Just Wait and See

Sustainability requires thinking – and dreaming – about what happens between events

In 1995, I was sitting in board meetings with Earth On-the-Air Independent Media, which had an award-winning environmental radio program distributed across the country. I said, we need a public media center in Seattle, and the reply was, "Yeah, sure." Well, in 1999 we proved them wrong.

The vision behind the IMC is to create a global communications network that will not just be something "on the side," but will actually eclipse the commercial and corporate communication system, which doesn’t represent people or their struggles. It’s truly time for us to reclaim that globally.

The IMC came together in Fall 1999, built on a foundation of similar work that had been going on for a long time. It didn’t spring from nowhere. We wanted to create a center, as well as an infrastructure for activism and independent journalists. It also grew out of a grassroots media alliance in Austin, software developed by an eclectic group, and an impulse grounded in European struggles. We finally woke up about what was happening, and decided to join the movement.

For IMCs, the most important word is communication. That’s where we will be most effective. I speak as someone who organizes on the local level, and also in regional and global networks. Communication is key, between friends and loved ones, between networks of people, and also with those doing independent media who may not be within the IMC per se. We need to start broadening, making this more than just an IMC phenomenon.

We also need more communication between the movement and the people who are telling the stories. It’s not just a matter of training and empowerment; that is, just providing a microphone. We need to share what people are thinking about strategies and how we can really collaborate. That hasn’t happened yet.

As a media activist, I’m surprised that people don’t understand the role independent media can play in social change. Currently, it’s the most significant leverage we have; yet, activist organizations sometimes focus more on the corporate media. We’re in a transition time, so we still need to use the corporate media to get our messages out, but we have to put more resources, energy, and time into the independent media. That means sharing conscious intentions about what we’re trying to create, and mutual, reciprocal communication between IMCs, independent media makers, the networks, and people in movement groups.

The IMC has an event-based image, coming up out of the WTO protests, going to Boston for Biodevastation 2000, going to DC for IMF and World Bank protests, going to LA and Philadelphia for the conventions, and to Sydney, Melbourne, Windsor, Calgary, Mexico City, Prague, and so on. But there’s something more to consider — sustainability. If we’re really talking about radical change, we’ll have to take the tough road and think about what happens between events — the IMCs as local nodes in a network that spreads across the planet, and how they relate to organizing in their communities. It’s not just an event-based model, but a very powerful one. So far we’re using it successfully. We can probably do more and surprise ourselves.

Finally, we must reclaim storytelling. This is about empowerment. When you give voice to someone who has been silenced, that’s transformative. It shifts consciousness. The radical aspect is that there’s no limit. We can’t think anymore in terms of what has been or what we’ve been told. No, now is the time to reclaim ground and ask, "What do we want to see?" And if someone says it’s not possible, tell them, "Just wait and see."

When I say such things, people smile and say I’m just being too idealistic. But that’s not it. We certainly have a lot of hard work ahead. But if we can continue to dream in the midst of our struggles, we’ll do much better.

Sheri Herndon is a media activist and former news director at KCMU Public Radio in Seattle. A founder and coordinating member of the area’s IMC, she also works with media oriented non-profits, including Earth On-the-Air Independent Media, Seattle Independent Media Coalition, and Community Powered Radio.