by Carlos Pareja
The recent death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, misrepresented by much of the American mainstream press as the end of a dictatorial strongman, should be a time to reflect, appraise, learn and advance the accomplishments of the Bolivarian Revolution and the social programs ignited after Chávez's election in 1998.
producers with Petare Radio Collective
In November 2011, I was invited by the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington to participate in a community media delegation that would travel to Caracas and visit different community media sites, communal councils and other government-supported programs throughout the city. Being a longtime media educator, activist and video-maker based in New York City and utilizing publicly available communications resources: public access television and community radio, I was excited to see firsthand what alternative, community media is in a country like Venezuela that provides a great deal of government support.
entrance to community radio station, Radio Negro Primero
Our small delegation visited the Colectivo Radiofónico de Petare (the Petare Radio Collective) and Radio Negro Primero, two community-run radio stations located in low-income neighborhoods of Caracas. Members of these stations spoke about their work, how they provided training and production resources to community members to tell stories that impact their lives. They highlighted the important role of community journalism and the inspiring work of collective production.
Having worked for over 5 years at Brooklyn's public access media center, BRIC Community Media, these words hit close to home. At orientation sessions for new members, I tried to convey hopeful and encouraging words to excite Brooklyn residents to participate in community TV. This was their channel! Their programs could reflect what mattered to them and their communities. It was heartening to hear and see how this similar message resonated in the words and work of Petare Radio Collective and Radio Negro Primero. These stations were anchors, hubs and public commons for the various districts they represented, led and organized by people living in the community. It was a media that penetrated deeper than PEG access or listener-sponsored radio because of community inclusion in decision-making and overall station management.
at Diego Ibarra News kiosk, a distribution center for alternative and community newspapers in downtown Caracas, with member of Radio Rebelde holding up a gift we brought from NYC.
And during a time in the U.S when public access stations are closing, reducing services or reevaluating public mission and threats by lawmakers to slash federal funding for PBS and NPR continue their ongoing cycle, it's astonishing to be in a space where because of government subsidies you can finish your stint as a DJ with a stop at el mercado down the hall for groceries. Or attend a workshop about Afro-Venezuelan culture then head upstairs to broadcast what you've taken away from the experience to share, discuss, learn and build with others.
Community media is but one facet in the socialist experiment of direct democracy and worker-control that Chávez promoted and the people of Venezuela will hopefully continue and advance.
youth chorus from José Martí Bolivarian School, Sarria, Caracas, part of the National System of Youth and Children's Orchestras, or “El Sistema” a music education program
a public playground in Catia, Caracas is converted into a voter registration site by the Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council)
Carlos Pareja, is a media educator, activist and digital artist who has worked with both adult and youth populations teaching video production, radio journalism, digital storytelling and media literacy. Currently he is consulting with Global Action Project on an educational curriculum focused on history andsocial justice movements and is a member of the advisory council for Paper Tiger Television.