Alt Wire is a morning digest of links and information collected and explained by a different guest blogger every weekday. Today’s guest isJoshua Breitbart, (check back tomorrow for POZ editor Regan Hofmann):
I have been doing the Internet equivalent of buckling my seat belt for what I expect will be a bumpy ride. The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), commonly referred to as the stimulus package, includes substantial funding for lots of things we’ve been doing as volunteers or nonprofit workers for at least the past eight years, if not more. Especially for people my age, the bulk of whose activism was spent in the era of “big government is over”–it’s giving us whiplash.
In the world of community technology alone there is $7.2 billion. That doesn’t even count the money for health information technology or job training that could also support computer centers and digital media classes or other Internet infrastructure. The proportion of government funding to other revenues will shift dramatically over the next two years for everyone working in this field. Nonprofits that have relied on foundation funding will undergo perhaps the most tumultuous transitions.
The Baller Herbst Roundup: If you follow these sorts of things, then every day you’re clicking on links from the Baller Herbst daily roundup. Jim Baller is the guru of public interest telecom law and the invitation-only list is our daily sermon. Jim and his colleagues have prepared a highly-detailed memo on the stimulus bill, which they have shared publicly on their site, along with other helpful resources. Hat tip to Beth McConnel at the Media and Democracy Coalition for passing this around.
Holistic Thinking: The amazing thing about the stimulus bill is that it has so many moving parts. The funding flows through specific government agencies. If you have a narrow focus, that probably works for you. But the bill seems to be intended to reward the kind of expansive, holistic thinking that community media activists have been pioneering for years. Amalia Anderson Deloney has put this in context with a recent article, “Thinking Things Through, Together.” She talks about combining weatherization with fiber optic or wireless installations, which would leverage two different pots of stimulus money to achieve our shared goals of environmental and media justice.
The Future of Detroit: In Detroit, people have been thinking about the local economic impact of community media. Jenny Lee, my colleague at Allied Media Projects, gives an overview of how this works in her article, “Detroit: Arsenal of Creativity” I’ve been sending this one around and it’s the only link I’ve posted to my Facebook profile. The basic argument is that media production is an economic engine unto itself, but it is also the vehicle for imagining new solutions for all of our problems and for collaborating on their implementation. Media is how we think things through together, and then do them.
The Barriers to Government Grants: It will be a challenge to connect the humongous opportunities in the ARRA with local visions of a community media-based economy. Most of us grew accustomed to government being the enemy of vision and progress over the last 8+ years. The first thing we have to do is spread the word. The second thing we have to do is remove some pointless barriers to applying for government grants. One key to both of these will be overhauling the government’s Grants.gov website, as Harold Feld describes. I would add to Harold’s recommendations the need for XML formatting and RSS feeds. Technical acronyms notwithstanding, the point is to make all of the information – about what grants are available and what people have proposed – accessible and not just available. That way we can pull the information onto other websites where we can comment on it, categorize it, suggest improvements, and make it more graphically enticing.
Don’t Keep Your Ideas to Yourself: Don’t wait for that to happen, though. People are hatching plans as I write and as you read. In New York, the state senate is holding field hearings on the stimulus bill. In part, the new Democratic majority leader Malcolm Smith is responding to popular calls for transparency in how the state allocates whatever money it receives, but he also wants to see as much federal money come to his constituents as possible. If you have ideas, your elected officials will be excited to hear from you. You should start reaching out to partners and allies now. Also, when Smith says, “The idea of this stimulus package was for Washington to create the resources, hand it off to the state and we get it down to the local level,” don’t believe him. While state governments have an important role to play, the broadband money is available to go directly to community-based nonprofits, among other potential applicants. (Don’t tell Senator Smith I said that.)
BIO: Joshua Breitbart is the Policy Director for People’s Production House and a board member of Allied Media Projects. At this year’s Allied Media Conference, he and PPH will be presenting their latest video and workshop on cellular phones. You can see their earlier video, “The Internet is Serious Business” (produced with CUP and City-As-School) online. He writes a monthly column on urban media policy for Gotham Gazette.