VozMob, Digital Humanities, and Community-Based Public Scholarship

This post is so, so late in coming, and I’ve had it in draft form for way too long, so I’m finally just publishing it.

Back in January, I was invited to give a talk for the Night School LA, a series of free public lectures held at a cool art/performance space at Paper & Plastik Cafe in Los Angeles. Initially, the organizers were interested in my personal research in digital humanities and around migrant workers. Between conferences, talks, etc. I get plenty of opportunities to talk about my own work, and it since I’m in LA so near the populations I write about, I thought it a great opportunity to open up these talks a bit. I’ve even given a few talks in the past about the VozMob project that has been ongoing at IDEPSCA, which runs day laborer centers and programming for precarious workers in Los Angeles, so, given the opportunity, I really wanted to let the jornaleros and bloggers of VozMob have a chance to speak to the crowds that I have the privilege of speaking to because of my position as an academic.

As a researcher in literary and media studies, I’ve admired and examined VozMob for a while, but it had taken me some time to connect with them in person after moving to LA for a postdoc. They’ve lost funding in recent years, and have occasionally gone without staff members to organize/run the program, and yet the project remains because it lives in the community, and the hardworking volunteers who produce content for the site have continued to post and share moments of there lives to populate the website, keeping the project afloat with their unpaid labor. There is, of course, tension between community organizers and academics when projects like this one are initially funded and supported by academic resource-rich institutions like USC, which originally started VozMob, work with resource-poor non-profit community organizations. And in a case like this one, where so many participants are precariously employed or documented, the added labor of coming to meetings, training sessions, and producing content can be a great burden.

It was such a privilege then, to be allowed into a meeting with the Popular Communications Team of IDEPSA and to pitch this speaking event to them. Those present were generous enough to share their stories about working with the VozMob project, and I’m infinitely grateful that these badass men and women took the time to share this space and their time with me. (I’m hoping to make it back to more meetings soon!)

Photo of meeting at IDEPSCA

The meeting I attended looked a lot like this (though this one for Health Promoters at IDEPSCA)

The first meeting was eye-opening, as we went around the room and Juan Carlos, Francisco, Leonso, Raul, Madelou and Luis shared their varied experiences of working with the project and with different programs in IDEPSCA. Madelou, who has been with VozMob the longest, since its inception in 2008, was just as brilliant and formidable in person as she comes across in her blog or their early promotional videos.

They brought this fire, as well as their trepidation, humor, and dedication to the Night School. I was a complete mess, but the VozMob members were absolute stars.

Me speaking at NightSchoolLA Group photo of speakers Audience Francisco speaks Luis speaking Leonso speaks Madelou discusses workers rights, social justice, Maegan Ortiz, coordinator of VozMob speaks

I’m working to find more ways for Whittier College, my institution to contribute to this project, and am hoping once the semester ends I’ll have a chance to attend more meetings, but in the meantime, I at least wanted to share news about the talk, even though I don’t have the time to reflect on it more thoroughly. More soon!