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DDJC uses grant money to create fair access to media, technology

By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Detroit Digital Justice Coalition members at Discotech.

On Dec. 1, the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) and Detroit Future programs gave a public report recapping their two-year journey of working to establish an active digital justice movement in Detroit. The meeting served as a community report-back on how federally granted money was used to create a city with more fair access to media and technology.

The DDJC partnered with Michigan State University to receive the grant money through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, created by The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009. In total, $1.8 million in federal stimulus funds were received by the organizations to help fund partnered programs in the city.

“This story is of how grassroots organizers spent a $1.8 million federal grant to see the digital justice movement in Detroit,” said Jenny Lee, co-director of the Allied Media Projects, a member group of the DDJC. “This is a story of many protagonists and many authors, many of whom are seated in these seats here today.

“We hope that after today, that everybody is going to continue doing the work that they do as active participants in the story about digital justice in Detroit and deepen their participation.”

The meeting was held at the Cass Corridor offices of Allied Media Projects on Third Street. Following the meeting, AMP hosted a special “DiscoTech” event, short for “discovering technology”. The event hosted workstations for demonstrating skill sets to help lessen the access gap to technology.

The concept of Digital Justice is based on the idea that communication is a fundamental human right, and founded upon the principles of creating fair access to media and technology; encouraging local community participation in public communications; creating common ownership of technologies and information; and promoting healthy communities through media creation and sustainable technology-based economic development.

Detroit Future programs have been a key aspect of the process, comprised of individual programs Detroit Future Media, which focuses on creating a media economy for the city; Detroit Future Schools, which partners with local schools to create a digital arts curriculum; and Detroit Future Youth, which focuses on partnering with city youth programs to use digital media to help build communities.

Lee noted that the programs were implemented at a time when city and Michigan state officials held an increasing belief that the city’s grassroots organizing did not exist, or lacking in the vision and skills to make a difference. The state was also threatening democracy through emergency management laws, while national and international narratives about Detroit focused on the city’s decay and political dysfunction.

“But the story of the DDJC and the Detroit Future Program have undercut the logic of so many of those prevailing narratives about Detroit,” said Lee. “At its heart, our story is a story about participatory democracy. It includes failures and successes and a constant struggle to keep moving towards a shared vision.”

One member organization that has played a pivotal role in advancing the digital justice narrative in the city is the East Michigan Environmental Action Committee (EMEAC). This organization is founded upon the principals of environmental justice, but in helping to spread the information that the group acquires, they developed a plan rooted in the concepts of the digital justice movement.

Lottie Spady is the director of EMEAC’s media outreach program, and gave her testimony at the meeting of how the organization approached their development of public communications.

“When we first got started putting together the communications coordinator team, we knew right away that our first priority was to reconfigure what a communications coordinator meant,” said Spady. “We knew that the most important thing to center on in any work being done around communications is the number one principal of the Digital Justice Coalition, and that is that communication is a fundamental human right.”

EMEAC used their experience in analyzing media narratives about environmental issues in the city to help establish the objectives of their group’s communications coordinator.

“We began to ask other questions,” said Spady. “How does mainstream media exist as an industrial complex? At the same time, how does social media also work to continue the systemic injustices? What does the mystification of social media look like? And how can we utilize Detroit Future programs need to document as a way to deconstruct existing media narratives around Detroit.

“We decided it was important to decenter the media expert and refocus on the skills and resources community members have.”

This diligent cooperation amongst local organizations is the foundation of the success achieved through the help of the federal stimulus grant. The Detroit Digital Justice Coalition will continue to develop with the hard work, dedication and vision of all the individual members who have contributed their time and energy.

“We really believe there is an opening of possibility that through collaboration our communities can design solutions to the deep rooted problems that we face and implement those solutions on a city-wide scale,” said Lee. “And the process that we take in that work can prioritize how we communicate and hold community accountability alongside our grand visions.”


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