On the Road with the USDAC

During the last month, USDAC folks have been on the road, listening, learning, and sharing at convenings with artists, activists, journalists, and media-makers, from across the country. Chief Instigator Adam Horowitz reports on a few of the places he’s been lately:

Allied Media Conference

In AMC’s own words: “Held every summer in Detroit, the conference brings together a vibrant and diverse community of people using media to incite change: filmmakers, radio producers, technologists, youth organizers, writers, entrepreneurs, musicians, dancers, and artists. We define "media" as anything you use to communicate with the world. You are a media-maker!”

USDAC Weaver of Social Fabric Jess Solomon and I led a workshop entitled “Story Circles: Sparking Interdependence,” responding to the question “How can we listen deeply and be together better?” In addition to meeting wonderful folks, conference highlights included:

  • The Philly-based Spatial Justice Lab led a thoughtful and generative hands-on workshop on creative tactics for fighting displacement, “Speculative Cities: Becoming Place.” The Lab—run by Althea Baird, Jenna Peters-Golden, and Ash Richards—is described as “a space for imaginary practice…facilitating intergenerational spaces where soul-speaking art can dream and enact new possibilities for our places and our people.”
  •  An excited audience packed the room for a book launch and reading of Octavia’s Brood, an anthology of visionary science fiction and speculative fiction written by organizers and activists. (Manish Vaidya wrote about it here in May.)
  •  Patrisse Cullors, #BlackLivesMatter co-founder, turned her keynote address into a dance party and call-and-response for black activists.
  • Lifelong activist and civil rights icon Grace Lee Boggs celebrated her one-hundredth birthday!

The AMC brings together a robust community of practice, becoming a pop-up learning village of sorts. I found myself pondering what kind of infrastructure we could create to enable that kind of learning year-round. What kinds of online or offline tools and actions would allow us to extend the collaboration—and impact—beyond these few days?

Images and Voices of Hope

 IVOH’s website highlights “media as agents of world benefit,” and goes on to say:“At Images & Voices of Hope (ivoh), we believe that media can create meaningful, positive change in the world. Our global community includes journalists, documentary filmmakers, photographers, social media specialists, gamers and more. Our common thread as a nonprofit is the desire to effect positive change through our work in media.”

I was delighted to accept an Award of Appreciation on behalf of the USDAC at IVOH’s “Restorative Narrative Summit and Retreat” held at the Peace Village in Haynes Falls, NY. Highlights included:

  •  This conference offered and unpacked the useful concept of “restorative narrative.” This phrase is intended to describe journalistic work that goes beyond the coverage of immediate devastation and trauma to a longer-term story of individual or community recovery and resilience. The restorative narrative framework is strongly resonant with the USDAC’s programming and its focus on imagining a future we want inhabit and help create.
  •  DC-Based artist, activist, and educator HawaH screened his powerful film, Fly by Light, documenting the personal journeys of 14 Washington, DC, teenagers who take part in a life-changing peace education program in the woods of West Virginia. Highly recommended!
  •  The inaugural cohort of five journalists chosen as Restorative Narrative Fellows shared what they’ve been covering for the last six months: “stories that show how people and communities are learning to rebuild and recover in the aftermath, or midst of, difficult times.”

Arts-based restorative experiences are so core to what the USDAC is about, I wondered about the boundary between categories: how might we expand the conversation beyond journalism-based restorative narratives to other powerful ways of sharing and connecting. Our People’s State of the Union is definitely a form of restorative narrative. What if we viewed the entire people-powered USDAC as a restorative narrative? What implications would that have for our work?

Netroots Nation

This annual gathering, this year in Phoenix, AZ, first took place in 2006. In Netroots’ own words: “We amplify progressive voices by providing an online and in-person campus for exchanging ideas and learning how to be more effective in using technology to influence the public debate. Through our annual convention and other events, we strengthen the community, inspire action and serve as an incubator for ideas that challenge the status quo and ultimately affect change in the public sphere.”

 Revolution at Netroots, Photo by Joe Brusky

Revolution at Netroots, Photo by Joe Brusky

I took part in a panel called “Lessons Learned: Scaling Culture Projects from Grassroots to Global Using Tech.” Fellow panelists represented Burning Man and People for Bernie. Some conference highlights included:

  • Without a doubt, the conference highlight was a direct action led by Black Lives Matter activists during a town hall event with Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders. Interrupting the proceedings with song, participatory chants, and tough questions for the candidates, this powerful action brought urgent attention to a “state of emergency,” effectively placing black lives and racial justice at the center of the rest of the conference, garnering major national and international coverage which has already affected the larger presidential campaign.
  • Paul Getsos, one of the organizers of the People’s Climate March, offered the useful phrase “coordinated decentralization” as a key principle for organizing around climate change. On 14 October, for instance, the People’s Climate Movement is sponsoring a “distributed day of action across the United States.”
  • The Overpass Light Brigade, “forged in the activist climate of the Wisconsin uprising,” writes messages in light and displays them in public spaces. During the closing party, it was an honor to get to hold the "V" in REVOLUTION (and LOVE!) alongside some incredible artists and activists from across the country. This was followed by an explosive performance by activist and rapper Immortal Technique. Much gratitude to the many folks who were a part of making this trip meaningful and memorable and much respect to those who courageously took part in the direct action.

Netroots asks us to think of this gathering as “a giant family reunion for the left.” While the panels were wide-ranging, the conference has its roots in online organizing. Take a look at the program and you see lots of sessions with names like “Best Practices in Digital Analytics: Using Website and Social Media Testing to Optimize for Virality.” How can the USDAC and other arts and social justice organizations become more strategic and nimble in using political organizing technology to mobilize large-scale creative and cultural action?

Let’s talk about it!