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The Media Action Research Group (MARG) is a collective of grassroots activists, media makers, writers and academics who are studying the role of autonomous, transformative, alternative media locally and internationally.
By Ellen Craig Collective memory can take on a few different meanings. Author Holly Thorpe defines it as “representation of the past, both the past shared by a group and a past that is collectively commemorated, that enacts and gives substance to the group’s identity, its present conditions and its vision of the future.” Or it can be explained on dictionary.com as “the memory of a group of people, typically passed from one generation to the next.” However you might define it, collective memory is certainly a place of political contestation and struggle, because it can be chosen selectively or highlighted to fit the needs of a particular group. This ownership of ‘history’ can subsequently shape our interpretation of the past and thus our future behaviours.
In our research, we considered two key areas of collective memory: movement memory and institutional memory. Movement memory refers to the relationship between media activism and social movement history. Our research found that the mandate of most alternative and activist media projects we studied aligned with movement memory as a key role. Rabble, a Canadian activist news website and blog, stressed the archival importance and utility of the Rabble website, so much so that the media project has a policy of not deleting content from their site. Meanwhile in the UK, Bristol Cable, an activist newspaper and website, sometimes publishes stories in more than one language, giving special attention to those particularly affected by an event. For example, a Somali youth wrote a story for Bristol Cable about his experience of being under the constant threat of deportation. This article was written in both English and Somali, which was extremely powerful. The article could be read by Somalis who might identify with the story, as well as an nglish-speaking audience, perhaps unaware of the struggles experienced by those living around them. Participants from both Canada and Europe agreed that shedding light on stories which are under/unreported/mis-covered by the mainstream media was a top priority. This type of coverage contributes to deepening and expanding collective memory.
Institutional memory can be defined as memory that is internal to media collectives, and can include documents, practices, and technologies that relate to documenting and sharing the history of a project including its policies, meeting minutes, orientation manuals and practices, etc. Institutional memory is important in any type of organization, and especially to media activist collectives. For example, when there is turnover, institutional memory is an excellent source of information for new members. As well, having documents outlining practices allows for more widespread, shared knowledge, thereby preventing having just one person who knows everything about the project.
In general, we found that institutional memory tends to be informal and reliant on embodied memory carried in the heads of the longest-standing collective members. There are many issues which can arise from relying on long-standing collective members, however. One research participant explained that when someone leaves a project and things aren’t well-documented, institutional memory can be lost. Groundwire community radio addressed this turnover issue by asking potential members to commit to the project for a minimum of 6 months. Another problem which an interviewee from the Media Co-op identified, was that there can be a power dynamic between new members and those who have been with the project for a longer time. This is because longer-term project members are able to control information and memory, by sharing or withholding when they so choose.
In Canada, activist media projects use a variety of platforms like Slack, Google Drive, and Trello. These platforms are useful, because media activists are able to look back and see the process of how a story was covered, or a workshop was planned. Despite using platforms like these, many participants from both Canada and Europe agreed that more needed to be done to preserve institutional memory, whether through hiring an archivist, or finding a better system to store old issues, clips, stories, etc.
One thing is for certain: collective memory within alternative media is extremely valuable and an important part of the sustainability of activist media projects.
Yasmin Abdulqadir Ali and Sumaya Ugas, creators of Somali Semantics
In 2015, Yasmin Abdulqadir Ali and Sumaya Ugas created a zine called Somali Semantics—as they call it: “a visual and textual representation of our lives as brilliant, not-here-for-it, somali-canadian girls.” They published their first issue after a summer in Montreal, where they both studied at McGill, “poring over the question of how to write ourselves into existence.” The second, released in February 2017, was created and compiled by Yasmin, in dialogue with Sumaya. Read Issue 2 of Somali Semantics here.
Sumaya and Yasmin led a workshop at the 2016 Media Action Research Conference called “Beyond Reclaiming Our Narratives: Digital Self-Publication as Praxis,” where they explored how writing and self-publishing can be a counterpoint to manipulated, misrepresented narratives presented by media, the state, and academia.
Darya Marchenkova interviewed Yasmin from Toronto, where she now lives, about the second issue of Somali Semantics, the vision and process behind the project, and the lessons she’s learned from it.
Darya (MARG): What are the goals or vision behind producing Somali Semantics for you?
Yasmin Abdulqadir Ali: The vision is really to allow Somali girls living in the diaspora to see a part of themselves. Like, we’re Black Muslim women, you know…where do we fit in? We’re dealing with a lot…from anti-Blackness to Islamophobia and their messy intersections. A lot of the representation that Somali women currently have is pretty harmful and largely objectified. We really wanted to move beyond this.
On a broader level, I think we also wanted to fill a gap…we have very few tangible works around Somali diasporic life.
I think people have an understanding of the war and its effects on our parents’ generation and their migration to racist white settler colonial states, but what about us?
What about all the Somali kids who were either born here or migrated here quite young and had to make sense of themselves and their place in their world in this space? We really wanted to capture our realities as second-generation Somali girls, living in urban cities, in beautifully complicated and hood ass neighbourhoods who have a lot of shit on their plates.
You’ve described this “magical summer” of you and Sumaya producing the first issue of the zine. What is your creative process to make the zine like?
I think Sumaya and I both have brains that are constantly buzzing with thoughts and questions and our creative process really just consisted of getting those ideas down on paper. We had a lot of brainstorming sessions where we would just write everything out, literally anything that has ever piqued our interest or annoyed us. From there the ideas took on a life of their own. Dialogue was key though, for sure. We bounced a lot of ideas off each other and really pushed each other to be brave and bold and dig deeper.
How do you put all of this together visually and technically?
The technical process is very intuitive. We experimented with a few different methods and found something that could work for us (Word, InDesign, etc). Beyond the actual technicalities, the aesthetics really mattered to us. Something Sumaya and I both focused on is creating work that is beautiful and visually appealing. We realized that girls like us, Black girls from working-class backgrounds, we don’t just get to see beautiful representations of our lived experiences.
We’re never allowed to indulge in aesthetics; you’re always told that your life is about survival and you just have to get through it.
So we wanted to push back against that notion: we get to have beautiful things too.
An excerpt from Issue 2 of Somali Semantics
Is there anything that you learned from making the first issue that you brought into the process of making the second?
Honestly, not feeling pressured to make Issue #2 more confessional. We shared a lot about our lives in our first issue. With really personal work sometimes, you can feel this indirect pressure, like: give us more of yourself. As I was starting to think through the second issue, I felt this pressure to be more provocative, more confessional, and I really tried not to give into that because I think it’s harmful and also, we don’t owe anyone that.
I tried to remind myself that the work has its own inherent integrity and that I shouldn’t feel pressured to alter it to secure validation or pander to an audience.
It’s ultimately about creating work that feels honest and true. The right people will always find it and connect with it, and if they don’t, that’s OK too.
On that note, can you tell me about the response you’ve received from the zine?
We received really positive responses for both of the issues. We talk about a lot of taboo topics in our zine, and I get the impression that a lot of Somali girls have been able to see themselves in our work. It’s really created such a lovely sense of community. We’ve gotten so many emails and tweets and Facebook messages. I think our work on bodies and sex have really touched folks, especially given the fact that we come from a Muslim background where there is often a lack of space to discuss these issues frankly. And to be clear, I don’t say that to play into any Orientalist Western conceptions of Muslim rigidity around sex (or Western sexual exceptionalism). I guess I’m just trying to speak to the reality of our lived experiences as Somali girls from predominantly Muslim backgrounds.
I think ultimately both Sumaya and I are deeply invested in our community and really pushing for us to collectively do better and to challenge each other on all these preconceived notions we have about what it means to be Somali, what it means to be Black, what it means to be Muslim, what it means to be women, and really trying to create work that invites discussion.
How do you approach distributing the zine?
It’s a digital zine; and that was actually a really intentional choice. The Somali community is very diasporic in nature. We had this twenty year civil war, and it led to mass migration of Somalis into the continent of Africa but also to the Western world. So you have Somalis in Australia, in Finland, in Kenya, in the United States. Somalis are literally everywhere.
It was really important to us that Somali girls all across the diaspora had access to it.
Do you find it’s easy or hard to get your zine out as far as you want it to, to engage with these audiences?
Sometimes I worry about the fact that most folks who read our zine or come across it are really similar to us (in terms of their politics/interests/values). I don’t know how I would’ve reacted to a lot of the content in our zine when I was 15 and hadn’t even really started to think about these ideas.
I am concerned that this zine is probably not getting to younger girls who could really benefit from participating in these conversations. Especially younger Somali girls who aren’t necessarily tapped into “rad” or pro-Black scenes on social media.
It’s hard to get the work beyond people who are very similar to you.
Unfortunately, that’s something that Sumaya and I don’t have a lot of control over.
Images from Somali Semantics
Do you identify as an artist, a poet, a mediamaker, and do you face any obstacles within yourself to identifying that way?
It’s something I struggle with a lot. I’ve always been a huge nerd; I always excelled at school. For a long time, academia was the venue where I received a lot of validation and confidence. It was in my second year of university that I started to realize that all of these institutions are full of shit, and none of this matters in the way that I once thought it did. That’s really when I started tapping into a creative energy that I always knew I had, but was never encouraged to express, or told that it was a source of power.
I do identify both as an artist and a mediamaker, but they’re both labels that I’m becoming comfortable with. I still don’t say it with ease.
I have to work myself up to saying it. Developing, executing, and formatting the second issue really gave me the confidence I needed to start saying that I’m an artist with less doubt. It’s exciting to see that change in myself.
Is there a section of this issue that you feel proudest of?
That’s such a lovely question. The photo series Pop Off, the one with my gigantic face, where I talk about my complicated relationship to Somali-ness and Somali girlhood. For context, although both of my parents are Somali, a lot of Somalis don’t physically read me as Somali. It’s created this messy relationship with my community.
Diasporic identities are already so fragile. A lot of the time we don’t speak our language or know how to cook foods from our country. Your face is one of the only things you have to really feel like you’re part of a community.
It’s like: I recognize you. It’s very weird when you don’t get that, when you don’t have that experience on top of lacking all these other connections to your homeland.
The part of Issue 2 Yasmin is proudest of. Check out the zine at http://somalisemantics.tumblr.com/
I was pushing back against a lot of the ways that Somalis regulate Somaalinimo (Somali identity). It’s honestly really harmful to subject someone to that, especially when we already don’t belong, as Black Muslims living in a white settler colonial society. You really need that; you depend on your community seeing and accepting you, and it’s weird when you feel like you have to fight for that. I was proud of this piece because this issue was a huge source of pain for me growing up and it’s really cool to be able to say screw you to all this shit in such a public way. I also talked about this topic in the first zine, in a story, and I got quite a few messages from Somali girls who in one way or another don’t necessarily fit into what it means to be “authentically” Somali, and I think it meant a lot to them to finally feel like someone else gets it. For a long time I felt alone in that.
What’s next for you creatively?
Now that I’ve moved back to Toronto, which has one of the largest Somali communities in North America, I’m very curious about how to more incorporate art with community more robustly. It goes back to what I mentioned before, when we were discussing the challenges of getting these discussions to people who aren’t instinctively drawn to them. I’m really interested in finding a way to connect art with community in a really tangible, face-to-face way, but I don’t know what that looks like yet.
I just know that I really love dialogue and I love talking with younger Somali girls who have questions but who may not have the language to articulate them yet. Empowering them from a younger age with the notion that their stories and narratives matter, that the weird little random things they observe about their lives have meaning and deserve to be shared, if they so choose.
In January 2017, Toronto police officers were captured on video Tasering and kicking a person who was restrained and lying on the ground. One officer threatened to seize the video: “Stop recording or I’m going to seize your phone as evidence and then you’re going to lose your phone.” The same officer made HIV-phobic comments, telling the videographer: “He’s going to spit in your face, you’re going to get AIDS.” Following the incident, both the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Police Association affirmed that the public has the right to record police, as long as they do not interfere with police work.
Yet many bystanders, journalists, and activists who record police activity have faced intimidation, seizure of their equipment, and even arrest. PEN Canada, an organization that advocates for freedom of expression, has documented high-profile cases in which police officers confiscated recording equipment or arrested journalists.
In the case of Robert Dziekanski, a Polish man who died after being Tasered by police in the Vancouver Airport, officers seized the video recording made by bystander Paul Pritchard. Pritchard later sued police, and after the video was returned it became clear that the RCMP had lied in their notes and statements about how their interactions with Dziekanski had unfolded. During the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto, a number of journalists covering the protests were detained, arrested, and assaulted, including journalists working for the Globe and Mail, CTV News, and the National Post.
Not included in PEN Canada’s list was a series of illegal camera seizures by Winnipeg police officers between 2005 and 2010. After a campaign by police accountability group Winnipeg Copwatch, the Manitoba Law Enforcement Review Agency recommended that the Winnipeg Police Service change their policy on recording equipment.
In a disturbing example of police targeting those who record their activities, the only person to face criminal charges related to the 2014 police killing of Eric Garner in New York City is Ramsey Orta, the person who captured Garner’s death on video. In the video, Garner can be heard saying “I can’t breathe.” Orta has since been arrested multiple times and says that police are deliberately targeting him for making the video public. Meanwhile, a grand jury did not indict the police officer who choked Garner.
Garner’s case and others like it, such as the police shooting of Sammy Yatim in Toronto, serve as a reminder that clear video evidence is not always sufficient to prove in court that murder or police violence has taken place. But in the court of public opinion and as political mobilization tools, video recordings of police remain essential.
Know Your Rights
The following list of resources from Canadian police accountability and media organizations focus on asserting your right to record the police in public. Some include tips for recording the police that can strengthen a video’s admissibility as evidence in court.
PEN Canada’s pocket guide to photography rights states that people in Canada have the right to “photograph or film in any public place.” Furthermore, police cannot “force anyone to show, unlock or decrypt cameras or recording equipment, or to delete images, even when that person is under arrest,” unless the officer has a warrant or court order.
Winnipeg Copwatch produced a Know Your Rights card specific to recording. It states that as long as someone is not interfering with police, they have “the right to take photographs and footage on public property, and any property I have right of access to, including of police, vehicles, and equipment.”
Winnipeg Copwatch’s Camera Rights card
An app created by Toronto lawyer Christien Levien, Legalswipe informs people of their rights during interactions with police officers. It also allows users to email video and audio to emergency contacts or upload it to Dropbox, to keep a copy of information in the event of an illegal camera search.
Screenshot of Legalswipe promotional video
The Network for the Elimination of Police Violence (Toronto) has created an app called Cop Watch Video Recorder, which automatically uploads video to YouTube.
Screenshot of NEPV’s Cop Watch Video Recorder app
Rights on paper vs. rights in practice
If your rights are violated while recording the police, you may choose to make a complaint. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has compiled a list of resources for making complaints against police in Canada. However, many oversight bodies have a poor track record for finding officers responsible and for disciplining them. In the report of the Independent Police Oversight Review released April 2017, a review of Ontario’s three civilian police oversight bodies, the Hon. Michael Tulloch found that during the consultation process, “virtually all stakeholders agreed that the current system for prosecuting and adjudicating public complaints is not working and fails to promote public confidence.”
What does it mean to do political work through social media? As someone who grew up with the Internet, I have been privy to the social interactions that the Internet has enabled. The grounds for us to find others with similar politics, visions, priorities and goals are ever-so-expansive. It means that we can have multiple discussions simultaneously and multimedially, and access social networks and information that would otherwise necessitate more time and effort to find.
Our social relationships with one another are transforming with the Internet; we mourn differently, we share differently, and we fight differently. Through the Internet, I’ve been able to watch politically-charged events unravel into calamity in the calm of my own home. We frantically search for the correct hashtag when we cannot be there in person, in the moment, resisting. We worry for our friends and send messages of care, as we see, through social media, the everyday violences surface and implode. The use of Twitter was essential to the Quebec student/anti-austerity movement in 2012 and is essential the Black liberation movement resurging from 2013 to the present. Folks were able to find each other at demonstrations, film the actions of the police, provide live-time documentation of important moments, and set up post-action networks of support – ultimately establishing a kind of online or digitally facilitated activism.
As a millennial of colour, I’ve navigated my way through internet space and embraced new realms of relationship-creating. It was through internet space that I was able to understand the histories and legacies I’ve inherited, witness important political conversations, and connect with other youth of similar histories and politics. Even at geographic distance, we are still able to imagine future worlds together.
Furthermore, the avenues of organizing provided by the Internet have advanced disability justice struggles. Mental health, mobility restraints, lack of access(ibility), responsibilities of care and support, and all the burdens of work, of capitalism, are reasons why most folks cannot be there – physically present, at in-person meetings, at demonstrations. Social media has become so prevalent that we cannot ignore it as an important political terrain for action. It has provided so much space for those neglected by mainstream media.
Yet, what are the limitations of doing political work through social media? There is a profound amount of emotional labour that is expended on the Internet – labour that is often left uncompensated and unrecognized. As Jennifer Pan has demonstrated in “Pink Collar”, the realm of public relations/communications, of which social media is a major component, is highly gendered and relies on the exploitation of emotional labour. She argues that the very reason why this work is often disrespected and undervalued is because it is dependent on emotional labour, a kind of labour that both sustains and is abused by capitalism. This hierarchy of labour is especially apparent in the divide between the ‘real’/material political work of direct action and the ‘less real’/virtual political work of social media, often done by women and people of colour.
Instead of internalizing this divide and with the recognition of social media as work, perhaps we can think about how much of our labour can be exhausted in our social media interactions and on that basis, decide to participate selectively. The political arguments on social media platforms that go on to have +100 replies (which are repeating and circular in meaning) perhaps aren’t worth the labour or the attention. There are ways in which social media work can be effective for and affirmative of social movements. So many actions flourish through social media. As do relationships. We just need to develop effective online/digitally-facilitated activism that recognizes the importance of some social media work and is strategic to more profound social justice visioning.
If you’ve been following grassroots media coming out of the movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, you have likely seen the reporting of Indigenous Rising Media. A media project of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN), Indigenous Rising Media (IRM) has provided consistent reporting from Standing Rock via a team of journalists on the ground, whose photographs, videos, and live feeds have shared the power and heart of the Standing Rock struggle with the world. Jade Begay is one of those journalists.
Darya Marchenkova spoke with Jade on January 14, 2017 about what it’s like to produce media from Standing Rock, the vision behind IRM, and the lessons she’s learned from the experience of reporting from this movement.
Born and raised in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area, Jade is Diné and Tesuque Pueblo. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation, while Jade was at Standing Rock in North Dakota.
Darya Marchenkova (MARG): How did you come to be a photo and video journalist?
Jade Begay: Growing up with the awareness that Indigenous stories were controlled, oppressed, and put to the side—and that a lot of our stories were told by non-native people—really lit a flame in me to counter that. I wanted to be a storyteller and to use my skills to make it possible for Indigenous peoples to tell their own stories.
I’ve been interested in photo and film work since high school, where my photo classes were some of the most engaging and creative. Then I went to film school for college, and that’s where I developed this more focused passion for documentary filmmaking.
How long have you been at Standing Rock?
I’ve been in and out since September. My longest stretch here was almost two months. I came out in early November, on Election Day, and went back home just a few days before Christmas. Now I’m back to help with exit strategy.
Tell me about your work with IRM.
I technically work for 350.org right now, as a producer and digital storyteller since May. I was working on a lot of 350 campaigns, but as this issue became more prominent and things started to escalate, I also have a lot of friends and family who are here [at Standing Rock], including the Indigenous Environmental Network. It felt like I needed to be here no matter what.
I haven’t seen this much in my work, and I think it’s really awesome that 350 is paying me while I’ve basically been working full time with IEN. A lot of grassroots groups like IEN are so stretched for capacity that it causes important work to be dropped. Having me here as a full time staff enabled IEN to do a lot more work and gave organizers like Dallas (Goldtooth) and Kandi (Mossett) more time to do what they do best: organize. I think that kind of model needs to be shared and something that needs to be implemented more throughout the big NGOs.
I couldn’t have done what I was doing remotely; being on the ground was essential. It’s really important for the storyteller or producer to be on the ground, and for a while.
When I was at Standing Rock before and when things were really crazy, I was also doing communications work. I was working with all the media that was coming in and connecting them with people on the ground. IEN took on making a media tent because the tribe asked us to. On crazy days, especially the weekend that the veterans came, we were handing out 200-300 media passes a day.
A lot of times it was frustrating. People would call me on Monday saying they’re coming in on Friday and they’re going to be here for the weekend, and can they interview this person and that person? But you’re going to need at least 2-3 days to get introduced to the space and get a feel for the lay of the land. A trip of 2 or 3 days is not helping anyone. Seeing how people came in and how they showed up taught me a lot about a healthy way to do storytelling from these kinds of places.
How did you see that pattern impacting the coverage that those journalists ended up putting out into the world?
I think every voice is important; everybody has something powerful and beautiful to say, especially when they’re in a space that’s so inspiring and moving. But when it comes to the more political, strategic stories, voices, and messages, it’s important to have the adequate or the accurate spokesperson.
A lot of times people were just looking for someone to talk to. So then when they asked someone’s opinion, it came off very subjective and not so informed on what the actual strategic messaging is. At one point, half of my job was dispelling rumors.
Can you talk about IRM and how you all see yourself as a media organization?
IRM is a platform and media project of the Indigenous Environmental Network. Its purpose is to be a platform to amplify Indigenous voices and to ensure that the stories are candid, unfiltered narratives from frontline communities—amplifying their authentic voice and letting people control their own narrative and story.
I started working with IRM during COP21 (the 2015 Paris Climate Conference). Dallas Goldtooth and Kandi Mossett and a couple of other IEN members were thinking of a way to go to COP and to be a source of information for an Indigenous audience. They thought: we probably just need our own platform, and they came up with IRM. Me and Ayşe Gürsöz were asked to co-lead a media team in Paris and to do reporting on all the actions that IEN and other Indigenous groups were doing out there.
We got an Airbnb in Paris, and out of that media hub we just hustled over the course of those two weeks. We had about 5 camera people and 2 communications people. We would deploy people to all the actions, meet back at the hub, edit everything, and make sure that it gets out as soon as possible—both in the morning for European news, but also that it would be be ready that night for folks back home.
A lot of people from my circles have told us that we were their go-to source for anything COP-related because they did want to hear Indigenous voices. For the most part, Indigenous voices were left out of the whole conference. With the Paris agreement itself, they were only included in a section of the preamble. Probably around 70% of the actions that were taking place over those two weeks were Indigenous-led. IRM did a really powerful job in controlling the narrative of those two weeks and being a source to the environmental and social justice worlds about what was going on and who was being represented.
What is it like to be a journalist at Standing Rock? How do you identify the stories you will tell, and work with others there?
I feel like I’ve had an advantage because I have an established relationship with IEN. I came here knowing a good amount of folks and an already established sense of trust before popping out my camera. That’s huge when you’re working with frontline or grassroots communities—any kind of community, really—because that sense of trust is going to give you that access. The access I was able to get because of being affiliated with IEN was pretty big and not something that a lot of journalists were able to get at any point and probably would never be able to get.
I’m very passionate about this idea of healthy, mutually beneficial storytelling and trying to end what me and others who are on the same track in this work call “extractive storytelling.”
I’m really passionate about not doing that. At Standing Rock, I thought: I’m going to come here, put in my work, get to know people, see the lay of the land. That’s what I did in September. I spent 3 weeks doing whatever people asked me to do, saying I’m here to serve you, just tell me what I can do to help. I helped whoever with whatever they needed, whether it was writing a press release or filming or editing something for them. That’s how I gained access and trust and began to build relationships with folks out here. So then when I came back, it was like, yay! You’re back, cool, let’s get to work. I had more foundation to work with, and I felt OK asking: can I interview you? Can we work on this project and tell this story?
Another thing about the work here is learning the culture and learning what would be a good way to approach someone and ask them for an interview. I realize that you are asking someone to go deep; it’s not just about a pipeline but it’s about so much more. What they give you depends on how comfortable they are, but regardless, they’re giving you a story that’s deep. I have to give something back. That could look like giving a bundle of tobacco back, or figuring out these little practices. It’s not transactional but a sign of respect and reciprocity. It’s about learning how I can work in a better way and show my gratitude and respect.
Just a couple of days ago, one of the sacred fires was put to sleep and I was covering it. Some of the headsmen of the Oceti Sakowin council said to me: you’re the only person we’re going to do interviews with, because we trust you and because we know that we can tell you our story and you’ll give full respect to everything we have to say. That was something we heard a lot from certain people in the community: I haven’t done interviews with mainstream media or with what some Lakota folks call wasichu (non-native) folks because we can’t trust them. They’re here for a day and then they’re gone the next, but we really trust you guys with our story. That’s something we worked hard for. We really did work to show folks that we’re here for them and not for ourselves, and that we’re really committed to sharing their authentic voice.
What’s your favorite story or media piece that you’ve produced at Standing Rock?
We did this story with Brenda White Bull, who is a direct descendant of Sitting Bull. Being a direct descendant of Sitting Bull, who is a Lakota spiritual leader and a spiritual leader for many Indigenous communities, and talking about carrying on his legacy here was really powerful. We interviewed her during the time that all the veterans were here. She was one of the organizers with all the vets. That whole weekend, she could have probably ended up on CNN and The New York Times, and she would only interview with us. That’s why that interview was so special.
She had so many powerful things to say because she is is a veteran. Her perspective is that as a veteran, they take a vow to protect their communities and the nation, and more or less that’s what we’re doing here but nonviolently, without picking up arms or showing aggression. All we’re doing is protecting our families, communities, and our resources. She was making really beautiful connections between being a water protector and being a veteran or someone enlisted in the military.
You’ve been at Standing Rock for quite a while now. How has this experience had an impact on your own life?
The practice of reciprocity when it comes to asking for interviews really taught me a lot about how I’ll carry on doing this work, how I’m going to other communities, and how much time I spend in a place before I begin to try to tell the story or produce content. I learned what feels best in doing this work and producing material. For me, that’s a really good distinction between extractive storytelling and healthy storytelling and something I want to continue to share with all the organizations and people I work with.
Moving into this new administration, we’re going to have to uplift grassroots, Indigenous, and marginalized voices more than ever because there’s going to be a big effort and force in putting them down. Doing this type of storytelling is going to become more important than ever, and going into it in a good way is going to be really important, so that no one’s hurt or co-opted in the process.
What you’re saying really goes against the grain of so much journalism, especially video journalism, which is so fast-paced. Speaking for yourself as a journalist, have you worked in more traditional media organizations or are you interested in that? How do these skills and approaches transfer to that world or don’t?
I haven’t felt myself being called to go work for somewhere like AJ+. We partner with them, and that’s great, but there’s so much opportunity in working directly with the grassroots and frontline or smaller organizations. They need the capacity, not these big outlets, who have a ton of capacity and resources. I feel more creative and effective in building bridges between the two. IRM and AJ+ actually have a partnership. Thanks to Ayşe, we were able to build a partnership where they cross-post our content on social media. I think there’s creative relationships like that that can be made more between community organizations and the media they produce and bigger outlets. Now we’re looking to working with VICE and the Center for Investigative Reporting and other groups on how can they support more grassroots stories. I find myself more in this middle ground, being a connector between the two.
The announcement that the easement was not going to be granted was a huge and complex story. What lessons did you learn from the experience of telling that story?
That was when the vets were here. I remember we were at this site where they were doing a “muster,” a rally for the vets in their own specific style. We were there and my phone was going off but I couldn’t pick anything up. I thought: something is definitely happening, we need to leave and find out what is going on.
We got to camp, and everyone was in this big circle around camp holding hands. It was a coincidence. We go up to Media Hill (a place in camp with phone service) and we find out that the easement wasn’t granted. Immediately I started looking around and I heard people saying: “the pipeline is done!” and “we won!”
I thought: OK, as much as I want to be celebrating and hugging everyone, I need to go make sure we’re doing some due diligence because the pipeline is not done. The easement was not denied.
I was hearing people outside saying the easement’s been denied. That was not the case: it was not granted. If it was denied, we’d be in a bit more of a certain place. We wouldn’t necessarily need this Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process.
We started hearing that immediately and we thought: uh oh, we have to do some damage control because the news hasn’t even left camp and already the story is not accurate. I was on the phone all night with various outlets trying to get the story right.
Activists and organizers were hungry for information about how people at Standing Rock were seeing this and what the plan was. What was it like to share the story, and getting the story right, for people who were supporting Standing Rock?
There’s this period of time after big announcements like that where there is a moment of unknown. There are different scenarios.
Even right now, with the EIS, there are a couple different scenarios that could play out even in the next week with Trump coming into office. He could potentially reverse what the Obama administration did and give the easement back. He could talk up a storm about it and get everyone all riled up, and we’d have to plan out the counternarrative and the people who are going to have to say something back. He could not say anything until a month later. The EIS could just go smoothly. Right now it’s not going so smoothly because the notice of intent to begin the EIS has not been filed, which means that there’s more of a chance for the Trump administration to reverse it if they want.
There is a sense of unknown and you do just have to be transparent about that. Instead of saying: this is what’s going on and giving the sense that we know the answers and solutions, we have to be more transparent that there are multiple scenarios.
Broadly speaking, for the whole movement, no matter whether it was getting the eviction notice or getting the news about the easement, I think no matter what it’s about broadening out the messaging that it’s not just about a pipeline. This is not just about Standing Rock. Although we have to be really respectful to those here and what they’ve created here, we have to think bigger picture. We have to think about how this is going to impact folks in the Gulf. We have to think about the violence that’s being faced here. We’re seeing it come to the surface but it’s always been here. There is a violation of treaty rights left and right, it’s not just a new thing that’s happening with Standing Rock. It’s been happening in every Indigenous nation for 500 years.
We have to bring it back to the context of the history of oppression, and how it relates to all marginalized communities. As we protect indigenous sovereignty, we can do a lot to protect other marginalized communities.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. MARG wishes to thank Jade Begay, Ayşe Gürsöz, and Lillian Boctor.
Anarchist Studies Network ASN4 conference
Loughborough UK, September 2016
blog post by Sandra
In September 2016 I traveled to Loughborough in the UK to present our research on anti-authoritarian feminist media activism at ASN4.
ASN4 was probably the best anarchist conference I’ve participated in. The theme this year was ‘anarchist feminism’, so there were a lot more women, queer and trans people presenting, with analysis oriented toward queer, trans and feminist approaches to anarchist politics. The organizers had drafted a safer space policy, which conference participants worked on together in the closing plenary to finalize for the next conference.
In the first session, I presented a methodology paper that several of us in MARG are working on, which has been submitted to the journal, Feminist Media Studies. The presentation generated an analytical discussion on the constraints of anarchist methods in university research settings. For example, MARG works horizontally and offers paid employment, but at the same time we struggle with top-down expectations from the employer, funder, and academic system.
In the second session I presented a chapter on DIY culture for a book called Conceptual Approaches to Anarchism, of which there were several panels throughout the conference. The series of panels was pretty fabulous in terms of providing space for discussion that functioned as a collaborative critical inquiry generative of a shared understanding of concepts key to our movements, what they mean to us and why they are important. The other presenter on my panel, Mark Bray, presented on Horizontalism (via Skype). These two concepts meshed well together and we discussed what makes them specifically anarchist, how DIY can easily be co-opted, etc.
In terms of sessions I attended, two really stood out for me. The first had three presentations: Safer Spaces by Emma Segar of the Anarchist Federation, AFed; Occupy: the making of a feminist anarchist by Mary Hickok; and participate, perform, burn out by Claire Chong. Each of these presenters developed a critical analysis of the need for the recognition of often-gendered and racialized emotional labour that contributes to producing vibrant anarchist and activist spaces. Therefore, more supportive processes need to be put in place, as the panel suggested, and this is something that we in MARG are also finding in our interviews with media activists concerning the matter of anti-oppression praxis within alternative media.
The other stand-out session I attended was the Anarchy Rules! workshop co-facilitated by Alex Prichard and Thomas Swann. They focused our discussion on the creation of constitutions by anarchist organizations, handing out printed examples, and putting us into groups to address a series of questions. We first brainstormed principles anarchists believe in, and went on to discuss how these principles might be written down as a collective policy or shared framework for working together, making decisions, and resolving conflicts. While most people could see some benefit to having a founding document, be it a long constitution such as that of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or Wobblies), or a living safer space policy such as AFed’s, there were a few who felt that the mere fact of a document that everyone had to abide by was in and of itself authoritarian. This question was not resolved, but flagged as an interesting contradiction for further consideration.
As with many activist-oriented conferences, the informal conversations over lunches and dinners were inspiring, and I went home feeling I had made some new friends, reconnected with others, and had a bag full of inspiring newspapers, zines and books to read.
The Media Co-op (MC) is a coast-to-coast network of local media co-operatives dedicated to providing grassroots, democratic coverage of their communities and of Canada. Media Action Research Group (MARG) is an anti-capitalist, feminist, anti-racist, anti-colonial research collective studying activist media to document the processes of organization in radical media, and to build networks and capacity within media activism communities from local to global. Working in a partnership, MC and MARG have created this joint position for an Outreach Coordinator and Researcher, to be filled by a candidate located in Toronto or Montreal. The candidate will work 10 hours/week with MC and 5 hours/week with MARG.
We are looking for a creative, energetic, and plugged-in person with solid knowledge or experience with alternative media to join the Media Co-op collective as Outreach Coordinator, and to contribute to MARG’s research project. You will work with MARG collective members in Toronto, and the Media Co-op’s national editorial collective to support the creation of top-quality radical, independent media for the Media Co-op network and flagship magazine, The Dominion.
As Outreach Coordinator, your primary responsibility will be to develop the presence of MC in Canada. We’re trying to grow our base of writers, readers, and paying-members while trying to create a place for progressive, diverse, and feminist news written in the public interest. You will work for ten hours a week on the following: seeking and soliciting content for both the Media Co-op (online) and The Dominion magazine; in-person outreach and fundraising through events, conferences, and coalitions; online outreach; in-depth development of targeted outreach for published articles; building relationships with existing alternative and radical media projects; and other tasks determined by the national Media Co-op’s staff collective.
As a MARG researcher, you will engage for five hours a week on our feminist alternative media research project, blogging about your experiences and your thoughts about community and alternative media, and contributing to the organization and creation of multiple forms of media proceedings from the May 2016 Media Activism Research Conference (MARC).
We need somebody with on-the-ground organizing experience, creativity, and energy to support and build the local presence of the Media Co-op and to place The Dominion magazine and our unique, critical community-powered journalism into the hands of people who want access to solid grassroots news and reporting; and to contribute experience, knowledge, and analysis to the MARG research project.
Duties and responsibilities:
Your work will include fundraising through events, conferences, and coalition building; leading basic website operations (some training can be provided); building relationships with existing alternative and radical media projects; contributing your reflections on media activism to the blog of the Media Action Research Group; contributing your skills and expertise to the collaborative media project documenting the May 2016 Media Activism Research Conference that was organized by MARG, and other tasks determined by the national Media Co-op’s staff collective and board of directors.
This position is funded through a partnership with the Media Action Research Group at Lakehead University.
This is a temporary position. Starting date: December 5, 2016. End date: May 31st, 2017.
Salary: 15 hrs/week at $16.67/hour.
Duties for the Media Co-op might include the following:
Fundraising for the Media Co-op through hosting events, soliciting membership, and subscription sales, and special fundraising projects, such as the acquisition of ads for special issues and/or online
Outreach and promotion of the MC through events, conferences, and coalition building
Online outreach through social media, listservs, and email
Network/developing relationships with existing alternative and radical media
Basic website management and operations (non-specialist)
Duties for the Media Action Research Group might include the following:
Contribute to media action research with personal reflection and analysis through writing, blogging, etc.
Assist with the production of media projects arising out of Media Action Research Conference
Assist with research and outreach of media activists when needed
Assist with research promotion (web, social media) as needed
Highly organized and able to meet ongoing deadlines
Fundraising experience through membership drives, events, grant writing, and or subscription sales
Networking – social, in-person, vertical, and horizontal.
Self-motivated and able to work independently with a team spread across the country
Strong writing skills
Background in academic and/or community research
Experience in working with media/journalism
Familiarity in working with community organizations
Experience in anti-oppression practices and anti-racist, feminist, anti-ableist, queer organizing
Demonstrable success in seeking direct funding through community outreach and grant writing
Strong commitment to social justice and community-based movements
Demonstrable experience in producing and editing online and/or print content
Work space: This is a virtual position; you must have access to your own computer and a reliable internet connection.
Anti-oppression: We prioritize candidates from historically marginalized groups who are systematically denied media work opportunities, including women, Black people, people of colour, indigenous people, queer and trans folks, people with disabilities, etc.
Language: While the Media Co-op aims to offer bilingual employment and content, this particular job is an English language position.
To apply: Please submit a cover letter, resume, and one writing sample (preferably as a single attachment) to email@example.com with “Outreach Coordinator” in the subject line by 6 PM (EST) on November 18, 2016. Short-listed candidates will be contacted by November 25.
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