Los Angeles (November 14, 2009) - LA-IMC activists discuss technology issues unique to IMC organizing after one decade of success.
Activists representing many progressive organizations and Independent Media Centers across the nation met to discuss and share experiences organizing around issues of technology. Resonating themes in the discussion included corporate media's implementation of technology and strategy first used by the IMC movement 10 years ago, questions of diversity, empowerment, and shared skills among technologists and organizers, having an outward message and intentionality versus holding open space on- and off-line, technology activism, and legal issues around freedom of speech online.
Ten years ago, citizen-led media production was revolutionary. Websites now considered culturally phenomenological, such as YouTube and Twitter are corporate versions of what Independent Media Centers began: user-driven content and reporting. "Blogging" and "podcasting" are buzzwords given to types of media production that IMCs were already using to reach global masses of activists. Early IMC contributors, bloggers and podcasters, were coming out of their local struggles via the anti-globalization movement and IMC organizing.
A constant discussion among progressive organizations is media strategy. On the more radical side of the left, you find organizations that spend only minimal effort in addressing mainstream media outlets. Instead, their outreach goals and press releases are written with an alternative media audience in mind. Time and effort is spent building up alternative media in this way. Mainstream media outlets are only recognized when organizations can use widely-broadcast responses to further their campaigns.
Addressing issues of skill and empowerment across a diversity of communities is a necessity. Still today, access to online media is limited for some. Many IMCs around the world still prioritize radio and print publications in an effort to reach those offline or to supplement Internet content. It is also the role of IMCs to spread access by supporting ad hoc media centers, such as social forum media space. Also, similarly to the work that is done by the Indypendent in New York City, journalism, photography, and network-building classes and trainings can help to grow the diversity of activist voices with the skills necessary to contribute. Alliances between IMCs and technology organizations to pool skill sets such as server maintenance are beneficial for the sustainability of smaller, local IMCs. May First/People Link and Tachenka are examples of social justice membership organizations that host server space for between 3 and 5 IMCs world-wide. Collectively developing principles for technology use is a fundamental component of organizing online. Data control and democratic use are two examples of guiding principles.
Users should have control of their experience online. Also, developers and online media creators should have control of the number of places that their account information, albeit a simple email address associated with their name, be used. Technology standards such as OpenID reduce the number of websites that contributors and readers must subscribe to on the Internet is a goal of radical technology. Other standards within project networks, like IMCs, could be adopted such that there is consistency in the tools that are used not just for the independent contributor, but for the volunteer techie. Limiting the information gathered on different sites is also a way to lower the technical barrier for participation.
Challenging the control of public space is a particularly difficult battle for online organizing due to the implicit hierarchy of the Internet. Naming conventions and protocols are controlled by ICANN and infrastructure by corporate ISPs. Even websites are text-heavy and require a high-level of literacy. Alternative, progressive solutions exist to website hosting, mesh networks are in early stages of providing connection, and IMC websites are using multimedia to report events. IMCs are involved in many of these projects with other groups such as MF/PL and Riseup technology collective.
Organizing the internet as a progressive activist is an act in holding open space, albeit virtual space. Independent Media Centers hold open space, allowing for the participation and empowerment of the civic sphere. Democracy cannot be achieved in a society built on power structures, however, and world events are often a case of right versus wrong. The necessity of clearly addressing societal imbalances must be held in contrast to creating a message for the masses, a co-opting tactic used by right-wing movements and fascist states. The progressive left has been addressing the boundary between intentionality and open space in other movements as well, such as the social forum movement. Indymedia.us addresses open virtual space in its editorial policy.
Indymedia's approach to independent journalism is also more than holding open virtual space for the movement. It's also a platform for addressing corporate media control through action: "Be the Media". Technologists within IMCs are facing challenges related to free speech, as are many radical technologists. Recently, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act has been responsible for the intimidation of progressive providers and interrupted service for free speech and fair use content, including Indymedia.us and The Yes Men. Finding a common ground from which to fight this repression and proactively protect online content must be at the forefront of political technology organizing.
The workshop held at the Los Angeles IMC to celebrate its 10-year anniversary was able to summarize this entire struggle against corporate media and state control. However, congratulations for pioneering participatory content creation online were held off in the face of coming challenges. Veteran IMC organizers are accustomed to problem solving by focusing on needed improvements in their strategies. Coming out of the workshop with its resonant testimonials, what became clear was a need for collaboration between technologists across not only the global IMC movement, but to partner with progressive technology organizations. Sublimating technology activists into IMC organizing for the purpose of crafting open publishing policies, defending against DMCA attacks, addressing accessibility and empowerment for users, and organizing progressive internet infrastructure are all necessary for the continued success of Independent Media Centers into the next decade and beyond.