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  • authored by Members for Democracy
  • published Fri, Dec 19, 2003

Workers' Media: Making Ourselves Matter

Occasionally we are allowed a glimpse of extraordinary knowledge and wisdom. Occasionally human beings can accomplish great strides in creating a better world. Life is full of teachers and students who constantly work on the problems, in order to find the solutions. At times we are teachers and at other times we are students. I fit more in the latter category myself but that's okay. My Dad always said, "A day you learn something, is a day you haven't wasted!".

This little niche of inner-space existing in the binary constellation of the galaxy Synapsis, has become the catalyst which allows many of us to view the world as it really is. This enlightenment is accomplished by ripping off the veils of obscurity and viewing our world through the eyes of truth for a change! Not always pretty, but necessary, and social justice always comes at a price. Good investment no matter what the cost, IMHO! All participants here at MfD are instrumental in this unveiling of injustice which at times seems to be growing exponentially. My thanks to all the current and future participants here for their investment in the construction of a better world. Sort of a futuristic building trades, eh!

MfD Contributor Licatsplit

Earlier this week we posted this powerful letter to the editor, which was forwarded to us via Gene McGuckin. In her letter, the author, Kerry Fleetwood, speaks with a blunt eloquence about why she and other members of the BC Ferries and Marine Workers' Union chose to defy the BC government and their newly privatized employer and walk off the job earlier this month sparking a barrage of self-righteous indignation from government, business and yes, even labour sources.

Unlike the self-righteous rhetoric dished out by many union leaders when speaking on their members' behalf, Fleetwood's statement on her own behalf is free of dogma and political mantras. She speaks passionately about her commitment to her family, her community and her work. She lays out in a matter-of-fact way, the demanding and sometimes dangerous conditions involved in her job and the jobs of other BC Ferries workers and tells of her reaction - a mix of anger, sadness and betrayal - to the scorn that was heaped upon them by so many people who clearly didn't understand these workers and their motives.

Fleetwood's letter was sent out to a number of media outlets. As far as we know, it was not published anywhere except here at MFD. We received a lot of feedback from our community about her letter. "Inspiring", "powerful" were terms that were most frequently used to describe readers' reactions to the letter. Some of our contributors wondered why letters of this kind don't appear in the mainstream media. Here's the answer:

Fleetwood articulated in very understandable and powerful terms what being a working person is all about and what's important to us. In doing so, she presented a dimension of working people that is never presented in the mainstream media - we are not lazy, hapless, overpaid, under worked, greedy, dumb slobs who just can't get with the corporate agenda. Her words connected with others. They struck a chord that the mainstream media goes out of its way to avoid. It's the chord that says, "Hey yeah, that's how it is. That's what I think. That's how I feel."

That's why you won't see Fleetwood's letter published in any mainstream paper and why you'll never see an in-depth interview with someone like her on TV or on a radio broadcast.

That's why you will continue to see us presented as props in business stories or as the hapless victims economic forces beyond our comprehension or just a bunch of lazy slobs who are overpaid and under worked.

If our ideas and our experiences are broadcast (made known widely) we'll start to think that we matter. If we start thinking that we matter, we'll start acting like we matter and expecting to be treated like we matter. There is just no way that the mainstream media wants that to happen because the mainstream media is just a tool of the corporate community - one that serves their interests not ours.

This plainspoken businessman who appeared in a story on our front page this week spells out the "place" of workers in relation to corporate interests and why it's important to keep us thinking that we don't matter.

"I make my living with these guys," Heifetz was heard telling another contractor in the fall of 1998. "Without these guys, I'm out of business. [It's] not a question of me being a masonry contractor. I'm not. I'm a fucking Simon Legree with a fucking load of slaves. You don't understand that? I lose my fucking slaves-they start realizing they're people-I'm out of business. And the intent was not for me to go out of business."

This is why so little is ever written about us. This is why working people's insights and ideas are never given a voice in mainstream op-ed pages. This is why compelling stories to tell about corruption, exploitation or endangerment of workers by their employers (or their mainstream union tools) never make it into the press.

We're not real people - so we're not news. What we think isn't important because we can't think anything important. What we do isn't newsworthy because we're just like a piece of equipment or a prop. What happens to us isn't newsworthy either, for the same reasons, unless it's something very unpleasant and then it's newsworthy because blood and gore sell papers and airtime and promote our disempowerment at the same time. The only newsworthy working stiff is one who's dead - provided that he or she has met their death in some newsworthy way.

If you ever wonder why mainstream newspapers don't print your opinion pieces or why reporters tell you that you've got an interesting story but they're not going to write about it or why stories about workers (when they appear at all) always appear in the business section, here's a short list:

  • They are owned by corporations that dictate what is and is not news based on the interests of their owners.
  • The people who make decisions about what is and isn't news have little understanding of and even less respect for working people.
  • Decision-makers in the mainstream media (like publishers and editors) are members of an elite who tend to look the other way when other members of the elite step out of line (this explains the mainstream public media's lack ignorance of working people).
  • Workplace concepts are too complicated to fit into a couple of inches of column space or similar restrictive formats.

The sidelining of millions of citizens by the media is a problem on a number of levels. Not only does it support our continued status of "second rate citizens" but it also deprives us of our ability to protect democracy in our society.

A good overview of the current state of the mainstream media and how it is undermining the democratic principles upon which our rights are founded appeared recently in a short but very enlightening book called Our Media Not Theirs, The Democratic Struggle Against Corporate Media, by Robert McChesney and John Nichols:

The current caliber of journalism is decidedly unsatisfactory for a democratic society. Democratic journalism should provide a ruthless accounting of the powers-that-be and the powers-that-want-to-be, both in government and political circles and in the extremely powerful corporate sector. Democratic journalism should also provide background information and a full range of viewpoints on the main social and political issues of the day. We cannot expect each news medium to provide all of these elements of quality journalism, but in combination, a democratic media system should make this caliber of journalism readily available to the entire population.

And then:

The approach to "reporting" practiced by American's corporate media today is not journalism; it is stenography.

The mainstream media's regurgitation of what it is fed by corporate public relations specialists is why it's not news when bad things happen to working people - it's just the way it is - like when dogs and cats get run over, or when equipment malfunctions. It's not going to change any time soon.

So stop waiting for the phone to ring. Your local mainstream rag isn't going to call you back - unless you're dead or damn close to it. If you want to feel like you matter, you'll have to make your own media - here on the internet where you don't need a few mil to set up a media business and where you don't need a degree from j-school so you can regurgitate the media releases of the rich and powerful like a media pro and where there are no limits - on words or ideas.

We've discussed the emergence of workers' media on this web site on a number of occasions in the past.

It's evolving as we write. Independent media sites have sprung up in droves over the past few years. More recently worker blogs are providing a venue for extensive sharing of ideas and information and allowing others to "be there" as events that matter to working people unfold. These are just a couple of examples of workers' media. They are not the only possibilities. There is no end to what is possible.

The tools to allow us to make our own media are available to us and, as technology advances, will provide greater access for us to broadcast and to engage others in wide open, real time dialogue. The biggest obstacles for us now are not money or equipment - they are the obstacles that we create for ourselves.

We must get it out of our heads that the mainstream media are the best media or that we must copy their methods and their formats or that we must present two sanitized versions of every issue or quote only from the mainstream's official sources. We do not have to confine our expression to sound bites or info burps. Their methods, sources and formats are what's robbing us of our humanity.

We must stop thinking of ourselves as "alternative" media and start thinking of ourselves as workers' media. We are only "alternative" because that's what they call us. We are only alternative in relation to them. We are not alternative. We are workers' media.

We didn't just dream this up either. Journalism "outside the corporate cage" has existed for a long time and involved some really interesting concepts in reporting of events and expression of ideas. There was, for instance, the New Journalism that emerged during the 1960's and Hunter Thompson's Gonzo Journalism (a personal favourite of mine). More recently there's discussion about the Way New Journalism.

The mainstream media scoffs at all of these innovations and that shouldn't surprise us - printed material was shunned by the nobility of the Middle Ages as well and look what happened to them.

The secret to making your life matter is to acknowledge that you matter, to talk about what's in your head and what's going on in your life and what you think about that. There is no right or wrong way to do that. Do it, say it, and send it to MfD.

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.

James Madison

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