Public access – The idea, the potential, the stories

Who tells the stories of a culture really governs human behavior. It used to be the parent, the school, the church, the community. Now it’s a handful of global conglomerates that have nothing to tell,  but a great deal to sell

In these few words journalist George Gerbner artfully summed up the vision of public access television.   His was a vision shared by many who have played a role in realizing that mission over the past four decades. The very idea of public access spoke to early advocates’ commitment to the social potential of cable television.

The pre-history of public access goes back to the late 1960’s, a time when cable usually meant a system that delivered broadcast television to communities beyond the reach of the broadcast signal. In 1969 the FCC ruled that “no CATV system having 3,500 or more subscribers shall carry the signal of any television broadcast station unless the system also operates to a significant extent as a local outlet by cablecasting and has available facilities for local production and presentation of programs other than automated services.” Though that rule was rescinded two years later, the idea of local programming endured in ensuing FCC rule making.

The original premises on which early decisions about cable rest underlie most of the tensions that have now erupted. First is the implicit assumption that the spectrum belongs to the people and that the FCC is responsible for regulating the people’s radio waves as a common carrier. (I remember my naïve dark ages discovery that my revolutionary microwave oven was authorized by the FCC.)

Also informing early FCC action is the fact that cable television, unlike phone, gas and electricity, is not an essential service. Thus policy-makers concluded that the for-profit cable operators should be required to provide benefits to the local communities in which they were laying their cables. In a breakthrough ruling the FCC mandated that “beginning in 1972, new cable systems [and after 1977, all cable systems] in the 100 television markets be required to provide channels for government, for educational purposes, and more importantly, for public access.

These public access channels were grouped as “PEG” channels while public access was interpreted to include the presumption that the corporate franchisee would support equipment and airtime for basically unlimited access. And therein lay some early tests of the concept of free speech….

The first public access community access television launched in 1968 in Dale City Virginia; in 1970 Stoughton, Wisconsin followed with WSTO TV. On the national scene, Fred Friendly, head of the Cable TV and Cable Commission, recommended a leased-access plan for public use that was later abandoned. A key figure at this juncture was filmmaker George Stoney about whom local filmmaker Mike Hazard has produced an informative and inspiring documentary. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZowiCZKzvo)

Public access advocates may have underestimated the ensuing conflicts. Prospering access agencies focused on assuring channel access, building a local volunteer board, good programming and audience development.   At the same time many community local cable owners struggled to keep the tower operating – at least for the Sunday football game.

Somewhat in the background, a cataclysmic change inside the Beltway changed the rules. In 1979 the Supreme Court struck down the FCC public access rule, declaring that the FCC had no authority to mandate access. The Court rejected the common carrier argument, ruling instead that cable companies were private persons under the law and that public access requirements were a burden on their conglomerates’ free speech rights.

The Court ruled that the right to regulate cable rests with the U.S. Congress – the quiet beginning a still unfolding narrative….

In spite of broad support for PEG from the access advocacy community, Congress exercised its authority by passing the Cable Communications Act of 1984. Public access took a blow with passage of the 1984 Cable Franchise Act, which declared that “a franchising authority may require channel capacity for pubic, education or government use. This restrictive measure was mitigated in part by the Cable Communications Act of 1984 which barred cable operators from exercising editorial control over content of programs carried on PEG channels; the legislation also indemnified cable operators from liability for the content.

In the early days of public access, corporate interests that coveted the cable channels were willing and able to pay the price, while city authorities that exercised authority over the franchise were able to make demands on franchisees. Mature public access cable systems built studios, hired staff, trained volunteer crews and established their unique role. Advocacy, good government, community action, cultural groups, academic institutions and other public interest groups took advantage of the opportunities to tell their stories and to engage the public.

Over time, the seeds of media deregulation, sowed in the 1990’s, bore bitter fruit in the new century as corporate interests in control of the spectrum began to impinge on public access. With an ever-expanding range of media options – coupled with intense pressure at the federal level, public access channels became increasingly vulnerable to city officials’ willingness to capitulate to conglomerates. Opinions differ on the basic question of whether new technologies will inevitably render public access obsolete or if public access is the vehicle to expand local production and engage more individuals and institutions in the democratic process.

With the passage of time public access has assumed a wide range of profiles. Local development is dependent on the engagement of the public and the inclination of local officials to recognize and support public access in franchise agreements. In the Twin Cities area a number of municipalities and groups of cities have issued franchises that include relatively substantial PEG support.

Statewide the profile of public access development is uneven, heavily dependent on local political realities. As of 2015 these public access television channels are extant in Minnesota: (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_public-access_TV_stations_in_the_United_States_(Louisiana–Montana)&action=edit&section=6)

The Twin Cities boasts of a unique manifestation of collaborative efforts among advocates, local government and independent franchising authorities. Metro Cable Network Channel 6 is a must-carry on each of the local cable systems – prospective users have yet to capitalize on the potential.

As the politics of media regulation, including rules governing public access, garner headlines, it is important to note the ways in which individuals and organizations that hold to the “idea” of access are adapting and adopting enhancing technologies. PEG organizations are maximizing the potential of cable to distribute and repurpose in creative new ways. Collaborative partnerships are forging to achieve common goals. Access systems are experimenting, retooling, reimagining their tools, but not their role as the medium for an informed and engaged demography.

Those pioneers who pursued the idea of public access, and persisted to protect the people’s rights to speak and to know, have stories to tell – of triumphs, of wars with conglomerates with “a great deal to sell”, of technology that has erupted with lightning speed and of their efforts to give voice to those who have stories to tell.

Bloodied but unbowed, these hardy folks will soon gather locally to recall their stories. Volunteers are organizing an informal reunion set for Sunday, September 27, Noon – 3:00 at the Northeast home of the Minneapolis Television Network in the Thorp Building, 820 18th Avenue NE., Minneapolis, MN. The idea is to share stories and to affirm the original commitment to a vision. The story of public access television is a relatively short story in which technology and democracy have come to crossroads at many junctures. The event is open to anyone who has a story to tell, a memory, a plan, or just a commitment to the idea of public access television, the vision of a media in the hands of those who have something to say, not just something to sell.

Contact Larry Johnson, larryjvfp@gmail.com or 612-747-3904.

 

 

Featuring Fun Food for the Mind at the Fair

The Snelling Avenue Bridge is re-opened – a good sign that the Great Minnesota Get Together must be nigh. As always, the state’s highways and by-ways are at the ready for action – in fact, they are already teeming with vendors, exhibitors, builders, chefs, entertainers, transit drivers and others converging on the Fairgrounds to do what needs to be done to ensure that all is in readiness for Thursday, August 27, when the gates open!

Liberal arts majors and their progeny may want to take note of some Fair favorites that are long on bargain, short on deep fried edibles.

Representatives of the Minnesota Historical Society are a visible and audible presence all week. They’re performing at the Schilling Amphitheater with their popular “History-on-a-Schtick!” vaudeville show. Or orient yourself to the fairgrounds with a cell phone walking tour around the grounds. Listen to fascinating stories of Minnesota State Fair history while you learn about the buildings and the stories those walls can tell. MHS also sponsors a booth in the Education Building where visitors can learn about the organization’s resources, the statewide network and outreach activities.

Wednesday, September 2, is library day at the Fair. The first treat of “Read&Ride Day” comes at the gate when public library cardholders will get discounted admission. From 9:00-5:00 Carousel Park will be abuzz with activities for every age, including yoyo tricks, magic, hypnotism, old-time and bluegrass music. For young readers and reader wanabes there are muscle and brain-building activities, picture books, a scavenger hunt, bookmarks and more. Visitors who show their library card will get a deck of “Get Carded: Make your next stop the library” playing cards.

Rain Taxi will join the September 2 reading bonanza with a full schedule of events, starting at 9:00 with the chance to write a short “good morning poem” using impromptu exercises with poet John Colburn. At 10:30 Moorhead teacher Kevin Carollo will craft cardboard animals, while poet Paula Cisewski will write an on-the-spot poem based on the requester’s Tarot cards.

Also from Rain Taxi, from 1:00-2:00 Minnesota hip-hop writer and performer Dessa will sign copies of her Rain Taxi chapbook, A Pound of Steam. From 2:00–3:30 poet-troubadour Brian Laidlaw will lead a drop-in songwriting workshop. And from 3:30-5:00 graphic novelist and comics professor Ursula Murray Husted will create a gigantic collaborative comic – fun for all ages.

** Public Library Day is funded by the Minnesota Legacy Fund.

P.S. Just as I polished off this post the latest news from Minitex popped up – featuring a tempting smorgasbord of top ten fun things to do at the Fair. https://news.minitex.umn.edu/news/library-news/top-10-things-do-state-fair-read-ride-day.  Click and learn!

 

A Mix of Modes for Commemorating Women’s Equality Day

When Representative Bela Abzug introduced the bill designating August 26 as Women’s Equality Day in 1971 the emphasis was on equal opportunities for women in employment, education, childcare – and the focus was on women in the U.S.  In the four decades since the first Women’s Equality Day many American women have made progress – for many women the struggle continues.

A quick search locates an array of resource materials on the topic and on the day itself. One of the most robust is http://creativefolk.com/equalityday.html, a commercial site on which sponsored have gathered a wide range of relevant materials, music, books, videos and links to key players.

To an extent, the movement for women’s equity has expanded its focus to reflect and incorporate more global concerns. These data from US Aid express the urgency of embracing the needs of all women in the movement:

Around the world 62 million girls are not in school. Globally, 1 in 3 women will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. In the developing world, 1 in 7 girls is married before her 15th birthday, with some child brides as young as 8 or 9. Each year more than 287,000 women, 99 percent of them in developing countries, die from pregnancy- and childbirth-related complications.

While women make up more than 40 percent of the agriculture labor force only 3 to 20 percent are landholders. In Africa, women-owned enterprises make up as little as 10 percent of all businesses. In South Asia, that number is only 3 percent. And despite representing half the global population, women compromise less than 20 percent of the world’s legislators.

Putting women and girls on equal footing with men and boys has the power to transform every sector in which we work. (https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/gender-equality-and-womens-empowerment)

It is with this perspective that women will gather on August 26 to commemorate the significance of the day and the movement.

Minnesota activists, representing ERAMN, will be marching in Washington, DC in support of ratification of the ERA. The four-mile march will be capped with a press conference and rally on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. (http://www.eramn.org/home/press-release-minnesota-activists-join-era-march-in-dc-on-womens-equality-day)

Closer to home, the Minnesota Women’s Consortium will host a Women’s Equality Day gathering from 4:00-5:30 in the Women’s Suffrage Memorial Garden on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol. Theme of the event is “Pivoting Towards Equity: A Women’s Equality Day Conversation.” State Senator Sandy Pappas, State Representative Rena Mora and Sia Her, ED of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans will discuss how to incorporate ideas of equity into the movement for women’s equality. [NOTE: The thoughtful presentation will be topped off with complimentary ice cream sundaes, courtesy of “feminist-friendly” local business Dar’s Double Scoop — a destination landmark on North Rice Street in St. Paul.]

Members of the National Organization of Women (http://www.mnnow.org) and guests will be celebrating with a Women’s Equality Day happy hour, 5:00-7:00 p.m. at Honey, 205 East Hennepin in Minneapolis.

If you can’t participate in any of these public events, take time to reflect on the words and thoughts of some noted women writers, selected for just this occasion by the editors of Mental Floss – a little of everyone, from Erica Jong to Pearl Buck to Erma Bomback (http://mentalfloss.com/article/52360/celebrating-womens-equality-day-quotes-13-influential-women-writers-sponsored­)

 

Librarians feted at national legislative conference

Indivisible is working to inspire a cultural shift in how Americans think about the role of government in America by training the next generation of civic-minded leaders, disrupting and reframing negative media discourse about government, and creating a network of champions to change the conversation about government in their communities

This quote is from the website of Indivisible, a unique national initiative that has caught my attention of late – a welcome ray of sunshine in this era of government-bashing.

Yesterday’s email message from State Representative Rick Hansen of South St. Paul (DFL, House District 52A) offers a good example of the sort of positive discourse the founders of Indivisible envisions. Hansen was texting en route home from the Seattle conference of the National Conference of State Legislatures – which, incidentally, met in Minneapolis last year.

With all due pride Representative Hansen boasts that one of the high points of his deep immersion in legislative deliberation was the honor of accepting in the name of Minnesotans two national awards presented to Minnesota legislative librarians by the Legislative Research Librarians staff section of the NCSL.

The awards recognize the professional role of  research librarians as active contributors in the creation of exceptional state documents. The publications cited in the award assure that critical information is accessible for agency staff, legislators, advocacy groups and citizens who are grappling with the complexity of emerging issues.  The work of the cited librarians is evident in these state publications:

  • Minnesota and Climate Change – Our Tomorrow Starts Today, http://climatechangemn.org, prepared by library staff at the Pollution Control Agency

Kudos to the librarians and library staffers who were honored by the elected officials meeting in Seattle.   Thank you also to Representative Hansen for accepting the award in the name of Minnesota residents and taxpayers – and for sharing the good news with constituents back home.

 

“Thrifter” Alert for National Thrift Shop Day!!!

Throughout the nation volunteers at thrift shops of every stripe, site, specialty, and affiliation are loading the racks, shelves and bins with irresistible bargains sure to capture the gaze and hearts of ardent bargain hunters. National Thrift Shop Day 2015 http://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-thrift-shop-day-august-17/’   comes just in time for shoppers to snag that perfect State Fair outfit or the trendy back-to-school wardrobe for young scholars. Cost conscious consumers heed the data that calculate a cost of $630 to outfit a K-12 learner – though college students may keep clothing costs down they still have to furnish a room, for a statistical average of $899 – which, includes digital gear but omits tuition and fees….!

In her comprehensive study of American frugality journalist Lauren Weber concludes that what’s now called “thrifting” is in the DNA of this nation and its people. Though some historians credit the Puritans for importing the commitment to frugality Weber holds that American penny pinching can also be traced to Revolutionary era necessity. The obligatory habit was elevated to virtue status by the forefathers including Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin who advised that the wise consumer would “rather to go to bed supperless than rise in debt.”

Weber’s broad view of our heritage of cheapness puts today’s thrift shops in historic perspective, a relatively modern indicator of need, proclivity, and creative rising to meet society’s needs. It is generally agreed that the first thrift shop was started in 1899 by the UK’s Wolverhampton Society for the Blind (later known as the Beacon Centre for the Blind.) In 1907 the Red Cross opened its first shop at 7 Old Bond Street in London. These shops, staffed by volunteers, served a dual purpose – to raise operating funds for the organization and to meet the immediate needs of impoverished families living in the community. Today’s thrift shops continue to serve this original purpose. At the same time, thrifting has evolved as habitual shopping for environmentalists concerned about preservation of natural resources and social justice advocates protesting the unfair treatment of sweatshop workers and unscrupulous apparel manufacturers. Today what is known as “resale” (as opposed to “retail”) is a multi-million dollar industry. First Research (http://www.firstresearch.com/industry-research/Used-Merchandise-Stores.html estimates the resale industry in the U.S. to have annual revenues of approximately $16 billion including revenue from antique stores which are 13% of their statistics. Established in 1984, the National Association of Retail Professionals (www.narts.org) calculates that there are more than 25,000 resale, consignment and not-for-private retail shops in the U.S. NARTS summarizes the current status of thrift shops thus: “The resale market is blossoming thanks to value-conscious consumers. With an increasing awareness of the importance of reducing pointless waste, we are progressing from a disposable society to a recycling society—a change that has enormous market potential for the resale industry as a whole. After all, “Resale is the ultimate in recycling!” (http://www.narts.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3285) Wise thrifters will want to take affirmative steps to gird their loins and prepare their psyches for National Thrift Shop Day 2015. Some suggestions:

  • Consult the online state-by-state guide to local thrift shop – though incomplete, it’s useful as a guide to the diversity, the unique profile, mission and site of many bargain opportunities. http://www.localthriftshops.org
  • Read the first chapter of In Cheap We Trust, posted online on the NPR site. Better yet, read the whole book – details on the NPR site.
  • Totally get down by marinading in the dulcet tones of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in their unique rendition of Thrift Shop Feat (parental discretion advised…) youtube.com/watch?v=QK8mJJJvaes

 

Shared stitches and stories strengthen TC’s neighborhoods

The human hand, so delicate and so complicated not only allows the mind to reveal itself but it enables the whole being to enter into special relationships with its environment. We might even say that man takes possession of his environment with his hands.

The thoughtful words of Maria Montesorri might serve as the mantra for the scores of young girls and boys and their “crafty” elders by participating in LitKnit (www.litknit.org). Throughout the Twin Cities LitKnit groups are popping up as folks of all ages catch on to the idea of this inter-generational community-building initiative that weds listening to and discussing good reads with learning and practicing a handcraft of choice.

LitKnit reflects a blend of Montesorri’s ideas with the spirit of founder Jaime Gjerdingen, a St Paul mom who reflects on the role that reading played in her own childhood. Remembering how reading helped her decipher and interpret a confusing world, Gjerdingen capitalizes on that strength to create communities in which neighbors read, talk and craft together.

Jaime’s vision is of a fairly structured inter-generational environment in which a trained facilitator/skilled crafter guides a gathering of neighbors – neighbors who live on the block or cul de sac, in the housing project or high rise, or otherwise share common space but not their lives. In Jaime’s words, “our goal is the long-term support of these groups, as we believe this engagement creates stable environments for people to truly get to know each other, learn a useful skill and deeply explore ideas together. We’ve found that these activities strengthen people beyond the skills themselves, helping them face challenges with hope and resiliency.”

LitKnit is gaining the attention of neophyte and veteran crafters, as well as supporters that include the Textile Center (www.textilecentermn.org), Crafty Planet (http://craftyplanet.com/about-us), and the American Craft Council (http://craftcouncil.org) housed in the historic Grain Belt Building in Northeast Minneapolis.  The Craft Council has even selected Jaime and the LitKnit project as their first member spotlight profile. (http://craftcouncil.org/post/acc-member-spotlight-jaime-gjerdingen) Jaime takes seriously the challenge to offer support for volunteer facilitators. All receive training on techniques, resources, back-up and more.  The members of the LitKnit peer circles meet once a month at various locations depending on members’ choice.

As Minnesota readers and crafters think beyond the State Fair and begin to plan for the months to come, the idea of blending books, crafts and getting to know the neighbors takes on a rosy glow.

All are invited to fan that flame by taking part in LitKnit’s inaugural CraftUp event. It’s Tuesday, August 11, 6-8 PM at Surly Brewing Company, 820 Southeast Malcolm, Surly’s much-heralded new site in Prospect Park. ((http://surlybrewing.com/destination-brewery/beer-hall-and-restaurant/#directions. This inaugural CraftUp is open to anyone with a hint of interest in crafting, listening to and talking about good books, teaching craft techniques to young people, community-building – or just enjoying an evening in the company of good people in the garden at Surly’s. $10 suggested donation to support the expanding work of LitKnit.

The U.S. Constitution – Something worth thinking about

It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.

Molly Ivins

Thus it is fitting that the evolution of Constitution Day has been a struggle to commemorate the formation and signing of the Constitution of the United States itself. Though the “official” signing of the Constitution (still a matter of historic discussion) was September 17, 1787, it was not until 217 years later, in 2004, that the U.S. Congress actually established September 17 as Constitution Day. In fact, Congress framed the date, not as a day to honor the signers, but as an occasion to “recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become US citizens.”

And herein lies the tale of the evolution of Constitution Day – and Week. In the late 1930’s William Randolph Hearst, who bought ink by the barrel, advocated a day to celebrate US citizenship. In 1940 the Congress created “I Am an American Day” to be celebrated on the third Sunday in May. On February 29, 1952, President Harry Truman signed into law “Citizenship Day” which was a replacement for “I am an American Day.” A few years later, on August 2, 1956, Congress requested that the President proclaim the week beginning September 17 and ending September 23 as “Constitution Week.” And thus, in 2004 the day morphed into “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day”, passed by the U.S. Congress as what has become the incontrovertible legacy of Senator Robert C Byrd (D-WV).

The context in which Senator Byrd led the fight in Congress sets the stage. The nation was still reeling from 9/11 and the ensuing military action in the Middle East when Senator Byrd took to the Senate floor to propose a policy amendment to a hefty spending bill – a practice deemed highly inappropriate by his Senate colleagues. Byrd’s push for establishment of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day rose from deep conviction, as seen and heard in this clip: (http://blogs.rollcall.com/wgdb/constitution-day-a-byrd-legacy-video)

To ensure that his policy would be implemented Byrd included the provision that educational institutions that receive federal funding be required to teach about the Constitution or to conduct Constitution-related programs each year on September 17.

Over the past decade federal agencies, including the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Constitution Center among others have created some excellent online resources based on their unique collections and expertise

Focus of the Minnesota institutions’ Constitution Week programming is on students and teachers and on access to free online resources about the Constitution and the “long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.” Updated information can be found on the Constitution Week Twitter feed, #MNCONSTWEEK.

Constitution Week is also a good chance to check out “Today in Civil Liberties History,” (http://todayinclh.com ). Launched just last year by scholar, writer and civil libertarian Sam Walker (http://samuelwalker.net/bio/, this web-based calendar features civil liberties events for each day of the year. Entries range from free speech to reproductive rights to national security, racial justice, gender equity and more. The site also offers links to related resources, including relevant readings, videos, descriptions of historic sites and events

Today in Civil Liberties History affirms and confirms Molly Ivins’ comment. This post is intended to reach readers in time enough to put Constitution Day 2015 on the calendar for the classroom, the book club, the place of worship or other gathering place of those “who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become US citizens” – and of those who struggle mightily to achieve that goal.