So, I was trying to get my friend to read a recent issue of Adbusters magazine.
"You've got to read this!" I said. "There's an article about how the media today is owned by only a handful of corporations, and corporate consolidation is leading to fewer voices getting on the air and stifling the range of debate, which is stifling the health of our democracy. And corporations themselves are legally bound by law to seek a profit over any other competing interest. And because of a judge's ruling that unlawfully declared that corporations are to be deemed legal "persons" - giving rights to corporations that were originally intended for recently freed black slaves - these corporations (due to their vast wealth and influence) now have more rights than people. And these corporate rights are now the source of the power they use to destroy all of humanity!!" I said with a half-laugh, nearly out of breath.
"Yikes," she said.
"Yeah I know. It's crazy."
And then there was a pause. "Yeah, the thing is..." she said with a sigh. "I really don't have time to read that. I mean, look: I know things are bad. Everyone nowadays knows about all these problems at some level. It just seems kind of tiring to keep reading about things that at a basic level, you already know."
And I thought about what she said, and I understand what she's saying - at some level. But here's the problem: When problems are vague, so are the solutions.
When you think about all the world problems... Oh jeez, well don't think about all of them. But if you think about just a few. Take: climate change, deforestation, bought-and-paid-for elections, and the corporate exploitation of millions of people working in sweat-shop factories around the world. How are we even going to begin to solve these problems? Now if we tried to attack each of these issues individually, well, we'll be trying to plant corn in the deserts of the Midwest on a very hot planet before that happens. Climate change and peak oil alone give us a deadline of five to ten years to do most of the significant work to solve these issues (scientists estimate that we need to stabilize our co2 emissions by 2015 to avoid a series of tipping points). We simply do not have the time to keep hacking at individual branches while new branches grow every day.
But what if there was one solution which got at the root of all these problems, and if you solved this one thing, it would quickly solve many of the others?
Now let's say I told you that the laws that give corporations their legal power were the source of all of the problems listed above. You change the laws that govern the corporation and you change the landscape of our economy, environment, and society all at the same time. Now of course, appreciating the significance of this solution can only be grasped when you have a full understanding of the problem. And this means specifics, and this means reading that damn article!
It was at this particular exclamation point that I realized: getting informed on the issues is kind of the whole point. It's the solution that leads to every other solution.
Because clear knowledge leads to clear actions, and clear actions lead to results.
When you understand the problem, you know what needs fixing, and you feel empowered to support actions that can lead to fixing it. And when a whole bunch of people learn about an issue and know what needs to be done to get our country back on track, then the people can start organizing. And as you launch targeted campaigns to solve specific issues, you eventually see results, and your community is the better for it.
It's all about getting informed and taking action. It's the essence of democracy. Not to bust out some history books on your asses, but this goes back to the days our forefathers first drafted the constitution. The first amendment talks about the need for a Free Press. They knew that a democracy could not thrive without the full participation of its citizens, and that you need to be fully informed to truly participate. The two go hand in hand.
Originally, informing the public and arming them with the knowledge they need to act was the cardinal responsibility of the media. It was to foster a free and open "marketplace for ideas," so that all could have a voice within the commons, and the best ideas could rise to the top - regardless of the economic or political power of the people who voiced them.
Today, these ideas seem quaint in comparison to the profit-driven, consolidated, and corrupt media we have now. Most of us are aware of how bad the mainstream media has gotten. It reveals itself every time a Lady Gaga story makes headline news, and when political pundits paid by the Pentagon debate the pros of more war, and lots of war.
You could stock a website full of examples. Between the unashamedly partisan coverage on FOX and the infotainment and soft-ball fluff predominant on CNN and the rest of the mainstream press, there is clearly a gap in quality news, and this gap represents the bottleneck that impedes the progress of nearly every social cause we care about.
Getting our elections free from corporate cash and undoing Citizens United is a big one. You can bet amending the Constitution to abolish corporate person-hood isn't going to be easy. It's going to require a mass movement of people all across this country demanding it, and to get to this stage, we need mass awareness.
So, what solution will go right to the thick, deep root that will reach every other rotten root and heal every branch and make those proverbial flowers bloom?
We fix the media. And rather than wait for these massive media conglomerates to reform themselves, or wait for congress to step in - we're going to create our own media. We're going to declare independence from the Corporate Media by creating new information channels that serve the public's interest and speaks with the public's voice. And we're going to do if from the bottom up.
We start in our communities, working on creating a communications infrastructure that will allow everyone to get the real deal on a given issue, so that the people have the power to mobilize in great numbers when the time is needed. Then as we build momentum we expand the scope of this network to eventually include the entire city. We'll accomplish this with documentary film screenings, public access TV, low-power FM radio, street team promotion, and a central indy-media website dedicated to keeping our city connected and informed.
Building on the classic IndyMedia model, these city sites will allow anyone to contribute content, and let the community decide what content is promoted to the front page. From here we can network with other city indy-media websites, allowing us to communicate news, mass actions and events with millions of people through these networks of city chapters. We will bypass the need to write press releases and get coverage from traditional media altogether. And before we know it, within the next three years, we have the potential to create a nations-wide communications channel that rivals the best of the old corporate giants.
A democratic media breaks the bottleneck. It's the strategic foundation that will allow us to amplify our efforts to build truly sustainable and vibrant new ways of living here in our own city, and in every city around the globe.
This was the work I and the other members of the Films For Action team set out to accomplish when we first began the project back in 2006. We have organized dozens of film screening events, cataloged over 1400 world-changing videos on our website, launched several targeted campaigns, and launched version 2.0 of the FilmsForAction.org website.
With the re-launch of our site - over a year in development - we've entered the 2nd major phase of the strategy. The new site's infrastructure has been programmed to make it easy to create whole new city chapter sub-sites with just a few clicks. Our original chapter based in Lawrence, KS demonstrates the concept, and shows how these cities will stay networked with our international "main" site. In the last two years, we've seen over a dozen city chapters begin to take root, while 2013 looks like it may be the break-out year for the project as we hit some critical thresholds in international traffic and more chapters get started every week.
As I see it, these are all the first few steps in a thousand-move chess game. But there's no way to make progress until you get started on step one.
Tim Hjersted is the director and a co-founder of Films For Action. He will be heading to Denver in April to network and collaborate with thousands of other media activists at this year's National Conference on Media Reform.