This past summer, MARG members including myself embarked upon a new phase of our research project involving in-depth, one-on-one interviews with radical media activists (who are feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-colonial, and pro-queer and trans liberation) based in Canada. We reached out to activists who are involved in several major media groups or projects, including Shameless magazine, the Media Co-Op, Ricochet media, and radical campus and community radio such as McGill’s CKUT station and Groundwire. Our interview participants gave generously of their time as we spoke about the availability of resources, both tangible and intangible ones (such as time!), and its importance to the vitality of media activism. The matter of resources had emerged as a key area of shared concern during the radical media mixers that MARG members held in six cities across Canada during the previous phase of our project.
A school of thought in the field of social movement studies called Resource Mobilization Theory maintains that grievances are a given in our unjust political system, therefore they cannot in themselves account for the rise, trajectory and outcomes of collective political action (which can include media activism). From this theoretical perspective, movements emerge when resources become available: funding, meeting space, and digital technologies, or material resources, but also capacity and skills of the people driving the movement, that is intangible resources. Although Resource Mobilization Theory was subsequently criticized and corrected for placing too deterministic an emphasis on the availability of resources, we cannot dismiss its insights altogether, for resources clearly do matter as a crucial ingredient of media activism.
Our interview data indicates that resources remain integral to successful alternative media production. Interestingly, the most important resources appear to be intangible ones, such as the commitment of volunteers over the long term. Moreover, they are often generated in ways that often escape the attention of RMT theorists, such as mutual aid and cooperation, which are fundamental values of antiauthoritarian social movements.
When it comes to funding sources, we have found some interesting tensions and contradictions that we are currently analyzing in greater depth. For now, suffice to say that it has been very instructive to co-create knowledge regarding the various ways in which particular media activist projects go about securing their financial viability, the ways in which they strive to balance their reliance on volunteers with a political commitment to fairly paid labour practices, and their perspectives on government grants and corporate sources of funding. We are also learning that new technologies and platforms are permitting activists to be more creative and successful with fundraising. Above all, we are finding that although alternative media engage similar activist-oriented audiences, the spirit of solidarity and cooperation that animates radical, pro-feminist media activism is among our greatest intangible resources of all.
In the weeks to come, we will work to complete the process of coding the interview data and validating it together with the aim of publishing our findings in both activist and academic venues in the near future.