The full moon shined down on Detroit last night as the fourth day of workshops, panels, assemblies, and cultural events at the U.S. Social Forum wrapped up for a close. The days seem to have gone by fast, filled with an avalanche of information and inspiration to serve my work in New Mexico as a media justice organizer. I’m excited to take back the knowledge and continue to advance creative ways to advance the causes of media justice.
I was happy to engage in another media justice workshop on Friday because it related to rural folks and their stories. New Mexico is a predominantly rural state, with 2 million people spread across the 5th geographically largest state in the country. The workshop was called Place Stories and was hosted by Edyael Casaperalta from the Center for Rural Strategies, and Steven Renderos from Main Street Project based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The workshop first had us introduce ourselves to each other by asking us to explain what we think describes our town versus what the media and societal stereotypes describe rural areas. All individuals in the room beautifully described a rich culture and very real issues they are facing in terms of access to basic infrastructure like that of communication and mobility. It became apparent in our conversations that rural communities need to reclaim their stories in order to counter the negative stereotypes that trivialize the experiences people have, including but not limited to historical and present racism and poverty. What Place Stories gave me was a chance to learn about an online tool, placestories.com, which allows for all our rural communities to connect across the US, and the world, with free software. It is a website made for communities with limited resources so that they can provide an audio or video 2-4 minute account of stories of their hometown or highlight issues relevant to the needs
of their community.
Very much related to this issue of needing to reclaim stories to enhance a cause surrounded by stereotypes was my experience later that day with the Reproductive Justice 101 workshop facilitated by Andrea Quijada of Media Literacy Project and the Third Wave Foundation. In this workshop we learned about the many issues that intersect on women’s and trans people’s bodies, including the culture of violence that threatens and forcibly tries to control women, especially women of color. These intersections stem from systemic racism in the prison industrial complex, the broken immigration system, the environment, homophobia/heteronormative system, and class and economic injustices, just to name a few. I want to say that even though the attacks on women’s bodies throughout U.S. history is very pervasive and bleak—starting with attacks on Native and Indigenous women’s bodies, followed by attacks on Black women’s bodies from the beginning of slavery in the U.S., to the current terror that immigrant women are facing now as mothers are being forcibly relocated and incarcerated.
Even though this may be a very stark history and reality, these spaces I participated in today showed me the power of digital storytelling in changing the system. In a way, digital stories are a type of medicine—our own resource to advance and find ideas and to find solidarity across many different borders in our lives. It feels awesome to be amongst communities that recognize that even a small Flip camera and a computer with editing software, can be used to advance and bring about policies that can benefit us, recognizing that media can shape society to bring in a more inclusive world that benefits all peoples’ lived struggles.
Candelario Vazquez, Media Justice Organizer, medialiteracyproject.org