IMC and Underserved Communities

Discussion on what IMC can and needs to do to improve outreach to underserved communities.
affiliate: ATX IMC

-- AaronCouch - 16 Feb 2005

I can document this (audio). -- SteeV (portland IMC) - 17 Feb 2005

Notes from session

IMC and Underserved Communities Saturday 5.30-7 pm

Workshop In pairs, one person has to describe to the other a picture only they can see (which is drawn on the board). Then they swap. The first picture is familiar, a house on a hill, the second abstract curly patterns.

Comments from the group on how it felt: you need common references, you need the same language, you need to be clear in explaining yourself and see that what you assume/say is not necessarily how other people see things.

Coyuntura- conjuncture. From popular education, a way of learning that is not lecture style that works form experience and collectively articulated ideas and experience.

Simon- Agenda Language, Austin IMC\x92s outreach in community and Youth Liberation Network (YLN).

Empowerment/Empowering Power a very dangerous word when it is defined, especially when it comes from privilege. It can be a very negative word in terms of handing down power. But it can also mean working with others to help them exercise power. Like the Zapatistas- you cannot take power you need to exercise power. Which is why they chose the word contribute to the self-empowerment of underserved communities.

What is a good word to talk about the communities? Marginalized, under-represented, mis-represented, under-served\x85.

Sustainability A problematic term also- cooptation of word. In Chiapas, there is a front NGO called Conservation International funded by Monsanto, who pretend to preserve the land. And the way you do that, according to them, is by displacing the indigenous people who have lived and stewarded the land for thousands of years. That is the most obscene way of using the term. A more common way for us here, is to think that having solar power or recycling etc is all you need to do for sustainability. When in fact the people who really need sustainable development are being left out. So an alternative term is autonomous development. In Austin, in the poorest community, a beautiful eco- housing project is being built for the rich thereby displacing the people who lived there.

How I started in IMC\x85was a punk ass kid getting in trouble, who decided to go and hang out with the Zapatistas, where there are more anthropologists than indigenous people. In Mexico City I met people at the autonomous university who occupied the university for 11 months and some parts of which are still autonomous. It\x92s a university of 250,000 students. We went there to try and see how they could contribute to the Zapatista movement. And were told that everyone was going to Oaxaca instead because no one was going there and things were getting bad. And so they asked us- what can you do? How can you help us? And we said well, what do you need us to do? What can we help with?

They said they wanted us to be human shields in a take over of the law school- if we were there with our video cameras they couldn\x92t hurt everyone. What was going on was urban paramilitarism, in which the Mexican government would employ students to attack the activists. In the last years they have gotten more violent and in the last two years they killed a student and cut her up and left her jewelry in the chemistry lab. Another person was killed for doing fair trade coffee work.

We learned there about regional paramilitarism. Two definitions- for ex, in Miami where there are armed police. Versus, what is happening in Mexico where civilian communities are armed and killing people within their communities. Mexico is right in the middle of the violence of occupation from gentrification in the US to military occupations in Iraq and other places. It\x92s the same economic and political forces doing this around the world. In Mexico, it\x92s the indigenous people who are being occupied.

Mexico should be the prime example of neo-liberalism, being placed right next to the US. And instead it is the example of the failure of neo-liberalism and all its lies. That\x92s how I got into IMC, I went there with a video camera and I documented it, the murders, torture and rape of people. So what I decided was how am I going to get people to hear about this? And my only option was to use Indymedia. I could send letters to the New York Times or Amnesty and nothing would happen.

When I was there last there had been a massacre and another community had been accused of carrying it out, which they hadn\x92t, it was the paramilitaries. And so we acted as human shields for these people and we sent it out on Indymedia and we got a lot of attention around the world, and we got enough hype that eventually people started paying attention and Amnesty also got involved. Now there is another situation there and you can read about that more on the website.

Vincent Tovar- IMC Austin community work 5th grade teacher in Saint John Community which is a neglected community. Was one of the first African American communities in Austin and now it\x92s about 70-80 percent Latino, and there\x92s a lot of racial tension because of that. And it\x92s hard for African Americans to understand why you would kill a pig in the backyard. I am a part of that community because I interned at the elementary school for a year, and I was invited to stay there by parents and students. And that is how I am there as a human rights observer, because I have been invited. And a lot of that comes from humility, and that\x92s something we all have to learn, and the politics of listening can be really hard, because a lot of times, people will put you in your place and tell you stuff you don\x92t\x92 want to hear\x85 so I decided if I am going to work in this school and really be part of this community, I need to live there, so I do, I live across the street. And so I get to see what goes on with my students, I hear the Bull Frogs, the yelling. What I want to do in my classroom is community research projects, where students walk around and share their concerns.

And their main concern was the Creek, which is filthy and really polluted. So we decided to organize a clean-up. And this is their project, I am assisting them with what they want to do. And at the same time, a way to work with the community in the Zapatista way, as they say, One No many Yesses. We put together Buttermilk Creek Documentary about what it used to be like, how people used to go fishing, and we screened it in the school, at Monkey Wrench\x85And in this you can really see people empowering themselves and doing what they want to do, and I was just helping them out. And at the same time, it was a way to say fuck racial tension, this is a creek, and we can come together around this. And we are having a block party and more clean-ups. So thanks to IMC in what we\x92re doing and helping us make sure we\x92re dynamic and doing what we can come as a collective to decide together to do.

Workshop We split into 4 groups to list 7 problems in community outreach.

Group 1

This based on the assumption that the Indymedia is being started from outside the community

Resources- both the organizers\x92 and the community

Language gaps

Cultural differences

Class/power issues

Unity/fragmentation in the community/politics

Lack of motivation/Accessibility

Group 2

Idea that we are outreaching for ourselves

Cultural differences

That outreach is not a priority and often last minute

Community apathy

White man\x92s burden- cultural imperialism

The idea that we have to outreach at all is symptomatic of a failure of the media system

Language barriers

Research as often drop in and drop out, communities feel exploited by researchers who come in for theory building instead of leaving behind tangible products.

Stereotypes, of anarchists and the community

Group 3

Communication obstacles

Privilege- experience of losing it or rejecting it


Trust and a lack


Charitable do-gooder mentality

Leadership- rather than going in and taking leadership, working with people there


Social segregation

Group 4

Relationship building


Comfort levels, listening

Language and culture

Clarification of intent- the issues you want to deal with might not be those that the people want to work on

Making assumptions\x97both sides

Preparation- self-training, choosing the right tactics that would be effective in the setting.

∑ Deanne: upset that all of us couldn\x92t come up with better terms, some of them are the same stereotypes we hear on the media. For example, lack of motivation or finding leaders- there are always leaders you just need to find them.

∑ Vincent: A lot of times we don\x92t want to make assumptions that everyone here knows what\x92s on the board. A lot of things can be very specific- I go into a lot of community meetings, and there is apathy, but it means many different things; how people feel about day laborers\x85

∑ You have to define what you mean by community. I can say coming from a disadvantaged community- you go into the community, you live in the community, to understand what they want.

∑ Part of the really valid concerns that we are addressing is, this room has many people of color in it, I am half Palestinian and from Ohio\x85and there are people of color in this room and our white allies, and many people do use this word \x91community\x92, and it can get used and become very empty, we don\x92t know what we mean by it and I wish that we had had space at this conference to talk about that.

∑ One thing that I worry about as a white person coming from a white punk rock community, is we want to do outreach and work with disadvantaged communities, but we don\x92t have our shit together, I don\x92t think we could do it well and keep it together. So that\x92 s a problem we need to address, and until we have it together and are solid enough, I am not going to do that outreach.

∑ I think they both make really good points about not defining communities exclusively. I am from Las Vegas and there is apathy there, and that is a fact, and they are both assuming that when I say apathy, they assume I am talking about a disadvantaged community.

∑ I am wondering what the tensions are between this idea of outreach and DIY culture- then yes, do it yourself, so I don\x92t see exactly the tensions.

∑ Each community is different and you need to find us and ask us. That\x92s where apathy comes in, you need to find the leaders, but there are many others who are apathetic who need to be motivated. And so hopefully we can go back and be motivated and motivate others.

∑ I think it\x92s very difficult for some communities to just do it yourself because you have to recognize the historical colonization that\x92s gone on which makes it impossible for some people to just do it themselves, it makes it impossible at the moment. And the other comment is how do we do this to not end up separating communities.

∑ I hate the word outreach I\x92m from an Evangelical Christian background\x85often there is an assumption that the activist community is a privileged one\x85let\x92s say even the revolutionary community, that it\x92s all white men, and that\x92s jus not true\x85there\x92s a lot of diversity and a lot of diversity of resources\x85and then there\x92s the reality of white privileged people, and we confuse these things, because if I recognize my privilege, I need to not confuse that with the idea that I have the right vision and path\x85instead of I have things I don\x92t deserve and I have to constantly give them back. But at the same time, we are also revolutionaries who are trying to make change.

∑ I know there was very careful wording for this workshop an I appreciate that\x85I am a union member and I live in a pretty nice area, most of my friends are white, live well, these people are the enablers, they in many senses enable capitalism, and I want to say that we shouldn\x92t forget them, there\x92s an incredible amount of ignorance amongst them and we shouldn\x92t only focus on those without privilege.

∑ I think this is about the difference between activism and organizing- Activism is about issues and organizing about people. And people don\x92t\x92 always know their interests and you as an organizer have to help people know their interests and that takes time and skill. People of color is a word that gets thrown around and really doesn\x92t mean anything, there are diverse communities.

∑ I wanted to ask people who we make the distinction outside of our group that we are not non-profits, not charities, because this country is built on that idea of going out and civilizing people, and so people resent that when non-profits go out into communities with their pre-structured programs, you need to figure out a way to not do that, and to work on what they want to work on and help them empower themselves.

∑ As a white able bodied male I am very familiar with the privileges I have, but how do you talk to people who are good people but who are ignorant, maybe willfully ignorant of wars and torture and so on. I am not optimistic about this.

∑ There was a journalist from India who was talking Thursday night at the university about the money that is going into reducing malaria in India, that is going to poor people in India to give them mosquito nets when they don\x92t have beds. And that is just a prime example of this. So you need to go in with skills as Simon did.

Causes of these problems for outreach?

Whole Group:






Mainstream media


Lack of Communication


∑ Someone says: can we be more specific about what this means? ∑ Many of us know what these mean but we don\x92t have the language to talk about it. I think the root of a lot of this is, that people who consider themselves organizers and revolutionaries don\x92t take the time to understand the social context, what it means, they have a play station mentality about it.

Repression- by the state

Internalized repression

Interpersonal communication skills-


Diversions- we have a culture that diverts our attention away from our problems



The Man

Arrogance and condescension

Lack of foresight and patience

Education, the school system

Concentration of resources especially technology- for example trying to hook up one kid in the neighborhood with an expensive computer instead of giving all of them crappy ones





∑ Very hard as we so rarely hear positive things and good news ∑ To remind ourselves that we all have these lofty goals but that we\x92re all here together and this community here doesn\x92t have apathy, we are the change just being here together. ∑ Saskia: Learning from people who have done this work before, we don\x92t\x92 need to reinvent the wheel, it\x92s kind of arrogant to go in and assume that its never been done before. ∑ It is useful to hear positive stories of things that have worked. ∑ Simon: to me, lack of patience is probably the hardest one, that people want things to happen quickly. On a positive side, Austin IMC has this community program, and people say well how many kids do you have? And we have two kids, and people say well, that\x92s not a program, but I want to spend time with these two kids for a year, instead of pumping them out like pancakes.

∑ A lot of time we avoid conflict, which is why I appreciate this workshop. And we don\x92t\x92 often enough engage in self-critique. Listening is a major technique. ∑ Because we\x92re here and we are people who have hearts and want to change things, it\x92s so easy to be negative, for example, Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sign of progress, years ago we would never have had that. ∑ Deanne: how is that? I think that it relates to what she was saying which is that we need to take the time to go back into history and look at what has happened in the past in out communities and see what was already there. Documentaries have been made forever. ∑ One of the problems and maybe it\x92s a cause, is the lack of fulfillment from doing community outreach- we live in a culture that strongly reinforces instant gratification, and with this work, you are not going to see the fruits instantly. I for one believe in the butterfly effect, so if you talk to a person at a bus stop, or a co-worker and just raise their consciousness a bit, you never know what the results of that will be. And I think that for many things, whether they are mainstream or grassroots, we need to remember the butterfly effect of things.

∑ It\x92s tough to be the last one\x85often times being conscious of what\x92s going on in the world makes you sad, and I often find myself feeling sad or angry and depressed. And so it can be very hard to be happy and experience joy, and I think the project of capitalism is to keep us in this kind of mode of depression and anger\x85so I think we need to also try and find a way to be happy, I made documentaries about Pacifica stations where they succeeded. It is part of the project to keep these victories quiet, so we need to tell these stories. ∑ Third part of the workshop is solutions; but we are all here and I think we\x92re all building and it\x92s going to happen naturally.

Topic revision: r6 - 21 Feb 2005, JeffLazar
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