Sanctuary Infrastructure: Grassroots strategies for community organizing

The Sanctuary has built a grassroots activist campus through strategic use of space and technology, learning from the history of independent media and activist organizing. We’ve been building resources for two decades: we continue to seek innovative low-cost grassroots models for activism and community organizing using art and technology with participatory design.

What activists learned is that without controlling space, you are at the mercy of others: controlling your space is controlling your destiny. We’ve transformed abandoned spaces for re-use. And that is only part of the story — you need to figure out how to pay for the spaces, maintain them and use them. We’ve created space and technology, with the capacity there… a platform ready to be used.

Here’s a quick overview of our vision putting repurposed space into action, published by Preservation League of NY: The Sanctuary for Independent Media: Where Social Justice, Science and Art Meet. Art, Science and Activism Meet.

A challenge — our founders came of age in collaborative community settings based on alternative technology, where the technology was the organizing principle we would gather around. We’ve attempted to create an autonomous space. Now, in an age where everyone has access to technology, we are still committed to an idea currently in danger — the critical need for a public space, with technological resources — where people can gather, co-create in community and unite in the struggle for justice.

This requires not only our own space but appropriate uses of technology. We have ridden the wave of consumer video: our strategy has been to take donations, glean through the e-waste, and share with others what we cannot strategically use. Strategically, we have tried to locate the sweet spot with focused criteria: equipment has to be easy to learn and simple to use, sturdy, inexpensive and easy to repair.

Steve Pierce, founder and Executive Director, has shared his expertise developed through decades of work in community radio and independent journalism, to build out our Sanctuary infrastructure. He is a media reformer and multi-media producer, with decades of experience in the organizational and technical implementation of the telecommunications infrastructure. His PhD is from the Department of Science and Technology Studies at RPI. “Dr.” Pierce is a media activist and multi-media producer with extensive experience in both media policy and production. He has taught Leadership, Politics, Ethics, and Production at RPI. His past jobs experiences in media reform include: Executive Director, Deep Dish TV Network, New York NY, 1989-92, Assistant Manager, Pacifica Radio WBAI, New York NY, 1988-89, Program Director, WWOZ Radio, New Orleans, LA, 1987- 88, and Journalist, New Orleans LA, 1980-87.

We’ve worked with architect Joe Fama, former head of Troy Architecture Program (TAP) and the Troy Community Land Bank, on transforming abandoned urban spaces on one city block into resources for grassroots community organizing. His perspective on the Sanctuary’s efforts to help stabilize our North Troy neighborhood are key to telling the Sanctuary story.

Here’s an early story, Raise the Roof!

Super volunteers have shared their expertise in construction projects with the support of fellow Sanctuarians. Wayne “St. Wayne” Foy has led most of the Sanctuary’s building projects starting with recovery from attacks by the City’s of Troy in the guise of code enforcement to a major roof repair, expanding the performance stage, to custom radio station furniture.

Other super volunteers include James Canha and Luke Anderson, who have been the secret weapons behind building and maintaining much of the Sanctuary’s infrastructure development (especially in the IT realm).

Petrie Dish, visionary founder of the Prometheus Radio Project and the “pirate radio” and low power fm movement, gas been an important collaborator, helping design and build infrastructure to offer independent community-engaged radio production as an alternative to the growing consolidation of mass media businesses. He articulates the role of appropriate technology in grassroots community organizing and his work to build radio stations in the Capital Region, including ours. Listen to interviews with Petri Dish to learn more.

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About The Sanctuary

We use art and participatory action to promote social and environmental justice and freedom of creative expression.

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