"I’m anxious for us to broaden the base of this coalition. This is the people’s coalition. We want our coalition to look like the people."
— Rev. Jesse Jackson at the National Conference on Media Reform
Returning home after four days at the National Conference on Media Reform in Memphis, I have to wonder what was accomplished by this gathering of several thousand activists, organizations and major leaders in the movement. Here’s some of my initial thoughts on the matter.
If the goal of the conference was to broaden the coalition of groups
and citizens within the media reform umbrella, I don’t think the
numbers or diversity of the participants really bear that out. For an
event based in a heavily African-american, urban Southern city, there
were not nearly enough black folk there. (Not to mention Latinos,
Asians, Arabs, etc.)
As Rev Lennox Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus preached, “We need more
than just black faces in the civil rights movement. We need more than
just white faces in the peace movement. We need more than just brown
faces in the immigrant rights movement. We need all the colors
reflected in our struggles toward a better world.”
And in a place known for its musical heritage – from Elvis to soul
to blues – I observed few connections to independent musicians, labels,
or innovators of new forms of music distribution and broadcast. Perhaps
I missed that session.
The Media Reform Movement is already a broad umbrella, encompassing
groups working on everything from portrayals of women in the media to
low-power FM radio to Net Neutrality to public access television.
Holding this loose coalition together and giving it a sense of itself
as a defined multi-faceted entity with a shared history, narrative and
trajectory is a daunting task. Still this is the third of these mass
mobilization conferences, so some sense of momentum should be evident.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed myself. The panels and keynotes I
attended were often stimulating, entertaining and informative. Most of
the events I attended were in the new media-internet policy arenas, on
topics including Global Information and Communications Policy, Net
Neutrality, Community Wireless, Online Activist Tools, and Videogames
I would say much of the content of these events were geared toward
the complete newbie, designed to disseminate fairly basic information
on the issues, offer up a few opportunities for action, and present
upcoming events and policy challenges. I saw very little policy debate
or in-depth policy analysis. The goal was clearly more about
evangelism than intellectual discourse. Which was fine.
Sitting at the exhibition booth that my organization sponsored, I
had a number of conversations with the paricipants at the conference.
Many people seemed to not actual define themselves as media activists
but were generally progressive or leftist in orientation, and were
there to learn about issues they had done little actual work on
themselves. I had to explain again and again what “media policy” and
“media reform” meant to several people.
My team accomplished what we came to do, which was increase the
visibility of our work and connect with more groups and academics who
might benefit from the tools and services we offer. I’m confident that
in this next round of small grants that we will have a huge jump in
applications from a much wider range of groups and scholars.
We had a successful pre-conference that brought together academics to
talk about the various strands of media policy research. Everyone I
have talked to was very pleased with the sessions, several saying that
the pre-conference was the highlight of their trip to Memphis.
I made a number of personal connections with people who might be
useful in our work, as the stack of business cards in my backpack
And I ate barbecue for four straight days in a row.
So all-in-all, it has been a worthwhile little adventure.