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Modern movements

Technology meets activism at Allied Media Conference

MT Photo: Sandra Svoboda
Diana J. Nucera (top) and Jenny Lee are organizers for the Allied Media Conference
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Published 6/16/2010

To understand the Allied Media Conference that is being held in Detroit this weekend, think 1960s activism meets 21st century technology.

Consider that leafleting is now done by text message. Those speeches on soapboxes and capitol steps are now held on a YouTube channel where they can be played repeatedly around the world. Courting the media for favorable coverage is replaced by creating your own website or blog. And marches, which do still happen, now come together through e-mail-writing campaigns, Twitter and Facebook groups.

"The ease of access that people have to media now just provides a whole new outlet for actions that can be taken over e-mail, that can be taken over websites, and enable participation," says Yvonne Tran, the movement-building manager for the Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, a nonprofit organization located in Oakland, Calif. She attended the conference last year, where says she learned the cutting-edge methods using modern technologies to get messages to potential supporters, voters and donors.

"What we got was how to use new media directly to fuel our campaigns as a way past traditional media," Tran says.

After eight years in Bowling Green, Ohio, the Allied Media Conference moved to the Motor City in 2007 when its umbrella organizing, the Allied Media Projects, relocated its headquarters here. From the conference, the Allied365 Training and Exchange Bureau launched, which works year-round to train groups and organizations to use technology in their communication and mobilizing efforts.

The conference's attendance last year was about 1,000 — mainly twentysomethings from the United States and Canada. Organizers this year expect about 1,300 from North America, Ireland and Venezuela, and youth groups in Palestine and South Africa will join by Skype, a two-way audio and visual program that works over the Web. "Media" here means everything from cell phones to mud sculptures to social networking to homemade computers.

"We're a hands-on media conference and we're rooted in do-it-yourself media and the importance of making your own media, telling your story, owning your own technology," says Jenny Lee, program director. "It's always trying to stay ahead of the technology and really, it's being able to shape it and be the creators of it rather than being its victim and having our relationships defined by it."


The conference opens the evening of Thursday, June 17, and runs through midday Sunday, June 20. Registration is a suggested $100 but rates dip down to $30.

Most of the 100 individual workshops are at Wayne State University's McGregor Conference Center and Community Arts Building with evening events at local venues. Several sessions will be conducted in Spanish.

"Being at that conference showed me that there's more to media than what I hear on CNN or what the BBC is saying," says Priyanka Pathak, a University of Michigan graduate who currently lives in Okemos, and volunteers with community organizing. She attended last year. "There are so many community-based efforts and so many grass roots-based efforts for people to tell their own stories. There's a lot more going on in the world than what a few dominant channels are saying."

Sessions are organized around several major tracks — media policy, lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered-questioning (LGBTQ) issues, youth media education, environmental justice, for example — and include workshops about investigative reporting, immigrants-rights and radio content, phone access for prisoners, multimedia performance art for disability justice, comics, wireless network building, DIY open source websites and mobile phone community journalism.

"We don't emphasize issues so much as strategies and solutions. Though we have groups who work on LGBTQ liberation and kinds of traditional left causes, the emphasis is so much on how communities are taking technology and storytelling and media making into their own hands and finding solutions to the various problems their communities face. That's become the emphasis," Lee says. "It's really a case of what's possible with media and technology and print and policy within community organizing."

The Allied Media Conference is bigger this year, in part, because of the U.S. Social Justice Forum scheduled the following week. But attendance has grown in each of the last several years as word has spread through formal and informal networks of groups, organizations and individuals who work on social justice issues.

Pathak, who learned of the conference "through the buzz," just finished a two-year stint with Teach for America on the Navajo Nation and will begin graduate school studying global environmental health at Emory University this fall.

She says some of the most memorable parts of the conference were the sessions that made connections between the displacement experiences of Native Americans and the Palestinians, and the workshops that helped artists learn how to distribute their media. "It's so difficult for people, for filmmakers or musicians, to get their material out," the 24-year-old says. "They taught about food distribution systems they had come up with similar to how you can distribute media."

Another hands-on workshop — while simple — was also really useful: banner making. "It was green printing, using house paint and masking tape and the netting that's used on windows," Pathak says. "The skill is a reproducible skill. It's quick, and I can easily train somebody else. We could use that skill anywhere: a banner for a march or making a T-shirt or for a flag, just to create a buzz about something or create awareness or draw attention to a cause."

Many of the conference sessions will focus on harnessing or at least understanding the technology that exists and can be used for organizing, says Diana J. Nucera, program director of the Allied365 Training and Exchange Bureau.

Helping people learn how to effectively create their own media — better websites, a text-messaging network, testimonial videos, art, for example — and to help groups located in different areas of the country, if not the world, make lasting connections are two of the major goals of the weekend.

"The conference becomes a showcase for all these amazing tools we have and how we can use them to better ourselves and our communities," Nucera says. "It's a different form of organizing."


For more information and registration, see alliedmediaconference.org.

Sandra Svoboda is a Metro Times staff writer. Contact her at 313-202-8015 or ssvoboda@metrotimes.com.

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