Collaborative Thinking Snowballs into Exciting Ideas! (Our 2nd meeting at CL/VU)

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Yesterday, we had our second meeting at CL/VU. The original plan was to join in on the last half hour of their staff meeting to get feedback from the staff on our initial project ideas. However, since it was the National Day of Mourning, the staff meeting was canceled. But that didn’t set us back! Thankfully, Steve Meacham, the Organizing Coordinator, and Dave Burt, the Special Projects Assistant, were able to join in on our meeting to engage in another exciting and productive brainstorming session.

Over the past week, we came up with 8 potential project ideas and presented them to Steve and Dave at the meeting. All of us at the meeting got hooked on one idea in particular that could tie together the three CL/VU campaigns, and promote a larger narrative around the housing crisis.  Although the idea still needs to be vetted by the rest of the staff, we spent our meeting working to expand that idea and incorporate the other ideas we had come up with. We decided we would work to create and plan a large carnival. Wait…A carnival? How can a carnival challenge and shift the dominant narrative around the housing crisis? Stick with us for a moment…

Carnival games promise a fun time and a big prize. However, how many of us have ever won a carnival game? How much money have we wasted trying to get the big stuffed animal prize? A lot. How many have actually gotten the big stuffed animal prize? Very few. Why? Because carnival games are rigged so that people are unable to win. Similarly, the housing market promises a giant reward (namely, stability and equity), but the system is set up so that people don’t win. Unlike a carnival game, however, people’s life savings and hard work go into the process of “playing the game.” However, a fair market is supposed to be fair; not a carnival game.

Playing on this idea, we hope to plan and create a large carnival in the spring. The purpose of the carnival would be to help educate people about the housing crisis and illustrate how we are all pawns in a larger game. My hope is that the carnival will provoke questioning about our institutions and system, build a movement that breaks habits of inaction and, ultimately, creates a new collective consciousness that not only challenges, but also shifts the dominant narratives around the housing crisis to stimulate action. I especially think it will be important to have the carnival strongly tie into City Life/Vida Urbana’s organizing work, so that people don’t just leave and say, ‘that was nice.’ There needs to be a direct connection established between the carnival and how people can get involved in CL/VU’s work. We are, of course, still working through how it would look, but what we know for sure is that we want it to somehow tie into the policy recommendations CL/VU wants to give to the newly elected mayor. We hope that the mayor will be present on the day we hold the carnival, as well as other relevant stakeholders.

However, to promote the carnival and pilot our ideas, we plan to hold a series of small events throughout this semester in Boston/Cambridge. We want to see how people respond to our games. A few ideas emerged yesterday of smaller games we can pilot:

  1. Exaggerate and give hula hoops to bankers and tiny hoops to regular people

  2. Game of musical chairs – chairs disappearing showing how homes have disappeared

  3. Hall of mirrors to see how distorting the effects of the market can be

A few other ideas that emerged from yesterday’s meeting are to work with artists to create a new magician caricature who can serve as the carnival’s mascot, as well as the mascot for a new, larger campaign around de-commodifying housing; develop a ‘virtual carnival’ to help promote the event that could also serve as a work product of this class; and have the carnival become a traveling carnival — working its way to different homes/spaces in the Boston area, or can even be a replicable model that other cities could readily adopt — to build a larger movement and awareness around the housing crisis. Nothing is set in stone, but we are making progress, and I am really enjoying our collaborative thinking process.

 

REV/BIC: Site Visit

A bit late, but a visit well worth the wait: on Wednesday of last week the REV/BIC team came together at the Brazilian Immigrant Center located across the river in Allston.  At around 6PM, the members of our team started to trickle into the second floor of BIC.  We, the MIT team, got to meet our Northeastern NuLawLab counterparts for the first time, and they even brought us pizza!  It was clear that they were all just as excited to be a part of this project as we were.

After some introductions from each of our members, we got right to work with presentations from REV and BIC.  REV presented previous and current work, including Nanny Van and El Bibliobandido, both of which served as inspiration for how the careful intertwining of art, technology, design, and social change can lead to incredible success.  Natalicia Tracy, executive director of BIC, followed, and she explained to us how BIC arrived at its involvement in the Massachusetts movement for domestic worker rights.

Naturally, after so much inspiration, the team had many questions.  We decided to write them all down on post-it notes, and place them on a wall :

- Are we working on one project? Or several related projects?

- What are the most immediate steps to make?

- How do NuLawLab/MIT/domestic workers play a role in the design progress?

- Where is there the most room for creativity?

While going through each question, we were able to clarify our goals both in concrete product form and in an idealogical sense.

As a collaboration we wanted to mimic the success of domestic worker hotline in New York, which created characters and used voice recordings to educate workers on their new rights.   The process in New York went a little like this:

In a /very/ simplified nutshell

In a /very/ simplified nutshell

Domestic workers (DWs) worked with REV to create “episodes” based on the new Bill of Rights (B.O.R.).  After some collaborative and iterative redacting, the audio pieces were recorded and the logic tree for the hotline was designed.  At MIT, the technology was finally implemented into a hotline!

As a collaborative group we wanted to work on a similar product that would work towards a few main goals:

  • advancing domestic worker health and safety by both gathering and providing relevant information
  • engourage base-building and membership mobilizing
  • creating a detailed and malleable framework capable of producing and sustaining future projects elsewhere in the country
  • to galvanize new audiences and accelerate the growing movement for workers’ rights in MA and elsewhere

Among the ideas thrown around during this meeting were:

  1. A Boston-based hotline that would help to spread safety information given to BIC by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
  2. A “Guide to Culturally-Relevant Spread of Information”
  3. Video clips to accompany OSHA safety guidelines
  4. An interactive SMS component

Of course, time did not let us fully develop each idea but I’m sure that with such a diverse group, they will solidify, consolidate, and strengthen organically over the coming weeks!

DA Questionnaire

If anyone has suggestions, questions or general comments, please reply!

Zumix Youth DJ Workshop

Video of the workshop!

This week on Monday night, the Zumix Team conducted a design/brainstorm workshop with the youth DJs at their monthly meeting. We felt that this workshop was very important as part of the collaborative process because we wanted the DJs to be able to give input on the potential projects since they are the ones most involved with the radio program at Zumix. We hoped to use this opportunity to not only to brainstorm but also to engage the DJs so that they will be more excited about the project.

The workshop had a great turnout, with 10 people attending, not including the Zumix team. The DJs who attended ranged from 4th graders to high school juniors. After a few minutes of quick introductions, we presented the ideas that we had thought of prior: storytelling booth, old fashioned radio playhouse, general marketing/publicity things. After we presented, we opened it up to the kids to have them give input. They were generally favorable of the ideas and gave ideas for publicity schemes such as giving away free guitar picks or getting sponsors from the local network. After the ideation phase, we broke up everyone into groups of 3-4 and had each group draw what they want the project to look like. They came up with the following creative ideas!

Group 1:
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This group combined the storybooth and old fashioned into one idea where there is a storybooth with a radio inside. They thought about putting the contraption in very visible places such as the state center or in front of the T station so that it can attract many people. People who come up to the booth would be able to share stories using the microphone. There could also be remote broadcast and music playing.

Group 2:

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The second group came up with a bunch of ideas for marketing and publicity strategies for Zumix radio. These include putting Zumix in bigger news outlets such as the Boston Herald and in the local TV station in the community and having Zumix movie nights. They also came up with ideas for publicity materials such as passing out keychains and creating a promotional DVD to hand out to different organizations and networks.

Group 3:

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The third group thought of a box of Zumix idea that, as one DJ put it, “kind of like a jack in the box but without the thing popping out.” It is a box shaped storytelling booth. When people go inside, they would be able to see their reflection, to emphasize that they are telling their own stories. They can also choose what song to listen to as they tell their story. The 4 outside walls of the box will be decorated with an artist statement, directions, mission statement, and hand prints. There can also be speakers outside for playing music to attract visitors.

At the end of the drawing activities, everyone was very excited to get started on the projects. There was talk to maybe combine the three main ideas into one project, but we would need to more research on how feasible that would be. A big concern that we have is portability. The next steps are to decide on a final project and make plans to implement it.

Our MOU is found here.

Urbano: Weekly Update

Despite our best efforts to find a common time when everyone was available, we weren’t able to meet as of the time this blog post is being written. As such, our team has been utilizing several googledocs as well as online chatting to discuss our MOU. In our discussions about decision making in particular, Peter proposed using the framework proposed by Seeds for Change, which ties in collaborative and participatory aspects, values that Urbano strives to promote as an organization.

Our MOU can be found here!

City Life/Vida Urbana team: exercises in challenging dominant narratives

Our visit to City Life/Vida Urbana was extremely productive and exciting. At the meeting was our team (Nene, Dara, Terry, Mike) and the Executive Director of CLVU – Curdina Hill. We began the conversation by reflecting on the CLVU-produced documentary video called “Communities in Peril” that Mike asked us to watch before the meeting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXxZs_pswdo. We also reviewed the CLVU blog about Yolanda Nova, the woman featured in the video who faced foreclosure and eviction and eventually won the right to stay in her home: http://clvu.marquee.by/cuando-luchamos-ganamos/

After much discussion, we decided: the story was powerful, and the message was clear; what was not clear was the overarching narrative that CLVU wanted to reiterate – that the housing crisis is not over, and the cycle of housing bubbles and crises would continue until housing is de-commodified. This is our overall project goal: to find a narrative and a project that would combine the different campaigns CLVU is working on: 1) an anti-investor campaign – many of the foreclosed properties are being bought up en masse by investors looking to sell the houses when land values rise so they can turn a profit, 2) fighting gentrification in Boston neighborhoods, and 3) a law to assert the rights of tenant to stay in their homes even if the property is foreclosed on. Although the campaigns seem only tangentially related to each other in that they deal with housing, they are all under-girded by the idea that housing is not a commodity, that people need places to live, and housing being on the speculative market causes problems for working class and low income people.

The goal of our meeting on Thursday was to leave with an agreed upon project idea, but coming up with a project to “combat the cultural narrative that the housing crisis is over” and link the work of CLVU was harder than you’d think! The task is daunting: shifting cultural narratives – both how to come up with new narratives that are broad enough to capture the core ideas of what we are fight for, and how to communicate it in a way that actually challenges the dominant narrative. And it is the task faced by every social justice group fighting for better policies and practices for people.  Terry and I used tools from the Center for Story-based Strategy to facilitate a conversation within our group about dominant narratives and cultural narratives.

We needed to link the campaigns that CL/VU is working on through one cultural narrative that is powerful enough to combat the idea that the housing crisis is over. In the They Say/We Say activity, we brainstormed narratives, assumptions, and ideas that people in power, and the status quo believe, such as market forces always work, there is no one to blame for this crisis, and people who go into foreclosure are irresponsible. We then brainstormed ideas and narratives that we believe and want to assert through our work, for example: housing is a human right, market is a human construct that can change, and people are more important than profits.

Because CLVU is currently running these campaigns, we did an activity called Points of Intervention (POI) to see how we could tie in action around the assumptions and dominant narratives to CLVU’s current actions. POI calls out four points that organized action usually happens at: the point of destruction (eviction blockade), consumption (housing auction), decision (housing court), or production (factory).

These points are usually where the problem is most visible or where the impact of the problem is most felt. It makes logical sense for actions to happen at these points – any passerbyer who sees an action at one of these points should be able to make reasonable sense of why the action is happening. There are also points of assumption – not physical places, but spaces where the narrative that keeps policies in place are not working. The Center for Story Based Strategy asserts that actions must also target points of assumption by pointing out what is invisible, reframing the debate, and create the space for alternatives. We had a lengthy discussion about the way Occupy Wall Street was able to do this.

With these brainstorms, we then attempted to synthesize our ideas by pulling out common themes as well as identifying “fissures” in the dominant narrative – areas where the narrative is weak or contradictory: for example; the dominant narrative is that market forces provide the best distribution of resources, yet it is actually the social safety need that makes market capitalism bearable for most people.

We revisited our logic model from class on Tuesday in order to start brainstorming potential outputs. Video, vines, and social media all came up as potential avenues to get the message across.

My group still has a lot of thinking to do before we decide on a course of action. Importantly, Mike is going to take our ideas back to CLVU’s organizing team. Ideally, these conversations happen together – the organizing strategy is pulled together with the narrative framework already in place. Otherwise, you get powerful pieces like Communities in Peril that amplify individual stories of actions, but don’t advance a new cultural narrative or challenge the dominant narrative that keeps communities struggling for housing and basic needs. Furthermore, without concrete, organized actions to support it, a narrative runs the risk of being ineffective and difficult to advance.

I am hopeful that we can come up with something good. Using tools to facilitate the conversation was productive and fun so I think we will continue to pull from the Center for Story Based Strategy and Terry’s newly forming civic hack lab “Intelligent Mischief” for tools and processes to have conversations like these. The major challenges we have are how to create a strategy that is culturally appropriate, that has buy in from CLVU’s organizers and membership base, that also has the cultural and strategic capacity to force a conversation about current housing policies and the ideas and ideologies that keep those policies in place – and do it all this semester – no big deal.

ZUMIX Site Visit

Check out this video of our first site visit! The sound track of the video is from live recording of a ZUMIX youth group that sang after the run.

On Sunday, our team met at Piers Park in East Boston to check out the Move to the Beat 5K run, which ZUMIX has organized for the last four years to raise funds for its music and creative technology programming. Lucia, our ZUMIX point-person, estimated that somewhere between 300-400 people took part in the race and/or musical festivities that young people from ZUMIX performed for the crowd. The weather was great, the surroundings beautiful, and the atmosphere lively. People were laughing, snapping photos of each other in the costumes they wore for the race, enjoying the music, and showing love for ZUMIX and their neighbors and friends.

Lucia and Rayza, a 9th-grade ZUMIX Radio DJ, walked us up the street just a few blocks to the beautifully converted firehouse that ZUMIX calls home. There we were given a tour of the incredible facility within. ZUMIX has spaces for kids to learn and practice all kinds of musical instruments, from piano to drumline to horns to beats. They have a state-of-the-art production studio where program participants can record their music and learn to work the tech. The radio station is tucked away down in the basement, where there’s a board, a monitor, and a collection of mics for live interviews. On the walls of the classrooms and corridors, there are huge bright paintings of artists like Bob Dylan and Miles Davis. There are also group agreements from the music and production classes, written out in a young student’s handwriting. The space effuses their mission to build strong people and communities through art and creative expression.

After the tour, we sat down to discuss ideas, objectives, and potential projects for our co-design team. We’ll be focusing on the radio arm of ZUMIX’s operations; Lucia, the radio coordinator, has the following objectives:

  • Get more young people involved in ZUMIX Radio

  • Let folks in the East Boston community know about all of the local programming, produced by and for their neighbors, that ZUMIX Radio streams online daily

  • Integrate ZUMIX Radio with the other activities and programming that happens at the larger ZUMIX organization (eg. students taking technical production courses could record students

These will serve as overarching, directional goals. Some ideas we came up with to help us achieve these objectives include:

  • Portable old-fashioned radio

  • Portable sound booth

The old-fashioned radio could serve as a physical reminder of ZUMIX Radio on the second floor (where a lot of the music and tech classes happen, the administrative folks have their desks, and there’s a common hangout and kitchen space). It would be hooked up to a laptop that streams ZUMIX Radio, but the volume and other features are controlled by old-timey knobs and dials. It should be interactive so that kids are attracted to it; the whole point is to get them interested in and excited about radio.

The Portable Sound Booth could be used to collect and share stories from East Boston with East Boston and beyond. Lucia explained that the neighborhood is changing: gentrification is setting in, the outcome of the casino debate will have serious ramifications, and the large immigrant population has unique concerns that need to be addressed. The sound booth might be a way for residents to share their stories about the past and their hopes for the future. We should also remember to make it FUN! Kids, families, whomever…people can be silly, creative…whatever they like! We discussed building on an existing relationship that ZUMIX Radio has with an East Boston High media class as a way to reach out to young people and bring the booth to them. There are also a number of community organizations, churches, and public squares and parks where we could bring the booth to people. As you can imagine, we want to make sure the booth is as portable, appealing, and useful as possible. It should be light, have both private and public spaces, be able to both record and play audio, and should be visually captivating.

Potentially, the old-fashioned radio and the story booth could be combined. We think we’ll be able to reach out the Media Lab and other MIT sources to find some of the tools we’ll need for both of these projects. But in order to move forward with these ideas in the immediate future, our next steps include:

  • Asking Sasha about our budget!

  • Doing research on what others have done around story booths (portability, hardware, software, etc)

If you have questions, suggestions, or ideas, please leave a comment!