by tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia
P. O.O.R. .
.Scholaz til we die
The Revolution begins with I
The morning air in the Tenderloin was sharp. Small hidden daggers were embedded in the 9:00 am breeze. Micro-business people were trading products, elders and youth of color were convening and poverty survivors were consuming and acquiring different forms of substances to get through another day in Amerikkka.
The sounds of survival, thrival and subsistence brushed past the 21 determined faces of poverty, race, disability, inmigrante and youth scholars from POOR Magazine (and repping the SF Bayview Newspaper) about to embark on a revolutionary journey to the US Social Forum in Atlanta. Residue of past and present domestic violence, low wage jobs, gentrification and homelessness clung to our bodies as we piled into our rented van, greyhound buses and friends cars .. This was the first trip our organization had ever taken anywhere, and the first trip many of us personally had ever taken, which was not a result of a poverty crime, a crisis, an incarceration or deportation.
We were in pursuit of a dream. A realization of a vision of cooperative, non-competitive media justice and media production at the Ida B Wells Media Justice Center at the US Social Forum. A dream we had launched, worked on and struggled to attain for the last year.
The first conversation
" Have you heard about the US Social Forum? " almost a year ago when Gretchen Hildebran, filmmaker and alumni of POOR Magazine ´ s Race, Poverty and Media Justice Institute asked me about POOR possibly doing some media for the forum, I immediately reflected on other social forums that POOR Magazine never had the financial resources to attend much less make media on.
I had heard about how media centers were structured at these forums, how they are often completely inaccessible spaces for disabled media producers, poor folks who are stuck in the crevasses of the digital divide and folks who haven´t mastered the dominant (oppressors) language due to global, local poverty, institutional racism and classism, colonization and border fascism. In other words notwithstanding the radical goals and objectives of the Forums held all over the world, the media production is led by the same folks who always make media, who always have the channels of access and privelege
" Well, why don ´ t we propose a new vision for media production, you know, based on the model of POOR Magazine ´ s indigenous media production. "
Gretchen being one of Mama Dee ´ s best students and a truly creative and radical thinker responded quickly, " that would be great. "
After that conversation Gretchen put me in contact with Josue from The Praxis Project out of Washington DC, we had another conversation in which I laid out all of the aspects of POOR &acture s revolutionary media-making model which included on-site multi-media education in radio, print, on-line and broadcast journalism and finally, a commitment from all privileged media producers to participate in Community Newsroom, a truly indigenous media production center which all members of the community participate and collaborate on media production and where privileged folks with by-lines, broadcast channels, radio slots, share, co-author and co-create media with poverty scholars on issues such as displacement, homelessness, environmental racism, police brutality, workers rights, youth justice, border fascism and indigenous resistance.
After that conversation in which Josue also " got it " and was all about the vision, we went to work to actually begin the written proposal and massive networking with other poverty scholars and media producers locally and globally
The conference calls.
Leroy Moore, board member of POOR Magazine, Race and Disability scholar, my brother, best friend and columnist of illin n chillin on PoorNewsNEtwork and I began to take part in a series of frustrating and difficult conference calls in which statements like " real media " will happen in one room and the other media will happen elsewhere.." or we just need a quiet place for journalists to file their stories " showing us that many of the people we were talking to had no idea what we really meant by truly inclusionary, collaborative media, notwithstanding their hard work to make this center happen.
Leroy and I continued to educate and relate thinking that in the end they would all finally " get it " after all they were all our friends, our allies, fellow social justice workers, media workers and advocates.
The Dressing Room
As we got closer to the actual date of the event, space acquisition became the focus of the calls, an email went out that proposed a series of dressing rooms which had no elevator (except an ancient freight elevator) were way out in the back of the Civic Center which would have been completely inaccessible for disabled folks and most people in general. And perhaps most importantly there was no community newsroom or accessible classroom space and in the end only a space for the digitally privileged folks to file their stories in the aforementioned " quiet space. "
Some of the on-call allies in addition to Leroy and I began to get desperate, there must be some other space, I e-screamed.
After no sound a terse email appeared. There was another space. A homeless shelter, The Task Force for The Homeless, which had really big rooms for education, access and community newsroom. Leroy and I jumped on it. Leroy dispatched disabled organizers from Atlanta. A walk-through was arranged.
A " security " risk
After the walk-through in which it was wrongly purported that the space was ok with disabled folks who were present there was a concerted e-push to take the dressing rooms, with codified racist and clasisst terms like " security risk " and " lively " said about the Homeless Task Force, capped off by the culminating sentence, " Do you really think that Pacifica will broadcast from a homeless shelter? "( not said by Pacifica) with an additional claim that it would be " too hot there "
Leroy and I were summarily overruled, leaving dreams of revolutionary media making, extreme access, and open-ness floating into the Atlanta heat
Take the (Ida B Wells Media Justice Center) mission statement, (which I had authored with Gretchen) off of the USSF website, I don ´ t want to be part of a lie,my overwhelmed voice filled Gretchen ´ s voice mail.
In the 24 hours proceeding the decision to take the dressing rooms, Gretchen, Leroy and myself huddled over calls and emails to figure out what to do.
" Keep on girl, you need to bring this," Euenika Rogers a true poverty scholar, media producer, organizer and founder of Green Lady Media, began to take part in the whole process and with her soft urging talked us off the ledge, to proceed with this ridiculous space and try to make media justice happen by any means necessary.
Hours more of meetings, work, negotiation and confusion later- we took Eunika ´ s advise and proceeded with the now highly problematic Ida b Wells (not really)Media Justice Center.
Atlanta- Day 1
By Greyhound bus, by rented Van and by plane 21 of us arrived in Atlanta welfareQUEENS; Jewnbug, Laure McElroy, Vivien Hain, Tracey Faulkner, dharma, and me, POOR Press authors and PoorNewsNetwork staff writers; Leroy Moore, QueenNandi, Ruyate, Joseph Bolden, Dee Allen, Lola Bean, Joanna Letz, Anna Kirsch, Voces de Inmigrantes reporteras; Cheli Centano, Teresa Molina and her two children; Luis and Marcos, Videographers and drivers Arnulfo Cesaraz and Yaya, and PNN Youthin Media Washington DC correspondent; Mari Villaluna . We met up with POOR Magazine media organizers Gretchen Hildebran and Jasmine Sydullah who had arrived several days earlier.
Within hours of our arrival we were on the job, trying to make media justice at the Media Injustice Center. Trying to conduct trainings for privileged media workers on what it means to share power; i.e., by-lines, broadcasts, technology, etc. Tryin to put up signage to direct people to the labyrinthian maze that was the path to the Media Injustice Center. Trying to teach poverty scholas to use the technology, to utilize the extremely un-user-friendly space, to facilitate stories, to outreach, to have some semblance of a Community Newsroom.
The (Fire-lane) Hallway as Community Newsroom.
On our second day in Atlanta we took part in a huge march organized by the USSF. Armed with our Media Justice Center flyers we did massive, street-based, direct outreach. We had the first Community Newsroom planned for that day after the march and the main point was to really get the community to come in, learn, share and make media.
When we finished the extremely long march in the 105 degree weather, we attempted to hold a community Newsroom in the fire-lane/hallway that was designated for the Newsroom. Out of the literally hundreds of flyers and conversations that our folks had with the community of Atlanta as well as other attendees at the USSF, the horror stories of inaccessibility started to float into the chemical laced air of the jail-like bathrooms/dressing rooms of what we were now openly calling the Media InJustice Center.
" People from the housing protest who came (to the civic center) were told they couldn ´ t come in without a pass. "
" No-one could find this place "
" Indigenous elders were blocked at the door cause they didn ´ t have a pass "
" Over 20 disabled folks just gave up when they found out where this was. "
" Three houseless folks were escorted off the property of the Civic Center."
" This place feels like jail. "
As the bodies of the attendees of that day ´ s Newsroom pressed up against the one of the walls careful not to step into the taped off fire-lane, all of the POOR Magazine staff became increasingly upset.
" This is the same kind of oppression we experience at home, in our gentrified neighborhoods, our criminalized schools, our welfare offices, our everyday lives, " I screamed. After the depressing Newsroom was concluded and two of our staff writers who have struggled with environmental racism in the Bayview and East Oakland for years began wheezing from the chemical smells in the Media injustice Center I started to lose it, culminating in a scream to a media pool volunteer.
" Where else can we go? " Leroy and I looked at each other completely discouraged. And then we saw it.
PRESS BRIEFIING IN THE PEIDMONT ROOM- 8:30 am TOMORROW
The final straw for the already fed-up POOR Magazine staff was the finding that the organizers had managed to " find " another space for a press briefing that was designed for corporate media ( aka real media- as it had been referred to so many conference calls ago) Upon discovering this I made a plea to the lead organizer of the Media injustice Center to find another space. There was no response.
7:00 pm The Piedmont Room
Large chandeliers tinkled softly in the warm evening air. Multi-colored carpet lined the massive floor. A couple of hours later most of the POOR Magazine staff found the luxury that was the Piedmont Room- we had collectively decided that our only option was to do what we always do as poor folks tryin to be heard, seize this usable " real " media space for our grassroots media production.
8:00 pm-Homeless Task Force
Undress the Media Justice Center. Get us out of the Dressing Room. We made an elaborate plan including signs, chants and the move of technology in collusion with our allies at Third World Majority. Later that night we ended up at the Homeless Task Force to paint our signs. Word went out via text messages and cel phone to show up for an action at 8:30 the next morning. We would seize the press briefing space as the new Media Justice Center. We knew Ida would be proud.
9:30pm- Media InJustice Center Staff Meeting
In one last attempt to negotiate a sanctioned move â€“ the POOR staff attended a tense meeting called for by the Media Injustice Center volunteers. Nothing was accomplished except a lot of hurt feelings and widespread defensiveness.
10:30pm Media Injustice Center Parking Lot
An unplanned follow-up meeting in the parking lot of the MJC actually began an interesting dialogue between Josue, myself and all the POOR Magazine staff members. People were actually listening to our collective concerns. A promise of a 7:30 am cel phone call with another space acquisition was made. We would still have time for the action if the promises didn ´ t pan out.
7:30 am Next day
The over-worked, and extremely tired POOR staff were unable to reach our morning deadline, but we had another option. POOR staff were holding our Criminalization of Poverty and Poor Folks of color dialogue followed by the welfareQUEENS workshop; Cultural Work and the Revolution in a very accessible space called Mezzanine Right on this day. We decided the logical thing to do was seize that location for that day ´ s Newsroom. It was our only option
12:00 pm Community Newsroom
At 11:45am over 120 people were sitting in the indigenous circle that is necessary for Community Newsroom to happen, a circle possible in the Mezzanine Right location. Poverty, Race, Indigenous, Inmigrante, Youth and Disability scholars from Memphis, Atlanta, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Ireland and New York. Independent media like Paper Tiger Television, Alternet, Race, Poverty and The Environment, Pacifica and AMARC showed up to actually try this new form of media collaboration. Radical Reference Librarians showed up to provide reference advocacy, Making Contact and the National Radio Project, Community News Production Institute Prometheus Radio Project signed on to do on-site trainings and broadcasts, Housless folks from Atlanta that we invited in and facilitated their entrance, joined us, Third World Majority, and Global Action Project, showed up to offer media organizing support as well as countless other organizers and folks, not to mention the PNN staff themselves leading the revolutionary, collaborative media-making It was perhaps one of the most powerful Newsrooms POOR has ever had. Media relationships were forged - multi-media stories were launched. Voices were heard, documented, integrated and respected.
Revolutionary media was made on nation-wide hospital closures and resulting hellthcare, the criminalization of poor folks locally and globally, shelter abuse of gay and transgender folks from Frisco to New York, displacement of poor folks locally and nationally, from New Orleans to Miami to the Bay Area and finally, the resistance of indigenous folks like Gary Spotted Wolf who would buy back Fort McPherson in Atlanta for a bottle of Jack Daniels was planned as the last act of Community Newsroom ´ s final day. Countless PNN poverty scholar correspondents were seeded for ongoing columns and broadcasts, all of the stories launched were led by their scholarship
By the next day it was clear to us that there was no other space for this powerful work to happen at. After some wrangling and hostile cel phone exchanges the National Planning Committee agreed that we could continue to proceed with Newsroom in its new accessible location.
Even after that the Disability and youth justice workshops planned and conducted in the Media InJustice Center by Mari Villaluna, Jewnbug and Leroy Moore were virtually unattended by anyone. People stuck in the very real digital divide remained there for the most part.
" Are you ready to move on miss, " Leroy Moore broke us out of the confines of the white and gray walls of the USSF to actually get real stories of poverty in Atlanta, including their own frightening anti-homeless laws that include not standing or sitting in public because it might give the perception of loitering which is why an officer told me not to stop and use my cel phone in a small Disney-like gentrified enclave that came with their own private po ´ lice force.
Final Day Questioning A Punitive Security Model for Another World Vision.
On the final day when POOR staff were extremely tired, ill from several personal illnesses, heat stroke, Media Injustice Center induced Asthma and very ready to go home, we were encouraged by several media justice workers who were also present at the USSF to create a declaration to present to the full delegation on what happened at the Media Injustice Center with a vision for next years program and a real media justice center that Ida B Wells would be proud of.
The POOR staff wanted to go up together in solidarity, but we were adamantly told that it could only be one representative on each issue and it could only be a two minute presentation. We felt this was rather strident and typical of the event ´ s overall rigid tone, and oddly not in keeping with the notion of a less rigid Peoples ´ Assembly that POOR had heard about in other countries, but we proceeded nonetheless.
Midway in the peoples assembly an indigenous elder was airing his demands for indigenous reparations and a future vision. Midway in his speech he was stopped and asked to leave the stage because he had run 30 seconds over his two minute time limit. When he was asked to leave the stage, several boos rang out in the audience, some of us, who truly understand and practice eldership felt truly wronged by this act of elder disrespect. There are just some things you don ´ t do especially when you are allegedly presenting a vision for another possible world.
And is there really a place for a punitive security model and rigid western notions of time and productivity in another world I wondered at this point if we are really talking about another world or just another world for progressives who all think the same way.
After the man was removed from the stage I walked over to him and was met by Cheli Centano, an indigenous revolutionary teacher from POOR ´ s Voces de Inmigrantes en Resistencia who was already thinking my same thought and suggested we offer POOR ´ s two minutes to the elder who was rudely interrupted.
When we approached the contingent who was with the elder, they agreed and we all proceeded to the rear of the stage to propose the idea to the organizers in back.
By the time we got back there, several other indigenous elders had followed us and we all proposed the idea to the backstage manager. At that point another indigenous leader joined our group and demanded stage time for the elder with the threat that if the organizers didnâ€™t give it to us â€“ they would seize it with a drum circle. A very reasonable offer, I thought, considering the circumstances.
Within minutes the organizers conceded to give us the time and allow this man to finish his demands.
POOR Magazine staff and welfareQUEENS stood in solidarity on stage as a many indigenous elders spoke and called out the hipocracy of the event. It was a revolutionary moment of resistance and solidarity
At the end of their presentation we all walked off together. The first speaker back on stage was welfare QUEEN and Digital Resistor, Vivien Hain backed by many of the POOR staff standing behind her in solidarity, " it was an act of resistance for us poverty scholars to even get here, why did we have to suffer in a jail-like environment that was completely inaccessible," she concluded.
The two minute rigid security model quickly resumed in lock step. The microphone was lurched from Vivian ´ s hands before she was even done. There was only one problem, the already very upset POOR staff ( including myself) was on another track,, free from the default hegemony that seemed to pervade this stage. We were in another world. A world where people are really heard, where Euro-centric notions of time and productivity are de-colonized Where peoples ´ voices are really listened to and not remanded to jail-like basements, where houseless folks are not seen as a security risks, but rather as people who need housing, where hip hop youth scholars are seen as journalists and media producers not " lively " or a threat, where elders are ALWAYS deferred to and never interrupted and where collaboration and cooperation by ALL people is seen as paramount and one of the most important goals.
welfareQUEEN jewnbug seized the mike, asking why we were being silenced. Emcee Cindy Weisner grabbed it back, I tried to step up to say one thing about access and security at which point she addressed me by name shouting to the audience for agreement, " tiny, don ´ t you want to move on? "
That ´ s odd I thought. The police officer in Atlanta had asked me a similar thing, threatening me with a citation if I didn ´ t comply. I wondered if in this parallel other world a similar threat would be forthcoming.
POOR Magazine staff will report back from Atlanta with spoken word, poetry journalism, Q&A and a debut of The Revolution begins with I the Movie - at POOR ´ s offices at 1095 Market street #307 in San Francisco (at 7th street) This will be also be a benefit for Tiny- gentrification by fire victim- so she can stay homeful- $10.00 at the door ( no-one turned away for lack of funds)