“Art, Access & Action: The Moral Imperative?” (A Major Arts & Media Summit in Chicago)

Check back for more videos from the “Art, Access & Action” Summit Interview Project w/ Students.


What: “Art, Access & Action” A Columbia College Chicago Arts & Media Summit

When: Thursday & Friday, April 8th & 9th, 2010 (10 am-9 pm both days)

Where: 1104 S. Wabash, Columbia College Chicago Film Building, Downtown Chicago







Summit to Explore Shifts in Media, Technology, Arts That Threaten Future of Democracy

For Immediate Release
April 6, 2010

Kevin Gosztola

Media Advisory

Summit to Explore Shifts in Media, Technology, Arts That Threaten Future of Democracy

Columbia College Conference to Connect Young Artists & Media Makers To Community Social Activists – Empower Youth to Create 21st Century-Style Social Change

Sponsor: Columbia College Chicago’s Critical Encounters (info)

Event: “Art, Access & Action: The Moral Imperative” Summit (Website) –
Students, faculty, and staff from Columbia College Chicago will come together with artists, media makers, and arts or media activists/organizers for an event that will connect visual, audio, performing, and multimedia artists, musicians, filmmakers, journalists, marketers, arts managers, and television and radio professionals to real world problems and to the work of media outlets and seasoned community activist. This connection will address the social justice issues of everyday people and help build relationships. And, the participants and audience will learn how young and seasoned community activists have successfully used traditional and new media as well as the arts as tools in the service of important social change efforts.

Speakers will include Jeff Biggers, Malkia Cyril, Andrew Huff, Patrick Lichty, Victor M. Montanez, Salim Muwakkil, Gordon Quinn, Paul Street, and Tracy Van Slyke.

Public: Two evening public forums will feature noted Chicago journalist and
Forums activist Salim Muwakkil speaking on media’s treatment of Race in the Post Obama Era with Paul Street and Stan West (Thur April 8- 6:30) and internationally lauded investigative reporter and author Greg Palast speaking about the threats to public participation in democracy caused by media policy changes.

When: Thursday, April 8th and Friday, April 9th

Where: Columbia College Chicago Film Building (Ludington Building)
1104 S. Wabash ;Chicago, IL 60605

Artists, Grassroots Organizing & the Civil Rights Struggle for a Free, Open Internet

Posted on OpEdNews

Flickr Photo by NCMR2007| Malkia Cyril speaks at Free Press’ National Conference for Media Reform in 2007.

On April 8th & 9th, Columbia College in Chicago will host a major arts & media Summit called “Art, Access & Action” to explore the intersection of arts, media and politics and the role of artists and media makers in society. The college will give community arts & media organizations and organizations that promote art and media activism a unique opportunity to connect with students who are interested in creating art and media for social change.

The Summit will also look at shifts in art, media, and technology that threaten the future of democracy in America.

As co-chair and a lead organizer of this Summit, I interviewed one of the Summit’s speakers, Executive Director for the Center for Media Justice Malkia Cyril. She is a communication rights activist, someone dedicated to the struggle to ensure that people of color’s rights are defended as regulations are passed determining how much power and control corporations have over the Internet.

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: How did you get involved with the Center for Media Justice? How did the Center for Media Justice come to be?

MALKIA CYRIL: The Center for Media Justice started in 2002. It was a project that used to be called the Youth Media Council. It was a project of organization called We Interrupt This Message. It was started initially to respond to the incredible media bias against young people of color in California and the way stereotypes were being used to fuel a racist public debate around criminal justice here.

Over time, we realized that those stereotypes were the result of serious structural problems in our media system that excluded people of color, that created inequities, that ensured that certain voices were privileged in public debate while other voices were left out. And so we began to focus more on media policy and ensuring that those same voices — the voices of young people, the voices of people of color in both rural and urban communities — were able to participate in making the rules that structured the media game and not just playing in it once the rules were already made.

How I came to it is I founded it and I founded it because my family, both my mother and father, were Black Panthers in Brooklyn, New York. And, I basically witnessed the aftermath of media bias, what media bias can do to a movement. I wanted to ensure that people of color, the left, young people, and migrant communities were able to create a media system that didn’t do that to them.

GOSZTOLA: On the website, the Center defines its agenda in three parts race, youth and media–how was it determined that was how the agenda would be divided?

CYRIL: [Well, I would really say] the categories are race, policy, and content. Race in an overarching way shapes both how the rules are made at the FCC and Congress that relate to what kind of journalism we have, whether or not we have access to the Internet, whether not we can make phone calls and afford to use our phones, who gets cable and who doesn’t, who gets public access and who doesn’t. Some cities are able to use that technology to improve the lives of the people, some cities aren’t. So in an overarching way our media system is fragmented by racism. And so, we’re working in terms of content campaigns–so working around hate speech, working around media diversity, working around ensuring people of color are not digitally redlined. Across the board, racism is an overarching piece that touches in all of our campaigns.

In terms of policy and regulation, we’re working with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make sure that marginalized communities—all the communities I mentioned before (migrant folk, native folk, in general people of color, poor folk particularly in rural communities)–that all of these folks get access, get to step in to conversation about media rules. Right, so that those communities get to participate in the democratic process of deciding what rules are going to move forward and what rules are going to be pushed back.

In our policy campaign, we’re focused right now on protecting an open Internet. We’re focused right now on ensuring the civil rights community steps into that fight around the open Internet so our open Internet campaign is around the open Internet and civil rights.

Another fight in the policy arena is around broadband access–making sure that broadband is defined as a universal service. And then, a third campaign will be around the universal service fund–making sure the Internet (including all the things on it including your phone service, your television that you get digital, all of the digital services) that they are affordable and affordable to all people.

In the third area, it’s more focused on alternative. So, ensuring that we have real journalism and that journalism really tells a good story, a true story about our communities. That we have real public access and funding–that these companies actually break off real change for public access. And then, figuring out ways to use digital technologies to improve and empower our communities.

So, the three arenas I would break our work down in is transforming and eliminating racism and poverty, changing policy to reach that goal, and defending and creating new alternatives to improve our lives.

GOSZTOLA: What is the biggest obstacle that you find your organization is running into as you fight to keep the Internet open, fair and free? I’m noting the recent court decision.

CYRIL: I would say our biggest obstacle is the extraordinary power of corporations to define the debate, to use their profits to secure partners they would not otherwise have. So, let me be more specific.

The media companies have been central in communities of color for a very long time. Like McDonald’s, Verizon gives lots of scholarships. They are a huge provider of jobs. There’s a lot that they do in communities of color and a big part of why they do it is because this where they make a lot of their profit through their phones, through their video franchising, through a bunch of different things.

They also give national beltway civil rights groups a ton of money; we’re talking about millions of dollars—2.5 million dollars to the NAACP last year, millions of dollars to the Urban League, millions of dollarsto a Latino beltway group in D.C., and going down the list the National Council of La Raza—all of these groups receive tons of money from the biggest media companies. As a result, those organizations have taken a stance against an open Internet despite the fact that evidence clearly demonstrates that an open Internet would increase opportunities for the poorest among us, the darkest among us, that they have taken a stance in opposition to it and they are spouting industry studies that are clearly designed to move an industry and they’re done by industry folks. They are not independently researched.

So, the biggest obstacles is this particular unique partnership between the civil rights community and the major media corporations because it gives our communities a false impression, false information about what an open Internet, who will help and who it will hurt. The only entities that open Internet limits are Big Media companies. And, the whole idea is that having an open Internet means you have Internet that does not have corporate gatekeepers. And that forces big corporations to compete and it forces them to
provide services regardless of one’s ability to pay. It provides the only consumer protections that are found on the Internet.

To have major civil rights groups stand in opposition to this particular piece is very, very difficult. It means that all over the country organizations that claim to represent people of color but actually don’t have a face on the ground but have wide social marketing value are all marketing this idea about an open Internet that is proven false but that is believed by the average person. That’s a major problem and trying to change a public story in public communities is very difficult.

GOSZTOLA: In your experience with grassroots organizing, how have artists and media makers proven to be a viable asset in effecting change?

CYRIL: Absolutely. I think there are two ways that cultural artists and media artists participate in grassroots organizing. One is as messengers and as mediums to deliver the message of organized constituencies,as partners in the effort to shape a story or shape the debate around a given issue. They are able to bring complexity to a story. They are able to bring nuance through songs, through poetry, through theater. They are able to bring depth and make one-dimensional stories three-dimensional because of the added
value of emotion. They are able to popularize ideas through ways that organizers cannot do.

On the other hand, they are also a constituency to be organized. So, around issues like the open Internet, artists are an example of a kind of small business that will lose if the Internet has gatekeepers. Same thing for journalists in particularly freelance journalists. Those folks lose if they can’t use the Internet without gatekeepers. They are not able to innovate and expand and reach a larger audience in that context.

So, on both counts both as a medium and as a vehicle for messaging–and adding the emotive value of messaging but then also as a constituency to be organized–artists are a crucial part of this work. You know the quote the job of the artist is to make revolution irresistible. That’s real. That’s not just rhetoric. It’s the most powerful recruiting method known to mankind–to have people tapping their feet to your song because that’s how it really deepens I think in terms of changing the community’s beliefs and vision.

GOSZTOLA: What would you tell a young artist or media maker who had not been turned on to issues of social justice? Why should they be moved to give their art greater depth? What message would you give to them?

CYRIL: All of our entire lives are shaped by the stories that we’re told. If we believe that we don’t ask for anything, we don’t demand anything. If we believe that we deserve the same as everybody else, then we’ll organize for change. Every single thing that makes our lives better including your weekend, including school lunch, including most of our rights to go to college. All of those things were won by community organizers.

As artists, even your own right to speak a language, to write and read–for many communities those were won through organizing campaigns of some kind. So, for the artist, the fact of having language–the fact of having a medium through which to express one’s own work and one’s own passion and one’s own belief–you don’t secure that right by wanting it. You secure that right by fighting for it. And so, given that we have some things that our parents didn’t have, our parents had that their parents didn’t have.

The question for the artist is what do you want for the next seven generations. What do you care about? What do you think is important? What do you think our people need? And what are you willing to give through your art to make that happen?

Malkia Cyril will be speaking on the “Navigating Media Landscape” panel Friday morning, April 9th, in the 1104 S. Wabash Ave Building on Columbia College’s campus in downtown Chicago. For more information on the Summit, please click here. And if you would like to learn more about the great work that the Center for Media Justice is engaged in, click here.

Topless America Project: We All Have the Option of Creating, Delivering Media

Topless America Project Producer/Director films Kayford Mountain

Topless America Project, a video collective that derives its name from its members’ commitment to calling attention to the social injustices that the people of Appalachia have experienced as a result of mountaintop removal (MTR), talked with me about their work and media.

Brown described his role as a media maker as one that has “opened up for a lot of people” because “a lot more people have access to technology now.”

“We’re definitely able to show people around the world what normally would never have gotten much attention before Internet came around,” said Brown. “The only real reason that MTR, as it stands right now, is one of the hot issues on the American stage is because of the Internet and groups like ours, groups with access to digital video cameras showing images of the destruction but also being able to keep in touch and show every action and every rally.”

Brown raised questions related to the negative impact media might be having on Topless America’s ability to spread their message to stop mountaintop removal.

“Why is it that only a handful of entities are the big boys? Why is it that there are so many smaller yet worth publications that aren’t able to get that type of clout? Why are the networks the networks? Why are the top newspapers the top newspapers?” asked Brown. “Who decided that we would have only a certain number of ‘credible media’?”

Brown described how the failure of media to bring adequate attention to an issue might be fueling the success of his organization.

“We’ve kind of developed our own source of media. Whereas people used to just rely on the four channel that give you news on your television, now it’s anybody that can get it together and put it online has a huge possibility of being seen by a wide audience,” said Brown.

The conversation about Topless America and media ended up on this note —

Brown explained, “The fact that we now have to really think about where we are getting our information and who is giving to us and that we all sort of have in theory the option of delivering media — It changes the whole way that we have to think about where we are getting media altogether.”

The collective is headed by Parson Brown and Kat Wallace (both will be presenting during the Summit after Jeff Biggers).

The Topless America Project will be discussing their video work to bring attention to the devastating impact of MTR in Film Row Cinema on the 8th floor of the 1104 S. Wabash Building in downtown Chicago.

Come to the Summit and see them right after Jeff Biggers at 2 pm on Friday, April 9th.

Columbia Chronicle Calls on Students to Pay Attention to News

The Columbia College Chicago student newspaper, the Columbia Chronicle, printed an editorial that directly reinforces the motivation behind the “Art, Access & Action” Summit.

Here is an excerpt:

Young adults consume news and other media in this continuously growing world of technology in a much different manner than previous generations. Daily breaking news is just a few clicks away using laptops and cell phones with Internet capabilities.

College students are accustomed to the immediate satisfaction of the Internet and its easy accessibility. With computer and Internet resources at the fingertips, society now expects this instant gratification. With these tools at the disposal of each Columbia student, more attention should be focused on national and international issues. However, some students don’t take full advantage of their educational opportunity and instead use the Internet only to watch YouTube videos.

In college, it’s easy to feel distant from issues, such as health care reform or the state of the economy. However, subjects such as insurance and the job market are vital and will affect students quickly after graduation if not sooner.

It’s important to realize political and social issues pertain to everyone, including college students.  The more information one gains about a topic, the more likely they will make an informed decision. Greater understanding of such pressing issues leads to better-functioning young adults within society…

Read the rest of the editorial. And, if you want to learn more about news and media, come to the “Art, Access & Action” Summit on April 8th & 9th at Columbia College. (That’s this week.)

Malkia Cyril Asks Who Will Defend the Rights of People of Color to an Open Internet

Photo: Malkia Cyril

Executive Director of the Center for Media Justice will be at the “Art, Access & Action” Summit on Friday. She will be speaking on the “Navigating the Media Landscape” panel and will be participating in the “Power of Art” Workshop with Latino & African-American community artists.

Cyril is a dedicated communication rights activist who is proactively working to ensure the rights of people of color are defended when it comes to keeping access to the Internet open.

She recently wrote about the open Internet protections being debated by the FCC:

The open Internet protections being debated by the Federal Communications Commission right now will determine who wins and who loses in the fight over whether big companies or regular people will control the Internet. I want everyday people to win.

In the fight over who will control the Internet, big companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast are hoping they will win a pass on FCC oversight and public interest protection leaving them free to make as much profit as they can even if the service they provide is gated and discriminatory. Some civil rights groups are legitimately concerned that protecting the public from discrimination online -especially the poor and people of color- from the proven abuses of Big Media companies will result in those companies refusing to build out high speed broadband to rural communities and poor urban communities. Media companies have said as much, claiming that public interest and consumer protections that ensure that the Internet remains an open and true source of innovation, otherwise known as “net neutrality”, will cost too much and deprive them of revenue for deployment of broadband to the communities that need it most. Threatening to withhold buildout of this critical national utility in poor communities if there are consumer protections attached is called digital redlining, and it’s wrong.

It makes sense that the threat of digital redlining has some civil rights groups in the DC beltway concerned. This concern has resulted in some groups like the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), run by David Honig, taking a position against the open Internet protections that would ensure that the Internet remains an un-gated platform for self-representation, innovation, and opportunity…

Openness protections are the Internet’s bill of rights. There are no such protections for broadcast or cable and these mediums have become a gated community full of devastating misrepresentation. Openness protections level the playing field on the Internet and ensure that those communities who create and rely on small businesses can use the Internet as a platform for economic mobility and real opportunity. Outside of DC, the civil rights community understands this. The organizations of the Media Action Grassroots Network have met repeatedly with the Federal Communications Commission to share stories from our communities about why a non-discriminatory Internet is a civil right in need of protection. We told Commissioner Mignon Clyburn about the millions of migrant families who use free sites like Skype -which are threatened by removing open Internet protections- to remain connected with their families abroad. We talked with Commissioner Clyburn and our congressional representatives about how the openness we enjoy now on the Internet enables the constituencies we represent to reach a larger audience. This ability to speak in our own voices and control our user experience on the Internet is as important to communities of color and the poor as broadband deployment and adoption, and is one of the most important communications fights of our lifetime.

Commissioner Clyburn has become a champion of Internet openness and has called upon the DC civil rights community to do the same, and some legacy civil rights groups have done so. Unfortunately, MMTC keeps ringing the false alarm that these openness protections will harm our communities. Honig claims to represent the interests of communities of color, and has taken a strong and positive stance on broadband deployment- but in the case of protecting the interests of communities of color online- its time for MMTC to stand with communities of color and the poor, and not with big media.

Over 300 groups outside of the DC beltway support the strongest open Internet protections possible, and have signed a pledge to that effect. These out-of-the beltway civil rights groups have no financial relationship with media companies, and nothing to gain by the position they’ve taken. Yet the trade newspapers and mainstream media continue to turn to the beltway for the “civil rights perspective” on the Internet. It’s time for the official story on the open Internet and civil rights to come from the mouths of those most impacted by it…

Visit the Center for Media Justice for more on Malkia Cyril and don’t forget to be in the audience at the Summit when Malkia Cyril speaks on Friday, April 9th at 10 am.

“Vultures” & Greg Palast

Featured in an article in In These Times, Greg Palast writes about “vulture” funds, which Palast explains is “a hedge fund industry term for the financiers who buy up the right to collect old loans of the world’s poorest nations, and then use every trick in the book — from lawsuits to bribery to hiring Henry Kissinger’s lobby firm — to muscle destitute countries into turning over their meager foreign aid funds.”

On February 25, the day after BBC Television’s Newsnight ran my report from in front of Hermann’s locked office door, Britain’s Parliament voted to bar vulture funds from using Britain’s courts to grab the assets of poor nations.

And what about the United States? Why are our own politicians cowering behind legislative locked doors?

What we can do and why we should do it requires, first, a little more info on how vultures operate.

In Hermann’s case, his hedge fund bought, for next to nothing, the right to collect several million dollars owed by Liberia. (They grabbed the debt from a unit of what is now J.P. Morgan Chase; banks like Morgan Stanley like to hand off their dirty work.) In February 2002, Hermann’s fund then sued Liberia for the long-forgotten loan, for compounded interest and fees. Hermann filed suit the very week Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, was surrounded by warlords, with neither electricity nor water, and the government was controlled by an escaped convict from the United States, Charles Taylor, who is now imprisoned at The Hague.

To no one’s surprise, neither Taylor nor representatives of Liberia showed up in the New York court. Liberia thereby lost by default, and was ordered to pay Hermann and his partners all the millions they sought.

Read more from Greg Palast and don’t miss Greg Palast when he speaks at Columbia College on Friday, April 9th at 6:30 pm in the 1104 S. Wabash Building in downtown Chicago.

He’ll be talking about “vulture” funds and other recent investigative reports he has produced and much, much more.