Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

National Day of Mourning and the Language of the Unheard

This blog is also available on Medium.

Today we stand with our civil rights colleagues, our siblings of color and all people in a national day of mourning for the toll our government has inflicted on African-Americans. We urge you to take time today to mourn, to grieve and to rededicate yourself to anti-racism and to justice. We are rededicating ourselves to the work of communications rights and media justice as part of our work to a just society.

The events of this week and last combine the power of the media, technology and the power of prayer and the anguish of people who see and know that their voices are not being heard. As our colleagues in the United Church of Christ in Minnesota reminded us, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Media justice and communications rights are about the language of the unheard. Our country started to learn these lessons when in the 1960s we faced riots in the streets of African-American communities, and the Presidential Kerner Commission concluded that racism and segregation in the media was part of the problem leading to that unrest.

Now, as then, media can show us the current manifestations of centuries of structural racism, pressing down our family members, friends and colleagues because of the color of their skin. Now, as then, media can be both the problem and the solution. Social media can reveal to us the horrible actions of police officers killing African Americans without provocation. It can allow us to organize and support each other, to find solutions and human connection even when a pandemic requires us to be physically apart. But traditional and social media can inflame hate and vitriol, turning ignorance, anger and fear into violence with the power of a lighted match on dry tinder.

Now, as then, media can be both the problem and the solution.

The power of prayer can hold our Black and Brown brothers and sisters in our hearts and see their pain, it can bring everyone the strength to work together for a better world. And yet faith can be used as an excuse to maim, harm, dehumanize others.

UCC Clergy-led protest in Minneapolis

We have seen the President go after social media companies for following their own freely-adopted policies against violent and dehumanizing language. We have seen peaceful protesters attacked in front of a church for a photo-op. We join with the national setting of the United Church of Christ in condemning the modern lynching of Black people — carried out today with guns and choke holds by employees of the state.

The UCC’s requiem for Ahmaud Arbery

In these moments it is easy to break apart, shut down and give up. And as Rev. William J. Barber III said last Sunday, “We cannot try to hurry up and put the screams and the tears and the hurt back in the bottle, just to get back to some normal that was abnormal in the first place. Hear the screams. Feel the tears. The very people rejected over and over again are the ones who have shown us the possibility of a more perfect nation. They are telling us these wounds are too much. This death is too much.” We must stop and hear our siblings crying and gasping for breath. We must take time to nurse our wounded souls, reach out in support. We must use our communications tools to see each other and hear each other and tell the stories of the people we have lost.

Today is a day to mourn. And tomorrow we must take up our tools, our stories, our words and get back to work to bring about the justice that we know, one day, we can make real.


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Categories: media diversity  |  Online Hate

HEROES Act a Victory for the Right2Connect!

The new HEROES Act released today, H.R. 6800, contains an incredible commitment to the communications rights of all people. The consumer protection and telecommunications provisions championed by Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Pallone recognize that the right of all people in the U.S. to connect with each other during the novel coronavirus pandemic is not only a matter of mental health and economic survival, it is a matter of life and death. 

If all people, including low-income people, can afford high quality broadband, their lives can continue, to some degree, through personal connections, education, jobs, obtaining access to emergency benefits while they shelter in place to stop the spread of the virus.  If frontline low-income workers can rely on their mobile phones, they can fill grocery orders, keep our hospitals clean and continue to act as our emergency responders in this time of need.  If families can reach their incarcerated loved ones at fair rates, they can monitor their health and welfare and ensure they receive access to essential care given the horrific spread of COVID-19 among people in jail, prison or detention.  The HERO Act's communications provisions are essential for meeting these emergency needs. 

 

These proposals, combined with provisions that end cut-offs of Internet services, codify the Federal Communications Commission Keep Americans Connected Pledge and establish limits on price gouging make this legislation an impressive package that will establish secure rights to affordable communications. Congress should move quickly to adopt them into law.

 

"Congress should move quickly to adopt the communications provisions of the HEROES Act into law," said Cheryl A. Leanza, UCC OC Inc.'s policy advisor, "being without the Internet right now is not just a digital divide, it is a digital chasm and life and death hangs in the balance. If adopted, these proposals would ensure that all people, no matter their income level or status will have the digital tools they need to participate safely in civic and economic life."

 

To read more about the #right2connect, see The Right to Connect: Life or Death Right Now.


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Strong Prison Phone Legislation Introduced by Rep. Rush

The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry is very pleased to see long-time champion Representative Bobby Rush's new legislation addressing the predatory costs of communicating with incarcerated people, the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act, H.R. 6389. Mr. Rush has been a leader on this issue since the 2000s. His new legislation immediately sets significantly improved rates for voice calls and clearly establishes federal jurisdiction to limit predatory rates for local, intra-state communications as well as fees of all kinds. It is future-proof, leaving no technological loopholes. It will enable the Federal Communications Commission to pick up where it left off and protect families, clergy, and loved ones from unjust and unreasonable rates. 

 

"Congratulations to Representative Rush. We urge the House Energy & Commerce Committee to quickly hold hearings and move to markup on this critical legislation," said Earl Williams, OC Inc.'s board chair. "This bill, along with Senator Duckworth's bi-partisan bill in the Senate, increases the hope of incarcerated people and their families that they will finally gain the same consumer protections as all people in the U.S."

 

Cheryl A. Leanza, OC Inc.'s policy advisor said, "In this time when so many families, clergy and friends are not permitted to visit their incarcerated loved ones during the COVID-19 epidemic, just and reasonable rates to communicate are more important than ever. Incarcerated people are facing crowded conditions and potentially insufficient health care. Without communication with the outside, it is impossible to monitor their safety."


UCC's media justice ministry is also currently encouraging everyone to join the MediaJustice campaign to ask the Federal Communications Commission to act immediately to secure relief for incarcerated people and their families.


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Categories: prison phone

Affordable Communications for Low-Income People Under Threat -- AGAIN

One of our main advocacy tasks at OC Inc. is working with our allies to protect and enhance the incredible Lifeline program, which offers a subsidy to low-income households who qualify.  In some cases, the $9.25 monthly subsidy is enough to pay for a free mobile phone. 

Unfortunately the current Federal Communications Commission has set forth a series of unhelpful and paternalistic proposals that would harm Lifeline and make it more difficult for eligible families to use it.  We joined with the National Consumer Law Center to file comments last month and yesterday with our allies under the banner of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to push back against these destructive ideas.  At least we are gratified to know that these proposals received almost no support in the record before the FCC.  The FCC should not be able to adopt these ideas, but the threat of their implementation is destabilizing the program and the previous decisions the FCC adopted are hurting the chances for families to get access to affordable communications.

Learn more and join the coalition's efforts at www.savelifeline.org

Since a 1997 General Synod resolution, the United Church of Christ has formally recognized that we need to ensure we do not become a society divided between "information rich" and "information poor," which leaves struggling people without the tools to succeed in modern society.   

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Martin Luther King, Jr. and UCC Media Justice - 60 Years Later

This weekend we celebrate the leadership and sacrifice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The United Church of Christ has so many proud moments in its legacy working for the U.S. civil rights movement -- including the time a UCC leader met with Dr. King and inspired much of the early media justice movement. The UCC's media justice ministry, called the Office of Communication, Inc., was created after the UCC's original Communications Director, Dr. Everett C. Parker, met with Dr. King. As we get ready to celebrate Dr. King, we're sharing the UCC-made documentary, OC Inc., The Untold Story, as a resource for UCC churches to learn more about this unique UCC connection to MLK's legacy (available in the full 22 minutes or a 6-minute preview.)

Because OC Inc. is celebrating its 60th anniversary, Brian Lapis, one of OC Inc.'s board members, recently took a moment to reflect on his history with OC Inc.  He says:

I remember the moment when my love for the United Church of Christ and my love for the broadcast industry intersected. I was a student at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications when I opened up my communications law and ethics textbook, and there it was: United Church of Christ vs. Federal Communications Commission. The UCC won this case against insurmountable odds, to unseat racist owners from WLBT-TV and to make owners of all broadcast stations accountable to the communities they serve. As Kay Mills describes it in her 2004 book, Changing Channels, this was 'the civil rights case that transformed television.'

The work leading up to those famous court cases came from a meeting in which Dr. King met with Dr. Parker. "Can you do something about the TV stations in the south?" said Dr. King in response Dr. Parker's question about how he could help. And thus, a movement was born. Dr. Parker, whose birthday is January 17th, has been called the "the founder of the citizen movement in broadcasting."

As Brian explained, "while the UCC's work in media justice is not always well known in our churches, it is famous (and at times, relied upon) in the world of media advocacy. The UCC and OC Inc. are household names in the halls of the Federal Communications Commission and justice advocates." 

Take this weekend to learn more about the unique role of the UCC in media justice, watch the 20-minute documentary The Untold Story:

UCC's media justice work continues today -- just last September UCC OC Inc. was a critical part of a court victory case bolstering citizen standing and ownership by women and people of color in broadcasting. We're campaigning to end predatory pricing to communicate with incarcerated people, working to ensure a free and open Internet for all and one that does not spread hate speech. And don't miss the inspirational remarks by the UCC's own Rev. Julian DeShazier from this October's annual Parker Lecture.

Remember that every time you use your TV, radio, phone or internet service, the UCC's media justice work is impacting you!

If you want help support this work, please consider supporting this effective ministry and celebrating of sixty years of this work, with a contribution to our $60 for 60 Campaign

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