During April in the United States, 92,432 homes were repossessed. Only one homeowner got a weeks’ worth of news coverage. Read how he used video and why his model is worth replicating…
Earlier this month, whilst we were waiting for our new blog to go live (yay!), I was watching a very creative and innovative use of live streaming video for advocacy coming out of Ohio. Keith Sadler, a former UAW worker, was resisting the foreclosure of the house he had called home for 20 years. He had received foreclosure notices once he failed on his payments due to being laid off (background).
Instead of handing over his keys to the bank, Sadler united forces with the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League (TFDL) to nonviolently resist the foreclosure by barricading himself in his home. The unique twist to this resistance effort: live streaming video.
During their week of resistance from May 1-7, Sadler and his allies invited viewers and supporters to watch their efforts live. Tuning – in to the stream on and off, I usually saw signs with different messages on screen, with chats from viewers and the resisters in the ongoing chat alongside the video.
A New, Replicable Model of Video Advocacy
I’m a big fan of creative, nonviolent resistance and I think Sadler and his allies have done something incredibly innovative that will be replicated across the country and beyond (*please add a comment below if you’ve seen this before!).
Video and multimedia documentation, covert and overt, of forced displacement and evictions is becoming essential practice – WITNESS partner LICADHO in Cambodia is a great example. However, the use of live streaming video adds a new twist with great potential – and a few concerns that are particularly noteworthy for human rights defenders.
Top 5 Video Advocacy Opportunities for Live Streaming Video
Document and Preserve Events: Live streaming tools enable viewers to watch in real-time, but they can also be set-up to save and archive the content remotely. This can be a huge asset, particularly if one is at risk of their footage being taken – often a concern for human rights defenders. By capturing the content remotely and ensuring it is saved and available for editing, remixing or evidentiary purposes, activists have a myriad of possibilities. In addition to preserving their footage, human rights defenders themselves may be safer.
Constant Spotlight: Reality TV has spawned so many time-sucking adventures, for good and bad. I think this could be a great one for advocacy. Remotely inviting folks into his living room, Sadler was able to not only spark interest and discussion, he was able to keep the spotlight on his issue and keep the attention up. According to one report, Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn “planned to hold off the raid until next week, hoping that the media and protesters would lose interest in Sadler’s standoff.” But when the sheriff learned that the resisters were going to get portable toilets and supplies for the weekend, they decided to move in. Live streaming the event and the subsequent media attention played a factor in prolonging the eviction and how the authorities recalibrated their plans.
Harness the Media: Last month in the United States, 92,432 homes were repossessed, an all-time high and a 45% increase over April 2009. According to CNN, “if repossessions continue at this pace, more than 1.1 million homes will be lost in 2010”. How many of the 92,000 families had a chance to have their perspective and voice heard regularly on local TV and radio and via a host of online sites? Often, media can have an attention span of a goldfish; however, this is the kind of story that they keep returning to. It provides a host of different angles to be covered, viewpoints to be heard and when there is a pending arrest and photo opportunity, as displayed here, media will be watching the event and in Sadler’s case, even be embedded with the Sheriff’s department to capture the ‘before, during and after’ the eviction.
Invite Discussion: Many live streaming tools enable users and viewers to have a discussion alongside the video. This can be a great way to have a discussion – and sometimes, invite a flood of viewpoints, comments and perspectives that may or may not align with the creator’s intention. Though each situation is unique, the opportunity to have dialogue, share information and call for support or insight on an issue could be incredibly valuable.
Gain Support: Live streaming can provide amplification to existing efforts through the advantages noted above, and ultimately the new viewers of the stream or media coverage can be invited to support the effort and connect with the organizers. The potential here is vast, ranging from inviting folks to call the Sheriff’s office and speak out against the eviction during the week of resistance as Sadler did, to inviting folks to join a membership, join an event or donate supplies and funding to the effort.
Hey, What About the Risks?
Apt question. Much of our work at WITNESS is rooted in using and enhancing the best practices of informed consent, safety and security of filmmakers and those in their footage – including flagging concerns over re-vicitimization. As a starter, watch WITNESS’ Program Director Sam Gregory’s video, “The Ethics of Online Video: Questions on Dignity, Re-Victimization, Consent and Security” (full post here):
In addition to the core safety, security and ethical issues that come with video advocacy, live streaming adds a few noteworthy ones to the list:
Account-Driven: Live streaming tools, whether streaming from your laptop and using USTREAM or via your mobile phone using Qik, require an account. Mobile phones are very traceable, and even if you create a false name and account, the connection you’re using via your ISP can be tracked. As a note of caution for those that are looking to mitigate their risk – streaming video might not be the right tool.
Loss of Control: A general rule of thumb that I use in trainings: Once content is online, you’ve lost absolute control of the content. There are a host of tools and ways to capture text and multimedia online, enabling others to remix the content – one of the things I love most about the web. This can be a good thing when you want your content to be used and repurposed, but before one streams live, it is essential to think of the worst-case scenarios with what may be in the content and how it could be used (or abused). For example, what if you are live streaming a demonstration and the authorities are simultaneously watching the event via your feed, capturing the footage and working to identify participants to pursue legal cases against them or worse?
What Have You Seen and What are Your Thoughts?
We’ll be revisiting mobile phone video, streaming video and best practices & case studies therein and reporting back via this blog; so, please consider this just a teaser post for now.
In the meantime:
– Have you seen good examples of streaming advocacy video – particularly those related to evictions?
– Have you seen good resources on safety and security or informed consent – or case studies?
– What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of streaming video for advocacy?
Please add your thoughts, ideas and links to the comments below!
Applicable Resources Worth Reviewing
WITNESS’ Book: Video for Change: A Guide for Advocacy and Activism (Download Chapter 2 – Safety and Security).
American University Center for Social Media’s report: Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work.
Mashable’s (old, but relevant) list of live streaming tools.
And Back to Toledo: Resources Regarding the Sadler Case and Other Resistance Efforts
Take Back the Land: This is a great site and effort that is featuring resistance to foreclosures and evictions across the United States. Lots of video and interesting efforts from this network and its members.
Video from Sadler’s home: Here’s one of the members of the TFDL outside the house in a news report – just one example of the increased news coverage.