Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Community Based Media in Venezuela; Collective Stories in the Digital Age

“The radio is not an end in itself. The radio should be an action of the principles that guide, should reflect the world we decide to build. If not, it does not work. The radio is for the processes of transformation we undertake in our communities. Yes. Our communities are our own. Not mine or this or that. There is no point in one radio. There must be many, working together from the struggles of now and forever.” - Taken from the ANMCLA newspaper June 2009 edition
In 1998 Hugo Chavez was elected president of Venezuela. His presidency initiated an economic, representational, and political campaign against neo-liberalism and toward socialism. Initiatives such as land reform and government intervention in the oil industry were met with opposition that climaxed in the 2002 attempted coup against Chavez. Corporate media backed the coup by denouncing Chavez supporters, falsely depicting Chavez’s resignation and creating media blackouts by taking over state-sponsored media stations. Local, grass roots media became responsible for mobilizing Chavez supporters to bring him back to power. 
Community TV station: Catia Tve's representation of the attempted coup in 2002 

After the attempted coup, this alternative media became officially recognized and began to receive some government support. Its media production model has become a tool for political change that encourages social engagement with local and national politics through community based programming, which brings traditionally marginalized voices into dialogue with the revolutionary process.
My original reading of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela and its community based media projects stem from fieldwork in which I conducted over the course of two years in interviews with 60 different members of community radio and TV stations in the pro-Chavez communities of Caracas, and the states of Yaracuy and Lara, as well as participating in pro-revolutionary political events. This Digital Storytelling Project of the Community Media movement in Venezuela is a compilation of my original reflections coupled with visual research tools gained through my course on Visual Research Methodologies. Digital Stories outside of Venezuela are traditionally shaped around individual voices who through once inaccessible technology are now telling their private stories in public forums. These projects are most often created through large television stations such as the BBC, non profit organizations, and academic institutions. With these stories' individualized frame and mediatic techniques, they rarely achieve a content-based or artistic connection to any larger socio-economic systems or social movements. This disenables them from making any kind of systemic critique. In contrast, Venezeuelan community media which documents local contexts and stories which are not framed by media experts, are motivated by connecting their content and their mediatic process to larger political movements. These media's techniques, and social mission offers new models on how media can be used as a tool for political organizing. 
Venezuelan community media conceptualizes the role of the individual differently than alternative media in other countries where capitalist logic often frames modes of production and distribution. As the Venezuelan nation transitions from a state of economic dependency to self sufficeincy, an engagement in alternative representational practices is simultaneously occuring through community based media collectives who are revising elite forms of history. This shift is being aided by a variety of social programs including free health care, free education, and nationalized media stations. Worker and community councils, as well as grassroots media collectives, are fostering local engagement with national politics in different contexts and at different levels.
Community-based media groups often utilize the same socialist discourse as the state, while they maintain dialogue and actions which are critical of many of the states stances. At the same time some draw on pre-Chavez and Indigenous strategies of resistance which have grown out of a long geneaology of collective organizing predating the emergence of the Bolivarian Revolution. As extensions of larger social movements operating at local and national levels, many community based media collectives are also creating a space for the political participation of traditionally maginalized voices such as women, indigenous and afro-venezuelan groups. In this light, these community-based media collectives use production and distribution methods which resemble the organizing strategies of the movements out of which they have emerged and respond to individual and community needs. In effect, community-based media collectives have become key participants in the creation of local definitions of socialism where community organizing takes place through dialogue around local issues represented on air which has in many cases, incited activism. These networks have simultaneously called for a re-vision of historical and cultural narratives towards the building of a revolutionary Venezuelan identity and the shedding of a Western imposed gaze. Many media programs assume nationalist positions while promoting a Venezuelan anti-colonial identity. What characterizes these networks is their ability to negotiate different degrees of political autonomy from the state, which allows them to retain their intimacy with community organizing at the base.
Radio Perola; Caracas
Photo Credit: Robin

These media collectives are challenging the glorification of capitalism and the individual through their own collective representational practices. By creating a vibrancy that complicates and works against top-down, individualistic models of the Nation, grassroots media projects in Venezuela are carving out room for the imagination, which is central to all forms of agency. This collective protagonism is pushing media collectives to theoretically engage in a creative assertion of themselves as historians and protagonists in the writing and re-writing of history.[4] As such, grassroots media in Venezuela competes against the tide of corporate media, which promotes the political agenda of elites. 
Community Meetings at Voces Urgentes; Free Popular Communication School in Barquisimeto, Lara 
Photo Credit: Voces Urgentes
My analysis also includes reflections on the observations I made during two different visits to Venezuela, the first to the Caracas barrio of El Valle, a pro-revolutionary neighborhood, and the second during a ten week stay in the capital of the state of Lara, Barquisimeto, where I worked as a summer intern for School of the Americas Watch. The internship allowed me time to conduct important political work against the imperialist initiatives of the School of the Americas or SOA, a military training center located in Fort Benning, Georgia. SOA has been responsible for training Latin American militaries to overthrow leftist Latin American governments; their most recent victim has been the overthrowing of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. In addition to SOAW’s (School of the Americas Watch) political campaign, the program included connecting with different community organizations and initiatives to enhance interns’ perspectives of the revolutionary process. Because of the nature of my own interests and my thesis research I chose to work with Radio Crepuscular, a radio station housed in a local community center, the CPC (Centro Poder Comunal).
After discussions on how we could be most useful to community producers at the radio, I, along with another intern and the community producers, decided to have a daily news segment about U.S. based resistance to neo-liberalism both within our own country and abroad. The community producers we were working with consistently said they knew nothing about the topic and saw it as a way to link arms with people in the U.S. fighting against the same beast. As such, we researched different political campaigns, and contemporary forms of resistance, and invited representatives to call into the show and share the challenges and successes of their political work. For us, as students of revolutionary struggles in and outside of the US, the program was an invaluable attempt to build solidarity and educate each other by using the democratized media outlets now being promoted in Venezuela.

Teleconferencia: A short film clip of the teleconference conducted during the summer of 2009

Produced by Robin Garcia and Nefertiti Altan
We saw a great power in the utilization of technology, once inaccessible, to put disparate voices in dialogue with each other. The discussion of alternative media in Venezuela is more than an analysis of the role of these new media formations in the changing economic climate. It is a model and an offering to those who believe in the power of the voice, of breaking silence, and in more genuine forms of participatory democracy from the bottom up.

The Battle of the CPC 
The organizers of the Centro Poder Communal (CPC), a community center for collective organizing which houses a free dentistry clinic, a community radio, Radio Crepuscular, a free video production school, Voces Urgentes, and a free school for popular art, Don Pio Alvarado, draw on indigenous strategies of resistance in their community organizing and media production methods. These activists have used media technology to bring local and national attention to the political struggles of their local communities. Important cross-regional activist networks have been created as a result of democratized media practices. With the power to produce representations of their own political realities, the media collectives at the CPC have been able to ward off state beauracracies whose interests in maintaining their own power have come into tension with the local communities vision of participatory democracy. Using media technology as a means to organize, Radio Crepuscular and Voces Urgentes have been essential in heightening the level of civic engagement of local Barquisimeto residents, especially during political actions which require cross regional acts of solidarity. Activism at the CPC is characterized by a combination of organizing strategies which predate the contemporary government and democratized media technology.
My first visit to the CPC was a testimony to precisely that. When I arrived there the members of the community of the Carucenia, the barrio which surrounds the CPC, were squatting in its buildings to secure the space from deputies of the local government who wanted to take the center away from the community. The CPC had been built in 2001 by the Lara state government as a local neighborhood office but was taken under community social control in 2007 by community activists who were unhappy with the misuse of the space, its inaccessibility and the nascent role it played during the 2002 attempted coup against president Chavez (during the coup, the CPC was completely abandoned). 
Radio Crepuscular: CPC activists used the radio for public airings during the attempted takeover of the CPC
Photo Credit: Robin
Thus in January of 2007, Carucenia community activists decided to take over the CPC because the government was still denying its public use. In many cases, community members had been prohibited from entering the center if they weren’t wearing professional clothing. Ricardo David Diaz notes that this enraged the community since it discriminated against working class and poor people by limiting their ability to engage politically.[4] As such, Carucenia activists and community members locked themselves in the CPC for two weeks until the governor’s office agreed to negotiations on their terms.[5] Advocating for their own governance, Diaz notes, “We currently believe that popular power is a power that is directly horizontal. We would say that if this is the Center for Communal Power, then the people who coordinate it should be a collective coordination of five people, according to the proposal.”[6] Their success was supported by the use of Radio Crepuscular and Voces Urgentes as well as the organizing networks with which they were connected that helped to bring local and national support to the struggle. According to Katarina Korezek, community producer at Voces Urgentes,
"When the promoters from the governor’s office arrived and announced that they had been sent to take over the CPC, an immediately assembly and debate was called which Voces Urgentes filmed. That video was placed with a press note on Aporrea and the ANMCLA web page the same day and that brought national attention and caused the governor to apologize for the action.  Local TV stations were also called and gave announcements against the actions of the governor’s office. The radio was also used to create a space for debate between the representatives form the governor’s office and the community."[7]
The ability to document their struggle, publicize it and be supported by the nationally promoted revolution is a result of the important activist networks that have been created through the use of this democratized media which over the short history of the Bolivarian Revolution has consistently taken sides against top down power initiatives, attempted coups, and an unruly Venezuelan beauracracy interested in keeping power in the hands of few.
Through the interviews I conducted with activists who were involved with the 2007 take over and the recent 2009 sit in, it became clear that the local government had developed a fear of the community power being cultivated in the Carucenia through the CPC and that the electoral power being honed through community organizing was tremendous. Juan de Villegas, the parish where the CPC is located, is the largest in Latin America, and thus became an incredibly important area for the governor to win over. He wanted to consolidate all his power at the CPC because it has its own radio; Radio Crepuscular, television, Voces Urgentes communication school, and the Don Pio Alvarado center for folk art.[8] Once the governor realized the importance of this location he attempted to take it back from the community. Diaz notes, “29 community councils of five different political movements participate in the center. When we consolidate the membership of the Comuna, we will have the support of approximately 50,000 families, and then we will win the elections.”[9] After several negotiations, an agreement was reached with the governor. The center would be coordinated by a collective body including representatives from five different groups including; Voces Urgentes, Radio Crepuscular, and different consejo comunales (communal councils).[10] Because the radio is fully integrated into all other aspects of cultural and political life at the CPC, during the takeover using the radio heightened the level of civic engagement at the CPC.
In this light, the CPC and the radio have become the stages from which the surrounding community articulates its political visions. These visions are integral to developing political voice and leadership. At the same time, this development draws on organizing strategies indigenous to the people of Barquisimeto. The meeting of these historical strategies of resistance with contemporary methods of activism through the use of radio and television technologies became apparent during the sit-in at the CPC. Gerardo Rojas, community organizer and coordinator of Voces Urgentes highlighted how historical memories of contestation to Spanish colonialism are now echoed in these contemporary challenges to top-down power structures (such as the one employed by the local Barquisimeto government). Most significantly, all the community activists I spoke with at the CPC continually highlighted that their activism pre-dated the emergence of the Bolivarian revolution, as suggested above, where many activists in the CPC trace their current media activism to their participation in the student movements of the 1990s. Rojas notes,
"We came here out of political necessity. Not because we wanted to be journalists, we are not journalists, and we don’t want to be. During 1992 when President Chavez attempted the coup, we were the civilian movement that contributed to the change in government along with the military. Many outside of Venezuela stated it was a military coup because the attempt was executed by the military, and Chavez had ordered the coup, but that is false. The face of the coup was obviously a military one, but there was already a bursting movement of political unrest in the streets for years from student movements, cultural groups and community groups. They were rising up in the streets to express their freewill in the face of a repressive military. And so we arrived to the world of communication as a necessity of our political militancy."[12]
The need to use the means of communication as an arm of organizing propelled the building of a community library called the Archoto Biblioteca Comunitaria (Archoto Community Library). According to Rojas, “Archoto was a leader from the Wayuu indigenous tribe that in the year 1600 commanded 100,000 men who struggled against European invaders for 60 years.”[13] When it was opened, the library turned into a meeting place for the student movement, the priests of the liberation theology movement, and women’s groups. It housed cultural and political activities and ran a film club. [14] Rojas suggests:
"We weren’t satisfied with one space so we did multiple activities in the community and at the same time at the schools. We would show 4 productions a week with a projector or by carrying around a TV.  However, the films didn’t say anything about our community. From there, we started photographing, we picked up video cameras, and then we started putting the radio together. One thing was leading to the other. Communication became an instrument to strengthen community work. We were not going to get into communication and leave the community work. Rather, it became a tool along with our cultural activities and social work."[15]
Building locally specific forms of participatory democracy has been enabled by using the means of communication as a tool for community work.
Radio Crepuscular community radio show: Cultura Popular
Challenges to state-centrist forms of democracy through the use of media like the ones happening at the CPC, are paving the way for politics and representational practices driven by the people. Katrina Korzek for example, notes that between 2002 and 2004 a large number of media collectives emerged from smaller political groups which existed in poor communities as they came to realize the importance of the right to communicate after the attempted coup in 2002 when communication become an arm in their organizing processes.[16] This media movement grew especially after the coup in 2002. At that time there were 13 licensed community radio stations, and by 2007, there were 193.[17] In addition to these there have emerged over 300 unsanctioned community radio stations.[18] These community media collectives have allowed for diversity in political visions where collective representational practices emerged. At the CPC the radio articulated the communities representations through airwaves. At the same time the CPC supported the multiple collective representations of the Carucenia.
It is clear that in the case of the CPC, contestations to top down models of democracy came in direct tension with the local Lara government. However, in other cases, such as when less direct conflicts over power occur, state discourses can often work alongside community-based organizing and collective representational practices. While both national and state governments in Venezuela take public stances against US imperialistic intervention, their own political identifications with the proposed Venezuelan socialism however, differ depending on their stakes in upholding elite versions of democracy. The state government of Lara positions itself on the side of Chavez.  However, its position on the battle of the CPC suggested that it’s vision of participatory democracy differed from Carucenia activists. Therefore, the government in that state did not see itself as a transitory vehicle.
Currently in Venezuela only five percent of the overall radio spectrum belongs to community radio, eighty-five percent of airwaves belongs to private corporations and ten percent belongs to the state.[21] However, community media has developed strategies to combat this technological monopoly by foregrounding the people as protagonists in the production of history and representational practices. Taking their inspiration from the documentary mode where real-life circumstances are privileged over visual structures and strategies, community-based media counteracts the hegemony of Hollywood and European capitalist forms of production and distribution. For example, the community media producers at Voces Urgentes follow a pedagogy of libratory education where they take what they know and multiply it by teaching others, making information more accessible. Rojas notes,
"What’s important to us is not just what we’re doing but how we’re doing it. We are not going to promote a pedagogy of participatory democracy where I decide everything because I am the one who is most familiar with an issue. Instead, we prefer collective error with an individual truth because in collective error everyone learns from the mistakes. Generally what we see in a lot of the workshops we do is that when someone asks someone else about communication, the first thing they imagine is a microphone, a camera, equipment, and technology. This image generates the idea that this is what communication looks like. But for true communication to exist, we need each other, two people. It’s impossible to be in communication individually. Communication is actually rooted in the word and idea of community."[22]
Working from the idea that community and communication come from the same root, Voces Urgentes produces media where “the people” appear on screen as protagonists. This emphasis de-centers elite aesthetics, strengthens democracy, promotes diversity.
This kind of methodology goes hand-in-hand with the vision of the role of community-based media in the revolutionary process. All community producers I interviewed said that they see community media as a critical instrument of the revolution within the nationally promoted Bolivarian Revolution; however they don’t follow a uniform notion of political engagement or audiovisual production. Each media network decides on the way they want to interact with state power and financing.

La Voz De La Tambora; Community Media: The Revolution at the Local Level
La Voz de la Tambora in the state of Yaracuy similarly has decided to function independently from the government and as such refused government financing. Like the Voces Urgentes and Radio Crepuscular at the CPC, La Voz de la Tambora pulls on different media strategies to increase the level of community activism, and become an instrument for daily critiques of the problems and successes people face within the revolutionary process. Henry Fernandez, one of the radio’s founders, suggested that where the government is carrying out the revolution at a national level, the radio is carrying out the revolution at the local level.[23] For example, when the local San Pedro community was without water for five days, the people called into the radio to demand a political mobilization to bring water to the community. As such, the radio became a vehicle for communication between the people in charge of water distribution and the local residents. These kinds of dialogues are created when people call into the station during the morning program hours to discuss local events. During this time, the radio becomes a forum to express different political opinions and concerns. As noted by Fernandez, the community finds collective solutions to their problems through this process of open dialogue. Every morning, the station will receive around 50 text messages that express responses to the commentary on air. For community radio producers, the text messages have become one of the mainstays for intimate contact between the radio and the pulse of the community as the radio builds its’ programming around local issues and concerns.
Carlota Montero working at La Voz de la Tambora
Photo Credit: Robin
One of the key strategies of La Voz de La Tambora is to increase the level of media literacy in order to demystify the medium. Carlota Montero, a founder of the station suggests that the common community perception of commercial radio before the emergence of La Voz de la Tambora was that radio producers were like gods. Since the stations’ birth, the people have demystified the medium by becoming media protagonists and producers. In this sense, the radio is changing the culture of communication in the municipality where as Carlota notes, no longer do “others talk for the people; people with their own vocabulary talk for themselves.”[24]
To solve the problem of not having a steady operator, the community producers have decided to train all people in multiple operations, thus democratizing the entire production process. This democratization goes hand-in-hand with the grassroots and locally nuanced operations of the station. Because the radio has made the decision not to receive any governmental funding, they have a limited number of community producers. However, the radio is able to reach the entire municipality, which totals around 20,000 people. Self-representing as militants of the revolution, the main focus of the radio has been to defend and push the revolutionary process forward. In this sense, Fernandez describes the station as geographically rooted as it builds on and pulls its production strategies from the political history of campesino activism in the region.
La Voz de la Tambora is in constant dialogue with the community and has become a place where the public can talk to each other through the radio and talk back to the station. Because of previous and newly formed political, familial, and associational networks, the radio has developed their own set of organic strategies to measure its effectiveness in acting as a tool in building community power. Through text messages or in conversations on buses or in the streets the producers maintain their contact with the community and are deeply connected to the dialogues happening in response to radio programming. By participating in conversations and community actions that have been a result of community programming, producers have come to understand the incredible power they have to affect the community. As such, Fernandez notes that the role of the producer has become more than someone reporting on what is happening in the municipality; rather members have enormous responsibilities in facilitating dialogue and action. When producers do not manage that responsibility well, the community responds with feedback. The circulation of program content from the community to the radio and vice versa is what shapes the potential future of the radio and is also one major factor that differentiates community from commercial radio. Because of its’ function in creating dialogue and action in the community, the radio becomes the revolution at the local level as the producers point out.
La Voz de la Tambora can be identified by its role in supporting political dialogue and action where community members are central to the station’s organizational structure, however, the station differs in its vision of participatory democracy from Radio Crepuscular which is reflected in their stance on government funding. The members of Radio Crepuscular and Voces Urgentes in Barquisimeto described their role in their local communities differently. Whereas Radio Crepuscular and Voces Urgentes see themselves as extensions of community organizing and cultural priorities, La Voz de la Tambora envisions itself as the revolution at the local level, and the main site of the local articulation of this identity. This became evident when community activists in Barquisimeto squatted in the CPC and used the radio and video production school as vehicles to get the word out about their struggle.
Radio Verdura: Mobile Guerilla Radio 
Inside the Radio Verdura Radio Truck
Photo Credit: Robin

Radio Verdura sees itself as a critical forum for urban youth in Caracas to explore local issues through artistic collaboration and activism.  As a radio housed in a truck that circles the streets of Caracas once a day playing revolutionary hip hop while discussing revolutionary politics through a loud speaker. Its members also suggested that their role within the Bolivarian process was to maintain a non-institutionalized stance. The group noted that they draw their inspiration from Hakim Bey’s idea of the “Temporary Autonomous Zone” as they pass through the streets of Caracas leaving behind only the memory of their presence. They reflected on the idea that their guerilla radio tactics supported the revolutionary process in the most intimate way. By connecting to urban life and passing through both pro-and anti-Chavez communities, the station can be seen as accelerating the level of dialogue around contemporary politics by inserting the revolution into oppositional spheres. Radio Verdura’s decentralized structure does not appear to be in tension with their relationship to the state, as the station was funded by the Chavista mayor of Caracas just before the new opposition mayor was elected. Radio Verdura is part of the Tiuna El Fuerte collective, a group which provides free art and hip-hop classes to the community of El Valle. Like all stations, Radio Verdura foregrounds traditionally invisible people’s heroes. Tiuna was an indigenous chief who fought against Spanish colonization and has been historically denied in elite versions of Venezuelan history.
As a collective of youth, Radio Verdura can also be seen as adding layers to revolutionary youth culture. Its programming combines elements of hip hop and urban DJ culture with nationally promoted revolutionary slogans, often interwoven with Chavez’s own voice. The van becomes the vehicle for the collective’s political and cultural voice amongst the bustling pace of Caracas. In fact, the name of the station, Radio Verdura, also suggests that the station envisions itself as providing musical, political and cultural alimentation for those transiting the city. Hanging from the back door opening of the truck are plastic fruits and vegetables that intermingle with various graffiti art pieces covering its sides.
This video documents a street parade that resulted in the takeover of a privately owned bull fighting ring in a community near Caracas who wanted to turn the ring it into a local community arts and education center. The local community called a number of cultural arts collectives including Radio Verdura to help in this "Cultural Takeover". Radio Verdura circled the streets in the area near the Bull Fighting ring playing music and urging local residents out to the streets to dance alongside the circus performers who followed the truck through the streets. Once the truck led the community back to the bull fighting ring the arts collectives and the local residents collectively took over the ring using music, song, dance, acrobatics and other artistic forms.
Community media in Venezuela sees itself as an essential tool in changing the political system of the country. This movement believes that everyone has the right to communicate. However this right is not seen as serving individualized expression. In contrast, it serves a collective process of voicing local community concerns. This localized voicing is part of a national process of change which positions the poor and working class at the forefront of re-writing history, challenging elite political dominance, and pushing for a nuanced, more democratic, and pluralistic vision of the future. 
[3] Diaz Castillo, Ricardo David. Interview with author. Summer 2009
[4] ibid.
[5] Korezek, Katarina. Interview with author. Summer 2009.
[6] Diaz interview.
[7] Korezek interview.
[8] Diaz interview.
[9] ibid.
[10] In April 2006 the Venezuelan government passed The Law of Communal Councils (Consejos Comunales), which allows the formation of neighborhood-based councils that collectively coordinate local projects towards community development. These councils promote cooperatives and projects that reflect the collective interests of their community. All council decisions are made through discussions and voting within a citizens' assembly. Councils work autonomously although often coordinate with municipal administrations and receive funds through government sponsorship. Communal councils are new models of localized socialism and participatory democracy. Over 19,500 councils have already been registered throughout the country. For more information see www.venezuelanalysis.com
[11] Diaz interview.
[12] Rojas, Gerardo. Interview with author, Summer 2009.
[13] ibid.
[14] ANMCLA newspaper, June 2009.
[15] Rojas interview.
[16] Korezek interview.
[17] Fernandes, 211.
[18] ibid.
[19] Lloyd, 174.
[20] A new project of the Bolivarian Revolution has been the development of the Comuna or commune. The Comuna is made up of geographically affiliated communal councils that join together to make regional decisions. The main idea of the Comuna is to build grassroots power from the bottom up. For more information see www.venezuelanalysis.com
[21] Fernandes, 213.
[22] Rojas interview.
[23] Fernandez, Henry. Interview with author. Winter 2009
[24] Montero, Carlota. Interview with author. Winter 2009

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Potatoe Diaries

Jenny came to Los Angeles California only a year ago. Since that time she has become an avid blogger, a dedicated facebooker and as evidenced through this short video maintained her dedication to telling the truth, letting it all out. letting ones self hang bare open and vulnerable. This gift of her story is just a beginning for readers everywhere to take their own stories seriously and do something with them. Something that makes a REAL difference. Tell it like it is, and share share share who you really are. 

For more info on Jenny and her amazing journey to Los Angeles visit her book page at:

To learn how to write your own vegetable stories visit:

To find out more about Jenny and her fascinating history go here:

For more infomation on Sandy Newton Publishing:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Meditation on Memory, the Sacred, Feminism and Spiritual Activism 

Directed by: Robin Garcia

The biggest challenge I have faced as a graduate student is learning how to integrate the work of spirit and my activist impulses into my academic life. It is clear that academic institutions have been built on the cartesian notion of separation between the mind and the body and the priveliging of the reason/mind matrix over the body and nature. This has meant an explicit silencing of the different expressions of knowledge that do not fit into linear and historicized articulations of being. The body, my body, the spirit, my spirit,  has sufferend through the privleging of this reason/mind matrix. As a Phd student interested in exploring how to do academic activist without getting too burnt out or going too crazy because of the inherently racist and patriarchal nature of these institutions, I decided to create a short video with my women of color activist/spiritualist friends on how to challenge the silences and erasures of parts of ourselves, our histories, and our memories when we are within these institutions.  

Reading Pedagogies of the Sacred by M. Jaqui Alexander provided a great window into the role the memory, the body, and the sacred can play in academic work interested in decolonization and re-writing history from the lens of those traditionally pushed to the periphery of social institutions and political participation. The text explores how memory becomes the central site of decolonization with embodied spiritual practice the most important site to recover the dormant stories of those silenced through the violence of colonialism and imperialism. This notion is eloquently summed up when Dr. Alexander says, "Healing work is the antidote to oppression."

The video expose above is a meditation on this notion. Most of the production process was created collectively. I invited several of my friends to discuss the challenges and successes they experienced as working class women of the color in the academy and to share strategies they used to negotiate their spiritual lives and bodies with static/stale material and classrooms. We collectively decided to share movements that helped us get through the day or reconnect us with our larger purpose of creating political interventions in the production of academic knowledge. Once we shared our movements we put them together into the choreography in the video.

The work itself became a beautiful reminder of the power of community and collectivity in this process of remembering and putting ourselves, our pasts, and our futures back together though embodied practice. Watching myself and my friends over and over in the editing process opened my eyes to the abundance of the multiple  dimensions and layers we walk in and through each moment of everyday. The beauty and depth of that experience is difficult to articulate in the written word.

Please feel free to leave comments, hopes, dreams, and meditations on this subject because more than ever it is clear to me that healing work is really the antidote to oppression. To me that means healing by changing the systems of power which benefit from our silences and the erasures of memory, by integrating the body, learning how to hear and heal the stories of our ancestors, the ones buried deep in the earth whose souls still wrestle with death imposed from the violence of capitalist contact and colonial rule, and re-writing movement history collectively in order to write our future into existence. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

A short documentary on the role of community based media collectives in the revolutionary process underway in Venezuela
By: Me (Robin Garcia) and Nefertiti Altan

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Images that represent empowered visual agency

The Comuna and the State

The Comuna and the state

Below is an article I wrote while working for School of the Americas Watch and doing field work for my thesis in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. There are many typos and misspellings. I had been in Venezuela for many months living in the heart of dynamic political change, witnessed a coup in Honduras through the lens of socialist leaning Venezuela and participated in several community media projects which took these issues to the local level through community based programming. The article below reflects the winds of change, urgency, contradiction, and vision I experienced there. 

June 28, 2009

DSC00203In the Carucenia neighborhood of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, a community center known as the CPC (Centro Popular Communitario) came under attack by the local Barquisimeto government because of the community-based power that the center came to have and represent in the recent years. The government residing over the state of Lara, which Barquisimeto is the capital of, was described to me as pro-Chavez by name but politically centrist by action. The tensions between this local government and the collective bodies of popular power at the base is one of many examples of the different interests that come head to head within what many descibe as “the process” of transformation happening in Venezuela. Often, where folks at the base are pushing the revolution forward on their own terms, local governments follow a self-interested trajectory and timeline. These different visions of the revolutionary future have been drawn out even more with the recent emergence of the Comuna, a geographically configured federation that pulls the consejo comunales (local neighborhood associations that collectively plan projects to meet community based needs with government financial support) together to build power from bottom up. Each comuna has a “mesa tecnica” which is a sort of board that consists of bolseros (community spokespeople) who are re-elected every two years and address community needs in terms of health, education, urban and rural land issues, culture and sports and communication of the comuna.
The vision of the Comuna for me was drawn out during a conversation I had with one community activist and organizer who highlighted how tensions between the local government and the creation of the Comuna resulted in the attempted seizure of the CPC which has served as the most central location from where one important Comuna organizes itself. When I asked him why the government was so afraid of the power of the Comuna, we discussed the idea that eventually the Comunas may eliminate the need for local government because the Comuna is in touch with its own needs will be able to provide its own government. In line with that train of thought I asked him what the future of the centralized state would be in Venezuela if the Comuna become the center-piece for the emerging socialism here. He responded that Chavez had already made his own death in a recent airing of Alo Presidente where the president spoke about the future of the Comuna as the most important center of power and the need for the people to move the revolution forward with or without him.
However, the complex role of local government within Venezuela’s emerging socialism was illuminated by an activist with the youth contingent of the PSUV (Partido Socialista Unida de Venezuela) who highlighted that local mayors and governors hold an important role because Venezuela is very much still capitalist. With the increase of the minimum wage, which is now the highest in Latin America consumerism is on the rise and the need to conduct national projects and bring unity among the different revolutionary forces is still a major concern. Where an internal opposition sponsored by funds from the National Endowment for Democracy (a US based foreign aid organization that funds counter-revolutionary projects), is supported by an external opposition taking form in the neo-liberal projects of the United States, the local government is still needed. To counter the growing consumer mentality, the PSUV has launched a campaign to create an ideological school to raise the level of conciousness among the base.
Attending the PSUV ideological schools planning meeting provided a small window into the organizing structure of the PSUV and what their vision of protagonistic participatory democracy looked like. The group met in the local mayors office with some 50 elected spokes people from various sectors of the PSUV and were broken into 6 different groups who created their own proposed themes for the school. The meeting ended with a summary of each groups themes and a motion to meet the following week consolidate all the ideas into one proposal to submit along with all the other PSUV chapters.
With the formation of new ideological apparatuses through the party and the development of collective governing structures at the base through the Comunas the challenge to traditional forms of capitalism and consumerism are increased, however, the tensions between these different bodies of power is highlighted when the peoples collective needs do not mesh with the visions of a party or government. New forms of socialism are advancing from below at a faster rate than the electorally based socialism advancing from above.
This advancement has been facilitated by the community participants at the CPC as it has become a major power center for the base because it not only offers free art, music, dance, theater and computer classes, a free dentistry clinic, a community radio and TV station, but also operates as a free space for community based events and organizing especially around the formation of the Comuna. Through the creation of the center and the emerging Comuna, the community has begun to develop their own governing structures and as a result the local government has sponsored and supported the seizure of the space.
During a recent visit to the space I found masses of people who decided to squat in the buildings of the small CPC community while some members ran errands to change locks on the doors to secure the area. Radio Cepescuela, a community radio housed out of the CPC became a major vehicle to get information out about what was happening at the center and as a result of the radio, the participation in holding down the space increased. In interviews I conducted with community radio producers at Radio Cepescuela, folks highlighted the force of the radio in the organizing of the community to fight against the government invasion of the space. The radio for the community of the CPC has become so central to community organizing and identity where community members both create and listen to the shows aired through the station.
Because Radio Cepescuela is part of the ANMCLA (an alternative media network that brings community media under one umbrella and acts as a mobilizing front both against corporate and commercial media under one umbrella as well as toward the building of a revolutionary process that foregrounds collective community voices), the situation at the CPC has been publicized to the wider Venezuelan public as well as some international activists including an Argentinian community radio station who when I was at the radio sent via email a letter of solidarity that was read on air to Barquisimeto listeners. The radio at the CPC can be seen as pushing forward the idea of the Comuna by providing a space for diverse collective representations that are unified through the on air programs. These forms kinds of political projects in Venezuela actually began to emerge far before the Chavez government. Radio Cepescuela for example originated in the 1990s as a clandestine station. Under the Chavez government organizing that contested the state still contests the state, only now the state listens more so than not.
This listening to the base became a national project when government sponsored challenges to elite forms of political participation resulted in the rewriting of the constitution in 1999. Historically marginalized groups were supported by Title 5 which called for the participatory protagonism and sovereignty of the people leading to the right for communities to decide their own futures and govern themselves. In 2006 this article manifested in the creation of the Consejo Comunales which have diversified the ways the proposed socialism of Venezuela gets negotiated at the local level and has also raised the level of participation in both local and national politics. Because of different challenges faced by the consejo comunales in terms of either getting enough government funding, effectively using that funding and organizing in the community, the Comuna, according to one community activist grew out of community reflections on the successes and challenges faced by the consejo comunales.
Time and time again, the vision of a unified front on the side of Chavez is undercut by more diverse and nuanced forces that come into tension around the idea of advancing toward socialism. It will certainly be interesting to watch how the Comunas progress from below and whether or not the state and local governments side with the interests of these collective bodies as it was according to the PSUV student activist I interviewed incredibly important to maintain government structures that operate from above to facilitate “the process” and unify the nation in spite of continued opposition from inside and outside. Today of all days that opposition became apparent not in Venezuela, but in Honduras where there was just a coup against President Manuel Zelaya who recently proposed a constitutional referendum to increase the democratic potential of Honduras. Sponsored by the oligarchy, military and the United States Zelaya was kidnapped and taken to Costa Rica where he is now being held captive. As I am writing, Chavez is saying on Telesur (the Latin American news bloc) that an assault against Honduras is an assault against Venezuela and the democracy being proposed by the people at the base.  This situation makes me re-think the need for nationalism and government when there are international forces that aim to de-center advances toward people driven democracies.