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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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How the Media Mobilizing Project uses grassroots leadership to create lasting change

How the Media Mobilizing Project uses grassroots leadership to create lasting change

Movement Media fellows. Photo courtesy of Bryan Mercer. 


Marginalized communities are sometimes portrayed in a negative light and even ignored in mainstream media. It requires a restorative and at times reflective approach to dig deeper for a story that is sensitive to the history, diversity and multiple layers that make up a community.

Through grassroots efforts, The Media Mobilizing Project (MMP) teaches community members how to share their own stories. “We use media to organize poor and working people to tell our stories to each other and the world, disrupting the stereotypes and structures that keep our communities divided,” states the MMP site.


Bryan Mercer

The Philadelphia-based organization helps individuals tell their transformative stories through trainings, incubator programs and community-led movements focused on human rights and poverty. Since 2005 MMP has educated thousands of low-wage workers and immigrants. The organization also provides youth programs in audio/video production, digital literacy and human rights leadership. A few weeks ago, ivoh interviewed MMP’s Executive Director Bryan Mercer via email.


Gloria Muñoz: What inspires you to work for MMP every day?

Bryan Mercer: Our work at MMP is deeply about community. It’s locally relevant, driven by partnerships with amazing organizations and committed to bringing out the truth of what’s happening for the working-class communities in our city. That focus inspires me to do this work every day. We get to give our time and energy to people we really care about and focus on issues where we can really see an impact.


Muñoz: What led to the making of the “Groundwork,” documentary?

Mercer: We produced “Groundwork” after some years of documenting and organizing against the the impacts of austerity on Philadelphia — that’s meant budget cuts to city services, increased policing in black and brown communities, a rise in foreclosures and homelessness, folks working more to take care of their families and earning less at the end of the day. In the process we saw this growth of deep community organizing, with new leaders developing in all types of places: hospitals, immigrant communities and schools. The documentary grew from there, and what we found is that the steps of becoming an organizer and leader in this struggle for our human rights is often obscured. So “Groundwork” is our attempt to tell that story.

The other thing that led to “Groundwork” was our leadership development process with the community of media artists we’ve been cultivating over the years. Many of the producers of “Groundwork” came through our Media Fellows program, which is an intensive project-oriented training with us. This prepared an amazing group of people, who worked mostly as volunteers, to shoot, edit and develop the piece.



Muñoz: Media Mobilizing is taking great steps to enhance the access to digital media in Philadelphia communities that currently lack access. What strategies work best to get the attention of large companies, like Verizon, and to hold them accountable for FiOS installations?

Mercer: The Internet and media access is redefining community growth and economic development. But it largely goes unnoticed and there is little accountability for the companies that run this increasingly vital utility. Our work with campaigns targeting Verizon, Comcast and others is about making sure people can take up the tools to hold these companies accountable. And we’re prioritizing … working people, the under-employed, people of color and other folks who are underrepresented like those living with disabilities and students. And really, the tools we’re putting to use are tools from traditional organizing — it’s about raising awareness and education, mobilizing and coalition building and creating long-term leadership that makes the connections between issues of access to communications with all of our human rights.

There is a growing national movement for communications rights, and we’re excited to push forward this work because of the impact communications has on news and information, schools and civic engagement. Communication rights is an issue that gets to underlying concerns about democracy, the economy and sustainability. It’s been clear from our work on media access that the digital divide is built on the divides of racism and poverty of the 20th century. If we’re not doing something about the digital divide and digital literacy then society is going to produce the same divides in the 21st century.


Muñoz: Your site says that: “The Media Mobilizing Project builds leaders — leaders who use their stories to make our organizing stronger; and who build the movement for human rights and to end poverty.” Can you offer any specific advice for activists who are interested in developing their leadership skills?

Mercer: My biggest advice is that the best actions are always collective. Our movement doesn’t grow from lone wolves taking singular stands. It grows from deepening our connection to one another and our capacity to act in solidarity with one another. Doing that is about listening. It’s about learning from others. And it’s about building trust, because without trusts people don’t take real risks. And we can’t make substantive changes and systemic changes without taking real risks.


Muñoz: On a related note, in what ways do you think leadership and storytelling are connected?

Mercer: At MMP, storytelling is a critical part of the leadership development process. Through our stories we get to know one another, our shared struggles and the forces we are up against. We learn the lessons from our past fights and we build our vision of the world we want with each other. And that is a powerful tool.


Muñoz: There is often a lot of bureaucratic red tape to deal with when working with public schools. What has the response to “Revival from the Roots” from educators, administrators and students been like?

Mercer: “Revival From the Roots” was a really exciting project for us because of how deeply we were able to start working in the public schools. We were able to bring together parents, students and teachers in this way that does not happen enough — to tell the stories of what’s working in their school communities. The response has been really positive, especially on the neighborhood level. The hard work that is happening to improve schools isn’t reflected enough. They don’t see how others in a similar situation are coming up against challenges and figuring out how to make it work. “Revival From the Roots” helped to share that and it means a lot for students, parents and teachers to see those stories brought to light when they are so often left in the dark.


Muñoz: How does MMP’s Media Fellows program aim to change the way participants use media?

Mercer: The Media Fellows program is about this amazing synergy that happens when organizers and media artist are brought into a relationship with one another. Organizers are often in the day to day work, and the job of telling and sharing the stories of what’s happening in the communities where they work is so critical, but so hard to prioritize. And media artists want to be talking about things that matter —  they want their work to be relevant and reflect the type of world they’re trying to build. The Media Fellows is first and foremost about that relationship and the rest builds from there.


MMP continues to develop grassroots programs that empower community members to share their stories and enact change. Learn more about how MMP’s current and future projects here.

Editor’s note: Interview edited for length and clarity.