This is a guest post by Maddox Guerilla (Youth Leader) and Carlos Pareja (Media History Timeline Coordinator) of Global Action Project, a Hive Member Organization.
In the year 2017, seeds of revolution, rooted in the spirit of movement leaders like Martin Luther King and Dolores Huerta, are being harvested by the digital and net-based present day movements of black, brown, and TLGBQ lives in America.
Netroots Nation, the annual gathering of liberal bloggers, independent media makers and online organizers, connected fellow activists, educators and storytellers. Global Action Project, a social justice youth media organization, and a Hive member, attended several sessions and events aligned with our mission and met new allies in youth organizing. G.A.P.’s contingent also reconnected with longtime partners in media policy advocacy work within the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net).
Netroots Nation, was held in Atlanta, Georgia this past August. Steeped in civil rights history, Atlanta is an inspiring city, where one can tour the childhood home of Martin Luther King, Jr. and walk through Sweet Auburn, a neighborhood of black-owned businesses and organizations dating back to the Jim Crow era. Within this backdrop of freedom and struggle, the panels, screenings, and plenaries of Netroots, seemed to authenticate the critical need for convenings to share, grow and build. As white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia that same weekend for a rally of hate that brought violence and death, the urgency for progressive voices and community resistance has never been more apparent.
Protecting Students and their Families from Deportation a workshop led by Cesar Romero Perez from the American Federation of Teachers and Mateo Guerrero-Tabares of Make the Road, served as a know your rights training for new immigrants and the youth workers that serve them. Presenting horrifying numbers that starkly detail the objective reality of 2.5 million deportees under the Obama administration and the start of a new administration trumpeting an anti-Immigrant platform, the workshop brought in subjective, personal stories of families living in constant fear of separation. Living in these terrifying times when formulating back-up plans for worst case scenarios is too common, the tools and resources offered are invaluable for immigrant families and something tangible to share with our communities back home in New York.
Film screenings were also a major attraction for an organization engaged in the craft of visual storytelling. In darkened rooms, messages of resistance painted in shadow and light, reminded the audience that every generation has a responsibility to be a voice for their time and challenge the repressive forces of racism, classism, homophobia and other forms of oppression. This theme was prevalent in the film, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities. The film, directed by Stanley Nelson, highlighted the resilience of black lives in America and how our forebears fought for our education so we can stand where we do today.
This light of resistance was also apparent in the film, Dolores, about Dolores Huerta, the often unheralded but influential labor organizer, civil rights worker and co-founder of United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez. An inspiring documentary that uplifts the life of a powerful leader, the film also illustrates how media plays a significant role in how we see our heroes and consequently how we see ourselves. For the most part, mainstream narratives are experienced through the lens of white, cis-gender males, which may explain why Cesar Chavez is well known but few people have ever heard of Dolores Huerta, the backbone of the farmers movement, a tireless organizer who continues to inspire movement leaders to the present day.
Resistance takes many forms and sessions highlighting a more humorous approach at communicating struggle through cultural organizing included The Language of Resistance: Messaging and Content Creation to Combat Islamophobia. One of the panelists, Tanzilla “Taz” Ahmed, of the podcast #GoodMuslimBadMuslim, produced with Zahra Noorbakhshuses, uses comedy and art to combat the “fear Industrial complex.” Taz conveys that “as a brown person you internalize so many microaggressions everyday.” What she and Zahra do is turn these awkward moments into sharp and funny material for their podcast through segments like “Ask a Muslim” and a Muslim Voting Guide to help counter intimidation and racial profiling at the polls.
In the panel, A Whole New Woooorld: Organizing in Pop Culture Communities, fan-based communities for superheroes, science fiction and fantasy become sites for organizing towards greater inclusiveness and cultural equity. Cayden Mak, Executive Director of 18MillionRising.Org, a digital civic engagement hub for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, refers to a recent campaign his group organized around “racebending.” Urging corporations like Marvel to cast actors of color in roles for historically white Superhero characters “and make programming where fans of color see themselves.”
Plenaries at Netroots also became stages for protest in the Georgia gubernatorial campaign, as Black Lives Matter activists disrupted a speech by one of the candidates, former Democratic State Representative, Stacey Evans. As soon as Evans, who is white, began her speech activists stood in front of her holding up signs equating Evans to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and chanting “Trust Black Women!” Protesters appeared outraged by what they saw as Evans’ support for private school vouchers, an expansion of charter schools and other education issues.
Sunday arrived with the closing of another year of Netroots Nation. The different trainings, panels and screenings selected by Global Action Project each demonstrated models and practices that could support our work as social justice youth media organizers.
Gatherings like Netroots can help attendees by providing a space to make connections, build alliances and strengthen community. We’re hopeful what we’ve learned will help our organization in the long path of struggle that all progressives will have in the coming years of Trump.