Clamor is a quarterly print magazine and online community of radical thought, art, and action. An iconoclast among its peers, Clamor is an unabashed celebration of self-determination, creativity, and shit-stirring. Clamor publishes content of, by, for, and with marginalized communities. From the kitchen table to shop floor, the barrio to the playground, the barbershop to the student center, it's old school meets new school in a battle for a better tomorrow. Clamor is a do-it-yourself guide to everyday revolution.
This analysis is presented as a case study on how movement projects and organizations deal with vital but rarely discussed issues such as management, sustainability, ownership, structure, finance, decision making, power, diversity, and vision.
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Becoming the Media
A Critical History of Clamor Magazine
By Jen Angel
PM PressCopyright © 2008 Jen Angel
All rights reserved.
WHY INDEPENDENT MEDIA?
I became involved with independent media around 1990 and have remained involved because, on its most base level, independent media empowers individuals, thereby strengthening our communities and movements.
When I put together my first zine, Fucktooth, in 1991, I tentatively put my voice out into the world. I was 16 years old. I published Fucktooth on and of for about ten years, putting out 24 editions. I would define zines as non-commercial, self-published magazines, and Fucktooth was primarily a personal zine of my own writing that included interviews, reviews, and an occasional guest column. Through that experience, and writing and receiving feedback over 15 years, I was able to find and establish my own voice. I also gained confidence and self-assurance that have been invaluable to my development as an activist and organizer.
On a basic level, media empowered me and has the ability to empower others in the same way, making our movements stronger. Beyond that, in the movement for social change, media plays a vital role on local, regional, and national levels. Being able to communicate with each other effectively across time and distance is one key skill that will help build a strong national movement for change.
Activists need ways to communicate with other activists, with supporters, and with the general public. We need media that is our own to provide space for inter-movement discussion and self-critique, to celebrate our own culture and victories, to record our own history, to critique dominant society, to distribute news not covered by mainstream outlets, and to expose people to radicalism. Media serves to strengthen and support our movements, and its role in the success of any movement cannot be underestimated. Despite this, media is often undervalued and often overlooked by organizers.
Media is also one example of where activists have the opportunity to model a different world, one that we want to live in. By creating and maintaining media institutions that are accessible to everyone, that present readers with diverse ideas and concepts so they can make informed decisions, and allow us to connect with each other, we are building institutions that prefigure a better world, that show us what it could look like. By building viable alternative institutions and providing concrete examples on how society could be run, we help challenge the dominant structure (sometimes this is called a "dual power" strategy). Much of activism involves protesting and demonstrating against things we disagree with. While it is essential that we fight repression and oppression of all sorts, it is also essential for us to know what we want (not just what we are against) and to begin modeling and practicing that behavior — to inspire ourselves and others, and to build a strong foundation for the future. The fight for a fair, just, and democratic media is itself part of the social justice movement.
Not only do independent media groups build alternative institutions; at best, movement media creates a space for activists to share visions of the future and develop strategies to get there.CHAPTER 2
THE BEGINNING OF CLAMOR: WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO DO
In 1999, Jason Kucsma and I had the idea to start a magazine that would be a media outlet with the vibrance and diversity we saw in underground zine culture, but the accessibility and inclusiveness of a nationally distributed magazine. We wanted a hip, young magazine that would speak to the progressives and radicals who were our peers and that could attract new people to social justice work and ideas. This idea occurred to us within the culture of zines and developed separately from political developments at the time, including the lead-up to the November 1999 Seattle WTO protests which saw the birth of the Independent Media Center movement.
Earlier in 1999, Jason and I attended a conference together in St. Louis called the Midwest Underground Media Symposium. Tat event cemented our friendship and was the beginning of a conversation about taking our media to the next level. We had each been involved with zines for many years, and felt our personal involvement in the independent media movement and the culture of the movement had reached a plateau. As a community, we knew how to produce great zines, to make great books, and to organize conferences. When I say "we knew," I mean that within the zine community there were individuals and groups who were good at all of those things and had spent time developing and refining those ideas. Jason and I started talking about what could be next, because we felt it was important for our community to progress and resist being stagnant or simply repeating the same projects forever.
Although Jason and I both identified as anarchists and anti-authoritarians when we started the magazine, and many principles of the anarchist movement (such as democracy, liberation, participation, and mutual aid) guided us, the intention was never to create an anarchist magazine. While in some ways the original goals of Clamor were very humble — to empower individuals, to prioritize the voices of everyday people over the voices of experts (i.e., even progressive experts like Noam Chomsky or Barbara Ehrenreich) — the overall goal was to create a non-sectarian political magazine that spoke to our peers.
We attempted to reach a mass audience because if social change is going to happen in the United States it needs to happen on a mass scale. Activists need to break out of insular communities and reach out to the general public. We tried to appeal both to activists and to what we called "supporters" — people who in general agree with activists' sentiments but haven't been moved to action, or those who feel isolated in their opinions. We made careful choices about what words to use, for example not using activist or anarchist, to avoid alienating these individuals while drawing out commonalities with which they could identify. Especially in the early years, we discouraged people from labeling Clamor as "the best new anarchist publication."
We made the conscious decision that Clamor would cover successes and victories within this broad social justice movement, as well as celebrate the culture that supports this activism. Many years ago I read an essay of Howard Zinn's where he said that most people know that injustice exists; they just feel powerless to change it. I've come back to that quote often and have come to believe the real mission of activists and of Clamor is to help people realize their potential to effect positive change in the world, and to support the movement for social change. Clamor did that by empowering individuals/giving them a voice, and also by highlighting the many ways people were actively responding to injustice: by fighting back, resisting, and creating. One way to instill hope is to show people they are not alone and "another world is possible" or rather, that a better world is possible.
Although Clamor was non-sectarian, it wasn't a unifying, cross-movement magazine.
It is necessary for all movements to have ways for people to talk with each other, share news, and strategize, which allows networks brought together around particular moments in time to build on each other and not rebuild continually. This is something inherently lacking in today's media landscape. While Clamor did not try to be that unifying force, we did succeed in creating a space that allowed and encouraged activists to reflect and theorize on their work, as well as reflect on how to sustain social movements. Allowing this political space for discussion is one way that Clamor, and media in general, is part of building movements.
Finally, we chose to focus on a print publication as opposed to other types of media for a number of reasons. One very real concern was the digital divide: who has access to electronic media, and who doesn't? Not only are print magazines and zines relatively inexpensive for consumers, they put out new information often (as opposed to books or DVDs), don't require special equipment for the average person to decipher, and can be taken on a bus, into the bathroom, on an airplane, or into the woods. We also saw a space within magazines for a publication that we wanted to read but could not find.CHAPTER 3
When we started Clamor, we were working out of Jason's bedroom on a clunky iMac. We had little or no experience with anything except writing and self-publishing small-scale zines. With just an idea and no real concept of the future, we pushed Clamor into the world with its first issue in February 2000. We went on to publish 38 issues in seven years, including the writing and artwork of over 1,000 individuals from around the world. I don't think either of us imagined such a successful project.
Several ideas or concepts have emerged as either strategies that helped us succeed or as parts of our identity that set us apart from other magazines.CHAPTER 4
ENTRY POINTS: HELPING NEW VOICES BE HEARD
As mentioned in the introduction, an essential component of independent media is that it is accessible to new writers and that it empowers individuals by helping "amplify" their voices. From the beginning, we chose to prioritize new writers. We felt if you wanted to know what experts had to say, there were enough other magazines already available. For example, you can pick up Z Magazine to find a column by Howard Zinn or Nat Hentoff. We did not want to be a magazine where you had to have published a book before we would print your article.
It was also important to us to pay everyone for their work, because we felt work should be rewarded, and we did not want to self-select our audience by only printing writers who could afford to donate their time and work. If there was going to be financial benefit from the project, we wanted to share it with everyone who helped create it.
Often, working with new writers meant many of them were inexperienced. Although this posed some challenges, such as having to devote significantly more time to working with and revising pieces, these new voices gave Clamor a different perspective than other magazines, a genuineness and sincerity that was unique. We encouraged activists to write about their work, so we struggled with the problem that good activists are not always good writers. Sometimes this meant we would interview activists or encourage them to work with a co-writer.
We often published work by individuals who had never written before, such as our friend's brother whose wife had given birth prematurely ("It Must Have Been Something In The Water," Brian Matthews, No. 8, April/May 2001). He wanted to tell the story of how his community was concerned about drinking water contamination, and how it wasn't being reported elsewhere. He wasn't a writer; he just had a story to tell. Also, Diane Fox, a teenager who wrote "Small Boobs: America's Breast Obsession" in the Jan/Feb 2002 edition, saw her first published article.
Then there were aspiring writers who couldn't get published in other magazines because they didn't have prior experience. When you wanted to write for Clamor, we did not ask to first see "clips." Several writers got their start with us, as exemplified by this letter from contributor Courtney Martin, who wrote for Clamor several times between 2003 and 2006.
Clamor was a place where my emails were answered, my ideas always considered respectfully. Clamor was a place where the editors didn't ask me for my clips. Jason trusted that my heart was in the right place and that I would do my best and welcomed me to write. It was a turning point for me. [...] It was Clamor that first made me feel like a writer. It was Clamor that didn't have gatekeepers, prerequisites, naysayers.
Courtney has gone on to write for publications like The Baltimore Sun, Women's eNews, AlterNet, The Christian Science Monitor, and BUST, as well as for blogs like Feministing and Huffington Post. She published her first book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, with Simon & Schuster in 2007. I also recently received a letter from Andrew Cornell, thanking us for providing an avenue for moving from zine writing to working with larger magazines.
Eventually, we found that having theme issues (which I believe we started with the "Water" issue, No. 8 Apr/May 2001) not only helped us have cohesive issues, but helped people articulate and refine their ideas as well as commit to a deadline. For those with vague notions of writing a particular article, knowing a related theme issue was coming up often served as a needed kick-in-the-pants to get things started. We always encouraged a wide interpretation of the theme. Some of our most popular themes included: Sex, Food, Education/Learning, Death, Borders, Technology, Work, and Fashion.
Having themes occasionally backfired, like when we published the Sports issue (No. 19, Mar/Apr 2003). While all of the content was amazing, having a photo of a boxing match on the cover confused bookstores that didn't know what section to put it in, and it confused readers who were looking for straight-up political content. Had they looked beyond the cover, they would have found theme-related articles on gender politics in football country, cockfighting, break dancing, bowling leagues, and an interview with Sensei Mike Esmailzedeh (not to mention the content that was not theme related, such as interviews with Dead Prez and the Emma Goldman Papers Project).CHAPTER 5
CONTENT: INTEGRATING POLITICS & CULTURE
Clamor had an emphasis not only on political discussion but also on culture and art. This differentiated Clamor from primarily political magazines, such as In These Times or Left Turn, but also from design-based magazines like Adbusters. For us, politics and culture could not be separated. Culture is a manifestation of everything we are: our politics, our ethics, and our beliefs. Skilled activists use culture as an entry point into larger discussions of politics and theory, and use art and culture to celebrate victories and mourn losses.
This connection showed up in our magazine in several ways. First, we included artwork by and coverage of artists, musicians, and other cultural workers in parity with our political content, and dedicated an entire section of each issue of the magazine to culture. We also had themes related to culture, such as the "Make Art Not War" theme (No. 24, Jan/Feb 2004). Some examples of this type of coverage included interviews with muralists, musicians, graffiti artists, or theater performers.
Second, we made a magazine that looked good. Many publications, from veterans like Z Magazine to newcomers like Upping the Anti seem to have the theory that the content will speak for itself and does not need to be packaged attractively. The problem is that pages and pages of text overwhelm readers. Having an attractive magazine makes the content more accessible. Other magazines that do this well include Orion and Herbivore.
Activism, politics, and civic participation need to be interesting, fun, and attractive to individuals. Not only does this prevent burnout and increase participation, it models a future world we want to live in where our lives are both productive and enjoyable (and pretty).
Finally, we also combined coverage of activism and a critique of dominant society with stories relating to living in this society, looking at things such as death, parenting, sexuality, or health. While "lifestylism" is often considered a pejorative term, it was important that Clamor help activists examine critical areas of their lives, and talk about how our politics can be reflected in the choices we make. Partially this was a reflection of what we, as individuals, were going through, as we grew up and out of the punk scene and had to make choices about work, love, and life. We needed and wanted guidance from others who were going through, or had gone through, those difficult choices.CHAPTER 6
BUILDING A FOUNDATION: DECISION-MAKING STRUCTURES
When Clamor started, Jason and I did everything except write the stories and draw the pictures. We sold advertising, did layout, recruited writers, edited pieces, worked with the printer, bought the office supplies, filled orders for subscriptions, got the magazine distributed to stores, and made the coffee.
Having a small decision-making group (of two) contributed significantly to our stability and effectiveness. Even later, when we worked with Josh Breitbart as our consulting editor (from 2001-ish to 2004-ish), each of us could make major decisions about the future of the magazine just by consulting with two other people. This helped us make decisions quickly and with consensus for the most part. One reason this was possible is because Jason and I both have a high capacity for getting shit done, and early on we did not need to bring on new members or form a large collective to get necessary tasks completed. I have worked with other groups that sought to have a large collective with a lot of decision makers for political reasons, and that form of organization is equally valid depending on
Excerpted from Becoming the Media by Jen Angel. Copyright © 2008 Jen Angel. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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Table of Contents
WHY INDEPENDENT MEDIA?,
THE BEGINNING OF CLAMOR: WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO DO,
ENTRY POINTS: HELPING NEW VOICES BE HEARD,
CONTENT: INTEGRATING POLITICS & CULTURE,
BUILDING A FOUNDATION: DECISION-MAKING STRUCTURES,
INNOVATION THROUGH ADVERSITY,
BEING A GOOD COMMUNITY MEMBER,
MIDWEST REPRESENT! WHY GEOGRAPHY MATTERS,
STANDING OUR GROUND: AMERICAN APPAREL CHALLENGES,
MONEY: THE GREAT SPECTER,
DEBT: FINDING MONEY FOR STARTING AND CONTINUING PROJECTS,
OPERATING OUTSIDE THE NICHE: MARKETING TO ADVERTISERS AND SUBSCRIBERS,
GETTING THE WORD OUT: MODELS FOR DISTRIBUTION,
GROWING PAINS: ISSUES OF POWER, DIVERSITY, AND REPRESENTATION,
THE NON-PROFIT INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX: VOLUNTEERS VS. PAID STAFF,
INTIMACY: MANAGING PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS IN THE WORKPLACE,
THE END OF CLAMOR: WHY WE DECIDED TO CLOSE THE FUTURE,