Meet Our Founding Members
Like most "beginning" stories, the tale of the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center starts out modestly-and, like all these stories, this initial modesty is ironic, given all that we know about the future success of the project. So the UC-IMC started off like a lot of projects, with a group of people sitting in a room, sharing dreams. It was the year 2000, the turn of the century, the liminal space between Clinton's and Bush's America. Although we weren't aware of the political earthquake about to strike, our world was clearly shifting.
In November of the previous year, huge demonstrations against the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle shocked the nation. The economy was healthy, war was largely invisible, and rapidly advancing communications technology promised an idyllic future of global connection: the country had become complacent. So it came as a surprise when thousands of protestors (the most conservative estimate puts the number at 40,000) took to the streets in Seattle to protest capitalist globalization. The system had ruptured, the illusion was broken: people were rising up and saying, "No, things are not all right at home or abroad!" It was the cry of a suffering democracy, and the burgeoning IndyMedia network was there to record it and share it with the world.
At the WTO protests, folks from the Champaign-Urbana area met participants in this "IndyMedia" movement, a cutting-edge media democracy network. Despite nearly total domination by corporate media, this movement presented a radical challenge to the powers-that-be by discovering a sustainable source of autonomous power: citizen journalism. Forget "speaking truth to power," through IndyMedia, we created our own power, enabling us to speak truth to everyone!
Less than a year after the WTO protests, 12 individuals gathered in Danielle Chynoweth's living room to plan the creation of our very own media democracy organization, the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (the unconventional placement of Urbana before Champaign showed the group's municipal allegiance!). Soon afterward, a new publication called the Public i was printed and distributed around town.
Fast-forward to years later: UC-IMC is now an internationally recognized model for how a local community media center can be used by residents to transform and empower their community, changing policy and lives. And although the UC-IMC is still a crucial part of the IndyMedia network, our work has changed and grown. If the founders of the UC-IMC disappeared after that fateful meeting ten years ago, and just returned to Urbana, would they believe our 30,000 sq. ft. Community Media & Arts Center? Could they even dream of operating a community radio station, media training facility, performance venue, public access computer center, computer help desk, and art gallery and studios? Would they believe the incredible success of Books to Prisoners, who mailed their 50,000th (and then some) book this year? What would they think about the Bike Project, which has recycled thousands of bicycles back into our community? What about ODDmusic, with their weird Udderbots? Or the IndyMedia Arts Lab, giving low-income kids the multimedia camp experience of a lifetime!
The truth is that we've outgrown our humble beginnings to become not just a local landmark, but a national model for community media projects. To say that the IMC made tangible the dreams of local residents wouldn't be an understatement: in ten years, we've created an incredible history, a rap sheet of unique successes making our necessity in this community unassailable. I was talking to activist and IMC member Martell Miller today, and he described the importance of being proactive: "If I see smoke coming out of out neighbor's house, I'm gonna go over there and see what's going on-I'm not gonna wait till I see flames coming out the top of the house to call the fire department!" This illustrates one of the best characteristics of the IMC: it gives us the tools to take action now, to create the world we want to live in now, rather than waiting for it to be handed to us.
In addition to all of our incredible working groups and affiliated projects, there a number of new and exciting projects underway, e.g. (1) UC-IMC is a key player in the wireless infrastructure to be established through the federal government's $22.5 billion grant to Champaign-Urbana (UC2B), and we'll serve a vital role in using this access as a tool for economic development, (2) We're going to redesign the website (finally!), and (3) We have a new membership system (& benefits). Keep your eyes peeled for details!
And, of course, there's the continuing need of financial support for the IMC's building and programs (I'm the Development Adviser-you didn't think I'd ask?). The newly established Sustaining Fund is particularly crucial. For $250+/year, you'll be able to provide long-term financial stability for the UC-IMC. If that isn't financially viable, consider what kind of donation you might be able to make. We also accept "in-kind" donations, most obviously volunteer hours! If you haven't been involved with us in a while, look on our website (ucimc.org) and see what we're up to, then come on down and get your hands dirty!
It's been a pleasure serving this community for the past ten years, and we hope to continue serving you with creativity and commitment for decades to come.