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Skillful Digital Activism: Cultivating Media Ecologies for Transformative Social Change


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“Skillful Digital Activism: Designing Strategies for Transformative Social Change”

This presentation explores the conceptual frameworks and practical strategies employed in social change campaigns that have utilized digital media as a crucial component of their organizing tool kit. Moving beyond the hazards of superficial social media engagement, or the justly maligned “clicktivism,” to transformative and long term impact, I examine a range of case studies that have worked to develop a “horizontal,” rather than top down, rich media ecology, which networks diverse groups, fosters community, and promotes real change. Whether using virtual reality, interactive documentaries, or DIY tools, projects such as Half the Sky, Lunch Love Community, Food Inc, Triangle Fire Archive, Through the Lens Darkly/Digital Diaspora, VozMob, and #BlackLivesMatter are all pioneering digital tools and strategies in the struggle for social justice. While their philosophies and strategies might be different each campaign mark a shift from a broadcast to a participant focused model where advocacy and engagement are connected. This work was presented at Dublin City University on November 10, 2015 and also an earlier version of this was at the Performance, Protest, and Politics Conference at University College Cork in August 2015. These presentations with part of my Fulbright Research award for 2015-2016.

Helen DeMichiel and Patricia Zimmerman, “Documentary as Open Space,” in Brian Winston’s The Documentary Film Book (Palgrave McMillan, 2013)

Sasha Constanza-Chock, Out of the Shadows and Into the Streets: Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement (MIT Press, 2014)

Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green, Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in Networked Culture (NYU Press, 2013)

Deborah Willis (ed.), Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography (The New Press, 1996).

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Skillful Digital Activism: Cultivating Media Ecologies for Transformative Social Change

  1. 1. Skillful Digital Activism: Cultivating Media Ecologies for Transformative Social Change Vicki  Callahan   USC,  Division  of  Media  Arts  +  Prac;ce    
  2. 2. “  Skillful  Digital  Ac;vism”  is  Not  Utopian          Binocular  Menagerie,  Leslie  Thornton,  May  2014  
  3. 3. Nor Dystopian     National Security Agency (NSA) Data Storage Facility, Bluffdale, Utah
  4. 4. The Dangers of “Clicktivism” and “Slacktivism” •  Micha White “Clicktivism is Ruining Left Activism” Guardian, August 12, 2010. •  Malcolm Gladwell, “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted” New Yorker October 4, 2010. •  Josh Kron and J. David Goodman, “Online, a Distant Conflict Soars to Topic No. 1” New York Times, March 8, 2012.  
  5. 5. “Skillful” Digital Activism Key elements for skillful activism: 1) Robust media ecology Mixed media environment, connective and is generative 2) Employ Social Media – tools for connecting, sharing, and changing (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo, Google toolbox, websites (Blogger, Tumblr). Not commercial generally. 3) Transmedia – cross-platform strategy and can include print, live performance, audio, video, online (may or may not include social media but often does) 4) Co-creators: the people formally known as “the audience,” although authorship boundaries vary                  Mir  Hossein  Mousavi  speaks  to  elec;on                  protestors  in  Tehran,  June  2009  
  6. 6. “By Any Media Necessary”* •  Objectives + Goals 1.  Awareness 2.  Dialogue 3.  Archive/Preserve 4.  Participatory Culture/ Community 5.  Organize Objectives are related but often distinct from Outcomes: what does change look like?             •  Methods + Strategies 1.  Broadcast 2.  Interactive 3.  Immersive 4.  Speculative Fiction 5.  Distributed Authorship, Co-creation, Collaboration 6.  Transmedia •  From Sasha Costanza-Chock’s , Out of the Shadows and Into the Streets: Transmedia Organizing and the Immigrant Rights Movement (MIT Press, 2014)
  7. 7. Awareness: Broadcast/Transmedia Food, Inc. Participant Media + Take Part                      hOp://     Food  Inc,    Robert  Kenner,  2008  
  8. 8.        Participant Media/Take Part
  9. 9. Awareness: Transmedia Global Women’s Rights/”Movement” Half the Sky, Maro Chermayeff (from book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn)
  10. 10. Objectives: Awareness, Behavior/Policy Change •  Awareness both in US and Globally •  Education and behavioral changes on issues of violence, reproductive rights, trafficking, economic/personal empowerment •  “nurture” policy changes Edna  Adan,  ac;vist,  strategies  for  educa;on     on  issue  of  female  genital  mu;la;on    
  11. 11. Media Ecology •  Book •  Website with rich media for both US and global context. Media from local communities/ NGO as well as “celebrities,” policy makers, activists in West •  Documentary Film (VOD, PBS) •  Facebook game and mobile games targeted to issues and local communities. •  Global Engagement initiatives with NGO educational videos (free download) and education guides
  12. 12. Outcomes •  $5 million raised for organizations partnering with Half the Sky •  1.1 million participants in Facebook game •  30+ NGO partners •  1500 screenings on campus and communities with discussion groups •  US and Global Educational workshops
  13. 13. Awareness: Immersive/Virtual Reality Project Syria, 2104 and Hunger in LA, 2012, Nonny de la Peña
  14. 14. Dialogue: Transmedia “The Open Space Documentary” Lunch, Love, Community, Helen De Michiel (2010- present)
  15. 15. Objectives •  Awareness of Berkeley School food program •  Food Justice issues, especially with regard to schools and children •  Community dialogue through “media socials” •  Policy InterventionLUNCH  LOVE  COMMUNITY,  Helen  De  Michiel  
  16. 16. Media Ecology •  Website •  Short films on site and YouTube •  “Media Socials” •  De Michiel writings and presentations on project and renovations and re- imagining of documentary form
  17. 17. Outcomes •  Community dialogue •  Grassroots organizing on food issues •  Re-institution of funding for school program after city cut off funds (due to ballot initiative) •  “Open Space” as participatory media model, dialogue, engagement, rather than “advocacy” •  12 episode film on dvd for non-theatrical, educational market
  18. 18. Dialogue: Black Masculinity Question Bridge (2012-present), Chris Johnson, Hank Willis Thomas, Bayett Ross Smith, Kamal Sinclair
  19. 19. Objectives •  Dialogue •  Change perceptions both within and outside African American community •  Show diversity of experience, “represent and redefine black male identity in US.” •  Archive stories
  20. 20. Media Ecology •  Video installation (museums, festivals, institutions) •  Online video •  Mobile app (goal of 200K participants, “living archive of black male voices”) •  Facebook •  Blueprint Roundtables •  High School curriculum
  21. 21. Outcomes •  Ongoing project •  How to gauge awareness and perceptual shifts? •  Creating alternative media space
  22. 22. Archives: Preserve + Co-creation                 Triangle Fire Open Archive (and now Open Museum)
  23. 23. Connecting the Past and the Present, the Personal and the Political  hOp://­‐archive/sash-­‐for-­‐neZe-­‐liebowitz/    
  24. 24. Archives: Preserve + Co-Creation, Audio StoryCorps,  
  25. 25. Proximity of Personal and Political
  26. 26. Archive: Preserve + Reclaim Representation Through a Lens Darkly and Digital Diaspora Roadshow, Thomas Allen Harris, 2014
  27. 27. Objective: Visibility, Perceptual Shifts, + Community Expression •  Two part strategy: 1.  Documentary Film (Through a Lens…): Stereotypes/ Received images and African American artists’ intervention in representations of community 2.  Archive and Public Events: Digital Diaspora Roadshow (community outreach) Through a Lens Darkly  
  28. 28. Media Ecology •  Live events •  Website •  Flickr + Instagram •  Facebook •  Documentary film (screened on PBS, live events, and available on video on demand) •  Lesson Plans on African American History and Identity •  Archive both public and private
  29. 29. Digital Diaspora Roadshow   Outcomes:     •  Change  the  received  images,  create  new  public  narra;ves  about  the  African  American     experience   •   Create  archive  of  history  previously  not  valued;  provide  opportunity  for  community  to     connect  their  stories,  deepen  community  bonds   •  Develop  media  literacy  skills  in  community  as  both  creators  and  as  informed  viewers  
  30. 30. Participatory Culture: Transmedia/Co-creation   “Mapping  Memories”  hOp://    
  31. 31. My Two Families, Leontine Uwababyeyi
  32. 32. Participatory Culture: Speculative Fiction/ Alternate Reality Game World Without Oil, Ken Eklund and Jane McGonigal, 2007:
  33. 33. Organizing: Transmedia, Social Media Bree Newsome removing Confederate Flag from South Carolina State Capitol, June 2015 “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” Alicia Garza, founder of #BlackLivesMatter 2015
  34. 34. Organizing: “Transmedia Organizing”*       *  Sasha  Costanza-­‐Chock,  Out  of  the  Shadows….          “A  Day  without  an  Immigrant,”  Los  Angeles,   2006    
  35. 35.     Manual Rodriguez, “silence will never be an option…”
  36. 36. Critical Making: The Drift to Praxis hOps://    
  37. 37. Participatory Culture: “Internet of Things” (Networked Culture and Smart Objects) ARG Sherlock  Holmes  and  the  Internet  of  Things,  hOp://                                          Lance  Weiler,  Nick  Fortugno,  Jorgen  van  der  Sloot  
  38. 38. Objectives •  Consider  human/ tech  interac;ons,   human  at  center,  not   passive   •  Redefine,  reimagine   storytelling   possibili;es   •  Media/Tech  Literacy   •  Build  Networks  and   Community  with  Art   and  Technology  
  39. 39. How Story Spread •  MOOC with over 200 participants on Novoed •  Open Global Collaborative Game •  Organized on Hackpad •  Live events, Beta tests at Lincoln Center (NYFF) and at Power to the Pixel (LFF) •  Pilot stage for ongoing project in 2016, prototypes developed