Quiet Happy 10th to Indymedia

2006 Tucson Peace Fair - 4

This past week roughly (depending on how you count it) marked the 10 years since the start of the Independent Media Center, as part of the seemingly sudden outpouring of anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, anti-globalization activism that erupted in Seattle during the WTO ministerial there.  The IMC was really a part of that "movement of movements": there, a small group of media activists put into first serious use a new web platform called "Active" in November 1999 that allowed anyone to report on what was going on in the streets of Seatle and otherwise. The idea and the tools and the energy spread like wildfire and in a few years there were about 200 local IMC collectives and sites around the world.

Suprisingly, though there's been some small-scale talk about this anniversary amongst some indymedia circles, there's not been that much written publicly about it that I've seen.  I even attempted to get our mostly-dormant Arizona IMC to collaborate on a 10th anniversary feature from our local and personal perspectives, but the energy and inspiration apparently wasn't in us to even do that.  So here I offer simply my own history and thoughts on the 10 years, and more, of Indymedia.

The idea of independent media predates the founding of "Indymedia",
and in fact many who were involved with the beginnings of the
Independent Media Center in 1999 had been working toward similar goals
for many more years. I myself had been involved with community radio, as well as
political video and sound art, since the early 90s (I recently was
of doing my radio show on WCBN-FM the night the first Gulf
War in 1991 started, and reporting on the air about the protest march
that erupted in Ann Arbor).

However, despite the antecedents, during the Seattle WTO protests
the idea of independent media, media activism, and the web came
together in a unique way. For the first time, the idea bloomed and
became reality that there could be internet tools that were truly easy
enough for anyone to use and to tell the story as they saw it, without
gatekeepers telling them how they could do it. Since then, the tools
that manifest this basic idea have continued to become more and more
accessible and simple with blogging software and user-created-content
platforms like YouTube, making the technology of Indymedia drop somewhat from
relevancy. But the Indymedia focus on enabling the voices of the
everyday people, free from government or corporate control, remain
important, especially when those popular platforms like YouTube are
owned by massive for-profit corporations.

In those historic days in 1999 (and those of us paying attention new that they were historic) I was living in San Francisco and
watching the news unfold largely via that first indymedia website. It
was exciting to see the blockades working, and exciting to find out
about it from somewhere other than CNN, AP, and the other mainstream
news organizations. I wasn't sure how to plug in at that time, but
the idea percolated in my head for a while. Three years later in
Portland I was making a video collage about the invasion of
Afghanistan and I showed it to some indymedia people I met who had
made a documentary about Bush visiting town. I started going to the
meetings of the Portland IMC video collective and made more
journalistic video segments. I was hooked.

Later, inspired by
the popular movements in Argentina and Bolivia, I travelled through
South America with my little camcorder, meeting Indymedia activists
everywhere I went and comparing notes about how they told their stories.
Eventually I was making longer films, documentaries, in addition to the shorter news segments I'd cut my teeth on, and with the help of
translators and camerapeople from around the world who were part of
the global indymedia network. I moved to Tucson and joined the
editorial collective for Arizona's IMC, and I soon found myself the
editor of the (now defunct) Indymedia Newsreal, a half-hour monthly program compiled
from indymedia video segments made across the U.S. and beyond.

vigil for brad will

I now
make a good part of my living by making documentaries and advocacy
videos, but Indymedia is mostly a part of my past, like fond memories
of a special sort of school or circle of friends.
All over the world, especially in the U.S., many IMCs have slipped
into dormancy or faded away, but many are still going strong,
particularly in the global south. Of those that are gone,
participants sometimes burned out but mostly collectives wither
because their members move on to other activist and/or media
projects. Whether they are working on newspapers, films, television,
radio, law school, or grassroots organizing, indymedia volunteers
continue the basic ideals of the IMC under different names and
wearing different hats.

Here in Arizona, several long-time IMC
participants have left town or moved onto other pursuits, and the
activity on our site has slowed to a crawl, but who knows what will
happen? The murmurings of a new group of possible editors is growing
in some parts of the state. And meanwhile, the populace
at large has in many ways taken on some of the key tenets of the
movement: the passionate tellings of the truth, "radical subjectivity," the idea that anyone
can be a reporter... when you get right down to it, regardless of
whether the Independent Media Center is around in its original form
for much longer, Indymedia has "won", and has had a major role in
changing the shape of journalism and newsgathering.

For me, Indymedia was yet another incarnation of "DIY," an ethos that introduced me to many pursuits over the course of my life.  It was to journalism what punk was to music, what the cassette underground was to music distribution, what zines were to publishing. It was a voice whispering "you can do this even if you don't have a degree in it and a job paying you to do it."   But, as with many participants, in a way I grew out of Indymedia. 

One reason I grew out of it is that I began to take activist media-making so seriously that I started to reach to higher levels of production values and creative expression than the Indymedia cohort could really support. I stepped up, and made it my profession and life in a way that was beyond the IMCs mission. But of course the core values of the IMC "movement" or "tactic" continue to inform many of my efforts, and I have seen this happen with many other imcistas too.

But another part of the outgrowing happened because many cast Indymedia in a mold that was much too small, in my opinion.  They attached the IMC to a subculture and a subpolitics that was too narrow, making many that should have been closer allies feel that it wasn't the place for them.  And then, when the tools and the ideas became bigger and more widely accessible, those people were able to say, well, I don't need to wear what you wear and tow your exact party line to be a citizen journalist. I'll do it somewhere else on the web, or with some other group in the physical world.  In this way, Indymedia had become a little bit like what it had started out opposing: a gatekeeper that will be worked around.

In the struggle to make the world be a certain kind of anarchist or a certain strain of hipster,  Indymedia continues to fight a losing war.  However, like I said above, the most important ideals about DIY
truth-telling live on, and so in that way, Indymedia stands as one of the historic

Long live DIY, long live DIWO (Doing It With Others), long live indpendent media!

Hey, well, what do you know?

Hey, well, what do you know? Just the other day I was thinking about a) Steev Hise and b) Indymedia (both separately), so it was fun to see them both in the same post! Hope you are doing well down there. maybe sometime this year I'll get down that way.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.