On the Necessity of Grassroots Media

On the Necessity of Grassroots Media

I just wrapped up a 3 month contract at CKUT community radio as the interim news coordinator the other day, and I will soon be starting work as the news director of CUTV, the amazing campus-community television station of Concordia University. These last few months in Quebec with the student strike and social uprising have been hectic, beautiful, at times scary, and ultimately incredibly inspiring. These are certainly amazing times as well to be working as an independent journalist in Montreal. I feel incredibly privileged to be moving from one amazing grassroots media organization to another, so I wanted to reflect on my experience in these organizations, and the necessity of grassroots media in times like these.

Although I have been a member of the CKUT news collective for nearly 10 years now, I started as the news coordinator in March 2012, just about a month after the student strike had begun. We began producing regular reports on the student strike, which we called the Red Square Report. Our coverage of the student strike was unique in the sense that we decided from the beginning to take an angle that even very few alternative media were taking. We decided to go beyond the student movement leaders and spokespeople, and speak directly to the base of the movement. Often times our reporters would go out and get right in the middle of the action, despite tear gas and severe state repression. Here are links to a few of my favorite reports that we did with CKUT:

Round-table: What next for the student strike?
http://www.mediacoop.ca/audio/ckut-round-table-what-next-student-strike/10424

Occupation du palais des congres en opposition au plan nord, by Stefanie Clermont:
http://montreal.mediacoop.ca/audio/ckuts-hour-red-square-report-friday-april-20th/10591

Round-table on the student strike and freedom of the press:
http://montreal.mediacoop.ca/audio/ckuts-hour-red-square-report-friday-april-20th/10592

Another remarkable thing about CKUT is that we have always prided ourselves as being people-powered media which is deeply embedded in social movements. What this allows us to do is to shed the pretext of “unbiased media”, which is a complete fallacy in our society in any case, and to provide useful information to assist the student strike and social movements. For example, for the last month or so, we've been regularly airing this wonderful public service announcement with legal information for people who get arrested in the student demos:
http://soundcloud.com/ckut-fm/24-arresting-psa-mixdown

Now moving to CUTV, I am extremely humbled and excited to be working with this team. In case you missed it, CUTV have been live-streaming almost every night protest since they started in late April. Their dedication and determination has been immesurable. The team gets beaten and attacked by the police almost every night, and yet they continue to bring ground-breaking live coverage to thousands of people. It's been so amazing to be out with the team, and to hear people coming up to them, cheering them on, or thanking them for their coverage. The way that their 5-person team of volunteer reporters is able to maneuvre through crowds and stick together when things get hairy is impressive. This is truly ground-breaking, grassroots coverage live from the frontlines of this struggle.

I suppose I got a taste of what it's like to be a CUTV reporter early on. It was only my second night out with the team on Saturday, June 9, when I was arrested by the Montreal Police (SPVM) and detained during the demonstration against the Grand Prix.

Here is a short video of the arrest:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9Z0h2LSvtE&feature=share

And here's a longer video, starting at about 51:00:
http://cutvmontreal.ca/broadcasts/2012/6/9/1484

Here's a little write up of the incided that I jotted down at about 3am after coming back from the coverage:
“Tonight was surreal. After having watched some of my good friends and comrades taken down violently by cops, we continued around the block from maisoneuve and crescent, until we ended up at ste-catherine and cresent. as we were crossing the street with everyone else, right out of nowhere, a cop runs up to me and grabs me by the arm and by the scarf around my neck. i only had time to yell at the rest of my crew who were ahead of me with the camera to turn around before i was thrown down on the pavement by the police. and first they slammed my face into the street and told me not to move, and that if i resisted arrest, they would only make it more painful. at that moment i looked up to see the CUTV camera on me. the camera is sometimes the best protection, even when it's catching you at ungraceful moments.

I repeatedly asked them while i was down on the ground being cuffed with those extremely tight plastic tie-wraps why iIwas being arrested. All they said to me in that moment was that they would tell me soon.

They then proceeded to put me in a police cruiser.

After that, they took me out and told me that i had been arrested because, and this is their words, i had a backpack and a red scarf (which i had around my neck in case of pepper spray), and they suspected me of being an activist. Great suspicion. Last time i checked, none of this was illegal.

I was finally released after about 15 minutes. the "good cop" told me that i could have been charged with obstruction because i didn't stop immediately when he grabbed me. well sorry, but a) i was doing my job as a journalist and b) 95% of people will be sketched out by a random stranger, let along a cop grabbing you out of the blue.

Anyways, after all of that i was back out on the street with my team, reporting again.”

So there you go. Amidst the batons, pepper spray, and targetted arrests, there are so many amazing grassroots journalists and media organizations trying to make sense of this incredible social movement, and to bring you coverage that breaks all coporate and state-created barriers.

But more importantly, these media organizations rely on funding from people like you to keep them going, so if you can throw a few bones to CKUT or CUTV to keep them going, please do! You can donate here:

CKUT:
https://secure.ckut.ca/fddb/donors/webpledge

CUTV:
http://cutvmontreal.ca/station/fundraising/live-broadcasts

And for great coverage of the student strike, you can check out CKUT and CUTV, but you can also check out:

www.mediacoop.ca/greve

http://www.quebecprotest.com/

Keep banging those pots and pans! La loi spéciale, on s'en calisse!

Love and rage,
Aaron