I wanted to tell you all about a study I am wrapping up with Peter Funke, Dan Berger and a few other folks in Philadelphia. We received a grant from the Social Science Research Council’s (SSRC) “Necessary Knowledge for Public Sphere” initiative to study the Media Mobilizing Project) and their use of new media and digital inclusion to promote civic engagement in disenfranchised communities across Philadelphia
To offer some background, MMP was launched in 2005 as a strategic initiative to partner with local organizations, facilitating grassroots media production to advance socio-economic justice through the (self) empowerment of disenfranchised communities. MMP has four goals:
- Build community media infrastructure that results in concrete gains for groups.
- Innovate and implement new tactics for use of media in organizing campaigns.
- Assist organizations to build capacity, providing documentation and dissemination of audio/visual materials highlighting their issues.
- Develop leadership in new constituencies who are strengthening and expanding the focus of the media reform movement
The basis for MMP’s work is a belief that we have entered a new era of participatory communications, where people are increasingly called into the media production process through the ascendance of a range of technologies from blogs and podcasts to video cameras and cell phones. Paradoxically, while people have increased access to media making, we live in an increasingly undemocratic society plagued by structural inequities. This is illustrated by a media sector, which is rapidly consolidating, resulting in fewer communities having access. The root is not embodied in the media system alone, but rather in a highly stratified economic order.
Building on this vision in three years MMP has become a thriving network of 10 organizations across the region from students groups and immigrant rights organizations to taxi driver and hotel worker unions. Together this network of groups, aims to use new media to break our isolation, creating new networks to tell and share stories and build the power necessary to create a more just Philadelphia. One of the projects of the MMP network is Our City Our Voices: Immigrant Newscasts in the Digital Age, which is a 21st Century News Challenge Project. Through this project we have trained over 100 immigrants and low-wage workers in basic video and Web production while finding innovative avenues for getting people Internet access. The aim has been to offer the skills, access, and platforms for new communities to share stories in order to organize and make both personal and collective change.
Building on Our City Our Voices and other projects, the basis of the SSRC study is to analyze the linkages between issues of new media and civic engagement in impoverished communities. Through this study we are beginning to show new ways that new media and social justice can be twinned with organizing to overcome the digital divide and defy the economic obstacles underlying it.
One of the goals of the study is to produce a toolkit. This will be a 100-page book, which both analyzes the problems and possibilities of the information age, while offering practical lessons on how MMP has used new media as a tool for social change. We are now beginning to write this toolkit and we are thinking of organizing the toolkit in three sections: Part I would look at the history, strategy and present make-up of MMP; Part II would be stories from the field from folks in the network that have used new media in innovative ways and Part III will be a glossary of key terms.
Scholars of contemporary poverty tell us that the central aspect of impoverished communities is their political and civic demobilization. This study is an examination of how new technologies and the possibility of community media can offer new venues for those same communities to speak, engage in the democratic process and create the vision for a city which speaks to their concerns.