Experiences at the National Worker Cooperative Conference In Boston and the Allied Media Conference In Detroit.
At the end of June 2012, Design Action Collective sent me to participate in two conferences out East – the National Worker Cooperative Conference in Boston, followed by the Allied Media Conference (AMC) in Detroit. Two national conferences back-to-back sounded overwhelming, but the organizers and participants of both events created such an inviting and productive space, that I had no problem connecting with folks, learning new skills, and sharing resources. I came back to Oakland with my head buzzing with new ideas and a sense of pride in the role Design Action Collective continues to play in the world of worker coops and social justice communication work.
The National Worker Cooperative Conference, Boston, 2012
The U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) put together an excellent event full of workshops, film screenings, and community parties. Guest speakers included Bruno Roelants of the International Federation of Worker Cooperatives, José Harnan of the National institute for Cooperativism and the Social Economy in Argentina, and Dr. Hiroshi Shimamura from the Legislative Movement at Japan Workers’ Co-operative Union. It was inspiring to hear these international perspectives — especially in the midst of the economic crisis in Europe and the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan. The worker-coop model continues to be a tool of community empowerment and economic justice.
In his speech, José Harnan emphasized the critical role of strategic communications in raising the visibility of worker coops. “Organize, organize, organize!!! Communicate, communicate, communicate!!!” he said. The words were still ringing in my ears as I got ready to present a workshop on branding visual design for worker coops. We live in an age where Chevron and Wells Fargo claim to be the champions of the working class, and I am interested in figuring out creative ways for us to tell our own stories as the coop movement in the U.S. continues to grow. In this workshop, I presented several successful case studies of logo, identity, and branding design processes that Design Action had gone through with various nonprofit organizations and worker coops. Participants came with questions about best practices for working with designers, what kinds of decisions to make when thinking about branding, and how to put out consistent messages/images so their work is perceived accurately by their communities. I was very happy the workshop was really well attended — participants were able to compare experiences and give each other advice.
In addition to this “how to” workshop on messaging, I participated in a panel discussion about the unique aspects of working in a coop within the creative consultancy/tech industry. On this panel were members of Quilted in Berkeley and C4 Tech and Design in New Orleans. Participants came with backgrounds in technology and graphic design and were interested in how our shops met the challenges of growth, project cultivation, and project management. We also discussed what our shops are doing to ensure women and people of color are part of our coops when white men dominate this industry. I was able to share my experiences from Design Action and compare notes with the other tech coops in the room.
During the Coop Conference, I met the fabulous Patrick St. John — a designer/writer/activist in Boston. He is working on a documentary film on graphic design studios that are organized as worker-coops.
I also had the opportunity to attend two workshops by the fabulous Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance (AORTA Collective). The first was an anti-oppression audit — the workshop gave us tools to assess our co-op’s policies, goals, development and practices as they relate to power and privilege. AORTA lead a discussion about the different conscious and unconscious forms of individual, institutional and cultural oppression. The second was on a human-centered approach to HR — how inclusive, encouraging, and worker-centered policies should be the backbone of any cooperative personnel framework. Members of Mariposa Food Coop and Rainbow Grocery were also on a panel for this workshop. I have always been grateful for the way Design Action Collective models our feminist values in the way we run our shop — this “Fully Human Resources” workshop gave me more ideas to share with my co-workers about how we can continue to be accountable to those values as we grow.
AORTA has expertise in facilitating conflict resolution processes and organizational capacity building. Consider hiring them for your next retreat!
The Allied Media Conference in Detroit
On my first night in Detroit, I had dinner with some fellow AMC participants — two people from the Movitas Marching Band in Seattle, and a group of inspiring youth from New Orleans working on LGBTQ rights. These youth were part of an organization called Break Out! They taught me a lot about the realities of life in New Orleans and how the police target target their communities. They had put together a video called “We Deserve Better” which is now being shown to police in training. They gave me a lot of ideas on how to organize against profiling of Muslim, Arab and South Asian Communities in the Bay Area as well.
The AMC workshops were categorized into several tracks. I spent most of my time in the Media Policy for Love and Justice sessions where I learned about database systems, and online securities.
Media Policy for Love and Justice
My co-worker William also came to the AMC and we spent our first day at the May First/People Link Network Gathering. This was an opportunity for graphic designers, programmers/developers, and media justice activists to share resources and strategize on how to tackle issues of net neutrality, online securities, and government censorship. The discussion focused a lot on technology and internet access amongst low income communities of color and the responsibilities we have as designers/developers.
Members of the network shared technology resources — alternatives to Flickr, Dropbox, and Google docs that allow us to control and protect our information.
The other workshops I attended in this track included “PowerBase: Open + Community Source,” “Securing our Online Communications,” and “Mobile Justice: The Next Frontier.”
We + Design = Collaborative Design
William presented a workshop on collaborative design along with members of Mambu Badu. He shared examples of Design Action projects that had been particularly successful as a result of the strong collaboration between designers and organizers.
Worker-Owned Webmaking: Tech Co-ops
I had the opportunity to present on another panel about tech cooperatives. This time, the room was full of designers and developers who were trying to figure out how to sustain themselves while dedicating their work to the social justice movement.
Getting to know Detroit
When I wasn’t in AMC workshops, I was able to explore the awesome city of Detroit. I took an Eco Justice tour through the city’s South West industrial corridor — the most polluted zip code in the state of Michigan. Local organizers took us on a bus through their neighborhoods and explained the community’s long history of advocating for change.
I also took some time to visit the Detroit Institute of the Arts where I saw the Diego Rivera mural Detroit Industry along with an incredible collection of contemporary art of the African Diaspora.
I came away with a huge respect for the resiliency and creativity of the people of Detroit. I can’t wait to go back.