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
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:145 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:1277 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:130 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:534 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:501 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:231 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 is under the control of a governor-appointed emergency financial manager. The Motor City is the largest district in the nation to have its voters and elected officials sidelined by this new experiment in "crisis management."
Michigan residents might be wondering how this EFM got appointed. Didn’t they roundly reject financial managers in a statewide referendum in November? Michigan residents voted to...
Harriet Rowan | PR Watch 28 Mar 2013 Hits:536 Michigan
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 media, Stampfler is former emergency manager of Pontiac, Michigan. He said: “I do not believe emergency managers can be successful — they abrogate the civic structure of the community for a period of years then return it virtually dismantled for the community to attempt to somehow make a go of it. The program provides no...
Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) 15 Mar 2013 Hits:736 Michigan
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 hit by a 2011 state law that limited the amount public employers can pay for workers'health insurance. That's now being applied retroactively to these teachers, cutting as much as $300 from each paycheck.
"I am a five-year teacher who brings home $555.39 for two weeks and who currently qualifies for a Bridge Card," Ratliff told the school board Monday to loud...
Laura Clawson | Daily Kos 06 Mar 2013 Hits:678 Michigan
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) for the city.
Neil Munshi reported in the Financial Times that the emergency manager "would have relatively broad powers to handle the city’s dire financial situation."
In a blog post on the decision, Snyder writes: "Working together in partnership, we can more quickly and efficiently reform the finances in the city." But the EFM role is not one of ...
Andrea Germanos, staff writer | Common Dreams 02 Mar 2013 Hits:568 Michigan
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 similar lawsuit in federal court. The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit and assigned to Judge Stephen Murphy, claims that the law violates the rights of private sector union members who are covered under federal law rather than the laws of the state of Michigan:
The Michigan AFL-CIO, the Building and Trades Council, the Teamsters, SEIU, United Farm...
Eclecta Blog 16 Feb 2013 Hits:1090 Michigan
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 Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday were busy days with 100 and 117 bills respectively passing and Friday was a short day with 14 bills passing before the 2011-2012 legislature adjourned for the last time.
I was standing outside the east wall of the Capitol Building below the House chamber windows chanting “Kill the bill!” when the one unthinkable happened; bill SB 0116...
Ernie Whiteside | Vine Street Report 30 Dec 2012 Hits:497 Michigan
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 union dominance and served as an incubator for union activity over decades of modern American labor history.
The two bills, approved by the House of Representatives over the shouts of thousands of angry union protesters who gathered on the lawn outside the Capitol building, will among other things, bar both public and private sector workers from being...
Monica Davey | The New York Times 11 Dec 2012 Hits:582 Michigan
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 must: In four more weeks, it’ll all be over.
The Michigan Democrat just won his first congressional race, but in a twist of redistricting he’s already a lame duck. He was elected to a mere seven-week stint, ending on Jan. 2, to finish out Republican former Rep. Thad McCotter’s term.
(PHOTOS: Thad McCotter's career)
So Curson is spending his final...
Seung Min Kim | Politico 07 Dec 2012 Hits:889 Michigan
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 last two years. Today was the last day for this lame duck legislature to move forward a bill in one chamber and still have time to act on the same bill in the other chamber.
As the day began, House Bill 4054 and Senate Bill 116 were identical bills that would allow local units of government to establish so-called right-to-work zones....
Ernie Whiteside 07 Dec 2012 Hits:627 Michigan
WASHINGTON — Driving from Michigan in his Ford F150 pickup truck, David Curson arrived in Washington a week ago. He set up an office last Sunday, was sworn…
Four congressional aides to Michigan Republican U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter have been indicted for falsifying nominating petitions for McCotter's 2012 re-election bid, Michigan’s Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette…
The ballot initiative to repeal Michigan's onerous, anti-democratic Emergency Manager law will go on the November ballot, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled Friday. The repeal campaign had collected enough…
In its first major action on righting the city's finances, Detroit's financial advisory board approved Mayor Dave Bing's plans Thursday for $100 million in cuts to the city's…
Women’s health care should never be a political game. And yet, any time there is a contentious election around the corner, that is exactly what it becomes. Never has…
Planned Parenthood's mascot, "Pillamina," is expected to be present Wednesday during a protest outside Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's fundraiser at the Troy Marriott hotel. Credit Planned Parenthood of Michigan
What good is knowledge, if no one has access to it? That was the underlying question in Troy, Michigan where Tea Party activists sought to thwart a …
There has been much talk recently about the war on women, and for good reason — the onslaught of anti-choice legislation authored, sponsored, and voted into law…
In what the ACLU of Michigan has called the "greatest assault on reproductive rights" in the state's history, Michigan lawmakers are pushing a slew of anti-abortion measures they've…
Listen "Live" Friday, December 20th @ NoonMeet Andy ShallalPDA Board MemberCandidate for Mayor - Washington DC
PDA is organized around several core issues. These issues include:
Each team hosts a monthly conference call. Calls feature legislators, staffers and other policy experts. On these calls we determine PDA legislation to support as well as actions and future events.
For support in organizing within your state, contact:
Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Greater Detroit RegionProgressive Democrats of Monroe County Michigan
Planned ChaptersKalamazoo Want to bring progressive change to Michigan? Start a PDA chapter; send us an email and we'll get you started.
Information from SourceWatch