WHAT IS CIVIC MEDIA?
Echoing other fellows, archivist and producer Martha Diaz stated that “civic media is about how we use media to activate the community. And it’s not necessarily citizens — it could be people who are not citizens. It’s just humanity.” Her point reflects a tension that some fellows identified with the word ‘civic.’
Visual artist, archivist, and DJ Arshia Haq expressed concern about the term’s close linguistic associations with historically exclusionary terms:
I have personally, an automatic reaction to it because civic is tied to so many other words with roots that are tied to exclusion, like the idea of being a ‘citizen,’ or ‘civilization,’ which was used as a way to subjugate a whole half of the world through colonization. So I have a little bit of a reaction to just something starting with that particular root. And I’m a believer in the importance of language – not to obsess with it, but I think it does frame and influence us in subtle ways.
Reflecting on his personal relationship to the term ‘civic,’ filmmaker and community organizer Set Hernandez Rongkilyo said:
It’s a term that I often don’t associate myself with. Especially as an undocumented person who is not a citizen of this country. [For] the country of which I am a citizen, I don’t have a strong sense of belonging there, because I haven’t been to the Philippines since I was 12. I’ve lived here longer. But I can’t vote here. I can vote in the Philippines through an international ballot. But this idea of civics often operates under this lens of elections, electoral politics, and politics in general.
In contrast to this perception of common associations related to ‘civic,’ most fellows emphasize that they see civic media as moving beyond a focus on electoral politics. Amber, for instance, who has worked on electoral campaigns and voter registration drives, nevertheless said: “I'm trying to get people to see change outside of a ballot box. That it is something that you can constantly be doing.”
Similarly, Jackson acknowledged that civic media can overlap with ‘big P’ politics but can also be much more:
Some of the other fellows were talking about the idea of civics being more about supporting community. Like by community for community, and not having anything to do necessarily with government. And I really like that understanding of just community showing up for each other. And yes, sometimes that has overlapped with or intersects with government things like getting out the vote, or showing up to townhall meetings and fighting for whatever your community needs. But it’s rooted in that ‘by community, for community.’
Several fellows pointed out that civic media can take place in any type of space, and often disrupts established notions of where politics happen and what politics look like. Arshia — who hosts a club night called Discostan as a space for music and pop culture from Southwest Asia and North Africa — reflected:
For me, [civic media] is a lot about things that happen in fluid spaces and places where multiple things can happen at once. So informal settings like the club or social gatherings, I think, are actually really potent and rich sites for activism, for organization, for political statements, for a lot of things that happen in liminal ways. And so to me that’s the kind of space that I’m interested in. It’s more informal spaces and accidental spaces, and multiple conversations and convergences at once.
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