An Indymedia Genesis Story

Indymedia is a wide-ranging phenomenon: its genesis in opposition to dominant powers; its constituency spanning numerous public interest movements; and its continuing success creating a proving ground for a next generation of leaders who today, 20 years later, are scattered globally, yet ascending into positions of power and influence.

The Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (UCIMC) is, and always has been, a relative outlier in the Indymedia landscape. But it rose quickly to become a dominant nexus for local social and economic justice organizing, and, as it happened, the legal headquarters for Global Indymedia. This local IMC incubated scores of projects that, for the half-decade before ubiquitous smartphones, were important in bringing documentation resources in some way to the front lines of nearly every major global justice and pro-democracy protest on the planet. Continue reading

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Turn Off the Spigot: Money vs. Med4All

The COVID pandemic has exposed the flaws in the US health care system as never before, reinforcing longstanding arguments for creating an expanded Medicare for All system in the country. The Public i has previously published articles (see June, November and December 2019 and April 2020 issues) exposing the flaws in arguments against this policy and clarifying how its implementation can reduce the overall costs of health care delivery by as much as $5 trillion over a ten-year period and to family budgets by as much as $3000 per year.

In a context where 69 percent of Americans support expanding Medicare, the will of the majority has been consistently disregarded in Washington. Again and again the major roadblock to reform has proved to be the enormous amounts of money the health care industry pours into the legislative process. Continue reading

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Thank the Suffragists: Celebrating the Women’s Rights History of Champaign County

The exhibit at Museum of the Grand Prairie

Ever wondered why March is Women’s History Month? We at the Museum of the Grand Prairie invite you to answer that question with a visit to our latest exhibit celebrating the centennial of women’s voting rights, “How Long Must Women Wait? Woman Suffrage and Women’s Rights in Champaign County.” While this exhibit opened in 2020, we’re holding it over because of our previous COVID-related closures. On March 1 we will reopen our doors to the public just in time for you to join us in celebrating Women’s History Month.

You can thank the suffragists for Women’s History Month. Concurrent with their struggle for the vote, the first Women’s History Day happened in March, 1909. Presidential proclamations stretched that into a week in the 1970s and a month in the 1990s, but the question remains, why March? Continue reading

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If You Could Save a Million Lives, Would You Do It?

This article was first published in The Hill on October 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

If you had the opportunity to save a million people from preventable death, would you do it? These are people who would otherwise fall victim to the global pandemic and deep recession that most of the world is experiencing. This is not merely a rhetorical question, but one that members of the Congress will have to answer in the present.

In an interview with The Economist last month, Bill Gates stated that millions of people in developing countries would die before the COVID-19 pandemic was over. He noted, importantly, that 90 percent of the deaths would not result from the virus itself, but from “indirect” effects. These include most prominently the economic impact of the pandemic, as well as other causes such as the overwhelming of medical and public health resources, which increases fatalities from other diseases. Continue reading

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COVID-19: Coming to a Jail Near You

This article was first published in The Progressive on January 4, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

Wayne Colson, Sr. recalls he felt “helpless” with his son sitting in jail as news of the COVID-19 pandemic was breaking. A loyal father, Colson had attended visitation every Sunday to see his son. “I didn’t want him to feel like nobody was there, I was never too busy to show him love.” Visitations at the jail were cancelled when COVID hit. Worried his son would catch this deadly, invisible disease, he felt he was in a “whirlwind.”

Colson and his son live in Champaign-Urbana. Many Black youth, like Colson’s son, have little prospect of attending the state’s flagship campus, the University of Illinois, and get funneled into the criminal legal system.

Jails have become petri dishes for COVID-19. The majority of people in jail have not been convicted of a crime, yet they are being exposed to COVID. Those who cycle in and out of jails are taking COVID back into their homes, infecting Black, brown, and poor white communities. Continue reading

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“Congo to the Mississippi”: Recent Socially Conscious Music from Africa and the Americas

Sahari (2019), by Aziza Brahim

It is wonderful that so much music from around the world is now easily available to us, especially through the Internet and radio. My main source is Songlines magazine, a monthly published in print and online in London. Every print issue comes with one or two CDs, which are also available by download online. Almost all of this music is available through Apple Music or other similar sources.

75,000 Strong

In 1980, during the worst days of apartheid in South Africa, renowned activist and exiled musicians Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba flew into the small independent kingdom of Lesotho (entirely surrounded by South Africa) and gave a free concert for 75,000 freedom-loving people, most crossing the nearby border for the event. Due to technical problems, the recording was lost except for one video, but six of Masekela’s songs were recorded at a hotel performance the following night. That recording, Live in Lesotho, was finally rereleased in 2019. The great surviving video is of “Stimela,” the “Coal Train,” that carried migrant workers from across the region to work in the gold mines of Johannesburg. Continue reading

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Art is a Revolution

 

The author at an art show

Art is a revolution, a melting pot of ideas, hopes, dreams, and wishes, not always welcomed, but ever the adventure. My love for the arts affords me the opportunity to let people into the “me” that I sometimes hide away. It’s hard for artists in many communities to open up and expose themselves. Yet I have found that right in our own backyard of Champaign and Urbana we are welcomed, loved, and, dare I say it, celebrated. It’s a rich and diverse cultural climate that enriches any who dare to step into it. Here I indulge in several aspects of the arts, from dance to poetry, recycled art, fashion, and design, and each one gives me a unique sense of power. Sharing that empowerment with others is part of my artistic journey as well. Continue reading

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FRIDAY FORUM – Spring 2021

The Digital Mis(shaping) of the World

In the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, many of us are using technology more than ever before. The world of technology opens many doors for global connection, but does it also come with consequences? With growing digital interactions, there is a greater need to more deeply understand the intersections between technology and race, class, privacy, education, faith and public health. How these intersections impact our everyday experiences, as well as what might happen within these intersections looking forward, are critical for us to consider. Join us as we take a look into how technology is not only shaping but also misshaping our world.

Speakers and topics for the spring series will include:

  • February 12th – #DigitalFaith – Keeping the Faith Remotely – Sable Manson
  • February 19th – Miriam Larson, Tanya Parker and Maurice Hayes – topic TBD
  • February 26th – Technology and Data for Positive Social Impact – Lauren Haynes
  • March 5th – The Intersection of Black Culture and Technology – Lamont Holden
  • March 12th – Safiya Noble – topic TBD
  • March 19th – Daniel Gonzalez – topic TBD
  • March 26th – Exploring Equity and Power in Online Learning Environments – Virginia Byrne
  • April 2nd – U.S. Youth and Media Migration – Aimee Rickman

 

All Friday Forums are on Fridays at 12:00pm online via Zoom. For links, go to https://universityymca.org/friday-forum/

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Public i Job Announcement

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Countering Disinformationhttp://publici.ucimc.org/wp-admin/edit.php to Build a Just Society

We have heard a lot about disinformation during this past year, but learning more about how information is manipulated, distorted and deployed to shape social debates can help you recognize when you are being targeted in a disinformation campaign. It can also help you understand the disproportionate impact this problem has on communities of color and social justice movements. Continue reading

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White Nationalism in our Own Front Yards

One resident collected three bags of white nationalist flyers from her neighborhood

This past summer residents of West Champaign awoke to find their neighborhoods had been leafletted with an insulting anti-immigrant flyer bearing the imprint of the New Jersey European Heritage Association (NJEHA), a group designated as a white nationalist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. These weren’t a few scattered copies, but hundreds of flyers packaged in ziplocked bags weighted down with pebbles to keep them from blowing away. The leaflet characterized all immigrants as “criminal invaders,” and provided a phone number it claimed was to ICE deportations, as well as the web address for the NJEHA. One neighbor gathered more than seventy for the trash and another consigned a bundle to a backyard firepit, but in the weeks that followed more appeared in front yards, tucked inside the pockets of merchandise apparel at stores, or arranged among the produce in grocery stores. Continue reading

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“It’s Scary Having a Fifteen-Year-Old Son”: Community Voices on Gun Violence in C-U

In the midst of the global pandemic, Champaign-Urbana has its own local epidemic: gun violence. As of July 20, police had received 95 reports in 2020 of shooting incidents in Champaign alone. This is more than double the total for all of 2019. Twenty-seven people had been shot and several killed. A survey by CU Public Health found that, after mental health, gun violence ranked as the second highest public health priority in four zip codes: 61820, 61821, 61801 and 61802. Since the vast majority of these incidents involve young Black men, many white people seemingly don’t feel this is their problem.

As an organization that addresses the issue of mass incarceration and criminalization of youth, FirstFollowers has begun to tackle gun violence. We believe it is a problem for the whole community, and that all members of the community should feel the importance of bringing this violence to a halt. In our work, we try to avoid making pronouncements on the issue, but rather choose to highlight the voices of those directly impacted. We follow a saying popularized among formerly incarcerated people across the country: “Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, but often farthest from the resources needed to solve the problem.” So our approach to gun violence is to insert the voices of those impacted and then support them in their struggle to access resources needed to address the issue. Continue reading

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Separating Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

The author was part of this group of young American Jews protesting Israel’s occupation outside an American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting in 2017

The morning after the 2016 presidential election, I woke up wondering if I was still white. I am Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish, and had always felt confident in the safety my light skin afforded me. That day, for the first time, I understood that safety to be conditional. Trump’s victory demonstrated a surging of white supremacy, and with it a definition of whiteness that excluded me.

The past four years have been a terrifying time to be Jewish. Violent racists and neo-Nazis have poured forth as the president tacitly endorses the alt-right. Hate crimes against Jews have risen dramatically, and Nazis have marched openly in the streets. My grandmother called to tell me that she, for the first time since the Holocaust, feared we would find ourselves in camps. We were no longer among the safe. Continue reading

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Polish Women Take to the Streets

Polish women marching against attempts to further restrict access to abortion. The sign reads “Women’s Strike”

Following an October 22 Polish Supreme Court decision cutting off the main route to legal abortion in the country, Polish women, and many supportive men and children, took to the streets in the biggest mass mobilization in Poland in 40 years. The law in force since 1993—already the strictest in Europe except for Malta’s, which bans abortion altogether—allows termination of pregnancy in three cases: danger to the mother’s life or health; suspicion that the pregnancy resulted from a crime (e.g., rape or incest); or severe disability or incurable disease of the fetus. The court ruled this third reason, which accounted for 98 percent of the 1100 legal abortions performed in Poland last year, unconstitutional.

Demonstration organizers expected a similar turnout to the large “black protests”—in which women wearing black predominated—of four years ago (referenced in my article on the right-wing government’s consolidation of power in the February 2018 Public i), which forced the defeat in parliament at that time of a proposed law to only allow abortion to save the life of the mother. But the protests at the end of October were several times larger still: over 400,000 in more than 400 cities and towns across Poland. Crowds chanted “Sex is not a crime, pregnancy is not a punishment, if I want an abortion I will have it!” A push for abortion “coming outs” brought women to microphones and megaphones to publicly attest to how having one—usually illegally, or performed abroad—had brought relief and improved their lives. Remarkable was the support of other groups that one would never have expected, like farmers and taxi drivers, who used their tractors and taxis to help block or inhibit traffic, and soccer fans—although organized soccer “hooligans” joined other right-wing toughs to attack protesters, confronted in some cases by Polish Antifa. Two journalists from the liberal national daily Gazeta Wyborcza were also assaulted by right-wingers. Continue reading

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Urbana Police Chief Finally Admits Misconduct in Aleyah Lewis Arrest

 

Urbana Police Chief Bryant Seraphin

It has been more than seven months since the violent arrest of Urbana resident Aleyah Lewis. Tens of thousands of people have watched the videos of Urbana Police Officers throwing Lewis to the ground, pinning her, punching her in the head, and kneeing her in the ribs. Hundreds of concerned residents have spoken about the incident, amounting to probably 40 hours of public input at Urbana City Council meetings.

The Urbana Police Department (UPD) issued press releases, they issued a Use of Force Review report, and they gave a great big presentation at the April 27 City Council meeting. Mayor Marlin pushed her own propaganda as often as possible, and then she spent over $20,000 of taxpayer money to have the Chicago firm Hillard Heintze (a consulting firm the City brought in to perform a review of the incident—see the article by myself and others in the September 2020 issue of the Public i) issue its own brand of propaganda. They told us from every angle, at every opportunity, that UPD had done everything correctly, and that our concerns were not real. The public is wrong, because we don’t understand police stuff. Continue reading

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“The Big Scary ‘S’ Word” is Coming for your Children

 

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx had a correspondence; that Helen Keller was a socialist, as was Francis Bellamy, who authored the Pledge of Allegiance; that North Dakota practices public banking; and that in the 1840s in Ripon, Wisconsin, socialists founded the Republican Party?

The information above and much more is offered in a stimulating new documentary currently on the festival circuit, The Big Scary “S” Word, which ends with a young participant at a political conference declaring in revelation, “Together we can accomplish anything.” The 88-minute film, directed by Yael Bridge, dashes through an overview of socialism in American history, the wreck of capitalism, and the current rise in socialism as a political movement. The ambitious film leaves sympathetic viewers reinforced and hopeful. Continue reading

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What I Learned While being the Poet Laureate for the City of Urbana . . .

As poet laureate Reger coordinated the “poets on a park bench” series, produced by and available through Urbana Public Television. Here he interviews local poet Anne Namatsi

I learned that the people of Urbana truly appreciated the emphasis on poetry in their public lives.  They felt it improved their town in a tangible way.

I learned that many poets live in this community who don’t always interact with each other, though they should, which is why a Poet Laureate should exist, to bring these groups together in some fashion. Continue reading

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The UCIMC Disinformation Defense Campaign

IMC working groups, projects, and partners are working to fight the tide of disinformation. We have just received a grant and extensive educational materials from MediaJustice to do this work. We will focus on racialized disinformation: disinformation campaigns that specifically target communities of color. We are establishing a team of community leaders to respond to disinformation such as fake news discrediting the election results, belittling of communities through false rumors about COVID, or spreading other misleading or damaging messages. If you’d like to find out about resources or get involved in the IMC’s response to disinformation, email programdirector@ucimc.org.

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Indymedia at 20

 

It was twenty years ago, September 24, 2000, when a dozen people crammed into my apartment on Carle Park. We began dreaming about the Independent Media Center that now graces the heart of Urbana, nurturing new friendships, growing new projects, and flowing with art, music, writing, radio, making, biking, and organizing. When we passed the hat at our first meeting, designating ten percent of everything collected as our “endowment,” we knew we wanted to create long-haul organizing infrastructure for our community. Greg Brown, a developmentally disabled homeless man, had just been strangled by Champaign Police behind a dumpster on White Street—and the News-Gazette just reprinted the police report. Ameren Power Company had left a toxic waste dump at 5th and Hill Streets in Champaign that had caused a circle of cancer in this historically African American neighborhood. Lincoln Mobile Home Park, a peaceful neighborhood that Vietnamese refugees, Latino families, and disabled and poor residents called home, had been  demolished with help from the city to make room for luxury student apartment complexes. From the beginning, our IMC’s focus was on investigating unreported stories, amplifying unheard voices, and reframing the debate with the goal of redistributing power and resources. Continue reading

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The University and its Workers during the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has affected universities all over the country and the world. Different institutions have chosen different approaches, from keeping all courses online and discouraging students from returning (Smith College, Harvard University, etc.) to a full opening of residential services and face-to-face courses (University of Notre Dame, Purdue University). Some of the latter group have had to shift course or impose new restrictions in the face of advancing case numbers. All these decisions have sparked a range of responses from students, faculty, workers, and community members who share public spaces with the students returning to campus towns.  A variety of needs and concerns have been voiced in these discussions.  Often, those who do much of the work of providing residential and dining services to students, cleaning classroom buildings, and staffing offices are the least heard in planning and charting the course of safety in these pandemic times. Continue reading

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