”We won’t take it any more!” Or will we?
The Media Reform conference was a rousing meeting of 3,500 people who care enough about the situation of the media in the U.S. to come to Memphis to complain, document, strategize and scheme about ways to change it. Several times over the weekend the gathering was compared to the civil rights struggle. The presence of the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel down the road from the conference center reinforced that connection.
It will take more than panels and well meaning internet petitions. At some point we have to go to the streets and the lunch counters and eventually even the jails.
Media Justice History: March Against the Moguls
For some of us this “movement” began at the time of Don Hazen’s 1996 Media and Democracy Conference in New York when Paper Tiger and FAIR and others organized the March Against the Moguls. That march was initially refused, then discouraged by the leadership of that conference. But when it was clear it would happen anyway, the conference did announce it and reluctantly got on board. A double decker “tourist bus” was leased and banners made to hang off the sides. The Bread and Puppet Theater made Hounds of the Press paper maché puppets, posters and chants were distributed.
The march of several thousand went from Times Square to CBS, ABC, the MTV building and Fox. Angry speakers and fierce rappers were applauded with gusto.
In Memphis, Bill Moyers gave a speech which quoted Danny Schecter’s description of that march, which according to Moyer’s quotation, left Danny feeling impotent and defeated:
"Danny Schechter recalled how some years ago he marched with a band of media activists to the headquarters of all the big media companies concentrated in the Times Square area. Their formidable buildings strutted with logos and limos, and guarded by rent-a-cops, projected their power and prestige. Danny and his cohorts chanted and held up signs calling for honest news and an end to exploited programming. They called for diversity and access for more perspectives. "It felt good," Danny said, "but it seemed like a fool's errand. We were ignored, patronized and marginalized. We couldn't shake their edifices or influence their holy business models. We seemed to many like that lonely and forlorn nut in a New Yorker cartoon carrying an ‘End of the World is Near’ placard."
I don’t know about Danny, but that day was quite the opposite for me and for many of us there. For FAIR’s Jeannine Jackson, Steve Rendall, Jeff Cohen, Laura Flanders and Paper Tiger’s Michael Eisenmenger, Carlos Pareja, Linda Iannacone, and DCTV’s Hye Jung Park, the event was an initiation into the potential of a real media movement for justice, not just reform. They have all stayed with the struggle—for example, Hye Jung is now the director of the Media Justice Fund, Eisenmenger is now Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s main policy strategist, Carlos is doing similar work at Brooklyn Cable Access Center, and of course FAIR has deepened their commitment.Of course there were other even earlier occasions when people went to the streets to protest the media: during the First Gulf War in 1991 we had Operation Storm the Media, which, borrowing the name of the military action, brought several thousand marchers to the networks. TV sets were burned in effigy and weird zeroxed masks of network anchors looking like clones. The camcorder commandos made their first appearance in fluorescent camoflauge carrying cameras and signs to Make Video Not War. This march was documented in one of my favorite Paper Tiger tapes called Storm the Media. Xav LePlae and May Ying Welsh were the principle producers of that exhuberent tape.
And there have been other occasions. A big demonstration was held in front of Fox right after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Linda Iannacone and Reverend Billy were speakers at the rally.
One of my favorite actions was in the NAB exhibit hall in 2000. There was a rally and march in San Francisco in conjunction with the radio meeting of the NAB (the National Association of Broadcasters—the trade organiztion that lobbied heavily against low power FM. Activists locked themselves together and police were unable to remove the locks or move them for quite a while.
So the authorities, in essence, created a radio station: they put up partitions around the protesters, presumably to shield the NAB members from seeing this disruption, but this turned the protesters into a live radio show, shouting out chants that the people owned the airwaves and that low power FM had a right to be heard.
To achieve media justice we need to raise our level of commitment. Next Media “Reform” Conference needs to speak of strategies that go beyond internet petitions to Congress. An authentic movement needs to march and to encourage the sort of non-violent civil disobedience that helped to open the airwaves for low power FM.