Photo caption: Attendees of “Black and Brown Girls Write a New World,” a sci-fi writing workshop for women of color. Photo credit: Dani McClain.
Every year, about 1,600 people from all over North America converge in Detroit for the Allied Media Conference (AMC), an experiment in social organizing disguised as a conference on media and technology. Using a participatory model, the AMC is organized by over 60 coordinators, relying heavily on feedback from attendees to shape content and structure. This past June the AMC celebrated its 15th year.
I had been hearing about the AMC for years. Many of my activist friends of color got a glassy faraway look in their eye when they talked about their experiences there. Conferences rarely interested me, especially the political ones, even if they were as diverse and as radical as everyone raved about the AMC. Frankly, I didn’t want to spend an entire weekend in the Midwest bemoaning capitalism, heteropatriarchy, racism and all the other horrible things about our world — I could do all of that really well at home! (And besides, as a community-builder and healer, I work to build a more positive approach to social justice.) However, when I heard about the Healing Justice Gathering at the AMC, I shook off enough of my cynicism and went to check out all the hubbub.
Seven years ago, the AMC relocated from Ohio to Detroit, a city devastated by the collapse of the auto industry. Detroit has the highest percentage of African-Americans of any US city. As a country with an unstable economy and a majority-minority future, many see Detroit as our future. If there’s anywhere we may be able to see a glimpse of the future of media for people of color, the AMC in Detroit would be it.
The AMC brings together social justice activists, technologists, healers and educators for the goal of developing “media strategies for a more just and creative world.” The AMC defines media as whatever we use to communicate to the world. It is intentionally broad, which explains why there were workshops on zine and game creation, video-blogging, breakdancing and sexual relationships.
Fulfilling its hype of being diverse and politically radical, a vast majority of AMC participants were people of color, with a strong Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Inquiring (LGBTQI) and gender-nonconforming presence. Carrying all these identities, I felt right at home. But even more exciting was the fact that my primary identities as a healer and a spiritual person were just as celebrated at the AMC as my other more visible identities.
The day-long Healing Justice Network Gathering was one of seven Network Gatherings sponsored by the AMC in an effort to forge new relationships. “Healing justice” is an emerging framework that addresses the effects of intergenerational trauma and internalized oppression. Since I run Zenyu , an organization dedicated to the spiritual health of LGBTQI people of color, this is what drew me.
Healing justice integrates collective practices for healing into our social justice work. Transforming ourselves is the most important part of social change, a theme very present at the AMC. The gathering brought us face-to-face with healer-activists from all over North America in order to network, share skills, build on previous conversations around healing justice and build momentum for this emerging holistic framework.
This Network Gathering was just one example of the many radical spaces found at the AMC. Innovative and unique trainings as varied as “Artists Strategizing Against Gentrification” and “Erotic Breathing” were sprinkled throughout the massive conference manual. The themes of emergent strategies, collaboration, and transformation were present throughout. It felt like a laboratory of sorts, where each unique workshop looked at pressing problems and experimented with different ideas and practices.We focused on solutions, not problems.One highlight was a sci-fi writing workshop for women of color called “Brown and Black Girls Write a New World.” The workshop was based on the idea that social change agents are already sci-fi and speculative thinkers. It was exhilarating to be in a room full of women of color — all carrying complex
histories of violence and oppression —creatively envisioning radical, complex futures in which all have a home.
To our grandparents’ generation, our world today may seem like something from a sci-fi novel. Never before in the history of humanity have we been more connected or more isolated. Recent research has shown epidemic levels of loneliness permeating the Western world. As people of color, historically we have sustained strong communities in order to survive in a society bent on our oppression and annihilation. As we move without intention towards a future in which technology takes up bigger and bigger parts of our life, what will we lose?
We need spaces like the AMC that remind us that the most important media connects us to each other in meaningful ways, gives us opportunities to collectively dream new worlds and parallel possibilities. If the AMC is a harbinger for the future of media for people of color, then by all means, let’s go there.