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Touched down in the land of the delta blues: My take on the National Conferenece for Media Reform in Memphis


Until last weekend. Memphis had been the city I most wanted to visit but hadn’t yet visited. (I personally credit Marc Cohn.) So, when the 2007 National Conference for Media Reform took place at the Cook Convention Center in Memphis, hot damn!

I got to Memphis a day before the conference to do the tourist things seemingly done by everyone who visits Memphis. I got Elvis-ed out at Graceland, and got inspired at the National Civil Rights Museum. As one friend said, I went "from one king to another King" — and had dinner with yet a third King — B.B. King’s on Beale Street.

Just across the street from B.B.’s I saw a street fight on Beale Street on Friday night between locals and a member of the Bush Chain Gang. I even caught some blurry photos of the event on my cameraphone before security broke up the festivities, but anyway…

As to the NCRM (not to be confused with the NCMR), I did find out that there apparently is an ongoing vigil and protest outside of the Museum. I was hoping to get confirmation of the details, but as I understand it, the protest raises the issue that the Museum implicitly supports gentrification going on immediately south of downtown Memphis. Hence, the protest argues, the Museum is disrespectful to the memory of Dr. King, particularly in the last three years of his life. This could all be true; if anyone can confirm or amplify, please do so in the comments below. The potential irony is abundant, particularly considering the struggles to even buy the place.

I’ll be blunt here. I really enjoyed the conference and the events around the conference. The SaveTheInternet party at the Gibson Guitar Factory was great, and I talked myself hoarse during the party amid the din. The hoarseness affected me throughout the weekend, and in particular during the conference presentation I was a part of on How to Challenge a Broadcast License.

Admittedly, there were a host of concerns about the conference. You can read a great many of these criticisms on the Free Press Newswire and also on Danny Schechter’s blog posts in the past week. (Danny, I can’t believe I missed seeing you!) I’ll add my main concern. Chicago Media Action didn’t reserve convention space mainly because, well, the cost of reserving space, even for nonprofits, was considerably higher than in the 2005 conference in St. Louis. This is not a trend I want to see escalate; we should lower the hurdle of costs of participation. Don’t raise them if you can help it, please.

One friend suggests that there should be something of a legislative assembly at the conference, so that decisions of sorts could be made of conference attendees, so that’s it’s not a simple get-together. I wonder if it’s already more than a simple get-together; there are lots of people who are pursuing excellent work and more projects. There were also no shortage of amazing ideas of stuff to do bandied about which I even offered to help with (I’m looking at you, IPA). And lots of interesting conspiracies yet to come. :-)

I spent Friday night with Democratic-Party-aligned blogging politicos like Duncan Black, Matt Stoller, and Adam Green. I spent Saturday night with Air America radio activists. I also befriended Green Party activists, labor organizers, and took part at a women-and-media breakfast. Yes, I know, I do "reformist" work AND I’m very involved in very radical projects, as I’ve commented before.

Some personal highlights:

* I had a front-row seat in the session on the Save The Internet campaign of 2006. I even got to chime in:

Frannie Wellings: Who here has organized or written a letter to the editor or visited their Congressperson?

Me: Organized protests.

Frannie: Organized protests? Outside of Verizon headquarters?

Me: That was one of them.

* I also got to chime in on the There Is No Media Justice Without Women: Models for Feminist Media Action panel:

Theba Soundararajan: I wanted to start off with a little exercise. I have three pairs of words that I’m gonna say, and I want someone to say, just shout out, what the relationship is between them. The first one is "master / slave", "male and female", and "gender changing" … anything to do with technology at all?

Me: They’re all computer terms.

Theba: They’re all computer terms. Okay. Great. You get bonus points.

Me: I hope so. I do it for a living.

(Mental note: I or someone should write an article about sexist, racist, and colonialist legacies of engineering and computer terminology.)

It rained during the weekend of the conference. A protest was scheduled for Noon on Saturday but it got effectively, um, rained out. The revolution will not be televised, but the revolution might be called on account of rain.

Some upcoming things of note mentioned at the conference:

* Bill Moyers announced that he’s getting out of the rocking chair and back into the anchor chair with a new TV series to debut this year — "Bill Moyers’ Journal". Maybe the main PBS affiliate in Chicago will actually air it a time when TV viewers are actually watching. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Winnetka Talking To Wilmette.

* The Illinois General Assembly is slated to take up the issue of state video franchises, which if it passes would be dismal for funding of public access channels in Illinois. We won in Congress; we barely won in Pennsylvania. Here’s hoping we can win in the Illinois General Assembly in 2007. Stay tuned, true believers.

Now, Vancouver moves to the top of my list of cities I haven’t yet visited and most want to visit. I just might get my chance later this year.

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