Poor News Network Revolutionary Radio and TV
by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, Daughter of Dee
“Mama, will I ever see you again?” whispered a child in the hills of San Marcos, Guatemala.
“Without child care we won’t be able to keep our jobs,” said a mama of three struggling to support her children in Oakland.
“We don’t work with Indians,” a San Francisco Housing Authority worker yelled at an indigenous elder in San Francisco.
These are the voices of survival radio – keep-our-media-access-or-we-will-die radio, keep-us-on-the-air-or-we-won’t-stay-alive radio. Up from the streets, shelters, jails, borders, hip hop beats, youth and elders teach indigenous-people-led thrival radio.
These are the voices of Poor News Network (PNN) radio and PNN-TV, a revolution of media access by any means necessary. Radio, video and stories written, produced and edited by migrante workers in poverty, indigenous elders struggling to keep their land and homes, young folks of color being criminalized for the sole act of being young and of color, African peoples resisting profiling and police murder, mamas and daddies struggling with the myths of the budget cuts and the edges of false borders. Radio, video and written journalism launched by a houseless, landless indigenous disabled single mama of color and her daughter, me.
Taking back our voices
“You and your mother are trash.” Without looking at us, our West Oakland landlord of two years mumbled his opinion of me and my mama, while throwing an eviction notice in our face. After he dropped the papers, he walked down the narrow pathway from our ex-home to the street. At least he didn’t throw me up against the wall like the two previous landlords had done.
After living through three illegal Oakland evictions in a row, I had written a story about our struggle to get and stay housed in dot-com era Oakland. I sent the story to two East Bay media outlets and two “independent radio broadcasts.” All of them said different variations on “This isn’t news; this happens every day in the U.S.”
“How long have you and your mother lived in your vehicle?” A strange amplified voice seeped into the tape covered rear window of our car. It was followed by a threatening, glass shattering knock on the remaining glass of our window.
It was a knock that always meant police. And yet the voice didn’t fit the knock. I looked up from my crouched frozen position on the frayed vinyl seats of our old Ford Fairmont, only to find a small framed white woman with a large padded microphone in front of her.
She was standing next to a tall police officer who glared down at me while she maintained a seemingly harmless smile. After multiple gentrification and poverty inspired evictions, my mama and I ended up living in and out of our broke-down hooptie for the duration of my childhood and teenage years in the Bay Area, facing criminalization and profiling and eventual incarceration for the act of being homeless in Amerikkka.
“Tell them to get the f*** out of here,” my mother said, slapping the back of my head to get me to move. It was barely light on a cold Saturday morning in Oakland. I quickly brushed myself off and came out of the car, still wearing two blankets on top of my clothes.
When I got outside the car, I found out the seemingly nice lady was a reporter doing a story on families living in their cars. To do this report she felt it necessary to travel with the Oakland Police Department. The first thing I told her was that my mother and I were not OK with being recorded or having our pictures used for a story. After I spoke to her, the police officer reminded me that it was illegal to park overnight in the city of Oakland but that he was letting me off “this time.”
The following week we were one of five families pictured in an “exposé” on people sleeping in their cars, billed as “Crimes of the Underground.”
Since the inception of media production and academic research, people with race, class or economic privilege have received thousands of dollars from places like the Ford Foundation, one philanthropic organization of many that exist in the U.S. with roots in the genocide and slavery and stolen wealth of poor and indigenous peoples as well as pure race science like eugenics, to create elaborate filters through which the voices of poor people of color can be “heard.”
From research fellowships and ethnographic documentaries to anthropological surveys and studies, our voices are fetishized, deconstructed, studied and discussed. We are spoken to and talked about, and we only “have a voice” if our documenters deem it important to the goals and outcomes of their projects or our voices’ inclusion is required by the grant guidelines.
We don’t need to be ‘given a voice’
To be perfectly clear, we don’t need to be “given” a voice. We have a voice, millions of multi-lingual, multi-generational, beautiful, complex, loud, expressive, angry, intelligent, powerful, amazing voices, speaking in thousands of unrecognized dialects, unheard poems, unrecorded songs and street-based beats.
What we don’t have is our own radio transmitters, television and radio broadcasts, TV stations, dominant languages, libraries, publishing companies, digital access and servers. Or as my sister in revolutionary media partnership at the Bay View, Mary Ratcliff, so eloquently put it, “People know of some censored stories through the powerful Project Censored out of Sonoma State University, but PNN is the voices of people who are never heard.” Her comment spurred me on to create a new ironic remix for the voices of us poor folks: Project Silenced.
Media equity sharing
So how are the voices of poor mamas, migrante workers, youth of color in poverty, incarcerated peoples, disabled peoples truly heard, with our own stories, our own authorship, within a dominant society that actively works to silence us. This is the revolution that is Poor News Network, the Bay View newspaper, the Block Report and other truly revolutionary, community located, poor people-run media and art projects.
It is accomplished at POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE and PNN through a complex web of poor people-led education, organizing, consciousness growing and decolonizing about the myths of linguistic dominance (deconstructing literacy etc.) in media, education and art. As well, it includes the sharing of media and resource access, which are quantifiable forms of equity, by people with institutional access, such as the web designers who volunteered to help POOR Magazine, lost in digital apartheid for 13 years, into our new 2.0 digital home at www.poormagazine.org, with skills and tools that are inherent in the lives of people not worrying about when and where their next meal is coming from.
PNN Revolutionary Radio
In 1999, my mother and I walked tentatively into the KPFA radio building to begin a broadcast that was originally slated for once a week, forged from the KPFA protests of that year, with the goal of being inserted into the very clean, very NPR-ish Morning Show at KPFA,
From that first day in the station, we began pushing the limits of media inclusion and resisting media exclusion with stories written, produced and reported by folks living in shelters, working in low-wage or no-wage day labor, incarcerated and profiled African peoples, people with disabilities, poor mothers and fathers on welfare, youth of color in poverty and resistance and on and on. We honored our removed and displaced ancestors and elders, our houseless and poverty scholars and consistently reported and supported on our comrades in struggle.
We were constantly told we were including “too much Spanish” from our Voces de inmigrantes en resistencia reporters. “Your reporters don’t speak right” or “They’re too inexperienced,” we were told – because they struggled with “literacy problems,” learning disabilities or differently-abled speech patterns.
Me and my Mama Dee, Joseph Bolden, Ingrid Deleon, Marlon Crump, Ken M, Leroy Moore and the Krip Hop Nation, Silencio Muteado, Queenandi, Bruce Allison, Ruyata Akio McGlothlin, Vivian Hain, Jewnbug, Tony Robles and many more poverty, disability, race and indigenous scholars continued walking into that building, remembering it wasn’t about how bad they made us feel, but rather that this one channel of media access must remain open, by any means necessary.
“With the widening gap of the haves and have-nots, digital apartheid is an everyday reality that PNN is struggling against. It is media at its purest and the closest representation of what media is supposed to be,” said Tony Robles, revolutuionary worker scholar and co-editor of POOR Magazine
For Mama Radio
In 2006, my African-Boricua indigenous, ghetto fabulous mama passed on her spirit journey. Two hours before she left this plain, she was writing a short commentary about a small homeless puppy who had happily been living with a houseless guy in his shopping cart in Oakland until he was adopted (read: taken) by a “kind” yuppie who took pity on the homeless dog, but then eventually became annoyed by the puppy and gave him up to the SPCA. “I know they are going to try to edit this part out,” my mama chuckled with her hilarious sense of irony that got us through all of the bad times we lived through together.
She was certain that the revelation of the myths of the well-intentioned is sometimes too hard for well-intentioned academic researchers and middle-class producers of radio and media to hear, “so let’s get ready for a fight,” she concluded.
In 2011, our voices are in more struggle than ever, for housing, healthcare, non-existent jobs, against racism, profiling, police terror and criminalization in Amerikkka, for unseen art, unheard music, constant resistance and a poor people revolution created by the poor people who experience it first-hand.
Tune in to Poor News Network radio and PNN-TV for the truth voices, the peoples voice’s – published-weekly-experienced-daily-to-stay-alive voices.
The fight continues, mama.
Tiny – or Lisa Gray-Garcia – daughter of Dee, is the consummate organizer and co-founder with her mother of POOR Magazine and its many offspring and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America,” published by City Lights. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.tinygraygarcia.com and www.racepovertymediajustice.org.