By MaryCarl Guiao
Do we know our history so we know where our work lies?
There’s no time like when you’re that close to the opening event featuring an interactive, investigative hip-hop experience with Complex Movements that we are all eagerly anticipating, for the US border guards to suddenly bring our travel to an hour and a half halt. Prince’s Purple Rain album is on its second rotation because we forgot to bring the over-five-hour-ride mix CDs that the not-so-closet-DJ in our group had made for our road trip. Also, we’re stoked; the four of us friends have our hearts set on the 15th annual Allied Media Conference and we’re literally a minute away from our destination, Detroit, Michigan. The now four-day AMC is a festive, 2000+-attended, inclusive, working-together-heavy, media justice skills-doing space. For the past four years, my colleagues in community radio land have been urging me to join them in all the fun knowledge and skill-sharing at the AMC. This past June 20th, I was finally making my way to my first AMC.
It happened quite suddenly. Our friend’s car was fully searched while we were held at the border waiting room and interrogated, without any reason made known to us other than the inexplicable (that is, in a non-racist, non-xenophobic, non-classist way) excuse that this was “standard” procedure. I thought that we all looked and acted Westernized and college student-y enough to not be harassed at the border; I certainly made the effort to dress plus be the part. I’m also confident that we exude maturity — or definitely a matureness appropriate for each of our ages — we’re all in our early 20’s to early 30’s — and I had hoped that this would help us cross without any hassle. Even though we are a group of three Canadians and one US citizen without criminal records, we’re conscious that these behaviors matter to border officials.
Everything started to make sense when I began to recollect the stories of my Canadian-citizenship-status-having friends who are dark-skinned about how they are consistently disrespected, especially harassed, at the border in some way or another. Two of us are dark-skinned. I’m visibly Asian, and the fourth of us is a self-identified Caucasian. For years I’ve written articles on, and hosted and produced radical community radio show episodes focusing a lot on anti-racism work and the politics of criminalization — heck, a month earlier I had aired a couple interviews surrounding formalized and reinforced racism, xenophobia, and classism in border guard protocol as well as in the general national borders culture, so I was surprised that I was surprised that this is what was happening.
This is what kicked off what I’d deluded myself into thinking would be more of a vacation time for me. I’d been so looking forward to being just stress-free, especially from dealing with racial intolerance, for a handful of days. I’d planned to only feel right at home during this short while, hanging out with my mix of racialized, low-income, working-class, queer friends in a predominantly Black community where the majority of city residents are low-wage service workers. Devastatingly, there are countless more examples of these forms of violence and abuse occurring moment-to-moment and everywhere, and countless more that are far more intense and traumatizing in their outcomes.
By contrast, my travel back to Canada was so smooth sailing. The guards glanced at our passports, no holdup. Two of our friends who are dark-skinned who had driven up from Toronto to the conference with the group of us had received rides back to Ontario at other dates, and I was now in the same used car, this time, full of light-skinned friends, including the two of us who had observed the discrimination at the border days earlier.
Are we ready to enduringly struggle for radical social change?
Because state border guards normalize the intimidating and violating of the rights of innocent people at the border.
Because many of us have to go to much greater lengths and costs than most, especially compared to those with privilege (particularly: white, Western, cis-male, wealthy), to receive empathy and have our stories acknowledged and understood.
Because for decades to centuries, violence against people who are a part of economically, socially, and politically marginalized communities has been regularly reinforced by their intentional exclusion, misrepresentation and being attacked by media, technology, and local and federal governments.
Because it isn’t just “horrible” for us. It’s crushing. It’s murdering us. It’s committing genocide.
These are some of the many, many reasons, which are also reminders, that root me in the media justice work that I do, which my short, a little something like a bio below expands on. To me, media justice work is story, experience, and information-spreading through any form of medium such as print, radio, and digital, and working to ensure that all members of our communities are media literate and have the ability to use and adequately access these communication tools. To get there, we must question and challenge how our brains have been wired to think and act surrounding who we perceive as being deserving of leadership roles, who we perceive as being deserving of roles that can make change happen, who we consider as our “experts”, who we consider as being qualified to educate and consciousness-raise, who we work with, and what skills we value. Traditionally these roles are filled by those of us who are and who can be perceived to be white, cis-male, wealthy, heterosexual, and/or able-bodied.
Because self-identified womyn and girls are taught to feel suspect, contemptible, one-dimensional, and rapable because of their feminine sexual energy, especially when expressing it.
Because top-down decision making by those with privilege keeps us disconnected from the actual needs of marginalized communities that struggle against barriers to be able to make their own media.
Because we will never experience the necessary social change we need locally and worldwide, unless we are genuinely willing to struggle against corporate media for our agency over media technology.
All these and more spurred my interest to experience the AMC. Sign me up for any goings-on that have lots of working on building socially responsible communities, lots of access to message making technology, and lots of promoting of common ownership of technology going on, of which all of these were taking place all throughout the AMC. Though, the AMC is comprehensive and is not only about fostering a community of media justice strategists.
If our spirits are broken, how do we mend them?
Working together towards overcoming the shame surrounding erotic sensory and learning can happen at a media justice conference. Of all conferences — even the alternative health care scene is regularly lacking the essential piece about nurturing our erotic life force as part of holistic health care — I found several empowering sessions on the topic at the AMC. Being at the “Sex Esteem” and the “Erotic Breadth-work: The Erotic as Power” sessions was a tremendous dose of healthy. It’s deeply invigorating to be amongst young and older, racialized, queer-identified, womyn and trans people of all abilities taking charge of their erotic well-being and participating to help each other to enhance their sexual selves beyond just bodily sensation.
Living in a globally dominant culture where colonialism, imperialism, and abuse reigns, we are in every way energetically drained — psychically, physically, and so forth, and it’s difficult to practice self-love, let alone to find the strength and time to do community organizing. What is unique to the AMC as a conference that is not focusing on health care in the traditional sense, is that wellness and healing are acknowledged as foundational to social and ecological justice work and movement building, and are encouraged and supported through offering various spaces at the conference dedicated to personal and communal care such as the yoga sessions and the “Healing Justice Practice Space” that offered a diversity of alternative health care treatments throughout the weekend like energy work and acupuncture.
In the context of culture and institutions tailored by whiteness, patriarchy, and the West, we’ve been raised to conform to structures that devalue and suppress justice and real human needs, including our need for taking care of our innate and sacred erotic energies within. Contrary to what’s passed on through mainstream culture, part and parcel of the Erotic is spiritual and mental growth, especially with another, developing a joyous bond between each other. Eroticism is a healing art and science that actually encourages a release of ego, being caring with our bodies, and a compassionate connection inwards.
As with racial, class, gender, and dis/ability-based intolerance experienced at national borders, the common absence of healthy erotic mentorship yet again reminds us that there’s no escaping the reminders about the work needed to be done, and how much of it is needed, to undo and make reparations for the social (and environmental) pathologies born out of the deeply-rooted, significantly disproportionate concentrations of power and privilege unjustly awarded to the hands of white capitalist patriarchy.
Gatherings like the AMC are all too few. I am grateful of the AMC’s always timely reminder that creating positively impactful media using technology is doable by us all, by people of all backgrounds and abilities. However, I left Detroit being pushed to think beyond communications technology; even beyond enriching my erotic guide within. The AMC helped reaffirm my understanding that even more urgently so, actively contributing to dismantling all forms of abuse and inequality in our thinking, our values, our behaviour, our politics, our schools, our communities, and our relationships with ourselves, our birth and/or chosen families and everyone else, is crucial in our ceaseless struggle towards creating and facilitating broader social and ecological justice in the world – and making all this alive and real, no matter to what increment, is worth every bit of the effort and struggle. In turn, taking care in these ways will constructively influence our involvement in, and thus the landscape of, media consumption, policy-making surrounding media, and the decision making that shapes the messages produced by media. By “constructively,” I mean with rEVOLutionary LOVE.
MaryCarl Guiao is a bottom-up community organizer, and has been collaboratively hosting and producing for critically engaging, interview-based campus/community radio shows since 2009, including for her creation, Migrant Matters Radio. In late June she attended the Allied Media Conference in Detroit as a member of the Southern Ontario Radically Fabulous Media Justice Delegation at the AMC. Check us out at: http://soradfabmedia.tumblr.com/