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The Future of Media Panel at NCMR

I spoke on a panel called “The Future of Media” at the National Conference on Media Reform last weekend.

My friend described it as “the biggest train wreck of  a panel” he had ever seen. I agree it was pretty disasterous– with a moderator who seemed to have no idea who the panelists were, much less any respect for the work we did, one panelist who had come prepared to totally call out the organizers for their race/class/gender/sexuality politics (or lack thereof) and some rowdy audience members who yelled “bullshit” repeatedly at the moderator… it was at least entertaining… and broadcast live on Free Speech TV!

This is what I said:

The Future of Media panel at the 2008 National Conference on Media Reform
June 8, 2008

To me, the question of “what is the future of media?” is only useful to the extent that it helps us answer the question, “what is the future of social justice organizing?”

In cities like Detroit, where I come from, the question of “what is the future of media?” has to help us answer the question, “what is the future of our schools?” which currently face a dropout rate between 50 and 70% depending on who you ask.  It has to help us answer the question, “what will a new economy for Detroit look like?” when our unemployment rate is second only to New Orleans, and when we live in the shadows of some of the largest abandoned structures in the world– from the Packard plant on E. Grand Blvd., to the old Michigan Central train station.  It also has to help us answer the question of how we will create safety in our communities without relying on the same institutions that are just as likely to suspend us, abuse us or deport us as to provide safety.  And all of these questions we face in Detroit are connected to  global questions about the future of climate change, neoliberal economic policies and militarism.

These are all deeply challenging questions, and I’m awed to be living in a place which is wrestling with them and coming up with some of the most innovative solutions to them, not out of some theoretical exercise, but because so many of the myths that our country is built upon have unraveled here first.

But I also feel fortunate as an organizer of the Allied Media Conference, to be positioned within this sort of node.  Passing through this node are all these people and projects who are using media as a strategy for transformation– in their own lives, their communities and the world.

So I want to give you some examples of what I think the future of media will look like based off some of the people who are coming to the Allied Media Conference this year.

In the future of media, no one will die crossing the U.S. / Mexico border because $50 motorola cell phones will have been re-wired to serve as GPS systems, and distributed to people trying to cross, directing them to water sources and shelter and altering them to potential dangers.  I’m referring to the Transborder Immigrant Tool that was developed by artist-activist Ricardo Dominguez.

In the future of media, kids will walk down the street with laser pens in their pockets that will let them write poetry on the sides of skyscrapers.  I’m talking about the work of Graffiti Research Lab in Brooklyn, NY.

And in the future of media, DIY filmmakers won’t have to worry about signing over their souls to YouTube, just to get an online audience, because open source software developers will have expanded our access to tools like MIRO— the free and open source online video distribution platform developed by the Participatory Culture Foundation.

But from my position within this little node that is the Allied Media Conference, I can also see that in the future of media, our greatest innovations will emerge out of collaboration.  Youth from Detroit will develop models of hip hop research projects which will be taken to youth media centers in Palestine, where they will replicate the process to create digital stories that draw connections between the forced removal of Palestinians from their land to the gentrification of U.S. cities.  And those digital stories will become the basis of public school curriculum in Bushwick Brooklyn.  The Youth Solidarity Network is already doing this.

In the future of media, Prometheus Radio Project will visit a city and help a group of youth build an extremely low-wattage radio transmitter for educational purposes and the following year, those same youth will help teach another community organization from their city how to build one too.  In the process of doing so, everyone will become invested in shaping the laws that restrict their community’s access to low-power FM radio.  These are only a few examples of the ripples I see extending from my vantage point and I know there are so many more.

So when I look to the future of social justice organizing and the role that media will play in it, I see two different paths unfolding.  In the worst case scenario, I can see the tools of communication we have at our disposal becoming more and more advanced to the point where they perfect the illusion of community.

Our human relationships will be replaced by Constituent Relationship Management systems (CRM) and the knowledge for how to build and maintain those systems will be increasingly concentrated in the hands of the college-educated.  Our events will get organized at the click of a Facebook invite.  We will wage political wars over ideas in the bloggosphere with strangers, while never being able to challenge the people closest to us, or ourselves, in ways that will actually transform our relationships.

But in the best case scenario, the future of media and the role it will play in our social movements will be it’s ability to expand our imaginations.  Because ultimately our imaginations are our greatest resource.  The extent to which a corporation or a government can limit or regulate our imaginations–whether a cable provider, a cell phone company, or a public school system– is one of our greatest threats.

If we can look at our cellphones, and instead of seeing an evil piece of overpriced equipment that will never do what we want it to do, but somehow we are completely dependent upon, if instead we can look at it and see a GPS navigating device– and as long as we can think to use that GPS device as a tool for liberation rather than surveillance and oppression– then we can create a new window of possibility.

It’s through these windows of possibility that we will be able to create new worlds.  With every new idea that passes through that window, the rip in our acceptance of the current reality widens (whether that’s the reality of having to pay for unreliable, corporate controlled wireless or the reality of violence in our communities).

The urgency of the crises around us demands that we start opening these windows whether we have the foundation funding or the political permission to do so or not.  So I hope you leave this conference with the feeling that you are capable of opening those windows and creating new worlds.  And if you don’t, I guarantee you will at the Allied Media Conference, two weeks from now, in Detroit.


Good times in Detroit


Northland Roller Rink rocks.

We went there on Saturday to flyer for the upcoming DTENSION. After being kicked out of Fairlane mall, we found that this is one of the closest things Detroit has to offer as ‘public space’ where kids can go to hang out. There are metal detectors though.

Couples slow-skate to Mary J. Blige, teenage boys skate faster than you would believe and their expert maneuvers ensure that the 6 year-old girls aren’t mowed down in the flow of traffic.

7$ includes skates.
$5 if you bring your own
They’re open till 1:30am on weekends

Campus Lockdown — Tenure for Andrea Smith!

Andy Smith is a leading scholar of Native American Feminism. As a founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, she challenged the “politics of inclusion” and helped define Women of Color Feminism within academia and grassroots movements for social justice. She fundamentally re-shaped the discourse around colonial violence, and was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize with her book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.

She was by far, one of the best professors I’ve ever had and continues to be an important intellectual influence in my life.

When the University of Michigan denied her tenure this week, it showed audacious disrespect for the field of study she helped define and the people whose lives have been changed by it. If it were not for Andy Smith and professors like her at the University of Michigan– Nadine Naber, Emily Lawsin, Sarita See, Maria Cotera and Jayati Lal, there’s a strong chance I would not have finished my undergraduate studies. I think the same could be said for hundreds of other women of color. And thinking back to the community of student activists I worked with at U of M, I knew just as many white men, men of color and white women who also had their minds blown wide open by the experience of learning from these women.

If it weren’t for these women, I might never have been exposed to ideas like “the three pillars of white supremacy,” “intersectionality,” Arab and muslim feminisms, or feminist oral history. I would not have read Borderlands, This Bridge Called My Back, The Salt Eaters, or The Color of Violence. I would also never have thought it was possible to be a brilliant academic and a deeply invested community organizer at the same time.

I think one of the main reasons why U of M is denying Andy tenure is the fact that she is able to be both. Of course there are undertones of racism and sexism at work in their decision. But it also reflects their priorities. By their decision, they seem to be saying, scholarship is only valuable when it is confined to the pages of obscure, academic journals. If it attempts to also speak to people outside the academy, or to those who are most marginalized within the academy, it loses credibility.

Andy Smith’s work transcends the academic/non-academic divide. She has the ability to break down the most complex ideas in language that is completely accessible. She injects humor into places where academics and activists alike would say, it doesn’t belong. She sees the world with an incisive clarity that leads her to draw conclusions that are visionary and often unorthodox to “leftist” thought. The major concepts she helped develop– seeing the Sate as the central organizer of violence against Women of Color, and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex as one of the greatest threats to our movements– are changing the way people act in their daily lives, their organizations and communities.

The truth is that these ideas evolved because of and spite of the fact that she was working within academia. As much as I may find myself hating on academia, I think it is vital that human intellect be given the space to flourish and evolve. In it’s best form, academia offers that space. Andy’s tenure case will determine whether future generations of brilliant community organizers will have the space within academia from which to make the kinds of profound contributions to scholarship and movement-building that she has done.


To Support Women of Color at Michigan and the Crisis of Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies: Attend the student organized March 15th Conference at UM!!!! Campus Lockdown: Women of Color Negotiating the Academic Industrial Complex is free and open to the public. Speakers include renowned activists and scholars Piya Chatterjee, Angela Davis, Rosa Linda Fregoso, Ruthie Gilmore, Fred Moten, Clarissa Rojas, and Haunani-Kay Trask. For more information and to register, visit:

Native Feminism Without Apology!


February 25, 2008

Statement of University of Michigan Students and Faculty in Support of Andrea Smith’s Tenure Case
On February 22nd, 2008, University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) issued a negative tenure recommendation for Assistant Professor Andrea Lee Smith. Jointly appointed in the Program in American Culture and the Department of Women’s Studies, Dr. Smith’s body of scholarship exemplifies scholarly excellence with widely circulated articles in peer-reviewed journals and numerous books in both university and independent presses including Native Americans and the Christian Right published this year by Duke University Press. Dr. Smith is one of the greatest indigenous feminist intellectuals of our time. A nominee for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Smith has an outstanding academic and community record of service that is internationally and nationally recognized. She is a dedicated professor and mentor and she is an integral member of the University of Michigan (UM) intellectual community. Her reputation and pedagogical practices draw undergraduate and graduate students from all over campus and the nation.
Dr. Smith received the news about her tenure case while participating in the United States’ hearings before the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Ironically, during those very same hearings, the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decisions that restricted affirmative action policies at UM specifically were cited as violations of international law. At the same time, there is an undeniable link between the Department of Women’s Studies and LSA’s current tenure recommendations and the long history of institutional restrictions against faculty of color. In 2008, students of color are coming together to protest the way UM’s administration has fostered an environment wherein faculty of color are few and far between, Ethnic Studies course offerings have little financial and institutional support, and student services for students of color are decreasing each year.
To Support Professor Andrea Smith: The Provost must hear our responses! Write letters in support of Andrea Smith’s tenure case. Address email letters to ALL of the following:
Voice your ideas on the web forum at

Plug Into the LAMPpost

By Invincible and Jenny Lee

Originally published in the Newsletter of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit

“They used to plug into the lamppost, wiring sound systems, linoleum ground spinning, wind-milling a dance broke.

Vocal emceeing, mobile museums-transport untold stories for the global to see them, call them vandals. Battles instead of bullets…”

20 plus years after block parties in the South Bronx midwifed hip-hop culture, we found ourselves in a time warp, but rather than New York City, we were on the corner of Poplar and Lawton on Detroit’s near West side. This block party to connect hip-hop and activism was for a youth leadership and community organizing program we work with called Detroit Summer. It consisted of all day performances including the neighborhood church children’s choir, Miz Korona, Black Bottom Collective, DJ Len Swann, live graffiti murals, and head-spins on sun baked concrete. Since the early 90s, Detroit Summer had been doing the nuts and bolts work of growing community– working with youth to rehabilitate abandoned houses, paint murals and take over vacant land with community gardens. Ever since the success of the first block party, we saw how Hip-Hop could bring people together and transform a community in the same way. It brought new life into our work by tapping us into the undercurrent of youth energy that is the Detroit Hip-Hop scene. We were also fortunate enough to connect with one of the culture’s pioneers living in our midst, Bronx native, Prince Whipper Whip. By making a link between our block parties and Hip-Hop’s origins, we resurrected the value system that produced Hip-Hop–relying on our own ingenuity to solve problems creatively without violence, and reclaiming our community power—plugging into lampposts.

“Self taught. Each one, teach one ruling their school of thought.
With no diploma we stand on the shoulders of soldiers.
breakin the status quotas and wake us out of comas that control us.”

Detroit’s school system is in crisis. While some might try to paint hip hop as part of the problem, we looked to it as part of the solution. We saw that youth were coming into our programs through Hip-Hop and often times it was Hip-Hop that kept them there. More than just learn how to emcee, they learned critical thinking and creative problem solving with Hip-Hop as the vehicle. Detroit Summer is modeled after the Mississippi Freedom schools of the 1960s, where amidst a failing and unjust school system, the community provided the kind of education people needed in order to take power over their lives and shape their own futures.

In Detroit, with one of the nation’s highest dropout rates, we can see that this approach is needed now more than ever. One of our great mentors and a founder of Detroit Summer, Grace Lee Boggs wrote, “Instead of trying to bully young people to remain in classrooms structured to prepare them to become cogs in the existing economic system, we need to recognize that the reason why so many young people drop out from inner city schools is because they are voting with their feet against a system which sorts, tracks, tests, and rejects or certifies them like products of a factory. They are crying out for another kind of education that values them as human beings and gives them opportunities to exercise their Soul Power.” In its best form, Hip-Hop culture can play an integral role in the kind of education that allows young people to revalue themselves as visionaries, leaders, and shape shifters.

“So now we plug into the LAMP quotes. Drop outs and walk outs.
They say you ain’t got a say you’re too young and you can’t vote.

Demanding understanding they shove it down your damn throat,
while you’re checking ya man’s pulse. I’m checking the public schools hand’s pulse.
Almost a flat line. Try to make a change and get slapped with a fine. Suspension or a felony charge.
Expelled or put in jail behind bars we got a vision for a new way of living.
Rebel(v.) with a cause”.

In the summer of 2006, Detroit Summer launched a campaign to transform the entire education system in Detroit, inspired by several young people we worked with who had dropped out, or were considering dropping out, as well as some who were organizing in their schools for a change but were suspended or arrested as a result. After attending several community forums on the issue we noticed a glaring piece was missing; no one was asking youth, the people most impacted by the schools crisis, what they thought. There were fingers pointed but no long-term sustainable solutions proposed. We realized that we needed to evolve the whole concept of what it meant to campaign for social change. What would happen if we explored the question of why people drop out as a community, in order to generate solutions as a community, while prioritizing the voices of youth? And what if, instead of a standard campaign 12-point platform, we created a Hip-Hop audio documentary to express our demands? And what if we didn’t just critique the outdated teaching methods that are in place, but also modeled the process of hands-on real life learning? We launched the Live Arts Media Project (LAMP) as an answer to all those questions and an experiment in a different type of community organizing.

We’ve found that the model of Hip-Hop-based community organizing, developed through the Live Arts Media Project, is useful to people in many different places, facing similar crises as Detroit. Since the completion of our first Hip-Hop audio documentary, entitled “Rising Up From the Ashes: Chronicles of a Dropout”, LAMP youth and artist mentors have traveled around the Midwest, California, and as far as Deheishe Refugee Camp in the West Bank, Palestine exchanging models with other youth leadership projects. In LAMP, we use Hip-Hop to investigate, illuminate, and transform. Through that process, we’ve learned that the lasting solutions to our deepest problems will emerge from the ground up.

“Not just numbers they added up on count day. The heart strength and ambition they wanna down play. Channel the Anger the apathy and the outrage. Get with the movement or get out the way.”

(Lyrics by Invincible taken from the song “LAMPpost” by Finale and Invincible-as appears on LAMP’s “Rising Up From The Ashes…Chronicles of a Drop Out” CD.)




What is D-TENSION? It’s the place where Detroit’s baddest MCs, poets, DJs and breakers get sent every other month. It is also the latest invention of Detroit Summer’s Live Arts Media Project (LAMP)—a group of youth and local artists/activists who are using hip hop to transform the city, starting with the Detroit Public Schools.

The first ever D-TENSION show will be hosted by Detroit based emcees: Quest M.C.O.D.Y., MarvWon and Miz Korona. The evening’s featured performers are: Invincible, Finale, Niacal Youngstarz, Cylabul and Starlet, along with DJs Sicari, Doctor Seuss Jr., and Kyle Hall aka Kase n Point. Hardcore Detroit will also grace the dance-floor with their signature style and energy.

D-TENSION will also include an MC Challenge—where up and coming emcees will compete to see who has the most well rounded skills. Everyone is invited to participate, but space is limited so make sure to arrive early and sign up at the door. The winner will be rewarded free studio time at Spot Runners Studio, and clothing from 2:37am urban design.

According to co-host and organizer Quest M.C.O.D.Y., “D-TENSION is a one-of-a-kind event—it’s bringing the best of the Detroit hip hop scene together with up-and-coming youth artists, as well as giving youth in the city a drama-free place to hang.”
“The name D-TENSION is inspired by the unfair suspension and criminalization policies many youth experience in schools. This show will serve as a space to release stress that comes with these policies, in order to transform them.” Adds renowned Detroit MC, Invincible.

D-TENSION kicks off January 12th, 2008 from 8:00pm to 11:00pm at The Shelter, right behind St. Andrews Hall—431 E. Congress between Beaubien and Brush.

All-Ages. Admission is a $5 donation. All proceeds will benefit Detroit Summer.

D-TENSION will take place every other month.

Contact or call 313-903-0322 for more information.

Detroit Beirut

Detroit Beirut

I see my friend Joe Namy at least once a week and talk to him sporadically in between. Yet I had no idea this was coming. Seemingly out of nowhere, he put out a full-length album called Detroit Beirut. He put the whole thing online and made it downloadable for free or donation, along with some beautiful artwork. I’m so excited about the release of this project and look forward to more el.iqaa to come.

Detroit Beirut sounds like a collage of warzone, reconstruction, brokenheartedness and all-night dance party. It sounds like pulling the pieces together in the face of everything. I think track 9, “While They Were Sleeping,” is my favorite. I also love that I can detect footprints of other projects in some of the tracks– like the beat from “Reminders” off the LAMP CD, and the soundtrack to Detroit Unleaded. It makes Detroit Beirut feel even more like something that’s emerging from the sonic landscape of this place.

The whole download-for-donation thing is also pretty sweet. It’s been interesting to see how quickly Radiohead and Saul Williams latest projects have opened up people’s sense of what’s possible in terms of music distribution. Joe’s new project is one amongst a handful of my friends, who are ridiculously talented artists, figuring out how to apply the same level of brilliance and intention to developing new models of distribution as to the creation of the music itself.

Go download it!

Detroit Summer Collective celebrates two years of Breakin’ Bread

By Jenny Lee
Originally published in The Michigan Citizen

Kase n Point @ Nov. Potluck

More Pictures

The walls inside the Cass Corridor’s Neighborhood Development Center are undergoing transformation. On the east wall a new mural commemorates the two year anniversary of the Breakin’ Bread Community Potluck Series. In a landscape of deep purples and blues kids are walking out of schools, towards urban gardens, and into block parties where turntablists and breakdancers have taken over the streets.

The Breakin’ Bread gatherings bring people together every month to share whatever they have to offer. On the food table: Mom’s chicken, homegrown salads and Faygo 2-liters.

On the mic someone tells a story of police brutality, a young mother reads a poem about her hopes for her new baby, someone answers the question “What would it take to end youth-on-youth violence?” which leads to more questions. There’s always someone hauling turntables, crates of records and a cider press. At the end of the night a breaking cipher and upsidedown buckets, turned into drums by Corridor percussion legend, Larry Hull, accompanies clean-up.

On Nov. 8, Detroit Summer celebrated this powerful model of decentralized community organizing with the theme “Rep Your Hood: Graffiti and Community in Detroit.” The new mural in the community center was put up by renowned local artist, Sintex, as a way of telling the story of the past two years of potlucks.

As always, the event featured youth DJs Kase N Point and Dr. Seuss, and the legendary breaking crew, Hardcore Detroit. It was hosted by two of the youngest members of the Detroit Summer Collective: Starlet Lee and Josh Tuck.

After food and an open mic, Lottie Spady and Alia Harvey-Quinn of the Urban Artists Collective led a discussion around the question, “What does it mean to rep your hood? “They told the story of how gangs were originally created as a form of protection for a community but how, with the advent of drug economies, especially the crack economy in Detroit, they came to be a destructive force.

Quinn and Spady asked, “How can we rep our hoods in ways other than fighting for them? Do our hoods rep us?”

The people in the room, mostly youth, responded with ideas like mowing the lawns of senior citizens on the block, by hanging out with the younger kids and helping the younger ones clean up the trash or planting a garden.

“If your community was a potluck, what would you bring to it?” asked event organizers who broke everyone into groups. With markers, magazine scraps and found objects, each group built the collage of their ideal communities, while DJs Kase n Point and Doctor Seuss fed the creative energy in the room.

Afterward attendees explored each other’s collage neighborhoods. At the center of one there was a bird’s nest filled with things like Black history, dignity and a picture of Malcolm X. In another, Tupac Shakur stands at a podium in a suit imploring his neighbors to grow their own vegetables. Biggie’s head pops out from behind a fence, declaring, “I grow my own vegetables!”

These collages are only the beginning. A larger graffiti mural is yet to come. The mural is a collaboration between Sintex, youth from the Cass Corridor neighborhood and youth from Expressionz, a youth organization from Southwest Detroit.

The November potluck represents the best of what the Detroit Summer potlucks have been—a point of contact for hundreds of different people who otherwise might never have met, of all ages, doing all kinds of amazing work in every corner of the city and beyond.

The potlucks produce tangible things like murals, collages, new connections and and plates of leftovers. But we also walk away with subtler things, like confidence, affirmation and the belief that our communities are powerful.

Detroit Summer is a multi-racial, intergenerational collective in Detroit, working to transform communities. Detroit Summer organizes potlucks, speak-outs and parties throughout the year. For more information contact 313-333-6779