Ten Years at the U-C IMC

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Like most “beginning” stories, the tale of
the Urbana-Champaign Independent
Media Center starts out modestly—and,
like all these stories, this initial modesty is
ironic, given all that we know about the
future success of the project. So the UCIMC
started off like a lot of projects, with a
group of people sitting in a room, sharing
dreams. It was the year 2000, the turn of
the century, the liminal space between
Clinton’s and Bush’s America. Although we
weren’t aware of the political earthquake
about to strike, our world was clearly shifting.
In November of the previous year, huge
demonstrations against the World Trade
Organization meeting in Seattle shocked
the nation. The economy was healthy, war
was largely invisible, and rapidly advancing
communications technology promised
an idyllic future of global connection: the
country had become complacent. So it
came as a surprise when thousands of protestors
(the most conservative estimate
puts the number at 40,000) took to the
streets in Seattle to protest capitalist globalization.
The system had ruptured, the illusion
was broken: people were rising up
and saying, “No, things are not all right at
home or abroad!” It was the cry of a suffering
democracy, and the burgeoning Indy-
Media network was there to record it and
share it with the world.
At the WTO protests, folks from the
Champaign-Urbana area met participants
in this “IndyMedia” movement, a cuttingedge
media democracy network. Despite
nearly total domination by corporate
media, this movement presented a radical
challenge to the powers-that-be by discovering
a sustainable source of autonomous
power: citizen journalism. Forget “speaking
truth to power,” through IndyMedia,
we created our own power, enabling us to
speak truth to everyone!
Less than a year after the WTO protests,
12 individuals gathered in Danielle
Chynoweth’s living room to plan the creation
of our very own media democracy
organization, the Urbana-Champaign
Independent Media Center. Soon afterward,
a new publication called the Public i
was printed and distributed around town.
Fast-forward to years later: UC-IMC is
now an internationally recognized model
for how a local community media center
can be used by residents to transform and
empower their community, changing policy
and lives. And although the UC-IMC is
still a crucial part of the IndyMedia network,
our work has changed and grown. If
the founders of the UC-IMC disappeared
after that fateful meeting ten years ago, and
just returned to Urbana, would they
believe our 30,000 sq. ft. Community
Media & Arts Center? Could they even
dream of operating a community radio station,
media training facility, performance
venue, public access computer center,
computer help desk, and art gallery and
studios? Would they believe the incredible
success of Books to Prisoners, who mailed
their 50,000th (and then some) book this
year? What would they think about the
Bike Project, which has recycled thousands
of bicycles back into our community?
What about ODDmusic, with their weird
Udderbots? Or the IndyMedia Arts Lab,
giving low-income kids the multimedia
camp experience of a lifetime!
The truth is that we’ve outgrown our
humble beginnings to become not just a
local landmark, but a national model for
community media projects. To say that the
IMC made tangible the dreams of local residents
wouldn’t be an understatement: in
ten years, we’ve created an incredible history,
a rap sheet of unique successes making
our necessity in this community unassailable.
I was talking to activist and IMC
member Martell Miller today, and he
described the importance of being proactive:
“If I see smoke coming out of out
neighbor’s house, I’m gonna go over there
and see what’s going on—I’m not gonna
wait till I see flames coming out the top of
the house to call the fire department!” This
illustrates one of the best characteristics of
the IMC: it gives us the tools to take action
now, to create the world we want to live in
now, rather than waiting for it to be handed
to us.
In addition to all of our incredible
working groups and affiliated projects,
there a number of new and exciting projects
underway, e.g. (1) UC-IMC is a key
player in the wireless infrastructure to be
established through the federal government’s
$22.5 billion grant to Champaign-
Urbana (UC2B), and we’ll serve a vital role
in using this access as a tool for economic
development, (2) We’re going to redesign
the website (finally!), and (3) We have a
new membership system (& benefits).
Keep your eyes peeled for details!
And, of course, there’s the continuing
need of financial support for the IMC’s
building and programs (I’m the Development
Adviser—you didn’t think I’d ask?).
The newly established Sustaining Fund is
particularly crucial. For $250+/year, you’ll
be able to provide long-term financial stability
for the UC-IMC. If that isn’t financially
viable, consider what kind of donation
you might be able to make. We also
accept “in-kind” donations, most obviously
volunteer hours! If you haven’t been
involved with us in a while, look on our
website (ucimc.org) and see what we’re up
to, then come on down and get your hands
dirty! For more information on our successes,
check out our website.
The UC-IMC’s 10th Anniversary General
Membership meeting (and RFU 5th
Anniversary celebration) is going to be
held on Saturday, November 13, 2010,
from 4:00-6:00pm. For more on the meeting
and its surrounding celebration, please
check out our website.
It’s been a pleasure serving this community
for the past ten years, and we hope to
continue serving you with creativity and
commitment for decades to come.

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