Resilient Communities in Detroit: #AMC2017

For four days last week, visionaries, leaders, doers, technologists, and organizers met in Detroit to dream, demonstrate, and plan for what comes next. Responding to the sense of crisis and national fragmentation, attendees at the Allied Media Conference met in the spirit of hope, love, and resilience to build from where we are, with tracks on food, music, art, healing, and protecting and building our communities. Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, set the tone: “The movements of today and the movements of tomorrow have to commit to work that transforms us… we can go no other way than forward. We are not going back.” She spoke of building a movement that is inclusive, that bridges differences, that demonstrates hope in power and self-sufficiency.

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In this spirit, the Resilient Communities team brought a range of learnings and tools to the Allied Media Conference, drawing from our work with New York communities to build climate and digital justice. Director Greta Byrum co-organized a conference track called “Electric Dreams, Digital Futures,” along with New America Program Fellow Seeta Peña Gangadharan; Hannah Sassaman, Helyx Chase, and Di Luong from the Media Mobilizing Project; and Janice Gates from the Detroit Community Technology Project. RC team members Katherine Lee Ortiz and Raul Vincent Enriquez introduced and guided participants through the steps of assembling Portable Network Kits (PNKs) for communications self-sufficiency in emergencies. And Resilient Communities also participated in a meetup of Digital Stewards from New York and Detroit organized by the Red Hook Initiative.

Electric Dreams, Digital Futures

This track introduced frameworks, concepts, and tools to prepare us for the digital future we want to see.

Una Lee and Dann Toliver proposed a framework of informed consent to recalibrate the way we interact with technology. “Consentful technologies” go beyond opt-in and opt-out to inform users of all the ways that their personal information and profile may be used or collected when they interact with tech tools and platforms. Participants in “Power Not Paranoia” learned about the work of the Our Data Bodies project (*New America’s Gangadharan is a partner on this project), which helps underserved communities in Detroit, Charlotte, and Los Angeles gain control over how their data is collected and used. Diana Nucera of the Detroit Community Technology Project introduced the “Teaching Community Technology Handbook,” which provides concrete guidance for interactive and equitable tech learning models (*Resilient Communities has used this handbook to train our neighborhood Community Coordinators for our RISE: NYC project). And the “Developing Resilient Data Infrastructures,” “Electronic Health and Safety in the Borderlands” and “Insurgent Logistics: Taking Back Supply Chains” sessions introduced novel ways of re-thinking key segments of our technology infrastructure. “Rapid Response Media” and “Doing Data Justice” introduced approaches to interacting with hazardous or risky digital environments. Finally, a Digital Stewardship meetup led by the Red Hook Initiative brought together about 50 Digital Stewards graduates from 2012 through the present from local neighborhoods in Detroit and New York, who are now dreaming about new ways to build and leverage community-controlled broadband infrastructure — though, as one Steward remarked, “the communities and the relationships we build are more important than anything else we learn.”

Resilient Communities was also thrilled to bring representatives from three of our NYC partner neighborhoods to share our work in Detroit. Hunts Point Community Coordinator Yamil Lora joined Resilient Communities’ Raul Vincent Enriquez and Katherine Ortiz to present the Electric Dreams session “PNK,” a hands-on practice session which guided participants in assembling and using inexpensive, portable network kits to create local wireless access in emergencies. Participants were able to assemble and play with a PNK kit and walked away with a zine including a step-by-step guide for how to build and assemble your own PNK.

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Lora explained how a PNK could be used in a situation like Sandy in his neighborhood of the South Bronx. Meanwhile, Junor Barnett from Far Rockaway and Amir Elivert from Gowanus joined Diana Nucera’s “Teaching Community Technology” session to talk about how they have used Nucera’s popular education approach in their Resilient Networks teachings. Elivert reflected on his participation in the conference: “workshop leaders were resourceful and creative; participants – attentive and cooperative. The young people lifted AMC 2017 to a whole “nother” level. They swarmed around the campus and on public transport like Insect pollinators, spreading information and cheer, drawing approving smiles from everyone in their path.” He contrasted this experience positively with his impressions of Detroit’s rapidly gentrifying downtown, expressing appreciation for the community-building and organizing efforts of diverse conference attendees. The conference was also generative for new connections and partnerships: Barnett reflected that in addition to sharing his experience of training Digital Stewards in partnership with Resilient Communities using DCTP’s Teaching Community Technology methods, “over the course of three days I met and communicated with participants who shared their professional experiences and expressed interest in organizations collaboration.”

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Alongside the Electric Dreams track, Greta Byrum also worked with co-coordinators from the Media Mobilizing Project, the Allied Media Projects, and the Detroit Community Technology Project to bring together representatives from four US cities to discuss how municipalities are thinking about the digital rights of their residents. Participants discussed how cities and municipalities are taking on new roles in building healthy digital ecosystems despite risks presented by new technology and data-centered tools and practices that could harm or endanger vulnerable communities.

Grappling with the risks created by data collection, retention, and trade in personal information, one participant remarked, “in the same way that we must find a way to move from fossil fuels to renewables, we must find a fuel for our digital economy other than people’s personal, private information.” The discussion suggested innovative uses of municipal mechanisms and systems to establish different markets, economies, and regulatory practices, and how these might vary from place to place depending on the degree of autonomy a city has in relation to the state, county, or federal levels of government.

Across the sessions, practice spaces, and gatherings of the AMC, we found people working together in a generative and collaborative spirit to re-imagine systems: our economy, our communications, and energy systems, and the principles of value creation. We are grateful to everyone who joined us and shared their ideas, and to the Allied Media Projects for building a transformative space where we can dream of a more just, creative, and collaborative world.

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Author:

Greta Byrum is the director of the Resilient Communities program at New America. She reimagines the way we design, build, and manage communications systems to support local residents as leaders, organizers, and preparedness experts.