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Active Cultures: covering the other convention

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"Our strategy is grassroots-based--media by the people," says Jim Wrecks, cofounder of the Chicago CounterMedia project. "We want people to know that if they capture acts of dissent and resistance, we can get the message out to the larger community--and blast the images around the world."

CounterMedia may not be beaming its broadcast signal to the world, but during the next week the coalition of political and media groups is promising to offer an alternative to the canned news product sure to pour from the tube during the Democratic National Convention. Working in a variety of media--video, cable, radio, photography, the Internet, and press releases--the group will focus on protests and issues that won't get covered in-depth, if at all, by the usual suspects. Volunteers will document events surrounding the convention as they happen and then disseminate the information to the mainstream media, the alternative press, and community activists.

The idea for the coalition came about in January, when Wrecks--a Chicago native who had just completed a documentary about the destruction of Indian land in Nevada by mining companies--returned here to help plan Active Resistance, a "counter-convention" of activists organized by the Autonomous Zone. During February's Earth First! conference in Tucson, CounterMedia began taking shape. "A bunch of activists and folks at the meeting wanted to start a national movement--to work together and share resources," he says.

Seeing the DNC as a logical springboard, Wrecks moved back to Chicago in April and began organizing a team of local media activists, many of whom had not worked together before. "Basically the energy of all the people who got involved offered more resources to the pool," he says. "The whole thing exponentially grew. We now have over 50 volunteers--it just exploded."

Among the early volunteers were independent documentary video maker Kate Kirtz and Kartemquin staffer Jim Fetterley. The pair are organizing Off the Record, a public-access TV show combining live coverage, news footage, interviews, and call-ins that will air prior to and during the convention. "I expect things will be chaotic that week, but we'll have the inside angle if there's a happening story going down," says Fetterley. "This is the place to turn if it's not being covered anywhere else. The mainstream press and news will have their own stories to cover."

CounterMedia should have no shortage of material as many political organizations and community groups are planning to demonstrate against Democratic party policies and speak on such topics as affordable housing, immigration, criminal justice, and abortion. So far the coalition has 15 participating organizations--ranging from Active Resistance to Kartemquin Films to the Los Angeles Alternative Media Network to the National Lawyers Guild--and a network of activists to shoot and edit tape, broadcast, take photographs, and write.

Wrecks says that CounterMedia's spin on the news won't end with the renomination of President Clinton. "The convention was just a rallying point," he says. "We don't plan to quit when it's over."

CounterMedia will be holding an opening reception from 7 to 11 PM this Sunday on the second floor of the Fulton Carroll Center, 2010 W. Carroll. Admission is $15 for those in the commercial media, $5 for those in the alternative press, and $10 for everyone else. For info on the coalition's programming, call 670-9673. To find out more about CounterMedia, call 243-8342.

--Jeff Huebner

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Jim Wrecks, by Nathan Mandell.

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