Toronto Media Activism Mixer Recap

by Sandra Jeppesen

On March 18, 2015 MARG hosted the latest of our Media Activism Mixers in Toronto. About 15 of us gathered to discuss barriers and challenges to media activism; the connection between media production and movement building; and resources or conditions we want for media activism to thrive in Toronto.

In the breakout group I sat in on, one of the main issues that came up was the struggle for funding and sustainability for media activism centered around a critique of neoliberal capitalist forms of measuring and valuing knowledge and work. While a lot can get done with few resources (as marginalized communities have creatively shown throughout history), sustainable core funding would go a long way for community-based/social justice media. In addition to the lack of public funding allocated to grassroots media initiatives that create a context of individualistic competition, part of the struggle for funding is rooted in the tension in arguing the merits of our media within capitalist and colonial frameworks of worth that often prioritize deliverables to the exclusion of creative process.

Engaging in media activism under these conditions, media activists become used to unpaid labour such that sacrificing emotional and physical wellbeing becomes a normalized quality of media production and activism. The question came up as to how we could not reproduce this dynamic in our organizations, collectives and projects, as the ongoing problem of burnout in media activism continues to be a major challenge when the focus on the final product can push people to their limit and bring groups to their end.

Our group called for the redefining of what comes to count as “media” or a “movement” by highlighting the importance and difficulty of building resilient and trusting relationships and communities as a critical part of creative activism. Whether it’s taking the time to orient new people into a group, collectively learning and visioning, or just having fun together, spending time with others can be foundational and complimentary to the more tangible outcomes of media activism. Especially as marginalized people who often organize from places of trauma and pain, experiencing pleasure in our struggles can be a way of sustaining our movements.

In this spirit, our group expressed the need for improving relations between media activists and groups. In particular, having spaces to meet in person, collaborate, pool resources, skill share together could break the isolation a lot of media activists feel and help to build better networks of mutual support. With the desire for these spaces also comes a need for media activism to be accessible (physically and financially) as well as founded on trust and care.