Community Support Rings Loud for DMA

This column originally ran in The Davis Enterprise on June 25, 2009 By Autumn Labbé-Renault Running a community media center is never short on surprises, but I’ve had multiple opportunities lately to be both surprised and gratified. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the Council unanimously supported removing proposed funding cuts to Davis Media Access’ (DMA) budget next year, including proposed cuts to the Davis Joint Unified School District’s Channel 17, which DMA manages. In a year where budget problems are real and manifold and the Council is faced with difficult decisions, this unanimous support speaks volumes. In making the motion to remove the cuts, Mayor Ruth Asmundson referenced the Council's historical commitment to keep the cable franchise funds (paid by Comcast to the City of Davis) for Public, Educational and Government (PEG) access media, and its 2005 franchise agreement bearing out that commitment. The mayor also referred to the 2x2x2 process the City, DMA and DJUSD engaged in at that time to work out the details of the agreement. This was the work carried out by former DCTV executive director Kari Peterson and former board members Kevin Wolf, Bill Julian and board chair Richard Estes, and I'd like to acknowledge their work and history here. The cuts would have totaled $27k. Not much in the overall scheme of things, perhaps, but crippling for a small organization like DMA. We run bare bones as it is, and those cuts would have meant layoffs and reduced services at a time when the community is relying on us more than ever. That’s the crux of the matter. DMA supporters turned out in droves at the June 16 Council meeting, and wrote heartfelt letters of support to Council members about why DMA matters. The letters were from youth, college professors, community activists, retired folks, job seekers, non-profit leaders, etc. They highlighted the many ways in which community media helps people learn skills, meet goals and realize dreams. One of the commonly repeated refrains was "DMA is part of what makes Davis unique." Here’s a snippet of comments received: One of the chief values of Davis Media Access is that it speaks to who we are as a community. It promotes both a sense of community and cohesiveness. Through Davis Media Access, we become known to one another. Maintaining this sense of community, even though it is intangible, it is an important and legitimate policy objective; more so, in difficult times. Having lived in other cites where this quality is missing, I do not see this as frivolous. A well-informed citizenry is essential to a strong democracy with the broadest marketplace of ideas. DMA is aggressively embracing the future and reaching out to participate in the broadest possible collection of funding sources, part of our funding must come from our city. Please protect DMA from cuts as we nurture so many of the qualities that truly "make Davis, Davis.” I have also used the DMA facilities for personal creative projects and found the experience overwhelmingly positive and instrumental in deepening my connection to the community of Davis…In my opinion, the energy and output of DMA almost single handedly elevates Davis from the ranks of either suburban or college-town living to something far more unique, interesting and unparalleled. The need to understand and use media isn't going anywhere, and the difficult economy actually makes DMA’s mission and the effective way we leverage resources extremely valuable. Our City’s support of community media is rare, and its steadfast commitment to openness and citizen participation is laudable. We thank the City Council and the community for its support and will continue to do all we can to be an excellent community partner. Autumn Labbé-Renault is executive director of Davis Media Access and writes this column monthly. Contact her at autumn@davismedia.org