This is definitely the smallest group that we’ve had for Making Media That Matters, at least that I’ve been involved with. As the participants start to log on to the Zoom call, I think about how this would have been in any other setting. Small groups tend to give me anxiety as it means you will usually have to speak at some point, as opposed to getting lost in the wave of a larger group. As a spoken word poet, people tend to assume that means I have no problem speaking to groups of people. There is a difference, however, between speaking at people and speaking to people.
People come to events to listen and you aren’t expected to answer back or engage in conversation after every performance. When one is speaking to people and sparking conversation, there is an expectation that you will have to continue to participate in that throughout. It is with the latter that I struggle the most. As I’m sure many people who attended required schooling, undergraduate, and even graduate school can attest to, small group discussions don’t always prove to be fun experiences.
Teachers, professors, and society as a whole can put tremendous pressure on a person to have everything right the first time; to know exactly what we will say about a subject, how to articulate it in a way that people will understand, and be prepared for any reaction we could receive as a result of that. When the reality for so many of us is that while some things clearly are not up for debate/sympathetic reactions from people (i.e., racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, etc.), there is an anxiety in being asked to state your opinion or a fact on something. Both in the physical classroom and on a zoom call, this culture we live in can make it a scary thing to use your voice with other people.
And here is where we find yet another reason why MMTM and HWF as a whole is such a beautiful and necessary space for young people. The choice to pass, observe and not speak as much, or keep one’s camera off might seem like a simple thing to some people, maybe even a nuisance to those who feel that there should be more “participation.” In truth, there is so much mana in being given the choice to say whether or not one feels comfortable doing any of those things on a given day or at all. There is so much mana in being able to choose and carve out what participation looks like for oneself. There is mana in being able to find a way to participate in a larger discussion or program in a way that is comfortable for oneself. We are often not given the choice to create our own terms of engagement. While clearly there is an expectation that participants need to learn filmmaking, ask questions if confused, and eventually produce a film at the end of the program, they are allowed to do that in ways that make them as comfortable as possible. We as facilitators and instructors are stoked to continue helping them to be as comfortable as possible. The ability to choose is so incredibly powerful and can draw out opinions, ideas, and such amazing/creative thinking. Which we continue to see with every program we hold. I can’t wait to see what else this space creates in the coming months.