The Mainstream press has always been difficult terrain for leftists, leaving some activists to ignore it altogether and seek an alternative. This alternative is usually building activist news and media sources. This episode explores ways to create alternative media sources.
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Check out Coffee with Comrades “Episode 73: Every Countdown Ends at Zero" featuring us as well as Mitch from Red Strings and Maroons. We chat about podcasting and the Channel Zero Network.
The Final Straw podcast has many interviews highlighting movement media. Here are a handful to check out:
Ali is a part of Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council.
See the twitter videos highlighted in this episode, Chilean protest with guitars featuring “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz” by Victor Jara and Teacher’s Strike at Yards High School featuring a parody of “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes.
Check out Burning Frame at Spectacle Theater, the film series Ali helps organize.
For more on independent media centers, read “The Birth of Digital Indy Media,” an interview with Todd Wolfson by Peter Handel on PopularResistance.org
Hear more about Yiddish Anarchism from YIVO Institute for Jewish Research’s Overview of their Yiddish Anarchist Conference, including clips of Kenyon Zimmer.
Check out Immigrants Against the State by Kenyon Zimmer, quoted in this episode.
Commune Magazine is our current favorite example of printed movement media.
You’re listening to Rebel Steps. I’m your host, Liz.
Welcome to part 2 of media strategy. In the first half of this episode, I explored some tactics for handling the mainstream press. And while the mainstream press is one to amplify your voice, it’s certainly not the only way. In this episode, I’ll be discussing movement media.
The Mainstream press has always been difficult terrain for leftists, leaving some activists to ignore it altogether and seek an alternative. This alternative is usually building activist news and media sources. Perhaps this is best exemplified by the Independent Media Centers, a network of activist-run press hubs around the world that sprung up during the anti-globalization movement. One of their slogans was “Don’t hate the media, be the media.”
Movement media allows you to share a story that may be overlooked by the mainstream press and highlight events or perspectives that might not resonate with a wider audience.
Here’s Matthew, who we’ve heard from earlier this season.
Matthew: Movement media as a way of creating alternative information sources and instead of having to compete politically there’s a way to kind of frame your own narrative and frame your movement in the way you’d like to rather than having to kind of contest with other voices.
Movement media can also help us connect to other communities and struggles. It gives us an opportunity to celebrate each others’ wins and learn from each others’ experiences. Here’s Shawn from the Srsly Wrong podcast, a utopian leftist comedy podcast.
Shawn: I think that anarchist and political media can make a huge contribution to just the well being of individuals who are engaged in activism. Activism can be extremely crushing and painful and there’s a lot of losses and it takes a lot of your time and energy and sometimes doesn’t pay off. And good political media can make the process of engaging with the horrors of the world a little bit less crushing, a little bit more hopeful. Good media can encourage the people who were doing good work to keep doing the good work and let them know that they’re valued and that they’re contributing something meaningful and worthwhile. And a big part of that is just having fun and being funny. It doesn’t mean not taking it seriously it just means making political engagement part of the fullness of life, making it a regular thing. If it’s something that you can joke about, that means it’s something that’s normal to you. And in order for us to win, participating in politics has to be normal.
Movement media has a long history, spanning anarchists newspapers in the late 1800’s to the myriad of options available today. From podcasts like this one to magazines, from documentary filmmaking to zine fests, there are plenty of ways to create or enjoy movement media. Check out the show notes for some of my favorites.
Connecting Communities & Social Media
Movement media serves the crucial role of connecting communities across the world, unmediated by the mainstream press. This allows us to share tactics and strategies that work with other movements locally and globally.
As one example, this very podcast is sharing skills learned while organizing in New York. You, the listeners, are hearing directly from local organizers that you wouldn’t find on more conventional platforms.
This type of connection is perhaps most apparent on social media.
Background Audio: [Guitar Music and a crowd singing “El Derecho De Vivir en Paz” ]
The audio you’re hearing comes from a video shot during the uprising in Chile in 2019. It shows countless guitars accompanying a crowd singing Victor Jara’s “El Derecho De Vivir en Paz,” Which translates to “The Right to Live in Peace.”
Background Audio: [Electric guitar playing White Stripes with lyrics “Taking the time to settle our contracts, and we’re marching in the streets again because we can’t go back. Back to schools with no nurses and no class size caps, and the message coming the streets says fund our schools!”]
And that’s the sound of Chicago Teachers on strike also in 2019. The video shows the strikers pulling off a synchronized dance to a parody of the White Stripe’s “Seven Nation Army.”
I think we sometimes take it for granted that we can see the front lines of the struggle, coming directly from organizers and participants around the world. This type of connection has happened throughout the history of movement media. One example is the popular anarchists newspapers in circulation starting in the late 1800s.
In his book _Immigrants against the State _about America’s Yiddish and Italian anarchists, Kenyon Zimmer writes “The anarchist press kept readers informed of revolutionary efforts, labor struggles, and anarchist activities worldwide, all presented side by side on the front page of the Fraye Arbeter Shtime or in La Questione Sociale and L’Era Nuova under the heading “The Social Movement.” If the whole world was their country, then revolution anywhere was part of the larger “social movement” within which anarchists situated themselves.”
Now we can experience this type of international connection in real time. Matthew has experienced these types of connections.
Matt: It’s the space where a lot of ideas can come together between different groups, different movements, and the interrelation can be made apparent. That’s one of the most positive things about social media, whatever the criticisms, as it becomes highly possible for a solidarity group in the U. S. to be directly boosting and corresponding with a radical group in Syria that’s oriented towards the same politics. That I think has a lot of potential and power and is one of the reasons why ignoring social media completely I think is a mistake.
Sometimes these connections are spontaneous, and sometimes they’re part of a group’s strategy. Regardless, social media is an important part of today’s organizing. Here’s Matthew on using it within an organization.
Matt: Social media is kind of a de facto necessity for any group organizing today. It’s one of the main ways to publicize events, activities. And just as much as speaking to mass media, if not more so, it’s where most groups develop their political lines and people come to understand the priorities and political emphasis of a certain group.
Since social media comes directly from your organization, you can be a little less formal than when you’re speaking to the press.
Matt: It’s the place where you can be most earnest and your political views. Unlike speaking at a press, in social media, I think it’s important to be more unvarnished, direct about the type of work you’re doing, direct about the political lines are developing, and really speaking to people who are your potential activists and organizers. Whereas press might be speaking to the person who’s never heard of anarchism or leftism or anti-capitalism in any form, on social media, you’re speaking to people in your movement space as well as beyond. That’s always a tension as well, is to not be too insular and to not be too targeted only to people who understand your particular message, but also to recognize that this is kind of the ecosphere in which most activists get their information about new groups, what’s going on, what kind of events they can attend.
As a side note social Media intersects with mainstream press as well, since this is one place for journalists to contact you.
Matthew: Social media also connects to press and that in today’s environment Twitter especially is where a lot of journalists go to find subjects for interviews or to follow up on stories. We’ve gotten a lot of requests both at the Emergency Committee for Rojava and MACC through Twitter, many that we’ve missed because our accounts weren’t following each other, and we didn’t think to check. So it’s something to keep in mind and you might even consider having a formal press contact on your social media to make clear where journalists like that can find you. So there is an interrelation. At the same time, you’re unlikely to find your social media, in most activist settings, quoted so you don’t have to worry as much about your particular language on an issue.
One last thing, when engaging in social media, it’s important to consider who has control of the accounts.
Matthew: People who are in control of any type of communication, including press and especially social media, have the potential to shape the way a group is understood, the way a groups political lines are formed, that’s really dramatic so I would also recommend to anyone starting a new group, or new to activism, that you collectivize your social media, and share access as well, and make sure that it’s not one voice, and that who controls this infrastructure is as transparent as possible. I’ve been involved in a lot of movements or moments, for example Occupy, where there was a tech working group or social media working group, I don’t even know, that had access to the Twitter and Facebook and website and most of us were entirely unsure, it was totally opaque who actually was controlling this, and, of course, the narrative shared there were wildly different from what we understood to be happening on the ground. So there’s always a danger that. Accounts like Occupy Wall Street continue today, despite a movement not being there, and I still see them sign on to things as official endorsers. And having been involved, I have no idea what that means, but it goes to show the power of controlling these accounts, because by most people they’re considered the legitimate public face of your organization.
Narratives & Storytelling
Let’s talk about sharing stories in movement media that otherwise might fall through the cracks. In the current newscycle churn, it’s easy for stories to get lost in the weeds. Big news moments come and go. That’s part of why it’s important to step back for a minute and see a bigger picture.
Aaron of the Srsly Wrong podcast shared his thoughts about this with us.
Aaron: I think in general it’s a good practice, with whatever it is that you want to communicate, to think about it in terms of what’s the story that I want to be telling here. Because people think in stories. That’s how our brains work. In some sense a story is a basic unit of human thought, at least of human sense making, or meaning making. Telling each other stories is how we learn about each other’s lives and how we learn about the world. And tapping into the potential of narrative works really well for getting a lot of things across at once, in a very compressed space without having to directly say everything.
Creating a narrative means sewing together events, actions, facts, and philosophy in new and interesting ways. But you can’t start with the big picture. Creating this kind of narrative starts with the source material, which comes from documenting our movements.
Ali: My name’s Ali I am a MACC Affiliated activist, a filmmaker, and teacher. Looking back into history has kind of giving me that sense of how important it is to have strong documents of what you’re doing. It’s important in the moment, it’s important in the immediate aftermath, but it also becomes the way in which we look at those things in the future. It’s the way in which we view it.
Ali helps run Burning Frame, a monthly film anarchist film series in New York. Through the films he’s shown at Burning Frame, I’ve come to share this passion for documenting our movements, not only in moments of action, but also as these movements grow and evolve.
Ali: My interest in documenting radical acts throughout our activism is just to make sure that we are sculpting the narrative around what we’re doing. It all becomes part and parcel of the work as a whole and that’s what I mean by controlling our narrative. It’s by continuing to build on and build on and build on, creating literally the narrative. Someone hit play at the start of twenty you know eighteen and continue through twenty twenty and see the evolution of this idea and be compelled by it. And you can create more works around those. If we gather enough footage we can create larger documentaries. We can use and reuse and use outtakes of and use all this material that were gathering for our purposes and for our messaging. We need to start really building longer term projects. Following an action through to the next actions that come from it and building a story and building more and more testimonials, building more and more on the street footage to utilize for our purposes and for the narrative, for the messaging.
At Burning Frame, Ali has shown some great examples of long term narratives following social movements. One moving example is La Grieta or The Divide, a Spanish documentary directed and written by Alberto García Ortiz and Irene Yagüe Herrero. The film follows a public housing community after their complex has been purchased by a private company. The company begins evicting the families as they struggle to organize against these new owners.
Background Audio: La Grieta Trailers
That’s one of the organizers saying “From Now on, let’s show them that there are more of us and we’re together”
La Grieta shows the community coming together, politically and personally. Check out the show notes for a link to streaming this film.
[Si se puede]
To create compelling narratives like this one, we need to make documentation part of our everyday organizing. This takes some intentionality.
Ali: The ideas that I have around media strategy definitely necessitate that the groups themselves that are doing actions, that are planning things, take into account the need to publicize. And if we are going to publicize, you have to bring in the people within your groups or within your circles of influence that would be interested in documenting these things. If you’re going into an action, it’s like okay got this action were planning as a week away. Remember to reach out to your videographers that you know. Just remember to consider that at the very least.
If you are the person taking on this documentation, Ali has a couple tips.
Ali: The mentality of a lot of people going to actions who are filming is a live stream mentality where they’re just filming everything. Sometimes they’re literally live streaming. Other times they’re just filming everything and then they upload it somewhere later. I think that we should be moving towards fluidity where you’re part of the action, but then you’re also a filmer and you step back in you are more of a spectator. If you catch, something catches your eye a moment, and you take a step back and take a step to the side. You survey what’s around you and then you get your shots of what it is that’s powerful about this moment, visually, you know, narratively. And then not just leaving it like that as like some sort of unedited footage, but added editing it into something that is powerful and that really captures something that was powerful to you or moved you are that you think is effective for our messaging around the action and the issues.
For more on story telling, check out the Final Straw’s interview with Margeret Killjoy where they discuss subcultures, storytelling, and myth. Check out the show notes for a link to that episode and more resources.
Movement Media Conclusion
There are plenty of ways to get involved creating movement media, from social media posts to long form journalism. Even if you feel new and inexperienced, don’t be afraid to jump in. Amy (the producer) and I started this podcast when we were fairly inexperienced. We wanted to document what we learned before we forgot what it felt like to be new to organizing. Whatever you’re working on, take some time to think about sharing what you’ve learned and inviting others to your movement. You never know who might learn something from your experience.
If creating media or documenting the movement isn’t for you, just look for ways to share the media that you enjoy. Host your own movie nights to share leftist films with your community. Participate in reading groups where you discuss radical books and articles with your friends. Send podcast episodes like this one to people looking to get involved.
Check out the shows notes for more suggestions on movement media.
Cautions & Complications
Before I finish this discussion on media, both movement and mainstream, I want to take some time to talk about security concerns. Creating media or talking to the press means being comfortable recording and sharing our thoughts and our actions. In communities accustomed to repression, this isn’t easy. We need to use caution no matter the context.
Asking people for their consent before photographing or recording them is a good place to start. Police and prosecutors can use any image as evidence against protesters and organizers. For that reason, many people are very wary of being photographed at demos or marches. One tactic for avoiding accidentally incriminating anyone is filming or photographing people from the neck down or in some other way that doesn’t feature their face. Another is keeping cameras pointed on the cops during demos so as to record their errors without endangering participants. And yet another is to post photos with all faces blurred out, though this should be done with great care. Lastly, take extra care not to film anyone doing something that’s potentially illegal or even looks illegal.
If you’re working within your group or movement, it’s important to communicate your intentions to film or record what’s happening. Having everyone on the same page can alleviate some concerns. Here’s Ali again.
Ali: Sometimes people don’t feel comfortable with the idea of media being around, but I think concretely it changes nothing in terms of security culture, in terms of safety, for most actions that we do, because we’re already out there in the public from us these actions. So it’s really about knowing when and when not to be filming and it’s on the groups and the filmmakers to be in conversation with each other both beforehand but also as actions unfold about what it is okay to film and what’s not if things shift change. Especially when it comes to your group, your activist group, your actions that you do, it’s about communication with that group about filming, about what filming entails, about if everyone is okay with that, and just not have a consensus around is it okay to film this kind of thing. Whatever arises from those conversations is where you go from there.
The security risks are real, but there are ways to handle them. And we can’t let these risks keep us from sharing our stories.
Note for Those Not Directly Involved in Media
If you are not directly doing press or media work, there’s still a lot you can do just by keeping a narrative and message in mind as you organize in other ways.
Matthew: Even if you’re not invested in media work, you want to think about how someone without any context who might be viewing it either in person or through other media channels, if people pick it up despite your commentary or lack of commentary, how that person without any context is going to view your action. And it’s something to consider in all circumstances, all possible actions, and events. Regardless of how clandestine or security conscious or legally risky an action might be or an event might be, you always are going to be subject to a public gaze and possible interrogation by media and you want to recognize that, if you don’t frame the narrative, they might frame it for you. So you might not be a spokesperson you might not be writing press releases, you might not be writing statements for social media, but your actions and events themselves are still statements of a type and will be read in a certain way by the wider public and the wider media. And so you should always have at least as part of your strategy in an action or campaign the recognition that you’re speaking to someone in some way. And you want to put yourself in the shoes of such a person and think, if I ran into this, what would I think was happening and how would I feel about it.
Whether you’re creating movement media, harnessing the mainstream press, or using a little bit of both, telling your story is a key part of any strategy. Show people where your group has been and where it’s going. Paint a vision of a stronger future. At the end of the day, we need more people participating in social movements. Press and media is often the first place people intersect with new ideas. Take the platforms we have and use them. We can’t sit by the sidelines while someone else tells our story for us.
You’ve been listening to Rebel Steps. I’m your host, Liz. Believe in yourself, trust one another, and get organized.
This episode was written, edited, and produced by Amy and myself. Music for this episode was kindly gifted to us by Sephy, Tutlie, & Morgane Fouse from Lady Media Co. and also includes some songs that I created. Special thanks to our interviewees, Matthew, Ali, and Shawn and Aaron of the Srsly Wrong Podcast. For more resources, check out the show notes for this episode on rebelsteps.com.
If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider supporting us on Patreon or sharing this episode with your friends or via social media. This podcast is part of the Channel Zero Network, an anarchist podcast network run by radical media makers. Head over to ChannelZeroNetwork.com for more podcasts.