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The Freedom Archives Celebrates

November 10, 2009

BY CLAUDE MARKS

The Freedom Archives is celebrating 10 years of existence. The 10 years is a bit misleading in the sense that the materials—the politics and culture that we are privileged to be the guardians of—date back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s in many cases. The political culture of those times and our vision of media’s role in chronicling social change and even worldwide revolutionary movements were different then because of the times that were rising around us.

We lived in a world where the possibility of radical transformation and the vision of playing an active role as journalists and cultural workers was influenced by the victories of the Cuban Revolution, attempts to create an anti-capitalist model in the form of socialist nations, the defeat of the U.S. by a National Liberation Movement in Vietnam, the success of anti-colonial struggles in Africa, ferment among working people, the rising of radical Black, Puerto Rican, and Chicano-Mexicano movements, the student movement, the centrality of understanding the nature of conquest from Europe and the ongoing resistance of Indigenous struggles, and an affirmation of the participation of women and gay and lesbian activists in many movements. Anti-imperialism rose to worldwide heights—revolution was on the agenda.

Many of us as individuals and as members of production collectives had the vision and foresight to document the unfolding of the fires inside the empire, and fires directed at empires. We tried to work collectively and tried to stay rooted in our communities. We struggled to build a synthesis between political and cultural rebellion.

The outcome was a body of significant speeches, poetry, theater, and music, part of a vision of what was possible, more humane—for human and civil rights—radical media. The voices from inside prisons, the rebellions, the occupations, rebel radios in the mountains, the musicians who sang the inspirations of the people, and some who would ultimately be sacrificed by the coup-makers.

After many unregretted decisions, after 13 clandestine years, I found myself doing several years of prison time—a result of political work and solidarity. It was during that period that I was able to reconnect with many people I had produced media with in my late teens and 20s. It turned out that much of our work had been stored—another milagro created by foresight. We started to dialogue about how to repurpose the history, the creative product of our own youth. An archive was born—in the community, connecting with current movements for social justice, radical change, and cultural liberation—a resource for newer generations.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving of 1998—I’m now in a halfway house—we begin to map out the project—The Freedom Archives. 1999 becomes a formal beginning on paper and on January 1, 2000 we move boxes of tapes into a physical space. We build shelves. We start to gather equipment and begin sorting many thousands of hours of materials—a task that continues today, even as others add to the growing collection. The idea is realized, becomes tangible, finds a home in the midst of the Mission District of San Francisco— back in the community again!

Now some 10 years later, we’ve produced CDs and videos, catalogued thousands of hours of media, been sampled by garage bands and professional rockers, spoken-word artists, jazz musicians, djs. These voices live at the Museum of the African Diaspora, in the streets of the Mission, and in documentaries done by independent artists who seek context and content. We are sampled, we are broadcast, films flow on the web, in festivals, via satellite, in schools. We’ve met amazing people and created in collaborative ways—across generations and with all the richness that collectivity promotes. We have an active youth training program. We’ve gained support and supporters by organizing, rather than turning to the corporate and non-profit game. We are there for the community, and that community is there for us. That’s why we’re celebrating ten strong years!

For more details about the Freedom Archives, visit our website: www.freedomarchives.org

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