From Jail to Journalism


root - Posted on 10 September 2007

by tiny

The morning I got out of jail, I walked through the ice-like streets of
Oakland, California touching ivy and running my fingers along the sides
of buildings, cars and the trunks of trees. It wasn't that I had
forgotten how they felt. It was just to know that they, things, trees,
buildings and cars, were still there, even when I wasn't, helped to
ease the shudder, the ache and the tension that was now permanently
lodged in my head

Due to some extremely innovative lawyering by a local civil rights
attorney I was given a chance to write as a way of working off my
several thousand dollars of fines and jail time for crimes of poverty.
In me and my poor mixed race mama's case, this was for the sole act of
being homeless in the US- a citable offense. My writing/media
production assignment was completed, albeit slowly, while living
through the devastating experience of being a youth in a homeless
family who had to drop out of school in the sixth grade to support and
care for my family

The resulting story, a first person narrative about my attempt to get
our PG&E turned back on through county aid, was published. As a
youth dealing with incarceration and grinding poverty, the sole act of
being published, being heard, about me and my families' struggle to
survive, was revolutionary and life-changing, in fact, it was so large,
that it gave me the strength, the hope, to go on for another day. I
began to consider myself a writer. My scholarship valued.

From that first radical intervention, and subsequent acts of media
resistance, along with mentors that included Angela Davis, Velia
Garcia, and Erica Huggins, me and my mama launched POOR Magazine,
an intentionally glossy , nationally distributed literary magazine
written by poor folks on issues of poverty, racism, disability, police
brutality and more, which put forth actionable solutions to every
problem we discussed.

The magazine led to the eventual founding of a grassroots, non-profit,
arts organization of the same name (POOR Magazine) and several
education, arts and culture based programs and media production
projects such as PoorNewsNetwork(PNN) (an on-line news-service on
poverty and racism), a Pacifica radio show, POOR Press, and The Race,
Poverty and Media Justice Institute for youth, adults and elders, The
Po Poets Project and the welfareQUEENs, and many more. The most
important thing about all of these amazing projects is they are led by
what we at POOR call race, poverty, youth, disability and elder
scholars who are trying through media and art, to be heard, about their
experiences, their solutions and their scholarship.

Poverty, Race, Disability and Youth Scholars become Media Scholars at the USSF

Poverty, Race, Youth and Disability scholarship will be leading all of
the media production at The Ida B. Wells Media Justice Center at the US Social Forum in Atlanta. In a revolutionary collaboration
between independent and corporate media producers, acts of media
resistance will happen throughout the forum

For example, a workshop on immigrant rights will be reported on by what
POOR/PNN would call immigrant scholars or poverty scholars, i.e.,
undocumented poor workers currently fighting racist, classist
immigration laws and deportations. Similarly, a report on the current
crisis of displacement in the aftermath of Katrina would be co-authored
by a resident or former resident of New Orleans fighting displacement
and/or a survivor of displacement in another city in Amerikkka. Both
reports would be written and/or taped in English and Spanish and
hopefully several more languages. The reports would be written, audio
or video taped in the first person, debunking the myth of objectivity
promoted by all corporate and even many independent media makers, and
the reports would be led by the people experiencing, first-hand, what
they are reporting on

The independent and corporate media producers at the conference would
work in collaboration with the poverty scholars to facilitate a media
report across several media platforms; radio, on-line, print and/or
video and in perhaps the most radical act of all for the corporate,
alternative, ethnic and independent media present, the finished piece
will be co-authored and both parties will share the precious by-line,
co-production real estate.

Whether it be radio, TV, on-line or print, it all often comes down to
the by-line, shared or singular, which is always based on who does the
actual writing, editing or scripting, rather than who is the subject of
the story, who the actual story is about, whose story is being told,
whose struggle or struggles are being reported on. It is this tension
that informs the inherently voyeuristic industry of Journalism, and
most media production. Contrary to this notion POOR/PNN believes that
if you are reporting on any issue, struggle or action felt or
experienced by poor folks, working folks, disabled folks, youth and on
and on, it should be led by the folks who have experienced these issues
personally.

Writing, reading, thinking imagining speculating. These are luxury
activities, so I am reminded, permitted to a privileged few whose idle
hours of the day can be viewed otherwise than as a bowl of rice or a
loaf bread less to share with the family, excerpt from Women, Native,
Other by Trinh T Minh-ha

Due to the many struggles inherent in a life lived in poverty, poverty
scholars are often dealing with a deficit of resources, money,
security, and time. literacy, formal education, a minute to spare away
from the pursuit of a loaf of bread, whereas, most (not all) corporate
and independent, ethnic and alternative media producers are coming from
a place of some form of privilege, not necessarily just an
over-simplified notion of race and or class privilege, but the far more
subtle privilege of an organized life, a family that supported you,
emotionally and/or financially through college, or perhaps the most
precious of all, the privilege of time to think.

Because of multiple forms of crisis and lack of privilege our voices,
the voices of poor folks, disabled folks, poor youth of color, poor
workers, single parents, elders children and homeless folks, are rarely
if ever heard within the media, we aren't leading the stories about
ourselves and our communities our families. or our solutions.

Finally, to achieve the mighty and timely goal to make another world
possible, the Media Justice Center will also be
creating new inroads of access for unheard voices, unheard struggles,
and urgently needed scholarship and community led solutions in a very
exciting, non-hierarchical form of inclusionary, non-competitive media.
We will be creating new national and international collaborations;
media access channels, reporting opportunities, syndications, and
co-authorship opportunities, which will live far beyond the one
powerful week in Atlanta.

Together we will make another world, another world of media production.

PNN RADIO

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