Forward Together at 25: New Mexico Youth Lead The Way For Net Neutrality

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The following post is by Alanna Offield, Campaign Coordinator at the Media Literacy Project in New Mexico, and is part of our 25th anniversary blog series.

Every movement or organization has “their person”: the person they want to move to support their cause and community. For the media justice movement that person is the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a commission of five appointed people that regulate our communications. And here I was this past June organizing an event for Media Literacy Project (MLP) and hosting the chairman at a time when he had recently proposed rules that would destroy the Internet (Let John Oliver break it down for you).

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler with youth organizers
This was the first public event Chairman Wheeler would speak at since he proposed an Internet “fast lane” that would give priority to companies that could pay more for their content to be more visible. All eyes were on us to push him to reject the proposed rules and enact real net neutrality with no paid priority service. We also needed to get real with him about what he will do to get more New Mexican families connected to reliable and affordable Internet and phone service. As campaign coordinator at MLP, I was the lead in organizing this event. No pressure.

We had intentionally focused the event on youth voices as the FCC has no formal youth engagement. Every day people were crawling out of the woodwork to give me some ageist lines about how involving youth was a nice idea but do I really believe youth can understand media policy issues? As a young person myself it was hard to hear this. If people didn’t think youth could pull off an event like this, what about me?

Throughout the month of June MLP had been working flat out with limited volunteer support. We were expecting almost 300 people, and we needed more helping hands. I can’t even count the amount of times I had cried with the stress of wanting to do something that would make my community feel and be heard. With only a few volunteers on board I had become convinced that I was doing it all wrong. One night it was 7:30 p.m. and I was still at my desk running through the program for the 100th time and refreshing the volunteer signup sheet over and over hoping more people would help us. I was just about to pack up and go home when I heard my email notification. All of the staff of Strong Families New Mexico had signed up to volunteer with the added note “available to help anywhere I can.” I sat at my desk and cried. Just this one small act made a huge difference in my attitude and from that moment on I knew it would be okay.

This act is just a small example of how Strong Families New Mexico supports not only MLP but all the other organizations they work with. They understand how important it is for us to support each other in this work. They saw that we were trying to provide a space for dialogue between New Mexican youth, their families, and the FCC. They got on board with us and helped to plan and promote the event. They were there the night of the event helping to prep young people who wanted to give testimony to the chairman and tell their story. During the event, an older man rushed up to the microphone and took time away from the young people who had worked so hard to put the event together. This man didn’t ask a unique question, but felt that because a young person had addressed his issue, it hadn’t really been asked yet. Most of the youth were able to speak that night and before I knew it the event was over.

I was getting the post-event organizer blues playing mind games about what I should have done differently. I walked outside the event venue and the Strong Families New Mexico team was there telling me how great the event was and even if everything didn’t go to plan they could see that the community was engaged. It was exactly what I needed to hear after weeks of hard work.

Strong Families always has the Media Literacy Project’s back and makes the connections between media justice and thriving families in our community. That night and so many other times I saw how we really are stronger together. The staff of Strong Families New Mexico has supported me in some of the biggest projects I have ever taken on professionally. They take time to ask us how we can be supported and provide constructive feedback so we can come out strong. They truly understand that our issues are connected and that media justice is something we need for all of our families.

Alanna Offield is a community organizer and activist from Northern New Mexico. She has worked on a range of issue-based campaigns dealing with human rights, racial justice, gender justice, and environmental justice. Since her early teenage years she has been active in various social justice and human rights organizations including serving as the New Mexico Student Activist Coordinator for Amnesty International and as Program Coordinator for the Railyard Park Stewards of Santa Fe. As a queer chicana and single mother, Alanna feels drawn to social justice work as a way to protect the rights of her community and to make sure their voices are heard. She works within a solidarity framework and believes that the power to create lasting change comes from the grassroots. Alanna is a student at the University of New Mexico focusing her studies on the intersections of race, class, and gender in American society through an American studies degree with a minor in Chicano/ Chicana studies. She is on a new journey as a parent to her daughter, Hickory, and is dedicated to creating a more equitable world for her to grow up in.

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