On December 10, 2009, the Center for Media Justice—and its signature project, the Media Action Grassroots Network—brought together nearly 20 media justice advocates for our first National Policy Advocacy Day. Collectively, our contingent represented eight regions across the country and 14 different community-based organizations working at the intersections of social and economic justice and media policy.
The purpose of our Policy Advocacy Day was threefold. Through a mixture of stories and powerful messaging, we were in Washington, D.C., to:
- Build and strengthen relationships between the FCC and our grassroots groups
- Demonstrate the political power of poor communities and communities of color in elevating our demands for Network Neutrality and Universal Broadband
- Articulate the potential impact of these policy decisions in our lives and create future opportunities to work with FCC decision-makers, congressional staff, and other champions to secure our goals
Our Policy Advocacy Day involved crucial beltway partners (Consumers Union, Media Access Project, Media and Democracy Coalition, Free Press) who supported our grassroots organizing and assisted us with planning and implementation. As a result, CMJ was able to create and host an advocacy day that included meetings with FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps as well as meetings with senior staff from Chairman Genachowski’s office. Finally, we ended our day meeting with staff from the Tri-Caucus (Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific Islander Caucuses). In each meeting our collective message was clear:
- Our communities need broadband defined as a Universal Service in the National Broadband Plan
- Our communities need strong Net Neutrality rules that support an open Internet
As a local-to-local advocacy network of grassroots social justice, media, and cultural organizations working together to shift power relations for social change through the critical use and transformation of media and communications systems, MAG-Net is committed to being more than a spectator in the public policy debate. As people who live and work in many of the communities most affected by structural inequity, we have a unique perspective. Our work is shaped—in a daily way—by real experiences of people on the wrong side of the digital divide. Unlike a policy brief or memo, we are able to deliver moving ‘first-person’ accounts of the real challenges people are facing.
The Main Street Project from Minnesota shared the story of Roxy, “a single mother, living on the north side of Minneapolis, who needs Internet access to report to the agencies that control her housing, food and daycare assistance.” The Media Literacy Project from New Mexico, talked about “a teenager [from Pajarito Mesa]–one of the most isolated parts of the city–who takes 17-mile trips on his bike to get to a library to do work and study.” And staff from Thousand Kites, spoke of the coal miners in Appalachia who “can’t submit comments to the EPA about the effects of mountaintop removal because they have no internet access.” These stories all highlighted the fact that the Internet is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. “What’s at stake is housing, education, jobs, and the general welfare of people,” Steven Renderos shared. We couldn’t agree more.
Yet Policy Day was only one piece of our weeklong activities. Another was the second annual Media Justice Leadership Institute (click on link for photo slideshow), a unique three-day organizing school that combines skills building and strategy convening to develop the policy leadership, community organizing, and policy advocacy skills of the media justice sector.
As a core component of a larger network learning community, MJLI ’09 used popular education, interactive skills trainings, multimedia tools, reflection, and community-building activities to engage participants in deepening their capacity to lead regional-to-national organizing and alliance building efforts to expand first amendment rights and digital inclusion—and secure accessible and affordable Universal Broadband.
MJLI ’09 was held at the National Labor College in Silver Springs, Maryland. Nineteen participants from 16 MAG-Net organizations participated in trainings that ranged from discussions titled “Globalization, Media and Poverty”, to a workshop on “Structural Racism, Racial Justice and Media Power”, to a panel on “Digital Justice and Building Social Movements.”
Overall, the gathering was a success—complete with a talent show and ruthless games of Taboo. As a network, we learned that there are areas where we need to strengthen and sharpen our skills. Yet, we also learned that we have growing capacity and a unique position that can strengthen the media policy sector as a whole. Our connections to communities are deep, and our ability to mobilize people is real. However, we are more than tools for outreach, recruitment and mobilization. In addition to these skills, we are also leading the creation of important connections between the beltway and grassroots communities–shaping new models of movement-building in the process. Not only are we mobilizing our communities to take action, we are also shaping policy, and then linking its future development to real-life implementation in a way that is seldom done.