Tatamagouche Summer Free School

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Interview: Dru Oja Jay

Yuill Herbert interviewed me after I did a session on independent media. Here's the result.

Describe how the Dominion is different from the Globe and Mail?

dru_hallway.jpg To speak of general trends, the Globe covers stories that are interesting to Canada's elite. They actually say that explicitly at some point; that the people who read the Globe are the people who perceive themselves to be the Canadian elite. So the coverage is almost entirely about who's in power, which public figures are being affected by the latest scandal, and what governments or corporations said in recent press releases or press conferences. Their business section actually digs into some stories critically, but it's critical from the perspective of trying to understand what is going to increase profits, or prevent them from being increased.

The Dominion's priorities are elsewhere. Our coverage seeks to understand what's happening on the ground, and what's happening with the people who are directly impacted by the political maneuvres that the Globe is covering in great detail. The personalities involved, to us, are less interesting than the human and environmental reality that is being affected by the moves. We also spend some time trying to understand the specific ways that the Globe and other publications either cover up or avoid reporting on these effects.

What do you mean by independent media?

I mean, primarily, media that is not dependent on the usual sources of revenue for corporate publications. Whether that's corporate financing or government funding, there is a basic problem with having someone else pay for reporting that you rely on to be informed about the world. One improvement is to have different kinds of funding, so you have media that is supported by different interests that have different priorities: governments can fund interesting projects like Al-Jazeera, and unions can fund outlets that break interesting stories like BC's The Tyee. For media to be really independent, though, it can only be dependent on the people that it is serving.

Why did you chose the title Dominion?

We wanted something that would refer to this geopolitical area, without doing the typical nationalist thing and using the term Canada, a maple leaf motif, or whatever. The Dominion of Canada used to be the official name, and until a few decades ago, it was in use. It has become unfashionable, as it refers directly to Canada's status as a colony of Britain; the Queen is still our sovereign. But we're reviving it to refer not just to the history of colonization--a bloody history that we don't hear about much, except when we're feeling good about how much more enlightened we are today--but to its present and future status. There are many powerful forces at work in this land, and they are vying for control of natural resources, and what they refer to with that abominable phrase, "human resources". Paradoxically, "dominion" comes from the the same root word that gives us "domicile", so it's meant to evoke this sense of the excercise of power, but also that it's place where people live their lives.

If someone gave you one million dollars (and they are strongly encouraged to do so) what would you do with it?

I think I would spend a chunk of it to travel across the country and spend a lot of time talking to people whose lives are directly affected by the disinformation that comes out in the media, to see what their priorities are in terms of combatting that. The rest of the money would be spent on establishing a network of people that are interested in supporting and funding independent media in the long term. In some ways, I think it would be a bit of a curse, in the sense that if you have money, you get a reprieve from the necessity of finding out what's going to work, and getting in touch with the people who can help you, because you have the ability to buy that help, at least temporarily. So I think the money would be best used bringing people together, connecting them and creating a space where people have the capacity to collectively decide if they want to keep relying on the CBC and the Globe and whatever else, or if they want to give $5 a year to create something else. If everyone in Canada gave $5 a year, we'd have a $150 million budget to work with. That's not going to happen soon, but I think that putting it that way illustrates the need for, before everything else, space for informed, democratic decisionmaking. The problem is that the venues where those kinds of discussions could conceivably take place are owned by the same people who want to maintain the status quo.

You also helped organise the Free School. Can you explain the inspiration for the idea?

I think that the main inspiration was visiting Waldegrave farm for the first time after it was bought by the community land trust crew, and seeing all this space, which just seemed to exude pure potential for new and interesting configurations of human interaction. I had participated in a number of interesting events, including KotkjArve MetsaUlikool, which is a "forest university" that has been organized by members of the Toronto Estonian community since the 1970s, and the Cascadia Anarchist Tech skillshare, which was geeks from Vancouver, Seattle and Portland getting together to enthuse about cool stuff, and share skills. There was also the Halifax Free School, which was a weekly event in Halifax where people could learn everything from knitting to the history of Palestine. The ability to have a permanent space that wouldn't go away, or be occupied by other people after an initial event was over suggested a great deal of potential, so to me the Free School is the seed for the creation of radically different kind of university... that said, those kinds of ideas point further down the road. For now, the Free School is attracting a lot of attention because it's fun and interesting, and brings a lot of compelling people into the same place. I think that's as good an 'engine' as any for moving toward building something that has a much bigger scope down the road.

What book are you reading right now?

Well, I just finished reading "Beyond the Promised Land," by David Noble. Noble makes the interesting argument that the concept of an original utopia--the garden of eden being the canonical example, but the trope appears throughout western history--is harmful, in the sense that it makes us wait for salvation at the hands of God, or historical inevitability, and leads us to seek escape from the concrete reality we're faced with. Noble argues that the conception of a perfect state of affairs imposes a kind of death on our positive experiences, and actively prevents us from an existential engagement with our here and now, our responsibilities. He gives examples of free marketeers and marxists alike who have fallen into this kind of pattern of thought, which he identifies throughout the western intellectual tradition. Noble's a smart guy, and has read a lot.


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