The Mind of BLOC

BLOC— whose membership is primarily made up of young activists of color in social justice organizations across the country—has been run solely by Movement Strategy Center since 2005. For the last two years, BLOC’s central project has been the website, the online social networking site for organizers to share tools, strategies and curriculum nationally. Uses web 2.0 tools and the skills of emerging people of color organizer-technologists to increase the effectiveness and impacts of base-building organizations while laying the foundation for the progressive youth leadership pipeline. Developed with Tumis Design in Oakland, CA, the BLOC site is currently being tested by BLOC members (active BLOC members are based in organizations such as Inner City Struggle, Make the Road by Walking, Elementz, Sista to Sista, and YO! The Movement). and will publicly launch by summer 2007. YMR interviewed Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, a founding member of BLOC, to learn more about BLOC and for the youth media field before its’ upcoming launch.
How is current youth media relevant to supporting social movements, social change?
Youth media is the front, the face, and the lasting images of the change youth want to see enacted. We have to learn to be as forward thinking about issues such as race, gender, and class as we are a about technology’s influence on our culture – and how it can be used in the world of youth development and the political implications that directly affect young people.
Youth media is uniquely poised to amplify youth stories in supporting these alternatives and visions. As Steve Goodman, Director of Educational Video Center in NYC has stated, “youth media is similar to Highlander Center literacy training in the 1950’s.”
It was that literacy work of Highlander in that era, led by youth, to develop their literacy in all areas. Not just to read and write but also to read and understand the way society was changing around them—and how they could affect that change.
In that way, youth media is a new vanguard of sorts, bringing a whole new literacy of the political context into sharper focus through all forms of media and providing a megaphone for youth transforming their own realities.
From your point of view, why do we need a national youth movement?
I was recently at a national gathering of the Building Leadership Organizing Communities (BLOC) Network, a national network of youth organizers—BLOC is a political community of young progressives of color—and we posed that same question to ourselves.
The timing and desperate need for a national youth movement stems from the role that youth have traditionally played in the social and political landscape of our country. Young people, particularly those who emerge from the nation’s most disenfranchised communities have created vibrant movements that have changed this nation and pushed the social justice agenda forward. For example, look at recent history and see evidence of this from cultural revolutions in music to the tumultuous time of the SNCC and the Students for a democratic society. It is young people who charge forward and lead.
One of the BLOC network members, Azuscena Olaguez, from Chicago recently asked:
“How did the civil rights movement pass on leadership to other folks emerging? How can BLOC play that role? If BLOC had been connected and together there could have been a large response to the gulf coast disaster.”
Azuscena spoke to the need for generational learning transfer. Our political moment is one where youth are in dire need of support, development, and protection from the forces of war. Take the struggle of queer and transgender youth for example, or the rapid prison expansion taking place that makes it appear that there is a pipeline for youth to go from school to jail, instead of investing in alternatives and opportunities our society is making, which negatively affects a young persons prospect.
The need for a national youth movement is clear: young people need to be networked and strategically organized to develop their own alternatives and to articulate their own visions and dreams.
In regards to social networking how do you take advantage of web 2.0 and how does it function to develop a peer network?
Web 2.0 refers to the current trend that we are in with the internet. The motto being:
“I can participate”
The user controls and feeds content. Some examples of web 2.0 applications are: YouTube, Myspace, Ebay, Wikipedia, Flickr, Imeem, Facebook, etc… there are many other uses of the internet to form values based, culture based communities that either mimic and amplify face to face connections or create spaces online for unconnected folks to find one another such as these. for example, is set up to host self-selecting groups, create alumni circles to provide long-term connection between participants at a training or conference and individually tailor learning circles to strategize on particular issues or campaigns on your block, or globally. The site connects individuals to organizations, and to each otherl.
It is poised to take on the web 2.0 applications mentioned above; however, such social networking spaces are critical to any organizations to identity itself in a new media landscape. Youth media organizations and collectives should incorporate all of these avenues in their outreach, marketing and messaging plans.
How is the Internet similar and different to other means of communication and media?
Speech, language, writing, drums, fire and smoke, religion, and the written word, are elements that accelerate and amplify messages of cultural, social, and political identity. The internet reflects these forms of communication but to an entirely different degree. The internet is a vast and expansive innovation in human communication history with bells and whistles and constant acceleration. What makes it different is the speed, range, and scope.
If you look, for example, at the way list serves are used today, they can be compared to newsletters, and before that to pamphlets—the internet delivers targeted content to people who understand the value of that content only now it is done instantly.
In addition, nearly every form of media can be “held” on the internet; from video, print, cartoons, and radio. It is the catch-all platform that is flattening communication structures and allowing for multitudes of messages to be out there and reachable from just about anywhere an internet connection is live.
How might youth media professionals learn from MyBloc as a social networking (internet based) plateau to collaborate, build/retain community, and network/share resources?
Well, youth media professionals need to know that MyBloc does not come out of a vacuum and it was not conceived as an online space. Actually, it came as a result of 10 years of trying to network progressive youth workers.
The first bloc discussion took place at Vasser College in 1998. From there chapters developed in the Bay Area of CA, and in the northeast and DC. Over that time it has mainly been a face-to-face people to people network of practitioners dedicated to youth work regardless of what they did for money. BLOC convened national gatherings in 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2004.
MyBloc comes out of an understanding of our solidarity internationally with other youth of color dealing with the effects of colonialism and imperialist oppression. In 2005 Bloc assembled the North American Action in Solidarity (NAS), which sent a delegation of over 30 youth organizers and activists of color to the World Social Forum in Brasil and four years earlier a delegation went to South Africa to see how that society was transforming.
Bloc has prioritized deep relationship building in the real world using technology now as a tool to keep those connections tight on a global scale.
How might youth media professionals begin to build their own version of MyBloc for the field (and/or how might they join)?
Youth media professionals can take their peer support circles that perhaps are already informal, or formal, local, regional, or national, and capture that on MyBloc. They can self-select and start local or regional bloc circles. BLOC is about agreeing to stay committed to developing youth leadership, transforming our communities so they are free form ALL forms of oppression and implies a movement building ethic – BLOC’ers connect their work to others doing similar work. They are focused on developing their own, organizational, networking, and leadership.
MyBloc is a progressive political community, which started face to face and decided to move online. Progressive media professionals can take the BLOC banner, logo and principles and adopt it as their own. Anyone can initiate learning, support, strategy, action and change circles. They can release curriculums on MyBloc—making them available to peers and youth to download—or use MyBloc as a means for organizing an event or convening, develop a plan for action, coordinate campaigns across borders and be creative in discovering new ways to use technology.
In addition, the—a searchable online database of hundreds of progressive youth organizations—is available as a resource on and was built intentionally to show the interdependence of campus, community, culture, and electoral youth work.
If folks are building something similar here are some ideas; it should be user-centric, filled with the tools and content visitors want; the software itself should be open-source to encourage cross-platform work across the globe; and it should be developed by people who know and understand the particular issues that youth media professionals deal with in their important work.
Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is the Organizer Technologist at the Movement Strategy Center where he has guided the development of and since 2004. A freelance journalist, and a Brooklyn native, Ibrahim is working on a novel and book of poetry. He was recently awarded a National Urban Fellowship and will soon pursue his MPA at CUNY Baruch in New York City.
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An Interview with Ibrahim Abdul-Matin from Movement Strategy Center, founding member of BLOC (Building Leadership Organizational Communities).