A few weeks ago, I traveled with some friends to the annual Allied Media Conference in Bowling Green, Ohio. I probably wouldâ€™ve had more extensive notes about the conference if Iâ€™d written this blog entry soonerâ€¦ 🙂 But heyâ€¦ thatâ€™s life, eh? Before those memories get too foggy, Iâ€™d like to share my reports and reflections about the experience.
First of all, I always love a good road trip. Donâ€™t get me wrong, though â€“ Southern Illinois is great, and Iâ€™m probably going to spend the rest of my life here. But every once in a while, when thereâ€™s something important going on in a faraway land like Ohio, I like to hit the road and go where the spirit moves me. And if I can share the journey with a small group of fellow travelers, then thatâ€™s even better!
Thatâ€™s exactly what happened for this conference. Four of us from the Big Muddy IMC â€“ Chris, Joe, Courtney, and I â€“ piled into a car together for the long and arduous journey to the distant land of Ohio. Over the course of the next three and a half days, we would have quite an adventure!
The first part of the adventure was the trip itself. One of my favorite parts of a good road trip with friends is the amount of time we spend talking with each other. I got to talk about my two upcoming books and my unofficial plans for a third book once these two are finished. I also got to hear about everyone elseâ€™s thoughts about the upcoming conference, the media, politics, and life in general. Letâ€™s face it â€“ putting four independent thinkers in a little metal box together for twelve hours is bound to lead to some interesting conversation! And the music coming from the CD player was the perfect soundtrack for this eclectic conversation â€“ a mix of Dead Prez, Celtic folk, Weird Al, and a dozen other random artists. Maybe this soundtrack was a part of what brought the weirdness down upon our wayward adventuring partyâ€¦
The weirdness probably started in Indianapolis. We decided that part of the cityâ€™s â€œbrand identityâ€ must include burnt-out lights, because it seemed like every other sign or building had a light missing on it somewhere. Joe was at the helm, and we started looking for a place to eat. In spite of the fact that Joe had lived in this very area for years, we ended up wandering for a while as the streets baffled us with unexpected twists and turns. Finally, we settled on a rather unremarkable pizza chain, where we sat around eating pizza, watching the Daily Show, and talking.
Once we hit the road again, things went back to normal until we were well into Ohio. But somehow, popping in that Weird Al CD must have sent us into another space-time warp. We missed a turn somewhere near our destination and ended up in a corner of the Twilight Zone where the same highways cross each other at multiple points, leading to a maze of similar but distinct crossroads that baffled our mundane minds. Eventually, we doubled back to a point that we recognized and found our way to Bowling Green.
By the time we made it into town, late night was giving way to early morning. We werenâ€™t able to find the place where we were supposed to stay for the night, and the conference registration wasnâ€™t going to be open for a few more hours. A police officer pulled us over â€“ but luckily, he just gave us a warning for the burnt-out taillight and directions to the place on campus that we thought we were looking for. Ultimately, though, we realized that we were just going to have to wait for conference registration to start. Since we didnâ€™t have a place to sleep â€“ or much time to sleep, for that matter â€“ we decided to park in a nearby parking lot, spread out a few blankets in the grass, and lay down for a while.
Sadly, even this brief opportunity for sleep was denied us. As soon as we started falling asleep, a police car drove past, a mere ten feet from our spot in the grass. Luckily, they somehow didnâ€™t see us, because they probably would have told us to stop loitering. (Itâ€™s a good thing that I know how to turn activists invisible, eh? 🙂 But their visit was enough to keep us awake a while longer â€“ and soon, a train approached, ensuring that we wouldnâ€™t get any sleep. So, we packed our things, walked over to the student center, and discovered that they were open a little early.
We had finally officially arrived on the scene.
The student center was very upscale and new-looking, with white and off-white halls accented at points by expanses of glass and clusters of pastel beams and pillars. The little corner of the center that we discovered first had a big screen plasma TV, a sleek Internet terminal, a few couches, and a little arcade. Even though it was still very early, Courtney and I decided to play in the arcade, while Chris used out the internet and Joe took a nap on a couch.
One of my favorite experiences of the morning was checking out a game called Dance Dance Revolution. Iâ€™d heard about it before, but never actually played it. Basically, you get to listen to loud, peppy, electronic-pop music and dance in step with the dance moves displayed on the giant screen. Courtney had played it before and did really good at it, but Iâ€™d never played it before and mostly just bombed, even on the beginnerâ€™s level. Even so, it was fun, and I vowed to check it out in Carbondale sometime.
Registration didnâ€™t start for another hour, so we passed our time with a few video games, a bit of Internet use, a few chuckles at the sight of Ghana beating the U.S. at soccer, and some snacking and napping. Then, it was time for what weâ€™d traveled all this way for: The Conference.
Fridayâ€™s workshops focused on various aspects of media literacy. What role does the mass media play in our lives? How do they use tactics such as advertising psychology, marketing research, etc. to define the debate on key issues and manipulate our very perception of reality? What can we do to understand and respond to this media dominance? Since none of us were new to the idea of media literacy, some of this information seemed a bit introductory. However, a few of the workshops gave us new ideas about how important it is to talk about media literacy. Not everyone is aware of the way that the mass media operates, so itâ€™s often worth it to take the time to explain the basics of media literacy and offer interactive exercises so that people can discover the importance of these issues for themselves.
At some point on this first day, we eventually found our way to the community center where weâ€™d be spending the next two nights. It almost reminded me of the Interfaith Center here in Carbondale because it was run collaboratively by several local Christian organizations and had a similar â€œliving roomâ€ look and feel. But it also had the flavor of an anarchist crash pad, with a radical reading library upstairs, couches and offices on the ground floor, and a basement with extra floor space and a little kitchen. We had a few good discussions at night and in the morning while we were hanging out here, and I left a free copy of Revolution of One in their library.
On the second and third days, more of the radical critique and in-depth discussion of issues came into play. There were so many good workshops scheduled in conflict with each other that it was hard for us to decide among them. But more often than not, we split up into two, three, or even four separate workshops. I think that each of us took notes, and we all shared our thoughts on the workshops with each other during the breaks. All in all, I feel like we were a good, well-balanced, egalitarian affinity group. Each of us had our own distinct but related interests, and together, we formed a good team. We each just went to whichever workshop interested us the most, and I think that we all ended up feeling that the most important ground had been covered.
We learned some very valuable information through these workshops â€“ information about media literacy, specific issues that arenâ€™t represented well in the mass media, the importance of independent media, specific tech information, organizing strategies, fundraising ideas, techniques of investigative journalism, and more. But on some level, I feel that the information itself was only the tip of the iceberg. Really, our deepest reward for attending this conference was found in the experience itself â€“ making connections with other activists, and being inspired and renewed in our own commitment to creating positive change.
For exampleâ€¦ each of us made at least a few personal connections with activists from other cities. I met someone from Bloomington, Indiana who Iâ€™d seen a year earlier at one of my Revolution of One events. We all met Hannah from Prometheus Radio, who weâ€™d heard from before over email and who appeared on Democracy Now! later that week to discuss issues of low power FM and net neutrality. Itâ€™s one thing to see such people on TV and the Internet and know that they exist in theory. Itâ€™s another thing entirely, though, to actually talk to them, take down their phone numbers and emails, make a personal connection, and discuss ideas that we can all bring home to our respective communities.
Another example was the poetry event that they had on one of the nights. We really need to work on developing a radical poetry scene here in Southern Illinois, because this poetry that we encountered in Bowling Green wasnâ€™t just poetry â€“ it was an EXPERIENCE. I could feel the poets tapping into profound personal experience and using it to channel the suffering, the rage, the love, the humanity, the vitality of whole groups of people and the very Earth beneath our feet. I know that some of my more atheistic friends may not like it when I use words like â€œmagicâ€ to describe such profound experiences â€“ but what is it, if not magic, when you witness someone speaking truth so powerfully and deeply that everyone present is moved by the experience? I knew that Iâ€™d been in the presence of powerful magic, and I vowed to carry that sense of deep feeling, power, and poetry back to my work and life in Southern Illinois.
Finally, in addition to everything that I learned and experienced from the other people at the conference, it was an incredible joy simply to have a whole weekend to share with a few of my fellow revolutionaries. As we walked the halls and streets of Bowling Green, we had a myriad of fun, exciting, empowering and downright weird experiences together. I canâ€™t speak for any of them, but I certainly felt like this conference brought us all a new sense of interconnection. The weekend gave us plenty of new ideas for our common work together back home, and it also brought us a greater sense that we were in this struggle together.
Thereâ€™s a lot of work to do, and things in our community, our society, and our world are probably going to get much worse before they get much better. And now that weâ€™re back in Carbondale, the usual distractions of work, school, bills, and other mundane drains are once again serving to challenge our focus on our shared commitment to creating positive change. But at least for one weekend, we were in The Zone together â€“ and now, weâ€™re left with a set of fresh new ideas, and a renewed motivation to make the best of them a reality.
So, those are probably the highlights of the trip for me. (Along with an extended detour into the Twilight Zone that Iâ€™ll be happy to tell you about if youâ€™re into that sort of thingâ€¦ 🙂 If you want more information though, I encourage you to ask Chris, Joe, Courtney, and me about our thoughts and experiences. And whereâ€™s a good place to find us? At the Big Muddy IMC meetings, of course! 🙂 Yes, the Big Muddy IMC is the place in Southern Illinois where many (though not all) of our new ideas will be put to the test. So if youâ€™re in Southern Illinois, feel free to stop by the Big Muddy IMC on any Sunday at 6 pm for one of our meetings. I canâ€™t promise that your experience will be as wild and wacky as one of our road tripsâ€¦ but youâ€™re bound to learn something new, have a good time, make new connections, and find a dozen ways that you too can Be the Media.
After allâ€¦ if we donâ€™t Be the Mediaâ€¦ if we donâ€™t write our own articles, show our favorite movies, talk on our own community radio stations, etc.,.. then what will we be left with? Basically, weâ€™ll be left with a world based on the ideas of Rupert Murdock and half a dozen other rich old white men just like him. If thatâ€™s the kind of world that you want to live in, then go ahead â€“ sit back, relax, and flip on the Fox News Channel. But if youâ€™re looking for something differentâ€¦ you know where to find us.