By Betty Yu

“Everything from revolutions to the environment and health is shaped by how we connect, document, and change our lives.”

-Mission Statement of the New York Life Symposium on the New Media Era

I have to admit when I was invited to speak on behalf of the Center for Media Justice at a Symposium that was sponsored by the New York Life Foundation, a charity arm of the insurance giant at the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies at City College of New York I was skeptical of the outcomes it would bring both in content and audience.  But then I heard that Farai Chideya, a highly respected African American journalist, radio host, and novelist was spearheading the effort – I felt much better and was immediately on board.

As I learned more about the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies, which was started in 1997 to prepare new generations of publicly engaged leaders from populations previously underrepresented in public service and policy circles I realized that this was a great opportunity to bring media justice issues and policy change efforts to a young energetic group of aspiring policy advocates. The program currently focuses its efforts in areas of community and economic development, education, health care, environmental concerns, international development, and global security issues.  And after the success and positive feedback the organized received from the Symposium, the Policy Center is interested in working on media reform and policy issues.

On Wednesday, March 16th, the Civic Engagement in the Era of New Media Event was held at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, New York City and was a part of the 2011 New York Life Symposium.  With nearly 200 people in attendance, the event seemed to bring together a broad audience, mainly academics, students, policy advocates, activists and community members.I was really inspired and pleased to see an event where the people who organized the event, presented on stage, and sat in the audience were majority people of color.  It was refreshing to see and feel the positive energy in the room of people who were eager to hear about new media tools and how they could be used to promote civic engagement and social change. The fellows of Colin Powell Program in Leadership and Public Service organized this Symposium and it’s intent was to examine how social media could potentially bring greater collective action, community building and organization.  They also wanted to explore the ways in which new media can diffuse power that is so concentrated in few corporate hands amplify the voices from the most marginalized communities.

I was honored to share the stage with Deanna Zandt, a media technologist and the author of Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking; Majora Carter of Majora Carter Group and pioneer of green-collar job training and placement systems in the South Bronx; Chris Cathcart, Founder, One Diaspora Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting areas in need throughout the African Diaspora. and Hilary A. Doe, Director of the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a students advocate group.   Farai Chideya, who hosted the event framed the symposium as a forum to explore the challenges of integrating media activism, policy change and direct civic engagement.

On the plenary, I mainly spoke about MAG-Net’s media justice work on a local and national level.  I spent some time talking about the FCC’s vote in December and how it will be a devastating  blow to mobile users who use their phone to access the Internet.  Not surprisingly most of the people in the audience didn’t know anything about the vote and how this will disprorpriately impact people of color, low-income, rural, native and poor communities.  This is of course because, the telecommunications lobby is so strong and media policy reform groups fall short when it comes to connecting the issues to people’s lives.

Overall, the symposium offered a lively and insightful conversation with community organizers and practitioners in the field of new media.  Topics addressed included independent journalism, organizing students on campus through text messaging and twitter and the importance of wireless policy issues as an essential battle that need to be won.  I also shared a lot of resources for participants to stay connected, educated and up-to-date on the latest issues concerning net neutrality or wireless phones.








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