Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Interview about role of video activism

Here are some questions i was asked for an educational media book coming out later this year

What issues do you think are most important for young people to address

Climate change is the obvious answer, as this is going to have the most
dramatic impacts on all our lives.However I think the corporate control of
the internet is an issue which needs campaigning on. The net is the ideal
method for coming together to solve the challenge of halting future
climate chaos. Corporations meanwhile are relying upon bullying and
harassment to stop people from illegal filesharing. The internet belongs to us all so
what message do we want to give back to the corporations?

What was the main mission of Undercurrents?
When we launched undercurrents in 1994, we wanted to create an outlet for
stories of people taking inspiring actions to bring about positive change.
We wanted to put camcorders into the hands of people who were on the
frontline of environmental activism- to give the views which rarely if
ever made it to TV screens of the general public.

In the early days of video activism and & being the media what impact did that have on campaigning?

Video Activism as we know it began in the 1980's when the camcorder was
introduced from Japan. Suddenly anyone could make a film, copy it and
share it with friends, supporters and beyond. In the 1990's as camcorders
got smaller and less expensive, we trained activists to use video in
various ways.

-for producing short videos to inspire others to join a direct action
campaign. These videos would use music and dramatic images to show the
fun, the techniques, the issues and who else was involved.

-for legal support. Filming police actions on protests has proved vital in
many cases, showing very different stories to police accounts in court.
Camcorder footage has prevented many cases of injustice.

-practicing talking in front of friends camcorders has helped many
activists to go in front of mainstream TV cameras. This has produced more
coherent and confident speakers.

- activists filming their own actions has allowed them to share their
techniques with other groups across the world. In Australia campaigners
sent videos to London of themselves blockading rainforest logging trucks
by erecting bamboo tripods and sitting on top. In London the videos were
watched by anti-car campaigners Reclaim the Streets who then used similar
tripods made from scaffold poles to blockade motorways and city streets.

- providing different accounts for news reports. Activists footage has
made a story possible. When the mainstream reporters won't arrive in time
or refuse to trespass, it has been the activists footage which has enabled
the story to be told.

Can you give a few examples of campaigns that benefited from your
involvement and say how this improved their success?

Climate Camp- we have established a live TV studio during the recent
Climate Camps at Kent, London and Nottingham. Producing dozens of daily
chat show from inside the camp (many times surrounded by riot police and
helicopters) showed people at home just what was occurring. We had first
hand experience of people joining the camp after watching our shows. Many
stated that it demistified what the Climate Camp actually was all about.
Many of our images of Climate Camp direct actions have been used in News
broadcasts and current affairs programs such as Dispatches (Channel 4) and
Panorama (BBC). Our footage has also been successfully used in legal
investigations into illegal Policing of the protests.

How does 21st-century technology impact on campaigning today?

The internet and digital media such as camcorders and cameras has given us
all the opportunity to tell and share our own stories like never before in
history. However the skills to portray a campaign are still areas which
need work if we expect to reach a wide audience.

What tips can you give young people who want to be the media today?

Young people have been demonised by politicians and the media for years,
so turn off your TV sets and beg, buy or borrow a camcorder and make a
film about how you see the world. Contact a local campaign which interest
you and help them out by making a film about their concerns.

What key three pieces of advice would you to young people today who want
to campaign for change?

Work out what you want to achieve and when. We have all set out to change
the world over night but became overwhelmed. By choosing and writing down
our targets, you will get a better sense of achievement. Build upon them.

The key issue for individuals who want to change the world is to realize
that the problem is not different political parties, it is the structure
of governance, not who is governing that matters most. Focus on changing
the rules. Be bold and seek truth; be humble, but also confident in what
you know and don't lose your curiosity in trying to figure things out; and
based on your search for truth and discovery of truth, speak that truth
loudly and clearly to power if given that chance.

Don't try to do it alone. Search for other activists in your local area.
Use the net, read local newspapers for stories of people taking action and
go and meet them- volunteer with local nature or social action groups. Get
active within your own community. It will change your life.

Can you give a brief outline of the Newbury Bypass campaign?

The Newbury bypass, officially known as The Winchester-Preston Trunk Road
(A34) (Newbury Bypass), is a 9-mile (14 km) stretch of dual carriageway
road which bypasses the town of Newbury in Berkshire, England. It is
located to the west of the town and forms part of the A34 road.

Between January 1996 and April 1996 the clearance of approximately 360
acres (1.5 km2) of land, including 120 acres (0.49 km2) of woodland and
the felling of nearly 10,000 mature trees including Oak, Ash, & Beech, to
make way for the building of the road, led to some of the largest
anti-road protests in European history, with around 7000 people having
directly demonstrated on the site of the bypass route in some way and over
800 arrests being made. The cost of policing the protest, known as
'Operation Prospect' and run jointly by Thames Valley Police and Hampshire
Constabulary, had reached approximately £5 million by December 1996.In
addition to this, the total cost of hiring private security guards to
protect the contractors clearing the land (including security fencing and
lighting) and building the road was approximately £23.7 million.
The protest was popularly known as the Third Battle of Newbury, a name
which was also adopted by one of the main protest groups.

In what way did it become a symbolic campaign and how did this effect
what happened there?

The road became symbolic for many reasons. The vast number of young people
living in the trees, in camps and even in tunnels to stop the felling of
the forests was a potent symbol of resistance to the Tory Governments
The campaign exposed how the road building corporations and Government
were in league together to build a trans- european road scheme rather than
just a series of 'local' bypasses. The Newbury bypass sparked off similar
resistance all over the UK, Ireland and the EU. Many road building schemes
across the UK were shelved because of the protests.

How did the local community react to the protesters?

The local reaction was varied, many joined in the protests, while many
others supported the bypass and disliked the protesters.

How were you involved?
Undercurrents trained Newbury activists to use camcorders for legal
support, make campaign videos and to supply images to TV broadcasters.

What impact did video activism have on the campaign?
I think video activism probably played a much larger part in other road
campaigns than Newbury. By 1996 every media outlet descended upon the
protest camps at Newbury putting most issues in the spotlight. Video
activism's main role was legal support. With so may people being arrested
for defending the trees, it was vital to have video evidence to counteract
false Police statements. Video activists also highlighted the secretive
role which undercover agents were playing. Video activists exposed entire
agencies hired by road companies to spy and build files on innocent

Written by
Paul O'Connor
co-founder Undercurrents