Who Says Media Is Dead? 5 Takeaways From Progressive Journalists and Activists at the Allied Media Conference

Anyone lamenting the end of traditional media would do well to attend the AMC conference and experience the excitement of a metaphorical phoenix rising from the ash.

In the hullabaloo about the demise of traditional media, some have taken to denigrating a future penned by untrained bloggers who lack formal credentials and “average folks” who meticulously document life through social media. While some of the media’s old guard uncomfortably squirm in their seats at the notion that we are all experts on our own experience, many tech-savvy activists are taking advantage of this historical opportunity to forge a new structure of citizen-powered communications.

Now in its 13th year, the Allied Media Conference (AMC) is an annual assembly of hundreds of progressive “people and organizations that are developing long-term solutions based on the immediate confrontation of our most pressing problems.” Anyone lamenting conventional media’s expiration would do well to attend the summer conference and experience firsthand the excitement of a metaphorical phoenix rising from the ash.

For those who couldn’t attend this year, here are several interesting take-aways from the gathering.

1. Detroit Is Not a Dead City

If you believe what you hear from Forbes and The Daily Show, once-venerable Detroit is currently taking its last gasps. The Detroiters who organize and attend AMC will happily tell you why that’s wrong. Conference organizers point out the city’s contribution to AMC in the conference program by writing, “Place is important. For the AMC, Detroit is important as a source of innovative, collaborative, low-resource solutions.”

Location was ubiquitous in each workshop block. For example, on the “Environmental Justice Tour of Detroit,” youth leader Siwatu Salaama Ra (of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council) led a guided expedition through the most polluted zip code in Michigan, focusing on the success of the neighborhood’s creative organizing efforts rather than its dilapidated buildings.

During the “Decolonizing Journalism” workshop, a Detroit native said of contemporary media, “I am not afraid to watch the house burn down. Change brings opportunity” -- a statement that aptly summarizes the gathering’s optimistic attitude about and actions toward sustainable social, political, and economic justice.

2. Young People Are Powerful Agents of Change

More than simply providing childcare to attending parents, the AMC values young people’s contributions. To encourage meaningful participation, conference organizers intellectually engage pre-adolescents through play and hands-on stimulation, such as science fairs and storytelling. In addition to attending workshops developed with their needs and interests in mind, teenagers were the ones leading many of them. They educated their peers and adults on the strategies they’re using in their own communities to make a more just and equitable world.

Some of these strategies include participatory action research, film, community mapping and good old-fashioned zine making. Also presented were models of leadership development and best practices for working with youth organizers as well as workshops like "Street Youth Rise Up!" by the Young Women’s Empowerment Project and “Palestinian Youth Envision Their Future Through Media.” The AMC provides a laudable example of how young people nationwide are using various forms of media to challenge mainstream publications, enact a DIY ethic and use community media as a tool for uplifting marginalized voices and movement building.

3. Self-Care Is Not a Luxury

The day before leaving for AMC, I read Yashna Maya Padamsee’s “Communities of Care, Organizations for Liberation.” The essay examines the concept of self-care and advocates it be repositioned as “healing justice” -- a stance that unifies personal responsibility with community accountability for meeting individuals’ needs. This sentiment was echoed throughout the AMC conference and was especially prominent in the first workshop I attended.

As I walked into “Stories That Feed Our Bodies and Communities: Media Tools for Healing,” radical woman of color blogger brownfemipower finished her thought by saying, “Not being a burden on society means being invisible.” She condemned the self-destructive patterns of “good” activists who “give so much to activism without activism giving in return,” thereby becoming martyrs for the so-called greater good. She also encouraged people who work for social justice to consider whether they are well-suited to change the world if they are not able to give themselves, their families and their communities what they need.

In an act of self-preservation, brownfemipower deleted her blog from the Internet while she thought about connecting her passions to self-love. She later explored these ideas in a collaborative series called “(Re)Thinking Walking” on a new blog, Flip Flopping Joy.

4. Criminalization Has Not Ended Sexual Violence

An enduring theme throughout this year’s AMC was implementing transformative justice, a method of accountability and healing that doesn’t depend on the criminal justice system for preventing and responding to sexual violence. I was impressed with the number of organizations across North America – from Toronto to Oakland to New York City – that are working comprehensively with victims and perpetrators to mend the damage caused by acts of gender-based violence.

In “Our Safety, Ourselves,” facilitated by Audre Lorde Project’s Veronica Tirado, one participant smartly pointed out, “We intervene in violence all the time in nonviolent ways, but we rarely give ourselves credit for or recognize them in that way.” Philly Stands Up! provided concrete steps for successfully completing an accountability process with someone who has been accused of sexual assault. Nearly half a century of relying on policing has yielded a recognition of gender-based violence as untenable for sustainable communities, but it is only recently that transformative justice work has begun to take hold. (Pick up a copy of The Revolution Starts at Home for a brilliant introduction to this work.)

5. 'Solutions' is Plural, Not Singular

Instead of putting the onus of accessibility solely on the individuals most directly affected by such things as chronic illness, limitation in mobility, lack of funds, or trans identity, the AMC coordinated a Creating Collective Access network to treat everyone’s needs as significant in the community. Beyond holding the conference in a building that is fully wheelchair accessible and with unisex bathrooms, conference-goers were asked to think about what tangible and intangible resources they might contribute to make the conference a safe and welcoming place for others.

This meant avoiding the use of scented shampoos, soaps, colognes, detergents, and the like for the duration of the weekend to accommodate those with fragrance allergies. It also extended to taking one’s own time to buy lunch for someone caring for children or offering to drive an older person to an off-site event. The work of Creating Collective Access is ongoing and takes place throughout the various stages of the AMC’s planning.

Mandy Van Deven is an internationally published writer, progressive activist, and co-author of Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets. You can find more about her work at
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