Digital Justice for Us! A Youth Journey through New Mexico

This is a guest blog post written by Candelario Vazquez, the Media Literacy Project’s Media Justice Organizer.

In New Mexico, the digital divide to a majority of communities seems like a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon. At Media Literacy Project (MLP), a media justice organization fighting for communication rights in Albuquerque, NM, we knew the state was behind in access to technology but it wasn’t blatantly obvious until the digital television (DTV) transition showed all New Mexicans how unprepared and under-resourced we were. It’s become apparent that New Mexico’s low-income and youth of color, as aspiring college graduates and leaders, are losing out the most in all the opportunities presented in the shift toward a digital future.

As a long-standing media justice organization in our state, the DTV transition forced us to step up our game in the face of a widening digital gap. Less than one year after the digital transition, Congress tasked the FCC with writing the National Broadband Plan. When we heard that the FCC would be taking public commentary, MLP saw this as an opportunity to introduce New Mexican rural youth testimonies to the debate and created the Digital Justice for Us! project.

For rural and low income neighborhoods, in terms of accessing broadband, visiting the nearest library or cyber café is a privilege that’s not available and/or far from reach.

Digital Justice for Us! gave five urban Albuquerque teenagers the chance to form connections with rural youth in New Mexico. They submitted over 25 Digital Justice for Us! videos to the FCC as public commentary to inform the National Broadband Plan. For these youth, this became a first step in a path toward a powerful awareness into media justice issues and the recognition of the power that can be wielded through video cameras and testimonies.

Our Journey from Albuquerque to the Rural Landscape

This project started first with a media justice training in Albuquerque facilitated by Media Literacy Project and Steven Renderos of Main Street Project (based in St. Paul, Minnesota). In this training, they were introduced to the media justice framework, taught interviewing and media production techniques and learned media policy regarding the Internet.

Some powerful moments happened in story-telling, such as those captured through the Social Science Research Council on New Mexico’s own Internet stories, where they learned about a junior college student who rode his bike through a 17-mile stretch of desert to reach the nearest public library in order to finish research essays and keep connected.

The next few weeks involved setting up interviews and taking day-long trips to record them. We would leave Albuquerque, a city of 500,000+, and suddenly be taking in the vast New Mexico landscape of canyons, boulders, desert hills, and Aztec and Anasazi ruins. We often drove for four hours before arriving in a reasonably populated area, like one of our trips to Farmington, NM, a town by the Four Corners area. For the Farmington Public Library students, their interviews were spaces for them to speak about their realities as leaders in the community who depended greatly on the Internet to research and share ideas, better their quality of life, and find opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t know existed.

Sharing these messages over television radio, and websites has made them own their expertise in what they know and can speak truth to. With the digital Internet stories of their rural peers, they feel confident in declaring that new policies on the Internet are youth policy issues and they should be on the forefront.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good