising.  But as the room got dark, and tools like soldering irons, the one-watt transmitter we’d built, even the 13.8 volt power supply failed; as we packed up to go before we could finish the workshop on the quarter-watt and had to pack up our one last set of wire clippers (Andy’s last pair that he wasn’t willing to give up, though we left a 220-volt soldering iron), I couldn’t help but wonder.  Can we learn with these radical community organizers what the best way is for a distant, comparatively resourced group to partner with local organizations?  Is there a balance between the plug-and-play rich NGO model of organizing with a local group around the world, and bringing no tools at all?

I know that continued conversations with people like Mpumi and Terna from South Africa, Oscar and Douglas from Kangemi, Martin and Geoff and Helen and more from Korogocho and Koch FM, Bwakali and Anne and Brenda from the Kenya IMC, and the many international rabble rousers we’ve met will help us Prometheus organizers rareify our model and our plans for our next trip to Africa and beyond.

More soon… gotta go buy some Weetabix and Kericho tea and a kanga.  Kwaheri Nairobi, Kisumu, Maseno, Korogocho, Kenya, Africa… for today.

Radio Uhuru — Briefly, and More Soon…
January 25, 2007, 1:03 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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,
Hannah Sassaman

Taking a breath in Nairobi
January 20, 2007, 2:13 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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.