by Joe Courter
We had postponed the marking of the Civic Media Center’s 30th birthday back on Oct. 18 because, frankly, October had big events every dang weekend. As an active part of the CMC all these years, and well aware of the date, I have, however, been flooded with memories and reflections on the last three decades as we lead up to our Dec. 3 celebration.
Regardless of when in that entire span, we were and are a hub of progressive minded people looking for connection and purpose beyond their regular lives. These people, meeting and working together, showing up to staff, helping organize events, or even just coming to the events as audience or performer, they got to be in a volunteer-run, community-supported, overtly politically conscious, audacious space. Some dabbled around the edges, but nonetheless had a spark of awareness, of inspiration land on them.
One example: There was a woman who came by on a day when her younger brother was enrolling at UF, specifically to let me know that her seeing a couple films we showed made her change her major toward a public health career. How many people had that happen that we never hear about?
Other people really got involved and actually took on the coordinator job, at least three of them were still in their teens … we were trusting enough to be driven by the will and interests of the volunteers and the coordinators. To do that job you needed to do the work of maintaining the space, creating events, building visibility and outreach, delegating, overseeing, and fundraising: that is learning the skills of organizing and planning that you don’t get in the “real world.”
The recent credit bestowed on the CMC by musician Laura Jane Grace upon her receiving the Key to the City on the first day of Fest, that it was a really important part of her life and gave her space to develop as a person as well as in her art, was very gratifying. But I know, just from people I am around or in touch with, that their lives, too, were changed by the CMC. Some, quite profoundly to me, have said it was a literal lifeline.
I have not done a lot of searching out old CMC volunteers, but among the ones I am aware of, I do know that we have produced a good percentage of very useful people. There are a number of authors, medical workers, labor activists, and of course artists and musicians. There are people who first dared to read poetry or perform music in public at the CMC, who now have that as a valued part of their lives. Many loving relationships and lifelong friends have had their start there.
There an organic quality to the CMC, and the years have seen it evolve. In the ’90s it was just finding its way. Poetry jam came to us. After the Hardback Cafe closed, we picked up the slack with a lot of music shows.
The library function provided all sorts of video and audio tapes (things we now have in storage because, well, technology) as well as books and magazines (although, of course, technology is kinda shoving them back, too).
In the mid-2000s, we celebrated our 10th anniversary bringing Noam Chomsky before 6,000 people in the O’Dome, and also brought historian Howard Zinn and writer Michael Parenti to town among many other events.
We were closer to campus at our 1021 W. Univ. Ave. location, both physically and in our volunteer base. With our move to S. Main St. in 2010, we became less connected to campus, but were still actively drawing in varied people and their interests.
We did pull off bringing Chomsky for our 20th in 2013, this time at the Performing Arts Center. And when alt-right racist a-hole Richard Spencer came to town, we were a hub of activism and organizing, from both campus and community, and were key to the great protest that was nationally noted.
Covid shut our doors to events in 2020, but community support (thank you stimulus checks being shared) and intrepid coordinator JoJo Sacks kept us solvent.
During that time the next evolution became organizations directly working out of the CMC as their hub. Mondays there is a book reading group. The Free Grocery Store grew into major food distribution on Tuesdays. Tuesday evening alternates with Books to Prisoners and folks interested in other incarceration issues. Live music is happening at least once a week. There are both occasional and regular meetings and events. And through it all, Poetry Jam still owns every Thursday evening, and the library functions continue offering the book and zine collections.
It has been the most meaningful thing in my life to have been a part of the Civic Media Center, coming a long way from the living room meetings in Charles Willetts’s house in the early ’90s, where the concept of such a space arose. Come help me celebrate, share your own stories and memories, or just hear others’ tales. So, so many people have supported the CMC, this will be a thank you to them all.
Dr. Paul Ortiz will be there to talk about the value of community spaces and organizing as well, so please take a piece of your Sunday, Dec. 3 afternoon, 3-5 pm, at the fantastically restored Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, 837 SE 7th Ave. We’re asking for donations of $30 for 30 years (or whatever you can afford). Donations can be made to the CMC via Paypal, Venmo, or old-fashioned check mailed or brought to the CMC.
The website, www.civicmediacenter.org, has the PayPal button; the Venmo is venmo@CMC4ever, and the CMC is at 433 S. Main St., Gainesville, FL 32601.