Civic Media Center celebrates 5th birthday
Joe Courter
October 1998

October 18, 1998 marks five years of operations for the Civic Media Center (CMC), Gainesville's independent, not-for-profit reading room and library of the non-corporate press, located at 1021 W. University Ave.. The idea for a storefront space in which the public could access a strong concentration of non-corporate media representing various dissenting points of view was conceived in early 1993, an outgrowth of meetings convened by retired librarian Charles Willett, under the name Gainesville Alternative Press (GAP) group. The catalyst for this bold step was the speaking event by noted linguist and political dissident Noam Chomsky--prearranged in the spring of 1991 by the Middle East Peace Group in the months following the Gulf War. By spring 1993 the Middle East Peace Group had dissolved but the agreement with Chomsky was still on, so members of the Freedom Coalition, a UF Student group, and others, jumped in to finalize the arrangements for Chomsky's talk, while at the same time plans for our newly named "Civic Media Center" began in earnest.

The name "Civic Media Center" was derived from an article by Edward Herman (co-author with Noam Chomsky of the book Manufacturing Consent). The article, entitled "Democratic Media," which appeared in the first edition of Z Papers, cited the "Civic Sector" of the media as the one which is most important to the preservation of democracy. This non-corporate, non-profit-driven media, which is citizen-based and addresses citizen concerns, captured the ideals of what our GAP group was thinking with our commitment to make the storefront a reality.

What Gainesville has with the CMC is a progressive, independent library of books, magazines, video and audio tapes, and our newest addition, an amazing zine library. These zines are for the most part self-produced, youth counterculture mini-magazines, full of opinions, observations, rants and commentary on everyday life, hundreds of them from all over the country. The CMC also provides an organizing space for various groups and their projects. Hundreds of musicians have also played there, both local and touring bands; the Thursday night poetry jams are the longest-running regular poetry nights going in Gainesville. The political events hosted by the CMC now number in the hundreds--local speakers, first-hand histories, candidate forums, slide shows, videos, panel discussions, consciousness-raisings, organizing meetings, and films. We have also facilitated other events out in the community: a sold-out theater showing of The Panama Deception with Oscar-winning director Barbara Trent on hand for questions; we helped UF bring Michael Moore to the Center for Performing Arts; we sponsored a Conference on Censorship in 1994 which brought to campus Mark Lowenthal of Project Censored, Erwin Knoll of the Progressive, and Laura Flanders of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting; we brought David Barsamian of Alternative Radio to Gainesville for our third anniversary in 1996; we held a march to save the life of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal; we campaigned to decriminalize fliering.

The Civic Media Center has an impact, also, by incubating additional independent media projects, the largest being Free Radio Gainesville (FRG 94.7 FM), a local manifestation of a national and international movement of micro-powered radio stations, democratizing the radio waves much as the photocopier and desktop publishing have expanded the possibilities for written civic media sources like this paper you are reading. FRG produces high-quality diverse programming (see schedule on page 16) for those lucky enough to be in range of its signal (within 30 blocks of University and Main). Radio like FRG, places like the CMC, and publications like the Gainesville Iguana, Moon Magazine, and FACT, all represent this civic sector Ed Herman referred to.

Surviving to its fifth birthday is an amazing achievement for a small independent, non-profit organization wholly dependent on community support. We now have a lot of 17-20 year-olds volunteering--for them the CMC has been there forever. We have to continuously work to educate people that the five years of struggle to keep it open is in fact a continuing struggle--conceive the events, schedule the events, do the publicity, arrange for staffing, keep the place clean, put up fliers (and fight for our right to do so), process new materials, straighten the shelves, train new volunteers, raise funds from local donors, sign up new members ... it doesn't stop. It's never done, but the satisfaction comes from knowing the positive touch it has had on so many people.

Come celebrate with us Friday night, Oct 16, at the Unitarian Fellowship, 4224 NW 34th Street (see ad adjoining this article). Come get a membership in the CMC if you don't already have one, and avail yourself of all it has to offer, and by doing so help us to survive and thrive.

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