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DETROIT, MICHIGAN—The Allied Media Conference's reputation is that it is one of the best conferences in the United States—period. After attending the 12th annual AMC in June, I think it’s fair to say that the conference outdoes its own reputation.
There are broad lessons for organizing conferences that can be taken away from the AMC, as well as specific insights linked to media organizing in the United States that could go a long way in rejuvenating media activism in Canada.
Stepping out of the hot and humid air into the lightly air conditioned building at Detroit's Wayne State University—which served as a hub for the conference—it was obvious this was different from typical media conferences.
Most of the volunteers and folks hanging out in the lobby were people of colour. The vibe was friendly and uninhibited: punks, queers, nerds, fashionistas and students milled around, chatting, sitting up on couches deep in discussion or leaning back, resting. Throughout the weekend there was a strong presence of students and activists from Detroit, an encouraging sign that the conference wasn’t just descending on the city but that it was learning from and contributing to local community projects.
“We are here at the Allied Media Conference this year, and every year there are more hearts, there are more souls, there are more stories, there are more connections, there’s more love, there’s more hope, there’s more happening, than anywhere I go in the year, and I mean that, seriously,” said Ron Scott from Detroit’s Coalition Against Police Brutality in the opening ceremony. This year about 400 people, mostly from the US, attended the AMC.
Organizers and participants made direct links between the need for alternative and radical media and broader social and economic issues including capitalism, police violence, prisons, environmental destruction, ableism, and gendered and racialized violence, to name a few. These links were made possible by a holistic approach to reclaiming media that went far beyond the idea of “media democracy” into the realm of “media justice.” To date, there is no equivalent to the AMC in Canada.
“If you hope to radically restructure the media you have to begin with the slow and deep work of allowing space for the oppressed to speak and have control over media,” Anthony Meza-Wilson, a Vancouver-based educator who attended the AMC told The Dominion. “It isn't enough to label yourself as ‘democratic media’ or ‘progressive media’ if the voices that are heard, the languages used, and the narratives spoken still all come from people of privilege, academics, and professional journalists.”
It’s clear that over the last 11 years, the founders and organizers of the AMC have been able to do that work that Meza-Wilson describes and create trusting spaces for media activists that are outside of the academic, professional world of media to come together and “create, connect, transform”—as the conference slogan goes.
One of the strengths of the AMC was that presenters were themselves media activists, journalists, mud stencilers, and Indigenous media makers, people with different abilities, women of colour who organize against violence, and ex-prisoners.
The AMC adheres to a series of network principles, which include emphasizing the power and legitimacy of participants, assuming agency not victimization, and working to highlight solutions coming through process, not at the end of a process. Perhaps most important is the last principle: “We begin by listening.”
Workshops were based around seven tracks, which included the Art and Practice of Disability Justice, Ecojustice Media Making for Sustainable Communities, Communication Strategies for Ending the Prison Industrial Complex and Indigenous Media and Technology.
The ambitious 84-page AMC schedule was filled with workshops, discussions, caucuses, panels and skill builders ranging from queer/trans people of colour zine-making to youth discussions on the movie Avatar. The definition of “media” was broad enough to include activities like mud stencils, coding drupal, political art and silkscreening.
Throughout the weekend, there were information tables set up, creating a book fair atmosphere and a space for people to talk at length about their projects. Downstairs, there was a live radio stream set up with DJs old and new sharing the mic with conference attendees. A table dedicated to building radio transmitters was busy all weekend, while people soldered, discussed and plotted.
AMC organizers have already put the word out for people to “save the date” for next year’s conference, to be held June 23-26 in Detroit. Anyone interested in media and justice would be well served by being there.
Dawn Paley is a journalist based in Vancouver. She made a presentation about the Vancouver Media Co-op during a packed session at the AMC in June.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.