From DexCon2010 in Chicago to Media Reform in Boston This April— Community Technology Organizing on the Local-National Continuum
Last year's first Digital Excellence Conference and Technology Fair, Dexcon2010, went by little noticed by those outside of Chicago. Yet from the preconference outreach and publicity as well as from the conference itself, it was a notable gathering for what it brought together and the local/national model that it represented, a good bookend that reaches into the new year, up to the 5th National Conference for Media Reform, set to take place in Boston in April.
DexCon2010, sponsored by the Chicago Digital Access Alliance, with workshops and sessions on building community technology centers (CTCs), community wi-fi, nonprofit empowerment with free cloud computing apps, open data, e-government, and e-democracy, was held on Friday, October 29 at the DePaul University Egan Center in the Loop, with a follow-up on Saturday, primarily for the out-of-town contingency of participants who had come from all over the country.
Preconference outreach and publicity had taken place in a variety of community technology arenas — all throughout Chicago, and nationally on the Friends of the Community Technology Centers Network google group, the Inclusion forum on e-democracy.org that was established to replace the old digitaldividenetwork.org discussion list, the Nonprofit Technology Network discussion list, and on Plancast, Eventbrite, and Facebook as well as on the conference site atdigitalexcellence.net. "Whether you live in Chicago or not, if neighborhood technology is your passion, Chicago will be ground zero over the next decade."
Follow-up coverage and reports began when digitalexcellence.net posted a brief overview of the conference on November 2 by Pierre Clark, one of its organizers, "a lively, high-energy series of workshops and roundtable sessions… part reunion, part think tank, part high-energy planning session, and part movement retrospective," undertaken, in the words of Michael Maranda, another main organizer, to "Rebuild and Reboot — Movement and Network." There was a photo report on the Chicago Black Writers Network. Taran Rampersad, former editor of LinuxGazette.com and international ICT activist, reviewed the conference on his blog and posted photos on flickr. Sharon Irish, Community Informatics Initiative Interim Director of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at U of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, blog reported both days on the Digitized Heart, her final posts of 2010, well into the new year.
Pierre Clark's preconference introduction to "The Community Technology Movement — A History of Digital Excellence" points to and provides some facts and figures to justify the neighborhood technology ground zero claim for Chicago. The city has received a good portion of the more than $200M awarded the state in the eleven federal broadband stimulus grants Illinois has been involved with — not to mention the $60M from the state for digital broadband, including $16M for digital divide programs since fy'09 — and Clark singles out the $7 million the city received from the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program to provide digital literacy training for up to 22,000 residents over two years in five targeted underserved communities and $9 million in funding from the same grant pool for providing hardware support for 150 of the city's astonishing quantity of more than 600 CTCs.
The twelve speakers, presenters, and panelists on the conference poster provide vivid evidence of the full range of diversity encompassed by the conference.
The main presenters and conference keynoter Nicol Turner-Lee, who founded the Neighborhood Technology Resource Center in Chicago before moving onto the national digital inclusion stage at One Economy and currently as Vice President and the first Director of the Media and Technology Institute for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, DC, and the pioneers receiving Digital Excellence Advocate Awards — former CTCNet board member and activist CTC creator Carl Davidson, Vice President for Community Development at the MacArthur Foundation Julia Stasch, and Illinois State Representative Constance Howard, long-time advocate for neighborhood technology — epitomize the achievements and the nature of the broad-based coalition of the many contributors that the conference pulled together. Julia Stasch, in addition to her contribution to the MacArthur Foundation's digital grants, is known for her work as chairperson of the Mayor's Committee To Eliminate The Digital Divide, which produced the ground-breaking 2007 report, "The City That Networks: Transforming Community and Society Through Digital Excellence." Connie Howard, through her co-chairmanship of the Computer Technology Committee and leading advocacy for the state's Eliminate The Digital Divide program is known to many in the neighborhood technology movement as "our advocate in Springfield." Turner-Lee, Stasch, and Howard are leading representatives of the long-term commitment and activism in leading edge community technology organizations, foundations, and municipal, state, and federal agencies. Carl Davidson — who in addition to his local recycling, technology education, and CTC development work, as one of the leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society, the personification of "prairie power" and only person in the history of SDS to have held two national offices, a founder of CyberMarxism, and in the leadership of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and editor of the CCDS Online Mobilizer — personifies long-term committed radicalism. The combination of progressive and radical forces represented at DexCon make it a vivid and lively model of coalition building at its broadest and most all-encompassing level.
DexCon keynoter and award recipients
In all these things, DexCon is an impressive model, as it is in terms of the ties it has been renewing and forging between local organizing and the wider, national movement that it is a part of. Much of the public work of the Digital Excellence Coalition and the DexCon organizers can be found onFacebook, where its almost 400 members' site emphasizes Chicago development integrated with national and international issues. There are a number of members / participants from across the country — it's open to join by request. Another conference is being planned for May.
The 5th National Conference on Media Reform, organized by Free Press, a national media reform education, organizing, and advocacy nonprofit, is set to be held in Boston April 8-10, at the Seaport World Trade Center.
NCMR 2011. Media. Technology. Democracy.
In her conference blog post in January, Megan Tady writes: "It's a BIG deal. Like, Oscars big, but without the red carpet glitz and glamour. Like Super Bowl big, but without the interceptions returned for a touchdown. Like State of the Union big, but without the president (we tried to get him as a panelist, but it turns out he's pretty booked)."
It's like how the Vice President described the health care victory at the President's press conference following the historic vote. If it's not so profanely emphatic, that's because there's no people's democratic victory on the telecom / media policy front yet. If and when it comes, you can be sure this gathering will have played an important role in its achievement.
"Did the small band of organizers realize what they unleashed with the first National Conference for Media Reform in 2003? Did they imagine that 1,000 people would show up on the shores of Madison, Wisconsin, and … lead us into a new era of media activism?" begins Lauren-Glenn Davitian, Executive Director of Chittenden Community TV's Center for Media & Democracy in Burlington, Vermont, in her blog entry on the conference site, a place where "community media and public access TV pioneers, digital divide agitators, low power radio activists, public media makers, open source coders, state and national policy wonks, and analog and digital natives beat the drums loudly for free speech, open networks and community control."
As the program is summed up: "NCMR 2011 is your chance to meet, share ideas with and be inspired by thousands of people who care about the future of media, technology and democracy. Whether this is the first time you've considered how media affect our lives or you're a committed media reformer, your voice is needed. On April 8-10, you'll join activists, media makers, educators, journalists, artists and policymakers. You'll find sessions about journalism and public media; technology and innovation; policy and politics; arts and culture; social justice and movement building; plus how-to workshops and hands-on trainings."
Check out the rotating photos and names of speakers on the conference home page atconference.freepress.net — a growing number including Free Press co-founder Robert McChesney, founder of the Creative Commons Lawrence Lessig, progressive broadcast journalists from Democracy Now! Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, and a couple of the more progressive FCC commissioners.
Check out the video and audio archives of past conferences.
Check out the program and sessions.
Check out all the blog entries.
Check out the conference FAQ — they are expecting 2,500 attendees.
Free Press is a leader in the media reform movement, with a focus on media ownership, whose consolidation is the subject of much of Bob McChesney's twelve major works and his weekly radio program, Media Matters. Free Press supports public media, expanding out from PBS and NPR to include community cable access and matters as diverse as the protection of low-power FM radio and onerous postal rate increases that unfairly limit small and independent publishers; the future of the Internet protecting net neutrality, building a national broadband policy, and supporting community/municipal Internet, all for promoting a free, open and accessible Internet; publicly-supported journalism in light of the crisis newspapers are undergoing; civil rights and media justice, joining the broad-based movement supported by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rightsand others that grasp the centrality of approaching media and technology policy as a civil rights issues. Bringing together all its efforts and much in the field, there is FreePress's work in building the media reform movement, gathering hundreds in its directory of media reform groups, supporting and promoting coalitions and collaborations such as the Media and Democracy Coalition and theMedia Action Grassroots Network, and, finally, sponsoring the National Conference for Media Reform, the biggest and highest-profile gathering of media reform advocates in the nation.
Incidentally, Free Press here shares a dual web portal with FreePress.org, when one first links to the latter. Freepress.org grew out of the original Columbus, Ohio Free Press that itself grew out of the anti-war movement on the campus of Ohio State University in October 1970, enjoyed a notable history, and, like Open Media Boston, has emerged as another vital example of local community journalism, one with national reach, largely due to the work of Senior Editor Harvey Wasserman, whose writings and columns have appeared in major newspapers and magazines worldwide since 1967, having helped found the Liberation News Service and later the Clamshell Alliance, and who also co-hosts FreePress Multimedia, including Radio FreePress.org and the FreePress Video Network.
FreePress.net is prolific and, in addition to tackling a range of issues and undertaking the myriad of activities noted, publishes the Media Reform Daily, which, along with the Benton.org'sTelecommunications Headlines, covers the spectrum of issues involved in the field, a range whose scope and significance just in the new year justifies the conference slogans "When our media system is in trouble, so is everything else" and "Change the media, change the world" — the Comcast-NBC/Universal merger, the FCC's Net Neutrality ruling leaving the Future of the Internet Unclear in forboding ways, corporate and community media and technology in the Egyptian uprisings, among the most high-profile matters of ongoing concern.
Public interest groups, small broadcasters, independent content providers and small tech companies have been fighting the Comcast-NBC merger for more than a year. www.stopbigmedia.com is a Free Press-maintained site. Developments in Egypt have been extensively covered including US corporate complicity in contributing to the Internet kill-switch (and implications for US development of the same) and the blackballing by US media of Al Jazeera's English language broadcast. The beginning of the new year has also seen major challenges to public and community television and radio; the AOL buy-up of The Huffington Post; continuing controversy around WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange; media confrontationalism and the Giffords shooting tragedy; spectrum auctions, the $8 billion Universal Service Fund developments, and coverage about other revenue sources available from corporate use of public resources and rights of way as well as more prosaic but important developments in digital property and copyright, schools and library and community technology policy.
The swirl of recent developments culminated at one point in the surrealistic at the end of January began with TV sitcom's 30 Rock replacing the GE sign atop Rockefeller with Kabletown's, the new owner of NBC, whose logo bears a striking kinship with that of Comcast, whose approval was made official the following day. Not since Vice President Dan Quayle became entangled with Murphy Brown over family values has the interplay between the real and virtual worlds been so striking, confusing, and blurred. The giddiness extended to Media Reform Daily on January 31st with its headline and lead article on "Netflix, Egypt, and the Case for Net Neutrality," the day after NPR's Weekend Edition reporting on "A Frightening Lawlessness Takes Hold In Egypt," quoted a bewildered US vacationer: "One of the people on the tour said yesterday, like the MasterCard ad: Camel ride $5, boat river cruise $50, revolution, priceless."
30 Rock and Netflix-Egypt Surrealism
The movement that FreePress.net and the National Conference for Media Reform bring together encompasses the full range of community media and technology activism and efforts, and offers a broad, guiding context in which they are all embedded. It is, after all, media and technology policy that is determinative of efforts to provide for active, democratic communications practices involving CTCs and community cable access centers, technology assistance to nonprofits, news and journalism, the full spectrum of projects that make up the community media and technology world.
Go to TheNation.com and, in addition to all the work of the magazine's editor Katrina vanden Heuvel and the ads for Democracy Now!, search for articles, blog posts, podcasts, and other entries for all the other conference presenters and note their vast number and the field of activity they cover, and their integration with the wider range of progressive / radical critiques and activities. For Robert McChesney and frequent co-author, Free Press Action Fund board member, and Nation Washington correspondent John Nichols alone, there are over 80 entries in a little more than the first month and a half of the new year.
If the National Conference for Media Reform — an only once every year and a half gathering — is once again a national opportunity, like DexCon2010, it provides an opportunity for the local region, that has not had a major collaborative community media and technology pull together for a good while, an opportunity to capitalize upon.
Candace Clement's conference blog post points out that Free Press is working with "local allies who are kicking it, …an amazing (and still growing!) Local Host Committee in Boston" that includesCambridge Community Television, Public Radio Exchange, Open Media Boston, Press Pass TV, MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media, and Women, Action and Media.
Cara Lisa Berg Powers, Co-Director of local host Press Pass TV, an organization that works with middle, high school, and college aged youth to create videos to build strong communities blogs: "It's a great opportunity for Boston, and for organizations like mine that work in the community..."
Open Media Boston editor/publisher Jason Pramas adds: "NCMR provides a great opportunity to… kick start a new Boston media reform network… Free Press has offered the local host committee a panel slot at the conference to hold a discussion between interested Boston area media reform folks and our colleagues from existing media reform groups in other cities… and we look forward to leapfrogging off that panel to found a Boston media reform group later this year."
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Local organizing has begun in earnest. A planning meeting took place on February 15th in conjunction with the Ethos Roundtable presentation by hyperlocal on-line activist Lisa Williams, founder of H20town and Placeblogger, and a follow-up 501 Tech Club gathering sponsored by the Tech Foundation.
The Tech Foundation is sponsoring a pre-National Conference for Media Reform event and panel to help build for the conference locally and start discussing possibilities for Boston-area media reform and community technology organizing on Tuesday, March 22, at 7:00 pm at the Charles Hotel at Harvard Square. This will be preceded by a 3:30 gathering for supporters of Community Technology Centers. Jason Pramas is helping organize a panel presentation featuring members of the NCMR local host committee and a Free Press representative. Nonprofit technology strategist Deborah Elizabeth Finn is on the program still being developed. Mel King, long-time Boston political activist and director of the South End Technology Center, will be contributing to the CTC session. Watch for further details about the event at http://groupspaces.com/BostonMediaReform/.