The Allied Media Conference: A Place for Strategic and Visionary Media-based Organizing

The glue that holds the incredibly diverse content of the Allied Media Conference together is media-based organizing. Media-based organizing is any collaborative process that uses media, art, or technology to address the roots of problems and advances holistic solutions towards a more just and creative world.

The AMC opens its doors to everyone interested in using media-based organizing in their work, while uplifting voices that are often left at the margins of mainstream conversations. It engages familiar or conventional tools and bends them into things that are new and different.

In 2012, after my very first AMC, I wrote a reflection that attempted to document the magic I felt moving through the weekend:

I am a person who relies on almost indiscernible magic to sustain my belief in who we are as people and change makers. At the conference I watched for people's eyes to light up. I watched for early arrivers each day...These stories [being told] were the basis for creating media that strikes at the root of institutional oppression on almost every level, for providing access, an audience and any other type of canvas each of us needs to collectively build and share.

Since I wrote that reflection, I still see and believe in that beautiful AMC magic. But the term “magic” feels inaccurate now. The work we are doing, especially those of us whose voices are so often marginalized by society, is beyond magical. It is strategic, visionary and very concrete. The work and energy invested at the AMC by all of us – even those who do not live directly underneath the thumb of systematic dehumanization – is transformative because it centers collaboration, mutual transformation and continued investment.

Morgan AMC
Morgan Willis, program director of the AMC. Photo by Ara Howrani.

Many, if not most of us, who support, build and attend the AMC, embody the many forms of societal marginalization that creates unjust systems of criminalization, miseducation, violence, and oppression. Year after year these brilliant media-based organizers step into their power and become the heartbeat of the AMC: children and youth, queer and trans folx, parents, women, black and brown people, immigrants, sick and/or chronically ill people.

Together we are equipping ourselves as designers, creators, life hackers, strategists, inventors and beyond. We are quite literally changing the world, and it begins with “presuming our power” – one of AMP’s Network Principles that is integral to our organizing at the AMC. Presuming our power means asking participants across identities and diasporas to bring their listening ears, best practices, unique resources and visionary organizing into a space where it can grow and adapt to different contexts. It asks people to listen to the expertise around them, especially when it doesn’t look conventional or sound easily attainable. The presumption of power asks us to honor the work that precedes ours and look towards building solutions. It asks us to be committed to failing better over and over again. This is when the AMC is most magical – when we struggle together with strategic vision.

This conference requires us to commit to building together in a world we don't choose and that isn’t ideal. Our collective effort to create an open space of possibility is not the same thing as being a space that open-sources strategy and practice. The first is reliant on the intangible quality of “magic”, the second is merely energized by it. The work of finding solutions that uplift the entire AMC network is on our shoulders together.

Photo by Ara Howrani.

In early 2012, I got to participate in a Detroit Future Media class that examined the concept of media-based organizing. We explored Detroit through the lens of mainstream media – pulling examples from print journalism, television, and visual campaigns. We learned the way that media can play a pivotal role in setting the tone for harmful legislation (like the non-democratically appointed Emergency Fiscal Manager in 2013), gentrification (like the removal of elderly folks from downtown to make way for condos), racialized violence (like the murder of Renisha McBride), and invasive surveillance (Dan Gilbert’s security cameras downtown). Together we learned how mainstream voices were activating every media platform, synchronizing their messages and setting the stage for cooptation and continued oppression.

The work we have to do is both preparatory and reactive. It is local and translocal. It asks us to teach each other what we know and together endeavor into the unfamiliar. The AMC’s power is in its commitment to fostering producers of media, rather than consumers. It is in accepting the challenge of making unique room for all the different voices in our network to be heard.

When we examine our roles at the AMC through the lens of media-based organizing, we commit to producing holistic, dynamic answers to the most pressing questions in our lives as media-makers: How do we build and reclaim our own identities using media? As we develop agency, how do we avoid re-creating systems of oppression? How do we move from consumers of these harmful narratives, to producers of our own stories that impact new audiences? What tools, tactics and techniques can we share without formal education models? What isn't working that we are stuck on? When do we need to strategize together? What are our priorities? What do we need to create?

These questions are the work that lives within media-based organizing. These are our big, timely questions.

As we move into 2016, the AMC will once again be a homecoming space where we continue the work of media-based organizing. Imbalance is certain – we are an imperfect body of people, with collective genius that is bursting at the seams. The excitement, the energy, the network’s brilliance is once again, center stage.

We are excited to explore and uplift the work you are doing to create, connect and transform.

With great enthusiasm, I invite you to join us: propose a track, network gathering, or practice space for AMC2016, and stay tuned for our call for session proposals coming this winter.

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