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Justice Communicator Column 6: Common ownership: Uplifting community accountability through media technologies

Detroit Evolution is pleased to repost the Justice Communicators column from The Michigan Citizen. Patrick Geans-Ali, Victoria Goff and I have been cycling through a loose discussion on the relationship between principals shared by the Environmental Justice, Media & Digital Justice and Food Justice movements. Thus far we have discussed the principals of Access, Participation and Community Ownership. ~Gregg

Common ownership: Uplifting community accountability through media technologies
• Sun, Oct 23, 2011

By Victoria Goff

This is the second in the series of columns on the justice principle of common ownership by the Justice Communicators.

The Occupy Wall Street movement taking hold across the United States has created several interesting spaces for dialogue here in Detroit. On Twitter, the #OccupyDetroit hashtag has brought together a community of people interested in change and organizing together with their fellow Detroiters —an inspiring thing to see at any time. But there was also an interesting tweet that was making the rounds as well:

If you really want to #OccupyDetroit, move here! Invest in empty homes, storefronts and neighborhoods. Build community!

This particular tweet spread like wildfire, to the point I couldn’t figure out who actually wrote it. It also led to some of the expected responses (Why would anybody want to occupy there? Or, there’s a reason nobody wants to occupy Detroit! Or my favorite: How come there isn’t an #OccupyDetroit or #OccupyFlint? Oh wait you need some residents for that). But what I found really interesting was the support the tweet got through the numerous reblogs. I found this support especially interesting in context of the justice principle of common ownership.

The Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) states that common ownership as it relates to digital justice entails:

- The creation of knowledge, tools and technologies that are free and shared openly with the public.

- Promoting diverse business models for the control and distribution of information, including: cooperative business models and municipal ownership.

To understand what these things mean more fully, we have to return for a brief moment to the previously discussed principles of access and participation. Access from a digital justice standpoint ensures that all people have equal access to media tech nologies. Participation in a digital justice sense prioritizes the right of people who have normally been excluded by and attacked by the media to be fully a part of producing and consuming media.

When you consider access and participation alongside common ownership, you see that the three principles intertwine with each other and are very much dependent on each other. If all people don’t have equal access to media technologies like Twitter, then the media will continue to be unaccountable the communities it is supposedly serving (but more often excluding or even attacking). And if excluded and attacked communities are unable to participate in media technologies, they will never be in situations where they control the distribution of material about their community. Or, there will not be any way to hold those producing media accountable to community members.

So, if we return to that tweet that was flying around Twitter: it centralized the idea that moving to Detroit, investing in empty homes and storefront neighborhoods was the way to build community — indeed, it was the way to “Occupy Detroit.” If we consider that the message was being distributed through a system that Detroiters not only don’t own, but that far too many Detroiters also don’t participate on because they simply don’t have access (think: the digital divide), we really have to ask: How would this tweet have been different if was created and distributed in a way that was accountable to the most excluded and attacked communities in Detroit?

I’m not interested in suggesting that whoever created the tweet or the people who retweeted it were somehow wrong in their actions. I am very interested, however, in having a long dialogue about how that tweet would have been different if the principles of digital justice (thus far: accessibility, participation, common ownership) were central values to any action taking place in Detroit. Would prioritizing the voices of the mostly poor, mostly communities of color in media technologies change the narrative about what will fix Detroit at all?

The DDJC suggests there would be a difference. In a recent action, the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization (MWRO) worked with the DDJC to a create mesh wireless network they then used to broadcast a message from MWRO about the current welfare crisis in Michigan to Detroit Tiger fans. What this means is that the DDJC created an open wireless network anybody near the stadium could use to log on to the Internet. And once people logged on, they saw the message from the MWRO about the attacks on welfare by the state of Michigan and what people could do about it. When local communities that have been the most excluded and attacked by the media had a chance through common ownership to disperse their own message, they distributed a message that encouraged a community response to a growing crisis affecting the community.

Common ownership is something that cannot happen unless accessibility and participation from a justice perspective are prioritized by movements. As the Occupy Wall Street movement works its way to Detroit, I’m really looking forward to seeing the movement build on existing work and helping to prioritize and uplift those community members who have traditionally been excluded and attacked by the media.

Victoria Goff is the Communications Coordinator for the Detroit Future Program.

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