Main Street Project
How Media Justice is Giving a Voice to Communities
How can a community turn an instrument of oppression into an instrument of empowerment? Media Justice Organizer Steven Renderos of Main Street Project confronts this question daily in his work. When he asks the question, “What is your relationship to media?” at hands-on trainings, people often respond negatively. A woman from Liberia expressed her deep mistrust of the media, which had always been a tool of oppression in her community. Challenging this mistrust and reappropriating the power of media are at the center of Main Street Project’s work.
Main Street Project emerged in 2005 as a branch of the League of Rural Voters in order to encourage digital storytelling in rural Minnesota and Iowa. As the regional anchor for MAG-Net (Media Action Grassroots Network), Main Street Project has collaborated with a variety of organizations and acted as a leader in the media justice movement. They have also broadened their scope beyond rural communities to include communities of color in the Twin Cities.
One Main Street Project initiative, Justice 2.0, focuses specifically on disenfranchised communities’ relationship to the media, especially in the context of the internet. In today’s world, Facebook, YouTube, and Google seem to be almost indispensable tools for academic success, self-expression, and business affairs, but many communities of color find themselves without the resources and skills necessary to use these tools effectively.
Through hands-on trainings, Justice 2.0 allows participants to use social media to share their stories, voice their opinions, and ultimately, help shape policy. Justice 2.0 is focusing on broadband internet access for both rural and urban communities of color, and their Placestories (http://mainstreet.placestories.com) project gives individuals the opportunity to tell their stories using practical and affordable technology. Renderos stresses the importance of providing a space for individuals to speak for themselves. For example, Main Street Project’s “What’s Your Internet Story?” campaign involved interviewing a variety of community members to document their experience with the internet on video. Initiatives such as these exemplify the empowerment that social and digital media can offer.
Ultimately, Renderos explains, Main Street Project’s efforts to provide access to technology complement skills that participants already have, that is, the ability to tell their stories and express themselves in words. Whether a student is performing spoken word poetry or an indigenous elder is passing on oral histories, Main Street Project’s mission is to capture the power of these voices.