Sat, 2015-11-21 22:43
Submitted by sphinx

Story By DeeDee Halleck

For me, it started with camcorders in the 1970s. Straight out of the 60s. It was not home movies. It wasn’t like youTube. There were hardly any piano playing cats. It was the prostitutes of Lyon occupying the cathedral.[1] It was the welfare applicants of Saint Jacques looking for health care. [2] It was Skip at the 72 Democratic Convention confronting Roger Mudd and all of mainstream TV journalism.[3] It was Harriet leaving her Lanesville home and the sink full of dishes.[4] All that information. All that rage.

Early video started with collectives: sharing tools and sharing ideas. Where to put the programs? There was no internet. How to share? What about television? So we fought for the airwaves and for access to cable. In the U.S. we won cable’s PEG (Public, Education, Government) --channels and tools to make our own TV: channels in almost every major city. There were collectives producing weekly programs: Paper Tiger, Termite TV, Not Channel Zero, Whispered Media, Co-Lab TV, DIVA TV, Cast Iron TV and many other producing groups. Deep Dish TV leased commercial satellite transponders and transmitted collations of programs on racism, war, kids, women, health, censorship and art. Later we fought for access to commercial satellite channels—and won the non-commercial public transponder set asides on direct broadcast cable: Free Speech TV, Link TV and many universities were able to have national networks.

When the internet started, the collaborations went global. We made web sites and list serves replete with facts and fighters from movements across the globe:, Zapatista, apc, greennet, Burmanet, McSpotlight, Witness.

By the late 1990s we realized that we were mostly fighting the same enemy: capital and the lending vultures of global capital—the World Bank, the G8, the IMF. The meetings of these groups became a place for resistance and documentation of that resistance. These encampments, the marches, the strikes, the global social forums still persist. To fight those powers we have channels and websites, transponders and servers. We share spaces both physical and virtual: Australia’s CAT, (Community Activist Technology), Engage Media, Indymedia. For me, Indymedia was infranstructure for the needed global connections.

So where are we now?
What happened to indymedia? Where is Occupy? Are the occupied spaces empty, the rabble swept aside like dead leaves blown away by the two stroke leaf blowers of corporate property enforcers of Zuccotti Park? Where are those millennium uprisings? Are they obsolete, stamped out by the trump-eters of reaction? Or scattered into twitter twits and instagrammies detritus? Or are we “sheltering in place” (my grandson’s phrase from his kindergarten exercise now required in NYC schools), in fear of the terrorism, that terror that was initially initiated and sponsored by the underground maneuvers of capital’s imperial wars.

In less than a year after the initial blossoming of Indymedia during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, Indymedia (centers, websites and local resistant organizations) had burst open in over a hundred locations throughout the world. Finally, a way to share information without corporate filters.

Indymedia had been inspired and informed by software evolved from the work of geeks from CAT–Community Activist Technology in Australia who had developed Active Sydney, a site that could handle live internet posts that included audio and video. Many activists groups around the world had been energized by internet text postings of the Zapatista uprisings in 1994. Those poetic reports from the Lacandan jungle were the first widespread example of how the internet could provide distribution of activist information and contribute to organizing and collaboration on a global scale.

In 1999 the Seattle WTO (World Trade Organization) protests gathered the talents and energy of hackers, video makers, radio producers, print journalists and still photographers in a collaboration that was recognized as a successful “tactical action”. The immediate reception by literally several million people, not only as audience, but as participants who could themselves post comments and media. The 1995 CAT postings and the 1999 Seattle publishing of activist video, photos and audio predated youTube and instagram by almost a decade.[5]

Although the back end of the indymedia site was complex, it was able to “stay up” with the help of comrade geeks (with extra bandwidth) who provided mirror servers to handle the traffic. The sort of community tech assistence proved the benefit of free and open source applications because tech mavens from far flung corners were able to keep the unprecedented popular global community site operating. However the servers needed many rebootings as they crashed intermittently from the stress of the many hits, the hunger for information and the desire of many to share video, graphics and audio. In what may be a first, cell phones were used to transmit comments from arrested activists. Prior to 1999, most international video/audio/image sharing via internet was by medical schools, academic exchanges and military surveillance. After Seattle, the web became truly a public forum.

Of course this activity did not go unnoticed by the forces of reaction. In Genoa, Italy during a G8 Summit an indymedia activist was killed by police during a demonstration and many beaten in a raid at a temporary IMC set up in a school. Moreover it created a sense of impotence and frustration as indy centers realized how vulnerable and fragile they really were. The U.S. security apparatus was able to breach borders to repress indy sites and servers on several continents. In 2004 indymedia servers were seized in the UK in a move by the FBI through Interpol. The details of that seizure are still shrouded in mystery. [6] In 2005 an indymedia server in the UK was seized and a Bristol indymedia member arrested as activists prepared for the Gleneagles summit. The server was eventually returned several months later, the activist was freed and no charges were filed. But the repressive intervention had greatly hindered coverage of the summit.

The attacks on Indymedia were almost at the level of Cointelpro, the campaign waged in the 1960s by the FBI and law enforcement to dismantle the Black Panthers, The Young Lords, The American Indian Movement and other activist organizing. That repression lead to several deaths. The imprisonment of some of the Cointelactivists continues to this day. When IMC Centers blamed concerted government repression they were called conspiracy theorists. What do you call paranoia when the fear and anxiety is based on fact? Tish Stringer’s Rice University dissertation relates the difficulties the seizures created within Indymedia in Texas [7] and by extension many other indymedia nodes.

But state repression isn’t the only problem for indymedia in the U.S. As burn-out, escalating real estate costs, lack of funding and the seductive appropriation by corporate interests of some of the key technical volunteers, in many U.S. locations Indymedia began a retrenchment that meant closed physical spaces, withering web sites and loss of archived history.

There are fertile sprouts from that stump of indymedia. The knapsacks that always crowded the IMC spaces now cushion the floors of lowpower radio stations, community gardens and migrant camps. Some of the old chock full hard drives are still blinking and some of the earliest IMC groups still produce. The NY IMC started a newspaper in 2001, “The Indypendent” which has grown to be an important source of non-sectarian progressive news, covering local NYC issues, but also providing an overview of movements in many regions of the earth. The circulation figure is 50,00 copies, and it is available in every borough and via mail to many subscribers.

Other IMCs have created permanent physical centers for activist work. In 2015 Indymedia Urbana/Champaign in Illinois (UCI) celebrated a tenth anniversary in their impressively monumental home—the former federal style post office—now transformed to an indymedia cultural community center housing 65 organizations which include radio station, a prison library program, which has donated over 50,000 books to Illinois prisons, a recycling bicycle project, a migrant information center and a web hosting service for over 200 non-profit organizations. The building also still houses the post office, now renting space from indymedia.
The IMC UCI mission statement gives a sense of their broad scope and idealistic goals:“We foster the creation and distribution of media, art, and narratives emphasizing underrepresented voices and perspectives and promote empowerment and expression through media and arts education.”

IMC (Independent Media Center in Champaign, Illinois, the former main post office. The post office now rents space from Indymedia

IMC (Independent Media Center in Champaign, Illinois, the former main post office. The post office now rents space from Indymedia.
Radio has been an important outreach for indymedia groups. UCI indymedia, in addition to running their own community radio station, has helped others navigate the red tape and jump through the hoops for station licensing. Houston Indymedia still produces a weekly radio program on the local Pacifica FM station. Indymedia Hudson/Mohawk bought a defunct church and created The Sanctuary for Independent Media and have provided information and assistance to several low power local stations and are now scheduled to turn on a full power station for the New York State capitol region.
In Rochester, NY, the Indymedia Collective bought the abandoned clubhouse of the local Elks organization. The space is called The Flying Squirrel and provides a base for meetings of many activist groups, art exhibitions, graffiti workshops, a bookstore and a weekend music venue for young punk bands.

Indymedia Africa
There have been Indymedia initiatives in Africa and in July 2015, the sixth African Indymedia convergence took place in Accra, Ghana with activists from 8 countries. Their meeting was timed to coincide with the annual AMARC Conference (Associacion Media Alternative Radio Communitaire) Radio activists caravaned from several countries, and held skill sharing workshops, building radios, training with computer software for radio and exchanging tips for organizing in their countries. AMARC old timers contributed their experience and breadth to the Indymedia Africa meeting, just as the presence of Indymedia/Africa’s activists expanded the diversity of AMARC’s gathering.

 Building Radio at Maseno University

2007 Indymedia Convergence in Kenya: Building Radio at Maseno University

The importance of radio to local struggles was emphasized by Lydia Ajono, founder of a radio station in the town of Bolgatanga in the Upper East region of Ghana, a 20 hour bus ride from the capital Accra. Ajono was an active participant in the Ghana meetings:[8] “ We know the best thing is to give voice to the voiceless, and in our area the women are voiceless…The listeners are so inspired by the programs. They realize that these are real issues that we are facing.” Her community is suffering from illegal logging of mahogany trees within tribal lands. Cutting the trees has changed the moisture balance and the streams are drying up. Ajono’s programming has been key to the community’s response to the logging company and has brought the issue to the forefront of debate by local political leaders. Radio volunteer Akolga Samuel claims: ”Programs enlighten people to understand the terrain of policies and understand how to fight for their rights.” This work is especially important given the burgeoning U.S. military presence in Africa.

Valentine Eben (Sphinx) has been an active convener of the African indymedia meetings. The Accra meeting was one of a continuing series of African Convergences—the previous one was in Dakar, Senegal in conjunction with the African Social Forum.

Lydia Ajono, Radio Gurune founder, stands next to a 1KW transmitter, which allows the station to reach a listener audience of 2 million in rural Ghana. Photo by Danielle DeLuca.

Lydia Ajono, Radio Gurune founder, stands next to a 1KW transmitter, which allows the station to reach a listener audience of 2 million in rural Ghana. Photo by Danielle DeLuca.

Sphinx was the coordinator behind all six of the African Indymedia convergences. He is from Cameroon, and was interviewed on a Canadian station before leaving for Ghana: “The effort is to build community owned and operated media capacity and infrastructure. In the last couple of years huge international donor organizations tried to literally appropriate the spaces that have been opened by organizers and this has been very counterproductive. In response we are trying to build community owned media, which in the case of Africa is mainly radio. In Africa one in four Africans have access to radio.”[9] But only one in 160 have access to the internet. One of the benefits of building radios in a community is that the computers that are part of the radio infrastructure can be made available to local citizens.

The indymedia movement has been criticized for the prominence of male leadership. For the African convergences an effort was made to insure that women would also be part of technical training and the skill sharing. In the Dakar convergence, the gender balance was enhanced by the skilled participation of women activists from the Niger Delta. Their skills at organizing helped create a vital indymedia presence in the Dakar Social Forum march.

Indymedia Africa Marches at the Dakar World Social Forum.

Indymedia Africa Marches at the Dakar World Social Forum.

One of the African radios affiliated with indymedia is Equator FM at the University of Maseno in Kenya. On October 15, 2015, the university was the scene of violent police repression after state police shot live rounds a campaign vehicle carrying candidates for student government positions. Two of the campaigners were killed and several others seriously wounded. In response, students barricaded highways and burned down the administration building. The entire university was shut down. The Maseno student radio has been a key information provider in the midst of these protests. Universities throughout Africa are important hubs for students to gain access to radio and the internet. In this environment, indymedia has a key role to play in connecting activists and defending their right to communicate within the universities and with other student movements.

The press pass of Bintou Traore, one of the Mali radio activists who attended the Accra workshops in August 2015.

The press pass of Bintou Traore, one of the Mali radio activists who attended the Accra workshops in August 2015.

Work as a journalist in Africa is not without danger. There have been attacks on indymedia participants. Stephen Nyash, a participant in the Dakar indymedia convergence was a radio journalist at KOCH-FM, in the shack community of Korgocho, Kenya, the third largest slum in the world. . A skilled organizer and talented media professional, he was the founder of Ghetto Films. Fellow indymedia activist John Bwakali wrote an obituary for Nyash, who was murdered one year after the Dakar workshops. "From the moment that he knew about Kenya Indymedia, Nyash became not just an active participant but fellow leader of the movement… Upon return [from Dakar, Senegal], he immersed himself into the vision and work of Kenya Indymedia." After the Dakar workshops he had continued his work in developing the KOCH-FM radio. But his work in broadcasting news about corruption in the Korogocho slums and his organizing of Ghetto Films had made him a target for repressive forces.

Stephen Nyash leading the indymedia contingent in at Dakar Social Forum

Stephen Nyash leading the indymedia contingent in at Dakar Social Forum

Nyash is recognized as the third indymedia journalist to be killed for his work. On June 29th, 2004, Lenin Najera of Indymedia Guayaquil Ecuador was assassinated by agents of the Ecuadorian government, and on October 27, 2006, Brad Will was murdered by the Mexican paramilitary in Oaxaca.

For media activists in Latin America and Africa, as in many parts of Asia and the Middle East, the work of reporting the truth is dangerous. The infrastructure of global indymedia support from the areas with more resources and funding options to the areas impacted by war and colonialism is a key function of what is still active within the indymedia movement.

History Lessons
Aside from the skills learned in technical and organizing workshops at the African convergences, there were other unusual aspects of these meetings. Both of the last two African Indymedia convergences ended in visits to learn of Africa’s history of slavery. Dakar’s meeting ended with an emotional tour of the slave dungeons at Goree Island, and the Accra group visited the port in Ghana, where tens of thousands of chained and garroted Africans were loaded onto commercial ships, headed to Charleston, Newport, Rio, Havana, Port Au Prince and other ports for sale. There was also a tour of the WEB DuBois library in Ghana. DuBois, pioneer scholar and influential historian of African American culture, emigrated to Ghana in 1960 and his grave and library/museum are in Accra. This sort of connection to history for these young media activists from around the continent is a unique addition to the accomplishments of the indymedia movement.

Indymedia Africa members touring the slave port.

Atlantic Slave trade dungeon

Indymedia Africa members touring the slave port.

As both the United States and China rev up their involvement in Africa, the work of Indymedia Africa is a crucial arena for the struggle for justice and against colonialism.

No, Indymedia is not dead. On the African continent it has perhaps its most important work.

What’s Being Occupied
Was “Occupy Wall Street” a failure? While the police were able to clear the area’s Zuccotti Park of the scruffy encampment, the occupy movement did have an impact, despite the dismissal and ridicule by corporate media. For one thing, “Occupy” made inequality a serious focus in U.S. politics. None of the candidates for the 2016 election can ignore the brutal reality of the figures of wealth distribution in the U.S. and the world.

Many of the young people who cut high school classes to camp out at Zuccotti Park for several weeks, continued their activism as the leaders of the anti-fracking and the Black Lives Matter movements. As climate change advances, the self-organizing actions of those days on Wall Street enabled many young people to take leadership roles in the organizing against the oil and coal companies. Black Lives Matter’s protest “etiquette” of shared leadership and community “assemblies” owes much to the shared histories of both the civil rights movement and the occupy actions.

Standing Against U.S, Military Expansion
However there is another sort of “occupation” which is also sharing histories and tactics. Perhaps the most important “occupiers” now are the anti-occupation activists who are protesting the expanding U.S. military bases in dozens of countries.

This is from a declaration from Okinawa: “Already for two decades the Okinawan people have stymied the best-laid plans of the world's two most powerful governments. They have paid a heavy price, day after day confronting the intimidation and violence of ever increasing concentrations of riot police and Coast Guard officials, but they have persisted…For the first time, the Henoko movement issues a call to ‘all the regions of Japan and of all the world’ to come and join the sit-in."[10]

The anti-occupation movement in Japan has drafted an “eviction notice” for the U.S. base expansion:
The [Henoko] Council against The Helicopter Base October 14, 2015
On 13 October Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga nullified the permit to carry out land reclamation in Oura Bay, granted by former Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, explaining that it contains illegalities. We of the Anti-Helicopter Base Council unconditionally support this decision, and more than ever give our full backing to the Governor.

In Korea, similar actions resist a proposed base on Jeju Island. According to Andrew Yeo in the Asia Pacific Journal, independent media has played a major role in this struggle. Not specifically indymedia per se, though there has been an Indymedia/Japan in Osaka, many of the young media outlets were influenced by Indymedia: “Progressive internet media outlets such as OhMyNews and The Village Voice (Minjung-e Sori) devoted extensive coverage to the Pyeongtaek anti-base movement on their webpage. Hankyoreh, a major progressive-leaning daily also provided frequent, favorable coverage. Hankyoreh 21, the weekly magazine produced by the same media company devoted a section each week to Daechuri residents and KCPT’s campaign.”[11]

Protesters “sitting in” against U.S. base expansion in South Korea.

Korean protest2

Protesters “sitting in” against U.S. base expansion in South Korea.

Korean protest3

Art against the Jeju base in Korea2

Art against the Jeju base in Korea

As each U.S. expansion proceeds, so do the resistant actions and the shared declarations and tactics of the resistant citizens.

No, the Occupy movement is not dead. It is taking place on a global scale against the weapons and war exercises of the colonial enforcers.

[1] Video was used to communicate from inside the occupied church to passersby on the street outside (1975), documented by Carole Roussopoulos.

[2] An experiment by the National Film Board of Canada used video in the Saint Jacques neighborhood of Montreal to air workers’ grievances . George Stoney, founder of the public access television was one of the media organizers of this project, considered the beginning of that movement

[3] TVTVs coverage of the Democratic Comvention with Skip Blumberg and others.

[4] Skip Blumberg and Nancy Cain were members of the Videofreex, a NY state collective. Nancy’s video, Harriet, is considered one of the first feminist productions.

[5] Some of the earliest postings of activist graphics on the internet was by . I was “faculty sponsor” of this student site which hosted rebel groups from many countries and was ultimately taken down by university officials due to pressure from the U.S. State Department.

[6] Tish Stringer, Move! Guerilla Films, Collaborative Modes, and the Tactics of Radical Media Making, Dissertation, Rice University, Houston, Texas, 2006.

[7] Stringer, Tish, ibid. p.169.

[8] Thanks to Norman Stockwell, resource consultant for Indymedia Africa, who wrote about the Bolgatanga radio in an issue of Cultural Survival.

[9] From an interview with a Canadian youth radio which Sphinx posted on Indymedia.Africa

[10] From article by Gavan McCormack in The Asia Pacific Journal, quoted in Truth Out.

[11] Yeo, Andrew, “Back to the Future: Korean Base Resistance from Jeju Island to Pyeongtaek.” In The Asia Pacific Journal,