In 2012, the United Taxi Workers Alliance staged a protest against a Philadelphia Parking Authority budget proposal that would have dramatically increased fees associated with taxi medallions.
To show their ire, drivers circled City Hall in their cabs and laid on the horns.
“PPA! Mafia!” they shouted, shaking their fists out their cab windows.
On the scene were citizen journalists wielding video cameras. Without those recordings, the cab drivers’ protest may have been lost to time.
The videographers were trained and equipped by the Media Mobilizing Project, an organization that supports grassroots activists in making their own media. Over the last 15 years, MMP has documented Occupy Philadelphia, protests at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and a number of youth poetry performances.
Many of its efforts have been focused on labor and education issues.
Helyx Horwitz, the information systems and technology manager at MMP, created the People’s Media Record in order to aggregate about 2,000 hours of raw footage shot for MMP documentary projects — scattered across several formats and hard drives — into one shared, searchable archive.
MMP wants to preserve its recordings as an ongoing community media resource. As is common with video projects, filmmakers shoot far more material than is used in the final documentary. The footage left on the cutting room floor may still have stories to tell.
“We followed Helen Gym and Kendra Brooks back in 2014 around the issue of school privatization,” said Bryan Mercer, executive director of MMP, referring to community activists who were elected to City Council in 2015 and 2019, respectively.
“When we shot those videos, we produced what ended up being an 8-minute video piece. But we have hours of interviews with them. It’s about making sure that broader material is preserved,” he said.
Right now, the People’s Media Record only has online records of video metadata, such as clip lengths, where the footage was shot, and a brief description of the contents. The actual video footage is available upon request. Next year, Horwitz hopes to have the infrastructure and resources in place to start uploading the hundreds of hours of raw video.
“I think it’s more exciting,” said Horwitz of footage captured by citizen journalists. “It’s more intimate and emotional than a lot of newsreel-type footage.”
Horwitz is giving priority to “vulnerable” material: footage on formats that are already obsolete or becoming so soon. The more stable footage will be added later.
Currently, footage of the West Philly music group Kiss Kiss Kill performing at the MMP offices in 2012 is in the archive, but material related to the massive 2011 Occupy Philadelphia encampment at Dilworth Plaza is not. It takes time.
The material will be accessible by anyone, with sliding-scale licensing available for productions. Private companies and political campaigns will pay more, community projects will pay less. Prices will be decided on a case-by-case basis.
Subjects that appear in the video footage gave consent to be filmed at the time of the shooting. Those that did not explicitly give permission in either a written or on-camera statement will not have their footage included as part of the streaming archive.
Horwitz says they will make special efforts to release footage to people who appear in it.
“I don’t want this to be a barrier for people who are featured in the material to not be able to access their own stories,” Horwitz said.