Reflections from Detroit: Reflections after the 4th Annual INCITE! Track at the AMC

[tweetmeme source= ‘yourtwittername’ only_single=false]Continuing our Reflections from Detroit series, the 2010 INCITE! National Collective describes the ways in which the Allied Media Conference and INCITE! have mutually transformed each other.

Reflections after the 4th Annual INCITE! Track at the AMC, by the 2010 INCITE! National Collective

For the past four years, INCITE! has sponsored a track at the Allied Media Conference, highlighting and innovating media strategies for ending violence against women of color, including trans and genderqueer people of color.  The first track, held in 2007, captured momentum coming from multiple directions: anti-violence organizers using media in increasingly innovative ways, radical women of color media-makers using the Internet to build a community that had never existed before online, and the independent media movement, as a whole, developing new practices for how to use media as an organizing strategy.

At the Color of Violence 3 Conference in New Orleans in 2005, INCITE! launched a one day Media Justice Institute, organized by tammy ko Robinson in collaboration with grassroots media projects.  Media workshops at COV 3 showed how women of color were using micro-radio, independent publishing and other media strategies as a part of anti-violence work. At the 2006 Allied Media Conference, in Bowling Green, OH, a caucus led by blogger Brownfemipower was a critical meeting point for a growing network of radical women of color bloggers.  At the same time, the Allied Media Conference was in the process of moving to Detroit and focusing on media-based organizing for social justice.

In early 2007, Brownfemipower, Nadia Abou-Karr and Jenny Lee, three women of color media-makers in Southeast Michigan, wrote a proposal to the INCITE! National Collective, asking if they would sponsor a track at the AMC.  Here is an excerpt from that original proposal:

As radical women of color feminists, grassroots organizers and media workers we are anxious to see the worlds of women of color-led anti-violence work and media justice intersect. We are organizing a track of workshops and panels at this year’s AMC that will focus on the media justice work of radical women of color.

The goals of this track are to:
  1. Highlight the innovative ways in which radical women of color are using media to organize their communities;
  2. Provide hands-on trainings in media-production skills by women of color on everything from zine-making to blogging to oral history, contextualizing these skills within a framework of women of color organizing;
  3. Create a space where women of color media-makers, organizers and educators can meet to build stronger connections between their work;
  4. Engage with critical questions around media strategies and visions for movement building, such as:
  • How can media technologies be utilized/challenged in a way to more readily meet the needs of women of color organizers?
  • What are the difficulties/realities of why women of color are not utilizing different media technologies already?
  • Is it possible to merge radical women of color based print media with radical women of color based online media? How could this merge be accomplished?
  • What kind of media do we need to end violence against women of color?

Since 2007, SPEAK! Women of Color Media Collective, Cyberquilting Experiment and To Tell You the Truth have been essential co-organizers of the track. Nadia Abou-Karr coordinated the track from 2007 to 2009.  Dozens of bloggers, organizers, artists, and other women of color (including trans & gender non-conforming folks and those who identify as queer, disabled, young, working class, mothers, people in the sex trade, students, and survivors of violence) contributed to the growth of the track since 2007.

The AMC supported the success and the growth of the track by providing infrastructural support.  This included paid staff organizers for the track during the first two years, organizing conference logistics and deeply listening to and processing the feedback from the track year after year.

The impact of the track on INCITE! and on the AMC has been mutually profound.  These two statements, from the closing remarks of Detroit activist, Grace Lee Boggs at AMC2008, and INCITE! co-founder Andrea Smith at AMC2009, reflect the shared learning that has taken place over the past four years.

I was especially  moved by the video of  Sista II Sista [an INCITE! affiliate] that was shown during Friday night’s opening ceremony. These are people in a community, living together like family, taking care of children and of elders, dealing with each other and with conflict in new ways, not out of anger at injustice but from love for one another and for our communities. Not building power over others but empowering one another.
— Grace Lee Boggs, AMC2008 Closing Ceremony
One of the main things I’ve learned from this conference is that organizing itself is a work of art. …We need to build a revolution that gives to us as much as we give to it – that’s sustainable in the long-term. We also need to create a beautiful revolution. When we start to create communities that are beautiful, we start to rethink the way we see ourselves. …What creating a beautiful revolution means, is not just organizing people who have the title “artist” but recognizing the artist within us all, because what we are doing is creating a world that we can’t even fully imagine…and that’s why we need artistic work: to unleash our political imaginary.
— Andrea Smith, AMC2009 Closing Ceremony

The poem,“Archeology of Freedom,” written by Alexis Pauline Gumbs and performed collectively by organizers of the INCITE! track at the 2008 AMC, which ends with the lines, “We are ready now / We are ready now / We are ready / for now,” inspired the vision and overall theme for the 2009 AMC.

The collective, facilitative leadership practiced by many of the chapters and affiliates of the INCITE! network has inspired and influenced the organizing model of the Allied Media Conference. The AMC staff collective facilitates the organizing of the conference, rather than directs it. They support participants to organize tracks that are embedded within a year round organizing process, that build capacity through grassroots fundraising, and that reflect an intersectional analysis.  We’ve seen INCITE!’s analysis of gendered violence and other forms of intersectionality applied in countless AMC workshops –  from the queer, disabled people of color zine-making workshops, to discussions about youth-led responses to the drop-out crisis in Detroit, to panels about the future of the Internet.  It is also applied in the Allied Media Projects Network Principles.

INCITE!’s participation in the AMC led to the creation of the INCITE! Media Justice Task Force in 2008, which later became the INCITE! Media and Communications Working Group. This group is dedicated to creating better tools for cross-network information-sharing and collaboration within INCITE!  Through caucuses at the 2010 AMC, the Working Group is now partnering with the women of color technology project, Pixelpowrrr to design an interactive, Drupal website for the INCITE! Network.

The AMC has been a space for INCITE! chapters and affiliates to showcase their work and build skills that deepen their organizing back home.  The Young Women’s Empowerment Project came to the AMC for the first time in 2008 to lead a zine-making workshop.  They began incorporating more media-based organizing into their work and have returned to lead workshops every year since then – sharing how they used participatory action research, as young women impacted by the sex trade and street economies, to document experiences of resistance and resilience.  Then they showed how you could use a video game to express the findings of that research and how they use those tactics to support their organizing for transformative justice.

Panel discussions such as “Media Coverage and Grassroots Organizing: The Jena Six and New Jersey Four From the Inside”  at the 2008 AMC broke open a critical dialogue about how gender and sexuality impacted media coverage and national mobilization around these two stories of violence. INCITE!, FIERCE, and the Bay Area NJ4 Solidarity Committee was invited by Left Turn Magazine to continue the conversation in a public forum by collaborating on an article later that year.  The panel also made the incredible online anti-violence campaigns of women of color organizations, such as Be Bold Be Red, visible to an even broader audience.

Many other ideas seeded in the INCITE! Track have flourished post-AMC on numerous blogs and in the pages of Make/Shift Magazine.  Since its first issue, Make/Shift has been a place where poets, journalists and artists involved with the INCITE! Track report-back and expand upon critical conversations that happened at the AMC.  In particular, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, BrownfemiPower, Nadia Abou-Karr, Lisa Factora-Borchers, Adele Nieves, E. Rose Sims, Noemi Martinez, Maegan La Mala, BlackAmazon, Fabiola Sandoval and Jess Hoffman have been made important contributions.

Strategy sessions between INCITE!, Cyberquilting and SPEAK! Women of Color Media Collective have led to new definitions of media and new ways of thinking about how to use media in our work for liberation.  From the 2008 “Definition of Radical Women of Color Media:”

Our media expands possibilities and incites dialog. It heals, inspires, builds confidence and radical love. We use media to time-travel, to communicate past barriers, to be heard and to share survival strategies. When we come together we make zines, tell truths, start blogs, record CDs and videos, come up with plans and make moves on them. We use media all year round to open up space, to consider creative solutions, and to build networks of support.

That definition provided a starting point for new projects and ongoing strategy conversations at the 2009 and 2010 AMCs.  In 2008 and 2009, The Radical Women of Color Skillshare, facilitated by the Cyberquilting Experiment, demonstrated how we can use media to “Enact Media Justice, End Gendered Violence Against People of Color, Nurture Energizing Connections Between Women of Color and Genderqueer People of Color and  Envision a New Day.” In stations all around the room, people shared their skills, from quilting to blogging to burlesque.  That model of skill-sharing has since been replicated in other organizing spaces within the AMC and beyond.

Art by Nadia Abou-Karr, 2009

The INCITE! Track has played an important role in making the AMC a more accessible space for mothers and other caregivers.  The AMC has gone from not having childcare, to having childcare, to having a kids track, to providing mini-grants for fundraising projects that support mothers attending the AMC. This was possible because of Nadia’s work as the INCITE! Track Coordinator, Katie Khul and Sicily McRaven, as childcare and Kids Track coordinators, the SPEAK Women of Color Media Collective and all of the childcare volunteers, parents and kids who participate year after year.   Beyond making sure that mothers and kids can simply attend the AMC, the organizers and participants of the INCITE! Track have nurtured an inter-generational culture within the entire AMC, demonstrating how essential the contributions of kids, parents and caregivers are.   This year, through a partnership with To Tell You The Truth, the INCITE! Track included space for focused skill-sharing and strategizing between mamaz, m/others and community caregivers.

INCITE!s work at the AMC over the years has helped cultivate the soil of the AMC, so that other tracks could take root and grow there. The Art and Practice of Disability Justice track, coordinated by Sins Invalid and the National Youth Leadership Network in 2010, grew in part out of the disabled women of color media-maker caucuses within the INCITE! track at past AMCs.  The Creating Safe Communities track, coordinated by STOP, Revolution Starts at Home, Data Center, Visions to Peace Project and Durham Harm Free Zone Project, thrived within the 2010 AMC because of the space that the INCITE! track has nurtured there.

The INCITE! Track continues to deepen roots within the AMC, changing it and being changed by it.  We look forward to how the track will continue to grow, expanding our capacity to use media to end violence against our communities, to incite dialogue, heal and inspire, to build confidence and radical love.

We acknowledge that this is one account of our collective history, told through recorded events. There is also a history in the countless personal interactions, the way people have challenged themselves and each other to think differently, to apply their analysis in new ways, talking over meals or late into the night, encouraging each other to take the often frightening step of trying to realize a vision, to construct rather than destruct.  Help us record those other histories by sharing your memories and reflections in the comments section below.

The 2010 INCITE! National Collective includes Piya Chatterjee, Chela Delgado, Emi Kane, Jenny Lee, Karla Chueh-Mejia, Cara Page, & Kiri Sailiata

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