Allied Media Conference incorporates all varieties of media to incite social change
This is the first in a series of artist profiles featuring the work of artists around social justice, policing, and activism. Look for more profiles in the coming weeks.
The Allied Media Conference originated in 1999 in Bowling Green, Ohio as part of the Midwest Zine Conference. At the time, AMC’s focus was on zines – photocopied and sometimes hand-written self-published fan magazines that appealed to specific fringe and sociopolitical interests that were not part of the mainstream conversation.
Since then the public’s experience of media consumption has drastically changed, and the AMC, which moved to Detroit in 2007, has grown into a four-day conference all its own. The conference’s definition of “media” has also become more all-encompassing to reflect the ever-growing number of ways that people communicate.
“‘Media’ means all the ways we communicate with the world,” says Allied Media Conference Program Director Morgan Willis. That includes filmmakers, radio producers, technologists, youth organizers, writers, entrepreneurs, musicians, dancers, and artists. “It’s really a spectacular gathering of media organizers.”
But what it’s not is a gathering of corporate interests with suits from news media organizations like Fox News or MSNBC. Allied Media Conference maintains its “alternative media” roots, celebrating the less visible DIY forms of media that are used by activists, organizers, and social entrepreneurs to galvanize communities and create movements.
The AMC appeals specifically to the diverse community of people who create media in order to transform lives and incite change – those who are often the very people who get left out of conventional conferences for lack of visibility and access.
Even in the late ’90s when the AMC formed not everyone had a home computer or access to the Internet. Radio was still critical to how people communicated with the world, but has since been displaced by CDs, followed by MP3s, then iTunes and satellite radio and streaming services. Now there is also the ongoing conversation of whether or not print is still relevant. These challenges have become real barriers to the self-activation of the community, so Allied Media Conference makes a focused effort to not define “media” so strictly that it excludes anyone.
“We’re not as attached to the medium as to the fact that it is happening the way it is happening to grow communities,” says Willis. “Our definition of media has grown with the world. It has changed so much from the way we understood it years before. People are able to do things in a really grassroots way.”
AMC is a participant-driven conference. Volunteers spend the full year leading up to the annual conference having conversations about focus areas and producing 24 different content areas that will explore up to 300 workshops over the four-day period. Willis explains that AMC leadership doesn’t rely exclusively on their own internal and subjective input but instead relies on the people actually doing the work that the conference features. “We don’t have to sit around and ask each other what’s relevant; we have people to do that. [Instead], we’re the facilitators.”
The AMC brings an international population of media organizers and entities from industries ranging from community radio to public education. Willis says it continues to grow every year, having started out with just a couple hundred people and now drawing in about 2,000. This year they have 50 more pieces of content than they have ever had before to accommodate the growing number of people and the demand for more content areas.
AMC is unique in how it targets a wide variety of people from a wide variety of backgrounds and social status, from technologists to LGBTQ activists to immigrant populations, instead of catering exclusively (and therefore limited) to one particular group. AMC is also known for its youth engagement.
“A lot of conferences are either exclusively built for youth or in some ways center on them,” Willis explains. “The AMC is youth driven in incredible ways. Youth Creating Worlds Track is hosting 11 sessions centered on youth dreaming and movement building. [Our] youth have inherited a lot of social problems and [here they are] moving into spaces using media to explore what that means, whether social change or a shift in how we use media in new social paradigms. They’re able to take ownership as the leaders of [these] sessions, building the movement they want to be [part of]. They put action to the idea that youth-led systems and movements are the most sustainable and dynamic.”
There is also a proactive space dedicated to kids and children up to age 12, teaching kids things like how to use flowers and trees that can contribute to their health and well being and how to use free web tools with the goal of becoming creators rather than consumers of technology. “That space is really crucial and we see how valuable it is,” Willis says. It is a built-in content area to serve the children of adults who have to attend the conference and also allows parents and siblings to participate along with the kids. “Those [facilitators] have gone so far as to build a zine for young kids on how to engage in [the conference], which is sort of the goal – to produce media and to imagine what it looks like to build a world together.”
One example of media creation coming directly out of the conference is Octavia’s Brood, a collection of science fiction stories from social justice movements that was just published in March 2015. The Octavia’s Brood collective was born at the Allied Media Conference and has grown over the years through workshops and collaborative efforts inside and outside of the conference itself. AMC is celebrating the release of the short story collection with a dinner on Saturday.
“That’s just an example of the things that begin as a seedling at AMC then take years to grow,” Willis says. “We have [created] toolkits, policy [reform ideas], community radio…these are really tangible things that we have gone through the process of building and strategizing as a conference. It’s not just a weekend of experiencing possibilities, but a weekend of building them together.”
This year the conference will extend its reach beyond the daytime social justice conversations to the nighttime social realm: AMC @ Night is going to be bigger than it ever has been, with organizers working with partners in the AMC network who have thrown unofficial parties in the past on what Willis says will become staple nighttime parties. There is a punk show, an art swap meet, a queer global bass party, and performances by Detroit musicians including hip hop duo Passalacqua and DJ Stacey “Hotwaxx” Hale. “It will be as dynamic at night as it is in the sunlight,” Willis promises.
The 2015 Allied Media Conference will be held June 18-21, and they are currently seeking volunteers who will get free access to the conference for the whole week in exchange for one day of volunteering.