At Media Mobilizing Project, we always say movements begin with the telling of untold stories. Based in Philadelphia for 10 years, we’ve begun branching out into South Jersey — mainly Camden and Atlantic City — to build a broader community of grassroots leaders who can tell their own stories, and to amplify voices that aren’t being heard in local media.
Here’s how we’re applying our core principles of media-based organizing in the Garden State:
The first for us is to get a grounded understanding of a community’s problems, and of the community’s solutions to overcoming them. This is one of our core practices — listening to regular poor and working people who are doing good in their community — the unsung experts and unsung heroes.
In the past year, we’ve marched with immigrants fighting for the right to drive, we’ve gone to countless community town halls and city government meetings. Through old-fashioned relationship building, we found the organizers, artists, faith leaders, service providers, educators, and others on the front lines, we asked them to connect us to more grassroots leaders, and we sat down for dozens of one-on-one conversations.
From this process we learned a few things: Just like Philadelphia, South Jersey is full of brilliant individuals working for change in their communities whose voices never make it onto the local news.
In order to lift up the stories of unheard communities, we launched NJ Platform this spring. NJ Platform is an online place to speak out on the key issues impacting the lives of working people in Atlantic City and Camden. We’re looking for guest bloggers who want to contribute to the conversation.
Perhaps the biggest story happening right now in South Jersey is the impending state takeover of Atlantic City. As negotiations unfold, the decisions made will impact the lives of thousands of local residents. Privatizing the city’s water supply is one cost-cutting measures that’s been proposed, despite the cautionary tale that Flint, Michigan provides for the country.
In the midst of the negotiations and ongoing uncertainty about AC’s future, we set out to amplify the voices of long-time residents involved in community work. Here’s just one of the many brilliant people we’ve met — the people who should be listened to — AC artist and local resident Belinda Manning talking about who should be taken into account in the ongoing negotiations over her city’s fiscal future.
Educate & Network:
We know that change only happens when people learn and work together, and communities have the chance to break their isolation. That’s why we bring the connections we make back to the community, creating spaces for people to network and to learn from each other.
At our Media Institutes, we share the best practices we’ve learned about how to use storytelling and media technologies for social change. We also make space to learn from participants, the community of storytellers and activists we are building together.
Here’s what participants in our last Media Institute outside Atlantic City had to say about the experience:
- “It’s great to learn what other community members are doing to empower their communities”
- “It was very useful for an intro to storytelling — and for building trust and shared skills in community”
- “The diversity among participants created an opportunity to hear a variety of views and opinions”
The relationship building, education and networking we’ve done so far is a foundation for more storytelling projects to come.
Stay tuned for an upcoming short documentary about the community behind a recent production of the play “Growing up in the other Atlantic City,” tracing the past and present of AC’s African American community through the stories of the play’s actors.
Milena Velis is Media Production Director at Media Mobilizing Project. Milena trains and supports MMP movement media makers, and coordinates the production of MMP news reports, documentary projects, and other media telling the untold stories of everyday people building a movement for our human rights. To learn more about Media Mobilizing Project’s NJ
Photo at top: Participants at our Atlantic City Media Institute discuss media and communications strategies for grassroots social change.