Dialogues with Solidarity Conscious Knowledge Workers

datejie cheko greenThis past fall term the community welcomed datejie cheko green into the fold as the 2015 FIMS Asper Fellow in Media. While on site, Green taught the MIT course "Global Power, Media/Work and Intersectional Solidarity" and also set to work on an ambitious event series that brought international voices, experts and entertainment onto campus.

Titled "Dialogues with Solidarity Conscious Knowledge Workers," the series was described by green as aiming to engage precarious cultural, media, and knowledge producers about their work and lives. The events probed the barriers and threats to these workers' digitally-dependent work, including the implications of digital surveillance and other forms of policing on precarious knowledge workers and their communities.

Green recently participated in a Q&A in which she discussed her motivations for becoming the FIMS Asper Fellow, and for spearheading the event series.

(Stay tuned for the 4th event in the Asper Fellow Series, "Digital Security: A practical workshop for media & knowledge workers” to take place in late January or early February 2016. All are welcome to attend!)


Q: What prompted you to pursue the Asper Fellowship?
A: I applied for the Fellowship with a lot of excitement at the opportunity to get back into a scholarly environment. I had recently finished a position where I was a union organizer recruiting and working to build supports for freelancers and precarious workers like myself, and I was interested in pursuing an opportunity in a scholarly environment to consolidate the knowledge that I was discovering and building in that role. The frame of the Asper Fellowship was very accommodating and lent itself very well to the way that I work with multiple projects at multiple levels, so I was really excited to apply.

Q: You’re running an event series called “Dialogues with Solidarity Conscious Knowledge Workers.” What was the impetus to produce this series as part of the Fellowship?
A: The type of work I’ve done in the past has always had, as much as possible, some kind of community engagement. Because the Faculty of Information and Media Studies covers so many different pieces, all of which I’ve done in terms of my work and studies before, I wanted to be able to make the most of it by engaging with all parts of the faculty and all the different types of students. I figured that in order to activate that idea of community engagement, I needed to have something where it was in person bringing people together. That’s why I wanted to do an event series, and I knew I just couldn’t do one [event] because the range of subjects that I work on is so vast.

The idea of solidarity in our times is kind of taboo. A lot of people who have experience in any kind of previous labour movement or organizing, or have experience in some kind of social movement or crisis, understand what solidarity is. Especially under the Harper government, that kind of talk and sentiment was very much repressed and pushed underground. I wanted to give it a platform to come out in the open again and to acknowledge the fact that the people who act with consciousness for each other, for humanizing each other, and engage in projects or in studies or in research that’s about solidarity are often the most marginalized, because it has been underground and has been unpopular.

In a capitalist, patriarchal and supremacist global economic system, where so much is about competing with each other, solidarity goes against that grain. So, in effect, the series puts a spotlight on all of the things that are otherwise a little bit scary for people to embrace in a very open kind of way, and allows that space to be taken up.

Q: You talk about bringing solidarity to the forefront. What other outcomes or goals did you have in mind with this particular event series?
A: A big part of my event series goal was to bring students, staff, faculty and the general public into the dialogues, but also to invite students to join in the multiple opportunities to participate in media creation made possible by today’s digital technologies.

Putting this event series together was a real leap of faith for me as to whether it would come together at all, when it would come together, how it would come together, if anyone would show up, and if anyone would benefit from it. To my pleasant surprise I had very favourable feedback from my students [in the special MIT topic course “Global Power, Media/Work and Intersectional Solidarity”]. They took so much from [the events] that they had spread the word amongst their peers and friends. The second event [Digital Security, Precarious Knowledge Workers & Global Freedom of Expression] was live-streamed so that meant instantly it went online and was global. I had a participant as far away as Hong Kong, so that made me very happy.

The City University of New York Graduate Center had a similar dialogue to my first one [Remixing the Digital Archive: Black and Indigenous creators reclaim knowledge space] the week after mine took place. It was live-streamed and recorded and I watched it online. [“Decolonizing the Collection”: artists Duane Linklater, Christopher Stackhouse and anthropologist Audra Simpson at CUNY Graduate Center, Nov. 3, 2015 ] I thought it was really interesting that similar dialogues are taking place spontaneously, and without knowing about each other, in different cities. That was reaffirming to me that I am on the right track.

(View a Storify post detailing "Digital Security, Precarious Knowledge Workers & Global Freedom of Expression," put together by MMJC student Chloe Grande.)

Q: What insights have you learned from your students?
A: I come at this Fellowship and actually came at my more recent master’s studies as a mature student and a scholar who didn’t take the linear path. So being able to be in a class that’s an intensified lecture and dialogue space with my students has really exposed me to what their challenges are today as twenty-somethings. Even though I have been working with youth groups in different places like Hamilton and Toronto, seeing yet another group in London, that’s at the university level trying to wrestle with media questions, has been really eye opening.

Facebook really dominates their lives. The speed with which information travels is not limited to or filtered by old media, traditional media like broadcasters and newspapers like it used to be. So the speed at which they have to both engage with media and be able to be responsive to it in order to make meaning for their lives is far different than the pace at which "old" scholarship operates, and is outpacing what a lot of media scholarship can address.

I ask my students, “Tell me about your strengths and tell me about what your concerns are.” In group dialogue in the classroom and in one-on-one discussions in my office, they have shared with me what their priorities are and I have tried to turn those priorities they’ve shared with me into lessons for the next class. It’s been a very iterative pedagogical style and [the students] keep giving me feedback about what works and what doesn’t. I think I’ve managed to serve them well as they’ve served me.

Q: How would you characterize your experience at FIMS?
A: I found the faculty to be incredibly receptive and welcoming. It’s really been very heartening. Everyone’s been very friendly, favourable of my ideas, wanting to support, wanting to leverage other kinds of support where possible, from the student council to the Digital Labour Group to seeing if other faculties outside FIMS would be interested. It’s been very positive.

I also have come to realize that is challenging to get people to stay on campus for events after hours. I think that’s the nature of the geography of the city and how people treat their work lives separated from their home lives. It seems to me, and this is not exclusive to FIMS at all, that people are very busy. Finding that extracurricular space and getting folks to join me in it, I think that’s been the only challenge, and I recognize that likely comes together better with time.