Digital justice organizers work to move beyond questions of Internet access and work to bring control of media production and distribution to underserved communities.
Until very recently, the solutions to the digitial divide (or, how difficult it is for certain marginalized communities to access the internet) have centered on how to make computers more affordable for poor people or how to chip a few dollars off the overall price of an internet service subscription. A great example of this would be the recent “Internet Essentials” deal offered by Comcast as a part of the merger deal between Comcast and NBC. The deal offered low cost internet, computers and free training to low income people who qualified.
Services like Internet Essentials are important deals for many families who would otherwise simply not have the ability to access communication tools that so many of us take for granted, but they also don’t deal with core reasons around access either. For example, why don’t people have the money to access the internet? And is money the only thing that is needed to address access? Are there other important access issues like language barriers (i.e. if the classes are all taught in English, how many in the community can access them?) or communication styles?
I've been a longtime organizer for digital justice, a movement working to more holistically address inequalities around communication needs of underserved communities. Within the past few years, I began organizing with the Allied Media Conference, a week long gathering in Detroit of media makers from across the world. This work led me to two organizations, the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) and the Detroit Future Program (DF), that are doing digital justice work throughout the year in Detroit. The DDJC is a coalition of organizations in Detroit that agree to work together based on the common principles of digital justice. The DF program grew out of the work that the DDJC did and right now is working to help educators, community organizers, artists and entrepreneurs to use media and technology to transform education and economic development in Detroit. I work most closely with the DF program.
Both organizations hold to the principles of digital justice, which first and foremost ground communication as a human right. While marking communication as a human right rather than a question of access seems to be a subtle shift in strategies, and the immediate implications of this shift aren't extremely obvious, they’re important to bring to the forefront.
Focusing on the human right to communicate is less about bandaid fixes for structural problems and more about creating long term solutions that will fix the problem at the core. What that means is that as organizers, we are less invested in finding cheap computers or setting up computer labs in marginalized communities (although this is definitely important!) and more about recognizing that the fundamental right to communicate requires a healthy media infrastructure where entire communities gain more control in the production and distribution of media.
The digital justice principles, flesh out of what we mean when we say “fundamental human right to communicate.” Centering around Access, Participation, Common Ownership and Healthy Communities, these principles start to think through and address what a media infrastructure that centers the needs of community could and should look like. For example, not only do people have the right to access communication technology, but they also have the right to do so in their own language and as producers of media, not just as consumers. Or, digital technology should benefit the economic health of the community, not just internet service providers.
What this dedication to digital justice principles does is most obvious in the work being created by people in the program. Over the course of the past year, students in the Detroit Future Media program (one of the three DF programs) who are gardeners used the training they received to start blogs about their gardens or create documentaries about their work. Other students have used the workshops as a space to create an extended documentary about the consequences of environmental pollution in the 48217 community (48217 being the zip code of the community.)
I recently sat in on the graphic design class as it wrapped up student’s final projects. I got to watch as several students made their very first t-shirts featuring graphics that they themselves designed. Lydia Gambrell, a student in the class, showed me her t-shirt design and shared with me that she intended to use the conversations her shirt will start in her community to eventually create a space where elders could make their own shirts.
A series of community conversations were created to highlight students as they thought through their media projects and what classes they wanted to take. These conversations, in turn, demonstrate how important community building is to the way media was being learned. LaDonna Walker Little is taking video editing classes to help her with her community documentation process. She lives in the Northend of Detroit, a community she describes as being infused a with deep musical history that is on the verge of being lost. But the work she wants to do is not just about her. She also wants to share the skills she learns with the youth at her ministry so that they can help her document the Northend’s history as well.
Students in the program already have an idea of how they want to use the skills the classes will teach them. They already understand the importance of digital skills and access in today’s world. They don’t need classes to teach them that. What they do need is what every media producer needs, a community of fellow artists, thinkers, and workers who want to use media tools to accomplish personal and community goals. They need a media infrastructure.
Students in Detroit Future are creating a media infrastructure. And they’re making sure that the infrastructure they’re creating is a holistic one.
Take, for example, how the influence of Twitter has shaped the face of our community. While we started off using Twitter as a way to document classes for reporting purposes, it eventually shifted into an amazing way for a community to stay connected to and supportive of each other. At a recent community dinner, folks at the dinner tweeted pictures of the food being served and the music being played, and eventually other community members showed up to enjoy the meal as well. Those who weren’t able to make it participated through Twitter, commenting on the food and art that was created at the event, and retweeting video and photos of youth performing.
In a city where one or two families living on a block of empty houses is not uncommon and it can often take two hours or longer by bus to travel distances that take minutes by car (if the bus even is running that day), this level of community building bridges the digital divide in a more meaningful and important way than a free computer would. Or as Jenny Lee described in this recent article about Detroit Future, "We’re not training people in the one-way communication streams that traditional media provide. We don’t really think that if everyone could tell their own story, everything would suddenly be better. It’s the process that’s important, the face to face conversations and relationships that emerge through it.”
In short, communication as a human right has meant entering into a community relationship through media. It’s meant us to learn how to be together, not just organize together.
Communication as a human right helps to more easily negotiate the basic reality of Detroit. In each neighborhood, on each block, there are often problems so big, it can be easier to just leave. Creating space where communication is respected as a human right makes it possible for hundreds, for thousands, of people to work on a local and even individual level together to fix the multitudes of problems--rather than those thousands of people waiting for one major entity like the government or a corporation to come in and save them.
We can save ourselves. And while communication as a human right all by itself won't solve everything--it's the linked arms and warm breath that holds us together. And that makes it everything.
Link to original article from AlterNet
After initially stating he would rule on an emergency appeal to stop water shutoffs at the end of Tuesday’s court session, US federal bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes announced Wednesday he would issue no decision until at least September 17. This means the city, which has shut off water service to nearly 1,000 households since resuming this brutal policy last week, will continue for at least the next two weeks.
Rhodes appointed a mediator from the US bankruptcy court, US chief judge Phillip Shefferly, to hold “confidential” mediations between the Detroit Water...
Lawrence Porter | World Socialist Web Site 04 Sep 2014 Hits:540 Michigan
While they carry signs “Thirsty For Justice” nearly 45% of Detroit’s 173,000 water accounts are considered past due, with 420 customers due to be denied service Tuesday.
The bankrupt Detroit lifted the month-long suspension of shutting off water to people who have not paid bills. Some 25,000 customers have reached payment plans with the city.
The new system seems to be working very well,” said John Roach, spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan. The biggest changed to the payment plan program was to require only 10% of past-due balances to enter a payment...
Kaye Wonderhouse | The Global Dispatch 28 Aug 2014 Hits:474 Michigan
DETROIT, Mich. (WJLA/AP) -- Detroit's massive municipal water department, which has been widely criticized for widespread service shutoffs to thousands of customers, drew nationwide attention Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Due to public pressure, the department has temporarily suspended shutoffs for customers who were 60 days or more behind on bills for 15 days.
But with the prospect of shutoffs resuming in a week, some members of Congress are now asking the Obama administration and the Department of Health and Human Services to intervene in what they contend is a humanitarian crisis facing...
Scott Thurman | AP | ABC 7 News 01 Aug 2014 Hits:670 Michigan
Maude Barlow, Canadian author and national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, with a delegation of water rights advocates brought 260 gallons of water to Detroiters July 24.
Of the 15,000 homes that have had water shut off by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, it is estimated that only 48 percent are back in service.
“We came to pay tribute to the people of Detroit,” Barlow said in remarks made at St. Peter’s Church, Michigan and Trumbull, where the water was delivered.
“Fresh water and sanitation are human rights guaranteed by the United Nations,”...
The Michigan Citizen 30 Jul 2014 Hits:611 Michigan
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department is suspending its water shutoffs for 15 days starting today to give residents another chance to prove they are unable to pay their bills.
“In case we have missed someone who has legitimate affordability problems this will allow them to come to us to see if they can work out payments,” department spokesman Bill Johnson said. “We’ve always maintained that what we were doing was a collection effort — not a shutoff effort.”
The decision comes after the city has put into national spotlight for a...
Brent Snavely, Matt Helms | Detroit Free Press 21 Jul 2014 Hits:520 Michigan
Oh, make you wanna holler
The way they do my life
This ain't livin', this ain't livin'
No, no baby, this ain't livin'
No, no, no, no
--Marvin Gaye, "Inner City Blues"
On July 18 thousands of activists and dozens of organizations will converge on downtown Detroit to protest the privatization of the city’s assets and the disconnection of water to tens of thousands of low-income residents. The UN has called the shutoff a human rights violation. Demonstrators from around the country will rally in Hart Plaza at 1 pm, linking arms with the citizens of...
Ben Ptashnik and Victoria Collier | The Progressive 09 Jul 2014 Hits:630 Michigan
Detroit made international news this month when its municipal water board resumed cutting off water to residents with unpaid bills. With thousands of community members struggling in homes with no running water, local groups reached out (PDF) to the United Nations special rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation to intervene. On Wednesday, U.N. officials responded, calling the water department’s actions a “violation of the human right to water and other international human rights.”
The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s decision to cut off residents with unpaid...
Anna Lappé | Al Jazeera English 02 Jul 2014 Hits:1070 Michigan
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) won't appear on the Democratic primary ballot after failing to submit enough valid signatures, Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett said on Tuesday.
"It is my determination that in accordance with the current laws and statutes of the State of Michigan, the nominating petitions filed by Congressman John Conyers, Jr. are insufficient to allow his name to appear on the August 5, 2014 Primary Ballot," Garrett said in a statement.
The decision means Conyers may have to run as a write-in candidate if he wants to keep a seat he's held...
Cameron Joseph | The Hill 14 May 2014 Hits:745 Michigan
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) will retire at the end of his current term, capping a historic career as the longest-serving member of Congress in history.
In prepared remarks for his annual "State of the District" speech distributed by his office Monday afternoon, Dingell described his decision as personal and rooted in the standards he had set for himself as a lawmaker.
"Around this time every two years, my wife Deborah and I confer on the question of whether I will seek reelection. My standards are high for this job. I put...
Sean Sullivan | Washington Post 24 Feb 2014 Hits:673 Michigan
On December 3, United States Bankruptcy Judge Stephen A. Rhodes—to the surprise of no one—formally ruled that Detroit is “eligible” for bankruptcy. In other words, creditors will now wrangle over Detroit’s government assets with Rhodes as the referee.
It is important to understand that at no point has Detroit declared or requested bankruptcy. Indeed Detroiters and others in Michigan have resisted as best they could, only to be overpowered at every turn. As Judge Rhodes explains below, bankruptcy has been orchestrated from Lansing (the state capitol) with a lot of help...
Frank Joyce | AlterNet 17 Dec 2013 Hits:585 Michigan
Michigan lawmakers passed a controversial measure on Wednesday that will ban all insurance plans in the state from covering abortion unless the woman's life is in danger. The law, which takes effect in March, will force women and employers to purchase a separate abortion rider if they would like the procedure covered, even in cases of rape and incest.
Supporters of the "Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act" argue that it allows people who are opposed to abortion to avoid paying into a plan that covers it. Opponents have nicknamed it the "rape...
Laura Bassett | Huffington Post 11 Dec 2013 Hits:1788 Michigan
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes ruled Tuesday that the city of Detroit is eligible for bankruptcy after a long court battle between city appointed 'emergency manager' Kevyn Orr and union and labor activists who say the decision paves the way for workers' pensions to be cut.
Rhodes ruled that Detroit is insolvent, a legal criteria for bankruptcy, meaning it can cut public pensions for the bankruptcy filing.
Critics say the city bankruptcy filing, the first of its kind, is an attack on pensions and future livelihoods for workers in the city of...
Common Dreams Staff 03 Dec 2013 Hits:487 Michigan
Contradicting what the corporate media editorial boards have promoted in chorus with the multi-millionaire Governor Rick Snyder and his appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, 110 people filed objections to the forced bankruptcy of the City of Detroit. The hearing took place on September 19 and was widely covered in the local, national and international press.
This extraordinary hearing had provided only a small window of time for legal action. Many of the people that testified were retirees, city workers, community organizers and professionals who met the deadline set by the Judge...
Abayomi Azikiwe | Global Research 24 Sep 2013 Hits:878 Michigan
Much has been justifiably made about the damage the Roberts Supreme Court has done to voting rights in their recent decision, Shelby County v. Holder. However, a potentially more insidious plot denying the precious right to vote is occurring in my own state of Michigan, where Republican Governor Rick Snyder has appointed an emergency manager to run Detroit in place of the duly elected mayor and City Council. Even more troubling, the governor did so after Michigan voters had rejected the emergency manager law at the ballot box, when late...
Rep. John Conyers, Jr | Huffington Post 16 Sep 2013 Hits:811 Michigan
Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in the nation’s history Thursday afternoon, capping a long decline that left the nation’s automaking capital bleeding residents and revenue, while rendering city services a mess.
The nation’s fourth-largest city in the 1950s with nearly 2 million residents, the city has seen its populaton plummet to 700,000 as residents fled increasing crime and deteriorating sevices, taking their tax dollars with them.
The five-decade slide has left the city owing creditors some $19 billion and under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. The manager has been...
Michael A. Fletcher | The Washington Post 18 Jul 2013 Hits:482 Michigan
In November, Michiganders voted the state's undemocratic Emergency Financial Manager law out of existence. But that didn't keep Snyder and legislators from claiming control of Motor City.
As of today, Detroit…
On Thursday an emergency manager was named for Detroit, Kevyn Orr, a partner in the Jones Day law firm.
MICHAEL STAMPFLER, [email] Available for a limited number of interviews with major…
Teachers in Grand Rapids, Michigan, say that new paycheck cuts are leaving them with so little pay they qualify for food stamps. The teachers, working without a contract, have been…
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder declared the city of Detroit in a state of "fiscal emergency" on Friday afternoon and announced he would appoint a emergency financial manager (EFM)…
On the heels of a lawsuit filed recently in the Ingham County District Court challenging the constitutionality of Michigan’s new Right to Work law, a coalition of unions has filed a…
Michigan’s so-called lame duck legislature passed a remarkable 232 bills in its last week of business. Only one bill, SB 0116 (2011), the so-called Right to Work Bill, passed on…
LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan Legislature approved sweeping legislation on Tuesday that vastly reduces the power of organized labor in a state that has been a symbol of…
Newly elected Rep. Dave Curson moved into his spacious, sun-drenched Capitol Hill office three weeks ago, eager to savor every minute of his congressional career.
And relish it he…
Lansing, MI – Many concerned worker gathered in Lansing today as Republican legislators scrambled to move forward two bills that had been dormant in their committees for most of the…
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