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Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center

Our History

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 have mailed more than 150,000 books since 2004? 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.

What We Have Accomplished

  • Launched Open Scene, a youth-led project to reimagine downtown Urbana and IMC’s role in it, supported by a National Endowment of the Arts Grant in partnership with the City of Urbana.
  • Helped bring $22.5 million dollars in broadband stimulus funds to our community, playing a lead role in organizing civil society participation in the grant process to launch UC2B, public broadband that now connects hundreds of households.
  • Shipped over 150,000 free books to Illinois prisoners and created 2 new jail libraries and won Governor's Hometown Award for this work.
  • Led the Illinois Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, connecting elected leaders to families of the incarcerated to win the lowest cost of calls from prison in the U.S.
  • With the Center for Media Justice, co-hosted a national campaign to support the rights of those electronic surveillance.
  • Connected impacted residents to members of Congress and the Federal Communication Commission to advocate in support of Net Neutrality, expansion of broadband to low income families, and prison phone justice, as part of our work with the Media Action Grassroots Network. Our leaders testifed before the FCC about the role of Community Media in the Future of Journalism.
  • Hosted numerous national conferences including: Prometheus Community Radio Barnraising, Books to Prisoners conference, Midwest Zine Fest, Restorative Circles.
  • Recycled thousands of bikes back into the community through the Bike Project.
  • With Pixo Technologies, provided the first wifi access available to visitors of the Urbana Free Library.
  • Developed CUWiN (cuwireless.net), an internationally recognized leader in open source mesh network software. Deployed the first open wifi network in Champaign-Urbana, Homer, Illinois, tribal lands of the Mesa Grande Reservation, and the townships of South Africa.
  • Provided free community web hosting and listservs to 204 organizations such as the Red Cross and Volunteer Illini.
  • Our members taught media activism workshops in Burma, Thailand, Kenya, Italy, Mexico, and the U.S.
  • Is 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 transforming lives.
  • Is supported by over 1000 volunteers whose time equates to 24 full time staff.