International Women's Day interview with radio activist Hannah Sassaman

02/16/11 Dawn Morgan Elliott
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

In honor of the upcoming International Women's Day on March 8, WMNF's Dawn Morgan Elliott begins a series of interviews with admirable women around the country.

Elliott begins with Hannah Sassaman, a senior field analyst at the New America Foundation. Sassaman previously spent 8 years as an organizer at the Prometheus Radio Project.

“Prometheus hired me for like $500 a month to develop campaigns against big broadcasters who were trying to prevent local community groups from getting their own radio stations. Stations like WMNF. This was in the lead up to the Iraq war when big media companies were pushing the war or talking heavily about how important it was.

"And there was just a really clear relationship between how much money these companies were making off of drumming the drums for violent conflict in Iraq that no one was really talking about. So there was a huge upswell of anger against consolidated media.

"Prometheus, which is an organization that builds local radio stations, took it on is because these same big companies were preventing local community groups, whether they be immigrant farmers or local town councils or departments of transportations or arts organizations, they were preventing them from getting their own radio stations. We won our campaign to expand community radio stations to thousands of more cities across the U.S."

In 2008 at the media reform conference, you led a session called Grassroots Lobbying 101. Can you give me a brief breakdown of what that entailed?

"The thing that I’ve learned is that the most effective organizers for social change are local constituents with clear voices who do research about why they’re in the right and they hold those local officials and their staff accountable with consistent follow up and building of pressure.

"Eventually the staff and legislator will feel accountable to you. And you can move them."

How do activists make a living?

"Everyone has a right to advocate for the government. There’s a very few other ones when you aren’t. One of my favorite stories to tell is about one of the most effective grassroots lobbyists that I’ve ever worked with is Sakura Saunders. She started out as a DJ in Davis, CA. She really thought that community radio is awesome. And when she learned that the group that had wanted to limit community broadcasters from having them by big broadcasters pushing Congress to limit Low Power FM (LPFM), she got really angry and started doing her own research.

"So when Sakura found out that 3 companies had mass applied for over 10,000 licenses she led the campaign as a normal individual, as someone with a full time job, she led the campaign to get the FCC to freeze the implementation of those licenses. She found the right person to talk to, she connected with a grassroots media policy law firm, and they froze the implementation of those licenses.

"I think people are afraid to build relationships with their legislators but we elected them, they’re accountable to us. There were many Republican co-sponsors because we proved communities wanted it, it wasn’t partisan. I highly encourage folks to try grassroots lobbying. It’s a very empowering experience and when you have a good meeting, and when you don’t have a good meeting you learn from it and you keep pushing and you can do better." - Low Power and How We Won It

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