Welcome to the movement: NCMR opening

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KFAI’s Janis Lane-Ewart’s remarks at the opening of the 2008 National Conference for Media Reform welcomed people from around the country and around the globe to the Twin Cities, a nexus of so much media and cultural activity, both around KFAI’s Cedar-Riverside home and the many communities and coalitions that have sought to create media justice in the Twin Cities and beyond. The speakers that followed built on these themes, both criticizing what’s wrong, what people in the media reform movement have accomplished in its short life, as well as where to go from here.

Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, the organization founded by Robert McChesney and the organizers of the NCMR, passionately spoke of the dangers within the contemporary media world, as well as those responsible for such dangers, i.e. Big Media and the weak and overly acquiescent mainstream journalistic outlets. “The corporate media is not a watchdog protecting us from the powerful,” Silver said. “It is a lapdog begging for scraps.”

Silver also talked, though, about the movement’s successes, like the blockage earlier this year of an FCC attempt to further allow large consolidation of multiple media outlets; victories in some of the first battles over Net Neutrality; and making presidential candidates seriously discuss issues of media transparency, freedom, and consolidation. “Every one of us has the potential to be a powerful agent for change,” he said.

Similarly, Adrienne Maree Brown, one of the founders of the Ruckus Society—some members of which were seen last month scaling the Golden Gate Bridge during the Olympic Torch’s visit—encouraged those in the room to move from just observers and reporters of events, to agents shaping those events.

Lawrence Lessig gave an elaborate and well-orchestrated presentation about the poisonous relationship of private money funding public government and elections. While he’s best known for copyright and intellectual property law reform, Lessig argued that such battles are just a symptom of this larger disease of crony capitalism. Through groups like Change Congress, Lessig called for an end to such dependency as the first step towards a truly democratic media. (Just this week, both Barack Obama and the Democratic National Committee said that they would not take any money from lobbyists or PACs, political action committees).

Bookended with an Amy Klobuchar via video earlier, where she extolled the work of the NCMR and its attendees, as well as speaking about her own legislative goals in the area, including a wireless user bill of rights, Keith Ellison gave the morning’s attendees a fiery sendoff. Beginning with the infamous interview with Glenn Beck—where the CNN talking head blithely asked Ellison to prove that he wasn’t with the enemy, i.e. Islam, Ellison forcefully argued that if journalists and other media figures did not take back control over information, most people would get their news from people like Glenn Beck.

Grounding his message in histories of media (including radio and television) as well as histories of conservatism and the elevation of greed to a political ideology, he assured those in the room of his support of Net Neutrality and the many other important issues facing media justice today. He wants to help build a “muscular grass roots movement,” organized “from coffeeshops to Congress,” and founded on small, local community media throughout the nation and the world. Echoing Josh Silver’s statement earlier that “the future of our media belongs to us,” the audience rose to their feet as Ellison concluded on a note of optimism and action: “Welcome to that movement.”

Justin Schell is a freelance writer and a grad student at the University of Minnesota’s Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society program. He’s working on a dissertation on Twin Cities immigrant and diasporic hip-hop and plays the washboard tie with The Gated Community.