During the Summit of the Americas, held in Quebec City from April 20th through the 22nd, a newly formed media collective set up a center to accomodate journalists who wished to report the news directly to the world via the Internet. The Centre for Media Alternatives Quebec 2001, or CMAQ (cmaq.net) (pronounced "see-mack" in English, or "smack" by the Quebecois), urges people to "Break With Conformity" by uploading their own news texts, photos, audio and video. Tax-deductible donations are welcome as well.
The model for this center came together in Seattle in December of 1999, around the protests at the World Trade Organization. Since then, dozens of similar sites have sprung up around the globe, providing open-posting venues for local news and independent reporting of international events.
On a slow news day on April 18 Dispatch put out a call for journalists to cover an environmental summit at Laval University, in the nearby surburb of St. Foy. I introduced myself to John, who was driving there, and an acquaintance, Laurel.
John, 32, like many with the Independent Media Center project, is new to independent news reporting. John, however, is not new to journalism. After receiving a Masters in journalism he tried to find a reporting job but was told he was "overqualified." Besides that degree he also has a Bachelors from Stillwater College in Oklahoma, and a Masters in political science from another school.
John related his own story beginning with his service as a US Marine in the reserves. His father served in the military, and his grandfather fought in World War II.
John, at the time, felt he should enlist in the armed forces, if only to pay for college with his reserve pay and the GI Bill.
John had no inkling that he would actually see battle. He figured it was a slim chance, pointing out that the last time reserves were called into war was in Korea in 1951. He recalls a "weird feeling" in the pit of his stomach when he heard the news come in on August 2, 1990, that the US had invaded Iraq.
John's voice takes on an intense tone. "It was all for cheap oil. What did my company get out of it, and what did I? People put their lives on the line for cheap oil. People died for cheap corporate oil. There's a human cost to it, an environmental cost."
After the Gulf War John went back to serve in the Marines. It was as an officer that he underwent a bigger personal crisis.
"Instead of being low man on the totem pole [as a soldier], now I was low man on the officers' totem pole. There's a 'common-sense' culture that pervades the Marines," he says. "You're just not worth much to them if you question their culture."
Feeling that his cynicism had no direction John went to school and received his Masters in political science. His tone turns reflective as he observes that it takes a crisis for most people to develop an interest in political issues.
"Buddha said that there are four paths to awakening. The first is slow and difficult. The second is slow and easy. The third is fast and difficult, and the fourth is fast and easy. Most people have to take the first path."
John stops at a light and points across at a trio of potted trees in the window of a storefront office.
"Look, it's all about control. Lawns have to be manicured, trees have to be in pots. Nature must be controlled."
Asked why people want to control nature John replies, "They're scared. People are asleep. They live day-to-day through rationalizations. They're scared of pain, and of nothingness. But they have to want to wake up. Locke and Rosseau talked about a state of nature that exists within. People should be striving to find this nature in themselves. They should go to school not for a job, but to find themselves."
John now feels hopeful about the alternative media and wants to have a "PhD" in "professional activism." He knows that that will depend on his being able to live and be an activist under the shadow of his school loans and other financial obligations. He relates that he's angry with bankers and the governments that back them up.
"Fucking bankers--for them it's just a business, but they're strapping the middle class with loans. The government is reluctant to give students a hand. The whole system pushes people to make money and to be scared. Advertising has a role of playing on people's insecurities."
John has seen these forces in his family members' lives. His father "worked his ass off" and recently suffered a stroke due to overwork. Instead of slowing down, however, he continues to work hard, just to get ahead.
"My dad's dream was always to become a forest manager," John says. "He never got close to that. He had kids too quick and has spent his whole life raising us. When you've had one child it's easy to have another one."
John shifts his attention to the current political climate and the role of the alternative media. Asked if he thinks the alternative media will wake people up, he distinguishes between two types of audiences: activists and a mass audience. He seems to indicate that the two need to be made into one.
"Media conferences are important. We need to build ties between CMAQ and local [mainstream] press people. That way we can coordinate better and decide how to relate to the people of Quebec City. They're really of two minds here: either they support the police or they support the protestors. The media needs to encourage a dialogue, it needs to reach out to the community."
John also insists that there needs to be more dialogue among PIRGs (public interest research groups) like Public Citizen, Global Trade Watch, and the Sierra Club. Laurel quickly interjects that, since January, these groups have had weekly conference calls to hash out their messages.
John comes back: "All groups can talk message, but it can't be done with email or conference calls. It must be face-to-face."
As we pull into the parking lot for the conference, Laurel, 18, shares her story on how she got involved in environmental politics.
"In '94, I was 11 years old," she says. "The first Summit of the Americas was in Miami, my hometown. That's what brought my attention to these issues, and that's why I'm here today to protest."