Every quarter, Positive Activism seeks to discover a new activist and find out what what really makes them tick! This spotlight piece features Yoni Miller, a media watchdog, anti-repression activist, and dual citizen.
Sarah: What sort of activism are you involved with? What are your main issues you focus on?
Yoni: I mostly involve myself in anti-repression work and media activism. The two intersect a lot for me, especially my work in the Chelsea Manning Support Network, which is just as much about militarism as it is about transparency and media access.
Sarah: Can you talk a little more about media activism?
Yoni: I have a general belief, that free press and right to assemble, to express ourselves are necessary if we wish to achieve change. In addition to holding mainstream media accountable (everything from letters, petitions, to supporting organizations like FAIR and Media Matters; while also simultaneously providing a counterbalance in social media, and other alternative media. I am a content curator for @OccupyWallStNYC and for the Chelsea Manning Facebook page ; which is a tremendous responsibility, to accurately represent the different topics covered.
Yoni: I’m a dual citizen, of the US and of De Nederlands, so I even from a young age, I read very different things about the Iraq war; and likewise, during the Obama 2008 campaign; which was a campaign I was excited about, because I thought it meant single payer care in the US. We’re a far shot from achieving anything like that, but in the process; I was interested in disparities in media. And then came Occupy. During Nov 15th 2011 eviction, I was reading NYTimes blog, until it stopped updating, apparently they were arrested and blocked from covering it. So I immediately turned to twitter, for updates. I was addicted to twitter afterwards, following @Wikileaks, occupy, journalists in Syria and Gaza etc.. it was magical.
Sarah: What other ways has your dual citizenship shaped your activism?
Yoni: In general, I wasn’t sold on idea of patriotism and nationalism, both because of what happened in Holland during the war; but also because I couldn’t claim some “heritage” or sole allegiance to any one country.
Sarah: Do you want to talk more about your upbringing and how you became an activist?
Yoni:I was born Deaf, implanted at the age of 2.5 years, so I have always been dependent on collectivized health care one way or the other. Growing with a Jewish European family, the Holocaust has always been a very important aspect of my heritage, as well as my family’s working class roots in the lower east side in 1900’s. So politics was always important part of my life. I was intimately following and campaigning for Obama in 2008, I was a teenager! But, Occupy was my first real taste of participatory democracy and radical activism
Sarah: Do you think being born Deaf has shaped who you are as an activist?
Yoni: I think it definitely made me much more receptive to alternative forms of communications from meetings, to consensus models, to online tools. As well as being accommodating. I like to think about accessibility in such terms, including removing barriers…lingual barriers, economic etc..
Sarah: I often think about disability in activism and how a lot of it doesn’t do well with being inclusive…
Yoni: Yeah, definitely. Ableism is generally a term thrown around a lot; while meaningful efforts to combat it are ignored from wheelchair accessibilities in buildings/bathrooms to availability of interpreters/transcriptions etc..
Sarah: Do you find yourself having to stand up for this issue at times?
Yoni: People tend to not treat me like I’m one of those disabled people, so I commandeer same respect as abled people do, so I often speak up; about these things, for myself and others.
In this Dutch Anarchist festival I went to few months ago was interesting, big section of it was No Border Camps so we had many corners in each room, where conversations were translated live, as speakers spoke etc.. people were creative and crafty with trying to accommodate, and also seek what needs people had.
Some people just needed to sit up front, to better hear; others needed translations etc… there wasn’t shame and by asking; it creates affirming tone.
Sarah: Do you not see the same sort of effort for accommodations in the states?
Yoni: I don’t think it’s intentional, but generally not so much. People are much less collectivized here.
Sarah: I think it’s just something people sincerely aren’t aware of because they’ve never had somebody make them aware.
Yoni: Well, yes, but at the same time if you were hard of hearing or wheel chair bound, for the most part you wouldn’t BE at these meetings in the first place.
Sarah: What do you think activists can do to form more inclusive movements?
Yoni:I think in queer spaces, you may have more conscious efforts to be inclusive and such
There are specific things more people could learn whether it’s about sexual survivors and veteran PTSD or wheel chair accessibility but in general, working to embrace accommodations and working in good faith, to address needs of any members will help you bring additional people who otherwise wouldn’t come.
That also means being open to different meeting structures, perhaps with breaks in between; or more visuals, or less frequencies etc..
Im working on Cecily McMillan trial but anyways one time, a committee member posted on vent “We don’t have wheelchair accessible bathrooms, but at least they’re gender neutral!” I had talk with that person; it was fairly blunt, and felt in some ways, condescending, pitting one oppression over the other…
Sarah: You were living in NYC during the Occupy movement, right? How were you involved with that?
Yoni: I was interning with Democratic Socialists of America at the time, I was busy taking math classes and such as well. During the first two months, ie the famous spectacle; I passed by often, because I was interning on Maiden Lane (Wall St) so while I attended protests, marches and Liberty Sq, I didn’t get involved in working groups till after the eviction. A piece inside me shattered, when that happened.
Sarah: Can you talk about what’s currently going on with the occupy movement?
Yoni: At the moment, I’d say the explicit project of “Occupy” is rather quiet, and I’d argue that’s okay.
Sarah: Why’s that?
Yoni: I consider Occupy Sandy to be indicative of our organizing capacities, and it’s a project I’m most proud of. It was also something that spring up nearly year and half after occupy started, when there was a big lull in between. When there’s a need for mobilization, the pre-existing intimate networks formed during occupy, will mobilize, as well as absorb newer people.
Sarah: Do you think Occupy as a whole changed organizing as we know it today? Or do you not see much change?
Yoni: Though I’m not a labor organizer, I’ve certainly seen a new breadth and atmosphere in the labor movements,that are returning to the streets and agitating from #WalmartStrikers to Chicago Teacher’s Union and Fast Food Workers across the nation. This kind of labor militancy wasn’t at least apparent before Occupy in recent times I’d argue.
Sarah: A conversation I frequently have is whether or not occupy made any change and that is one aspect I had never thought of, so I’m glad to hear that.
Yoni: Counting myself, I know Occupy has transformed a whole generation of young disgruntled youth, and brought more hope and perspective as well as critical skills and networks to get further involved in social change.
Sarah: It seems like you’ve had a few internships over the years. Can you talk a little about them?
Yoni: Some of the best ways of learning or getting involved, is to volunteer and do some of the more boring work. There’s a high probability of exploitation in internship environments, so for myself I generally have tried to avoid internships where I knew I was replacing paid work.
I’ve volunteered at a lot of conferences though, which are shorter term, and concentrated packs of action and awesomesauce. Conferences like Personal Democracy Forum, Drone Aerial Robotics Conference, Veterans for Peace Convention, and numerous Occupy/Socialist conventions.
I’m currently in a web development fellowship; training for next 5 months, in Web Stack development languages, such as Ruby.
Sarah: Do you have any advice for young people looking for internships? Like you said, it’s something that a person could easily be exploited doing.
Yoni: I think common mistake many people make, is they seek internships based on prestige, rather than on skills or value they’d get out of one. Sometimes the better decision is to NOT join an internship; with a formal title. My involvement in the Chelsea Manning Support Network for example, is both formal, but also lot of independent initiatives on a topic I’m very passionate about.
Sarah: Since we are an organization focused on youth in activism, do you have any blanket advice for young people either already involved in activism or wanting to get involved?
Yoni: Activists have a role, to educate and challenge social norms; but we must remember to constantly hold ourselves to that. To challenge and seek to test our assumptions, as well as meet organizers from other movements, and gain new perspectives, especially if they make you uncomfortable.
Young people sometimes feel like they’re reaching their peak, if not becoming veterans of experience
Sarah: I think it’s pretty easy to burn out, too.
Yoni: Self health is another really important thing. Adults often talk about mid-life crisis but quarter life crisis is just as real!
Sarah: You mentioned outside of this interview a radio show you’re involved with. Can you tell me more about that?
Yoni: Insurrection With Brenton Lengal on Starcomm Radio Network.
it’s been a weekly tradition, and originally we were on Pacifica Network, WBAI 99.5FM, a left network. Brent Lengal, Nicole Guiniling George Martinez and I through our activism and experiences frequently speak about War Resistors, Police Brutality and general politics. I think of it as 4 comrades speaking together, with caveat that it’s being recorded (can be found online at http://star-com-media.podomatic.com)
Sarah: You mentioned above some groups you work with (FAIR and Media Matters, and Chelsea Manning Support Group). Our last spotlight was with Mike McKee so we have addressed Manning. Can you talk a little more about the other groups work?
I love Mike McKee he’s really amazing.
There have been numerous social justice events or conferences where I either planned presentations on social media trainings and twitter or sometimes unanticipated. Ranging from Rootscamp, Organize 2.0 to Chicago Teacher Union walkouts, I enjoy sitting down with people, learning about their practices and how I can be a better media activist; while providing my technical expertise.
While it’s sweet that I admin an account with 170,000 followers, I think the real strength comes from coordinated media campaigns, so I’ve coordinated with Fight For The Future (privacy/civil liberties petition site), Anonymous affiliates, and labor/movement accounts to promote campaigns ranging from #DefundTheNSA to #NDAA2012 and #FreeManning
Sarah: Can you explain to us why social media is so important in social justice work?
Yoni:The obvious aspect, is it’s social; unlike traditional media, even alternative media. It’s participatory and receptive. Almost anyone can chime in and join a conversation, or be heard thru a specific hashtag, yet organizers and organizations can still navigate through though this creative chaos on the webs.
It’s a tool that can be used to both educate, and mobilize people.
During Hurricane Sandy, we had a team of a dozen people just checking twitter all day, replying to people’s inquiries, as well as hijacking corporate spin off events like #121212Concert which raised millions of dollars; most of it being wasted in the name of “Hurricane Relief”.
Sarah: Do you see a career for yourself in this type of activism?
Yoni: In many ways, it’s been a privilege to volunteer and spend my time doing these things, but eventually I’m going to have to explore careers. Not mention, if I do enter professionalized activism, how can I do so, while still maintaining my independence and radical advocacy.
“Neoliberal organizations are all too happy to co opt and sanitize social justice organizers, with less anti systemic programs.”
NGO’s in particular, would cease to exist if they actually fostered self sustaining independent services. Many NGO’s budgetary existence depends entirely on a toxic, aid dependent structure. But also, financially, it’s easier to get tax credits and government grants or corporate grants if your advocacy doesn’t threaten those very same structures. Labor is perhaps one of the few last standing financial hills that has serious potential for serious social justice; as the interests of the workers and unions, is in the interests of people in general.
I do potentially see myself either as a web developer, or technical consultant for labor, or community organizations.
Sarah: Anything you’d like to add?
Yoni: I’d actually like to mention… Solidarity take a variety of forms, from holding a sign, standing with people, but also through acts of mutual aid, such as you yourself did, when you offered to find me housing in Madison, WI.
About the Author
Sarah Eggers: Feminist, activist, humanist and future change maker. Graduate student studying disability studies at Syracuse University.