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Collective Memory in Activist Media

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.

Job Posting: Communications Coordinator With Upping the Anti and Media Action Research Group

Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Practice is an activist journal published twice a year. It provides history, debate and analysis on anti-capitalist movements predominantly in North America but also extends to covering issues internationally. Upping the Anti is comprised of an editorial collective in Toronto, associate editors and an internationally based Advisory Board. We are all volunteers in this project. We are currently working on our 19t h issue and working on a fundraising campaign to improve our website. 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, UTA and MARG have created this joint position for Communications Coordinator, to be filled by a candidate located preferably in Toronto (qualified candidates from other cities will be considered). The candidate will work 10 hours/week with Upping the Anti and 5 hours/week with MARG.

Upping the Anti is looking for a creative, independent and well-networked Communications Coordinator for 15 hours a week for six months. This person will work with the editorial committee to help improve the operations and presence of Upping the Anti in activist communities.

In your role as Communications Coordinator, your responsibilities will include the coordination and communication of the Advisory Board, assist in improving our sustainer and subscription base and organizing social events.

For more information about Upping the Anti, please go to uppingtheanti.org

For more information about MARG, you can check out mediaactionresearch.org

Duties for the Upping the Anti will include the following:

1. Assist in better coordination and communication with Upping the Anti’s National Advisory board. This can include: researching better communication mechanisms, checking in with advisory board members on their skills and involvement, researching other models and better practices with other media organizations.

2. Organize one successful event to launch/fundraise/promote the subscription drive or fundraising campaign.

3. Directly connect with and reach out to new activist communities and activist publications that have little to no connection to the journal.

4. Assist in promotional duties with Editorial Collective such as social media presence, ad exchanges and tabling.

5. Assist with other elements of the journal that the candidate feels fit.

Duties for the Media Action Research Group might include the following:

1. Contribute to media action research with personal reflection and analysis through

2. writing, blogging, etc.

3. Assist with the production of media projects arising out of Media Action Research

4. Assist with research and outreach of media activists when needed

5. Assist with research promotion (web, social media) as needed

Desired Qualifications

· Knowledge and experience in alternative and/or activist media

· Skills in communications and promotions

· Experience in community-based organizing of events/socials

· Highly organized and able to meet deadlines

· Fundraising experience with members, events and or subscription sales

· Networking experience – social, in-person, vertical and horizontal.

· Self-motivated and able to work independently with a team spread across the country

· Background in academic and/or community-based research

Wage $16.67/hour at 15 hours a week for 6 months.

This is a virtual position. You must have access to your own computer and reliable internet connection. Preference is for someone based in Toronto, but we are willing to consider strong candidates in other locations.

Upping the Anti prioritizes workers from historically marginalized groups that are systematically denied media work opportunities, including women, Black people, people of colour, Indigenous people, queer and trans folks, people with disabilities, etc.

Please note: We appreciate that this is likely to be a second (or third) job for many applicants. We encourage strong candidates to apply regardless, as we are open to discussing flexible options for this position.
To apply, please submit a cover letter (no more than 300 words) and CV to uppingtheanti@gmail.com with COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR POSITION in the subject line by 6pm EST on Friday November 17, 2016.

The position starts no later than December 5, 2016.

On the of Fractures of ‘Community’

by Carolin Huang

Consider when mainstream media, and much alternative media uses the word ‘community,’ particularly in the framing of what the (insert ethnic/cultural/racial) community thinks/does. ‘The __ community’ agrees with this. ‘The ___ community’ disagrees with that. ‘The ___community’ is in conflict with ‘the ___ community.’  While it may seem obvious what problems might arise, I want to emphasize some of these problems to underline the persistence of faulty (and often violent!) journalistic practices, even in ‘giving voice to the voiceless’.

When we are attempting to shed light on a particular social issue (such as homelessness, police brutality, environmental degradation), it is frequent that we want to centre those directly affected by the issue. But herein lies the possible danger of simplistic framing – offering a perspective as expressed by ‘THE ___ community’.  This not only frames the so called ‘___ community’ as a unified, homogenous group, but also as always the victim (as opposed to fighter) of oppression. Voices lose their nuances in the framing of community, especially when these voices are of those with less institutional power – those often being spoken about. It would look very different if we decided to shift the focus from harm to resistance when we talk about violence. But that might actually challenge our beloved politics of representation, if we want something more than having our voices, or more accurately, the voice of ‘our community’, included.

During the recent Canadian elections, in which Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde urged Indigenous people to vote, media debates were obsessed with the question of ‘the Indigenous vote’. It was assumed that all Indigenous peoples were politically aligned and supposed to want the same political future. But there were different parties that Indigenous peoples would vote for. Indigenous peoples in Canada were only legally allowed to vote in 1960, and did not have to renounce their treaty rights and status, as determined by the Indian Act, to vote. The electoral system is thus one of the very tools used by the state to disenfranchise Indigenous peoples. Because of this, there were still Indigenous folks who still did not want to vote and participate in a settler colonial state system.

The fracture in ‘community’ is especially evident in the media coverage of Akai Gurley’s murder. The ‘Asian-American community’ was divided between supporting or opposing the indictment of Peter Liang, the Chinese-American officer who shot and killed Gurley, an African-American man. There was no one single community when some opposed his indictment because they believed he was charged based on his race, whereas others supported his indictment because they believed that he should be held accountable for his systemically anti-black actions. What radical critiques get lost when we try to fit people with SOME similar experiences but MANY different beliefs into ‘community’?

Perhaps we hold on to the idea of community because we are attached to the possibility of political unity. However, assuming that ‘the oppressed’ are ideologically unified through the framing of ‘the __ community’ erases the multitude of dissenting, contesting, and consenting voices that resist, conform, and shift. Linda Alcoff (1991), in “The Problem of Speaking for Others”, reminds us what it means to ‘speak for’ and ‘speak to’. As she says in the paper, a more radical act of speaking would abandon the presumption of an “authenticity of the oppressed” (23), a presumption so adamantly rooted in the use of ‘community’. The act of ‘speaking to’, though still thick with uneven power relations, cannot be reduced to established speaking roles and can open up to new (counter-)narratives. To reorient ourselves in our alternative/activist/independent media would mean to understand how we locate ourselves in relation to each other, but never to fix ourselves to these locations.

Call for Proposals: Media Activism Research Conference

Call for Proposals

Media Activism Research Conference:

A Gathering for Grassroots and Transformative Media

May  12-15, 2016

Lakehead  University, Orillia, Ontario, Canada
Deadline for proposals Jan 15, 2016

Mark your calendars! The Media Action Research Group (MARG) is organizing the Media Activism Research Conference (MARC), in Orillia, Ontario, Canada from May 12 – 15, 2016 and we want to see you there! The Conference will bring together researchers, activists, students, and community members interested in strengthening grassroots media through networking, knowledge sharing, and skill-sharing.

MARC is an opportunity to develop collaborations and networks among anti-capitalist, feminist, anti-racist, trans, queer and Indigenous alternative media activists and activist-researchers by  sharing knowledge, skills and experiences on grassroots and transformative alternative media. How do media activists intervene against dominant media voices? How do women, people of colour, queer, trans and indigenous activists work to resist dominant discourses in media and to report on and support social movements? How do we practice anti-oppression politics to challenge power dynamics in some alternative media spaces? How do we develop capacities, build skills, and share or access resources in our communities of resistance? How do researcher-activists challenge dominant modes, methods and theories in order to engage with community and alternative media activism and activists in ways that amplify and support their/our work?

The conference will emphasize knowledge co-production, reflection, collaboration, creativity, and the development of theoretical frameworks derived from practice and experience. It will explore autonomous, grassroots media production practices and voices typically excluded from mainstream media, across a range of genres including: community radio, zines, video activism, print media, online media, digital media, documentary film and video, hacktivism, media art, graffiti, podcasts, silkscreening, banners, blogs, and more. There will also be theme-based workshops on current activist campaigns allowing for participants to network, share knowledge and information, and collaborate across platforms and genres on the same topic.

We will be organizing a pop-up art show on the last night of the conference, where participants can bring their media and art to showcase it, and we will also be showing any media work created during the conference.

We encourage workshops to be participatory and interactive, and we are open to any and all formats, particularly those that disrupt or challenge the typical academic conference format. A computer lab is available for skill-shares requiring online access, and various technologies may be used–just let us know what you need.

We are inviting proposals for workshops on the following topics, and more:

  • Video activism
  • Community radio, soundscapes, podcasts
  • Print media
  • Collective dynamics in media production
  • Feminist media, Sexuality and gender
  • Anti-racist and anti-colonial media
  • Queer and trans media
  • Online activism, hacktivism
  • Anti-capitalist & Anarchist media and culture
  • Protest media, Social movement media
  • Culture jamming, Politics of graffiti
  • Activist research in media & communication studies
  • Media arts and research creation
  • Media skill-sharing
  • Tar sands & pipeline activism in media
  • Missing and murdered Indigenous women in media
  • Police brutality and impunity in media
  • Sex work activism in media

Proposals should be 250-300 words in length, describing the content and format of your workshop. You should also include a short bio of 50-75 words of each person presenting or facilitating the workshop. The deadline for proposals is January 15, 2016, and notifications of acceptance will be sent out mid-February. Please submit proposals to: info@mediaactionresearch.org

Our goal is to make the conference an accessible space and to facilitate the participation of anyone who would like to attend. The university is accessible to those with mobility needs, and accessible rooms are available in the residence. Please contact us if you wish to discuss accessibility needs. Travel subsidies are available to those with financial need. Food will be provided throughout the conference, and dietary preferences will be accommodated. Registration fees will be on a  sliding scale with reduced rates for students, under-employed and unemployed people, and early-bird rates. Parking passes will be provided and we encourage carpooling. We are committed to co-creating a zero waste conference.

Accommodation will be available at a reduced rate at the university residence, or in local hotels. Camping is available at the nearby Bass Lake Provincial Park. Some limited billeting in local homes may also be possible.

Orillia ON is about 125km north of Toronto in the heart of cottage country. There will be opportunities for outdoor activities such as canoeing or kayaking, collaborative sports, hiking, etc.

For more information, check out: mediaactionresearch.org/event/summer-gathering/
or email us at: info@mediaactionresearch.org