Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Confronting a Rising Tide of Anti-Muslim Hysteria

On the very day that I emailed Zahra Billoo to ask her to appear on Other Voices to talk about rising anti-Muslim antagonism, a very disturbing event took place that drove home the timeliness of the upcoming program. Zahra is the Executive Director of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the country’s leading leading civil rights and advocacy organization for American Muslims. On that December day, CAIR’s office in Santa Clara received a threatening letter in the mail. Even more alarming, the envelope contained a mysterious white powder, prompting fears of a possible anthrax attack. The police and fire departments were summoned and CAIR’s office had to be evacuated while a hazmat team inspected the premises. CAIR’s employees had to wait an anxious 36 hours before getting an all-clear from the authorities. (CAIR’s Washington, DC office received a similar envelope the same day and was also evacuated.)

In the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks, and with ISIS frequenting news headlines, American Muslims are experiencing a frightening spike in anti-Muslim bigotry, including right here in the Bay Area. Zahra was able to join us for the January 5 episode of Other Voices, and she described in detail the current atmosphere of fear that hangs over the American Muslim community. Referring to the threatening letter that CAIR received, Zahra noted that receiving hate mail is not unusual for CAIR, since they are so visible in the community. But, she added, “The fact that speaking out, promoting diversity and acceptance, promoting civil rights, would lead to such vitriol is frightening.” While the Bay Area has a reputation for liberal attitudes and openness to diversity, Zahra noted, “We are not immune in the Bay Area.”

The recent spike in anti-Muslim attacks has taken many forms. Nationally, there has been an increase in threats or direct attacks on places of worship and, again, the Bay Area has experienced this as well. The country has also seen a spike in violence directed against individual American Muslims or people who have been “perceived” to be Muslim. And the number of hate-filled verbal assaults against Muslims is similarly climbing.

Zahra was joined on the program by Mike German, a Fellow at the Liberty and National Security Program of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law. (Thanks to Midpen Media’s new studio, Mike was able to join us via Skype from his home in the Washington, DC suburbs.) Before becoming an outspoken civil rights activist, Mike served for 19 years as a special agent with the FBI, where he specialized in domestic terrorism. Mike worked undercover, infiltrating white supremacist groups that were threatening violence.

On the "Other Voices" program, Mike talked about another, less visible form of backlash against the American Muslim community -- increased surveillance by law enforcement. Mike was highly critical of the nature of this increased FBI surveillance, noting that it was not the kind of work he was engaged in when he was with the FBI. Back then, he noted, they were carrying out criminal investigations based on evidence of an impending crime. These days, Mike contrasted, the FBI is simply compiling massive databases on American Muslims, without so much as a hint of criminal activity.

It isn’t all bad news for the American Muslim community. Because they are so visible and often in the news, CAIR has received warm offers of support and solidarity from other groups and other segments of society. Most notable among these, perhaps, are the expressions of support and understanding from the Japanese American community, prompted by their own history of intimidation -- and official internment -- also born of war-induced hysteria. CAIR has also received support from the Black Lives Matter movement and the LGBT community.

Asked what average people can do to respond to this disturbing trend of anti-Muslim bigotry, Zahra promptly responded, “I would suggest a few things. One, get to know their Muslim neighbors. Two, speak out against racism and violence. And three, make sure others are hearing you, whether it's through independent media or speaking to their elected officials." We hope you’ll watch this bit of independent media and hear Zahra’s message.

written By Paul George

Paul George is the Director of Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, based in Palo Alto. He has been producing and hosting Other Voices at the Midpen Media Center for 19 years. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Celebration of 25 Years of Community Storytelling

We've come a long way from where we started! As a founding board member of Mid-Peninsula Access Corp. (MPAC), I hired Elliot Margolies as our first executive director and we opened the doors on Park Blvd. on February 5, 1990. We started out with one telephone sitting on the floor that first day. We had no office furniture, no equipment, no studio. Those first few weeks, Elliot and I circled “for sale” ads in the local papers and drove around picking up free office furniture, like a credenza from a houseboat in Redwood City. We bought a used copy machine at a garage sale. Then we bought a couple of field cameras and we were on our way. 

We shared Channel 6 with Cable Co-op. Volunteer programming manager Maureen O’Sullivan drove around town with an orange crate in the back seat of her VW bug, collecting VHS tapes from community producers. She’d play the tapes manually on the decks in master control – we started with 10 hours of programming per week. 

When the first Gulf War erupted at the beginning of 1991, we initiated a series of live shows providing an important forum for citizens to express their feelings and reflect on rapidly unfolding events. Having no studio cameras or official “call-in” equipment, we improvised by using a camcorder and taping a microphone to our office speakerphone.  We took comments and questions from viewers.  It worked!  One of our viewers, former Secretary of State George Schultz, called after watching a forum that provided insight into the various Middle East perspectives.  Mr. Schultz said he wanted to invite one of the participants who appeared on the forum to consider a job opening at the Hoover Institute! For 25 years our community members have found a voice and a platform here.

Being a founder of this organization is the single most gratifying professional event of my 40-year career in video production and community media. And I am eager to see how our future will unfold.  We got a glimpse of that bright future when media visionary John C. Hollar, CEO of the Computer History Museum, spoke at our 25th anniversary celebration - the Mosaic Open House that was held September 13. John was joined on stage during our live 3-hour show by our fans and well-wishers, many of whom have helped shape our institutional history and contributed to our treasure trove of community stories.   

We are so proud to have been chronicling those stories for the past 25 years. As part of the Mosaic event we have showcased some highlights in clips, performance, and, most importantly, community testament. I was honored to host this commemorative program.  Roughly 70 guests participated, including two-dozen producers from the early 90s through the present, a dozen government and school officials, 18 artists and performers, and 17 Board and staff members. The program will replay in its entirety in the months to come and be available to enjoy on our Youtube channel. 

A number of prominent community leaders attended and/or sent proclamations to honor our 25 year milestone: Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, State Senator Jerry Hill, Assemblyman Rich Gordon, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, former San Mateo County Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, Palo Alto Mayor Karen Holman, Menlo Park Mayor Catherine Carlton, East Palo Alto Council Member Larry Moody, former East Palo Alto Mayors Duane Bay and Laura Martinez, former Palo Alto Mayor Peter Drekmeier, PAUSD School Board Member Camille Townsend, Executive Director of Youth Community Service Leif Erickson and All Schools Fund Board Member Sunny Dykwel.

If you haven’t crossed our threshold lately, come by and bring a friend. You’ll see what a difference the volunteers, staff and community partners have been making since those early days. We did some digging and have a few data points. How many storytellers have we trained? Over 7,000!  How many hours of government and school board meetings have we covered in 25 years? Over 30,000! How many hours of community programming have we broadcast? Too many to count! But we started with 1 channel, 10 hours a week, then we had 2 channels, then we went up to five and now with the addition of a regional channel, we program 6 TV channels, four that operate 24/7. Bay Voice Channel 27 that rolled out this year now reaches over 400,000 homes in 15 cities between Atherton and San Jose.  

Our Mosaic event was more than a summing up.  When the last guests left and we were resetting the studio and our facilities to get back to business as usual the next day, we felt the great gift and the great responsibility. To be able to be a part of something that has its very roots deep in our first amendment right to free speech, where cost and ability and connection are barriers everywhere else but here. How are we going to keep our lights burning even brighter over the next 25 years? I’m sure you have ideas. We invite you to imagine with us our next 25 years. It’s never too late to start your Midpen Media Center adventure. We are waiting for you.

written by Annie Folger

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

From Documentary To Stage

Sometimes a story comes along that captures the heart and makes the heart its slave. Like many of our Midpen Media producers, Charlie Class has a full life and produces for the sheer fun of it. Charlie has produced hundreds of access TV shows since 1982 on topics ranging from square dancing to high tech to art and sustainability. Charlie joined the Midpen family 11 years ago during our first year here on San Antonio Road. Charlie was content to go as he was, until he met “the story.” Charlie’s good friend, Ruth Mix entrusted her daughter Claire with the telling of her experience as a nurse’s aide at the Gila River Japanese Internment Camp in Arizona. Charlie devoted himself to supporting Claire and Ruth and served as Executive Producer of a moving documentary entitled “Gila River and Mama: The Ruth Mix Story.” 

The story began on February 19, 1942 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, designating certain areas of the United States West coast as military zones. This order paved the way for the unlawful imprisonment of 120,000 Japanese American Citizens in internment camps. Through Class Productions, Charlie also published Claire’s young adult novel about her mother’s experiences entitled “The Girl with Hair Like the Sun.” Both the documentary and the book have helped to break the silence around this terrible page in America’s WWII history. Sadly, both Ruth and Claire have passed away.  The good news is that Claire lived to see the documentary that she wrote and directed receive Best Documentary honors from the San Francisco Peninsula Press Club in 2012.  The documentary was also nominated for a Northern California Emmy Award, received two WAVE Awards and two CreaTiVe Awards. Charlie proudly displays the Press Club plaque on Midpen Media’s own Wall of Fame because he believes it represents the pinnacle of his producing career. “Karen (Adams) suggested we enter the competitions,” Class says.  “I am so grateful for all of the support I’ve received from the Media Center and the friends I’ve made there.” But this amazing story doesn’t stop here. There was a chance meeting between Charlie and a member of the Houston Repertory Theater, which has resulted in an upcoming stage version of the Ruth Mix Story! Doug Kreitz, principal instructor of the “Zoom In” Workshops and a deeply committed volunteer, introduced Charlie to his brother Gary Kreitz who serves on the Board of the Texas Repertory Theatre.  Gary fell in love with the story, and took it back to Houston where Artistic Director Steven Fenley and playwright Charles B. French fell under its spell. The rest, as they say, is history. “Hair Like the Sun” based on Gila River and Mama: The Ruth Mix Story” will have its world premier at the Texas Repertory Theatre in Houston, March 17-April 10, 2016 

To learn more about the Texas premier and to get your tickets, visit

To read more about Claire’s experience, read her interview on Discover Nikkei.

written by Becky Sanders

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Future of Community Media

Our area is famed as the birthplace of the computer and one of the jewels of our Silicon Valley region is the world-renowned Computer History Museum. We were honored to have its President and CEO, John C. Hollar, as our keynote speaker as we celebrated Midpen Media Center’s 25 years of community storytelling at our September 13th event: Mosaic – Telling your story brings the whole picture of our community together. We invite you to join the audience to hear John’s thoughts on the Future of Community Media. His gracious comments acknowledged the important role that Midpen Media Center plays in our community. 

His message grounded us in communications history and inspired us regarding the possibilities for our future and for the communities we serve.  We are grateful to John for giving us an historical context and a vision for our future.  John Hollar’s background is perfectly suited to speak to these issues.  HIs career spans global media production and exemplifies his longstanding passion for media and education.  He led the development behind the Computer History Museum's major, permanent exhibition, Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing, a multi-platform history experience that has been described as the Valley's answer to the Smithsonian.  John serves as Executive Producer and frequent host of Revolutionaries, a weekly series produced with KQED SF.  Before joining the Museum, he was President of Penguin Television and Pearson Broadband in London. He served as executive Vice President of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), where he founded and launched the award-winning, and a wide array of national education services, including PBS TeacherLine.  He has been the executive producer of more than 200 hours of documentary and children's television.

In the future, we will share more about our 25-year community storytelling history including touching testimonials as we continue to celebrate!  Please accept our invitation to continue the journey alongside us and to shape the future of 

community media!

written by Annie Folger

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cuba Through the Lens

Until recently, travel to Cuba from the US has been severely restricted. For half a century US visitors were sparse and only allowed to venture to Cuba as part of rare cultural exchanges and educational trips. Such trips were arranged down to every detail and in most cases heavily supervised. Foothill College Photography Instructor, Ron Herman, has conducted his students on such trips to Cuba numerous times. "A cultural and physical landscape so different from our own is an inspiring laboratory for any student of photography," Herman says. While on one of his trips to Cuba, Herman became a fan of photographer Raul Canibano and arranged for his students to work with him. As diplomatic relations between Cuba and US warmed, Herman was anxious to bring Canibano and his work to the Foothill College. 

As a young man, Canibano worked as a welder but a chance meeting with a professional photographer sparked Canibano’s interest in photography. Making photography his career didn’t occur to him until he walked into the Fototeca de Cuba art gallery in Havana in 1989 when he was 28. Inspired by photographer Alfredo Sarabia’s surrealistic approach to landscapes, Canibano wanted to do the same thing but with people. Within a few days of the Sarabia exhibition, Raul Canibano traded in his blowtorch for a camera and started his journey. Canibano’s thick portfolio traces the story of a quarter century of Cuban life, a culture deeply isolated due to the trade embargo imposed on it by the US. 

With a little hoop jumping, Herman made arrangements to host Canibano on January 21, 2015. Canibano would speak at the opening of an exhibit of his work. Herman was confronted by grim budget realities. Wanting more than press in the local papers, Herman wanted a lasting record of this historic world event. Herman asked Midpen Media Center staff to recruit a crew to cover the opening gala. The volunteer team, lead by Mary Skinner, not only covered the event, but the team shot an exclusive interview with Canibano himself. This coverage inspired them to create a documentary that shows the relevance of Canibano’s work for present and future generations to experience. 

“Cuba, Cubano, Canibano” is a 28 minute journey through Canibano’s world and conveys many of the stories behind his photographs. Its release coincided with the reopening of the US embassy in Cuba on July 20, 2015 and the reopening of the US embassy in Havana, which is scheduled for August 14, 2015 .

Art Historian William Casellanos has called Canibano the most “iconic and prolific documentary photographer working in Cuba today." Casellanos praises Canibano for the “dignity and intimacy” with which he captures “Cuba’s national identity at the end of utopia.” With the influx of wealth and investment bound to pour back into Cuba after a half a century of isolation, Cuba is poised for change. Canibano’s portraits document a unique time in Cuba’s history. Beyond their historical significance, Canibano’s work hopes to inspire its viewers with images of the indomitable human spirit created by the artificial boundaries of war, ideology and politics. The images convey the pain, the joy, the love, the suffering and the intimacy of Cubans' daily lives. Canibano shows us our sameness with a people that generations of Americans really know little about.  

That Herman could bring Canibano here ahead of what is sure to be “Canibano fever” sweeping the art world is pure serendipity. With this opening up of doors between the US and Cuba, it is expected that appreciation for Canibano’s work will soar, proof positive that art survives when war slips into the annals of history. The heart of human stories beats longer than political regimes.

written by Becky Sanders

* If you want to learn more about the changes coming to Cuba and US relations , “Other Voices,” a monthly TV show produced in the Midpen Media studio by Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, covered Cuba in their May episode. Guests include Karen Lee Wald, researcher and writer, expert on Cuba and Richard Hobbs, Executive Director of Human Agenda. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Behind the Scenes: Tuolumne To All of You

California's drought is an issue that currently affects many of our lives. Our state and cities have instituted water usage restrictions, and the dryness is apparent by the yellow lawns popping up everywhere around us, some even with signs saying "Brown is the New Green." Leah Rogers, who took both our Zoom In and studio class, put her amazing talents to use and created a beautiful documentary called "Tuolumne to All of You." This documentary, which recently debuted at the Tuolumne River Film and Culture Fest, tells the story of our main water source, the Tuolumne River. Touching on its past, present, and possible future, it illustrates the important roll this river played in the development of this area, and how it continues to be a lifeline for our community. The Midpen Media Center is kicking off new blog series called "Behind the Scenes" where we highlight the great achievements of our volunteers and get a closer look into what goes into the making of a great documentary or studio series. Considering the timeliness of this issue, I can not imagine a more suitable person than Leah to ask a few questions about her film and background. I hope you enjoy her documentary and learning about Leah as much as I have.  

1.  Leah, how and why did you become involved in the Midpen Media Center?

I took the Zoom In and TV studio classes in the Spring of 2014 to explore the world of video and community TV.

2.  Your film is such a great film and such an important topic. What motivated you the create “Tuolumne To All of You”?

I have always been interested in water. As a geologist I chose to specialize in groundwater. Even though it doesn’t flow by us in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Tuolumne is OUR river, the one from which we get most of our water.

3.  If there was one lesson your viewers take from watching this film what would it be?

I just want to remind people that when we are tightening our belts in regards water usage, that we are in fact saving water that comes from Yosemite National Park and that feeds a great and beautiful ecosystem. That might make it easier to honor and savor it.

4.  Tell me about your background and how it contributed to the making of this film. Why did you become interested in hydrology? When did you develop an appreciation for nature?

I have loved nature for as long as I can remember. The musician, Bill Walker, whose music I used for the soundtrack, is a childhood friend. We have a memory of saving tadpoles out in the field behind my house, moving them from a drying puddle to a bigger creek.  We were about 5 years old at the time, so maybe that is one of my earlier environmental efforts. I loved the college field trips in geology and many people were going to work for oil companies, but I decided water was more important to people than oil. I worked as a research hydrogeologist for years. Also I went with friends on river trips in rafts and kayaks.

5.  What was the biggest obstacle you faced in making this film?

I would say film editing is the biggest struggle for me and thank goodness my friend Nate Gardner who stepped forward to help save the day. Sound is also a real challenge, especially when I wanted to do interviews outside. I learned a great deal by doing things poorly the first and second and third time.

6.  What was the greatest moment you had in making this film?

Actually having almost 300 people in a theater watching the movie( at the Tuolumne River Film and Culture Fest) was perhaps the most intense moment, which was both frightening and thrilling.  No one threw vegetables and many kind people said the film touched them deeply.

7.  What is your relationship to the Tuolumne River Trust?

The Tuolumne River Trust is just a great organization whose leadership has such love of the river and such energy for local and state action. It has been one of the non-profits that I support with my resources however I can.

8.  Do you feel water conservation is important? If so, why and what steps do you feel we can take to engage in water conservation?

Absolutely, conservation is the one thing each of us we can really do in terms of our water resources use. No one really wants to talk about population control or moving out of state, so we had better get better at conserving.

9.  How have people responded to your film so far?  Do you have any big hopes or plans for your film like entering it into contests or impacting a specific audience?

The response has been very supportive and enthusiastic! I am deeply grateful people have found it opened their eyes in some way about how and from where they get their water and also how lucky we are to have this sierra water in our dry climate. I feel too busy to really enter contests. I started filming again for next year as we hope to have another Tuolumne River Film and Culture Fest in 2016. I wanted some footage of the Paddle to the Sea paddle-a-thon, which started just after the film festival. (

10.  Do you hope to produce more films? If so, on what types of topics?

Besides the Tuolumne River, I am working on two projects right now. The first one is about tango musicians Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Lepera and the other is about the botanist, Sir Joseph Banks who went with Captain Cook on his first voyage to the Pacific 1768-1771.

Written by Katie Rentzke

Thursday, May 28, 2015

We All Have Something to Give

We all have something unique to offer no matter what package we come in.  This is the concept behind the Abilities United Community Connections series.  Created and produced by long time Media Center volunteer Andrea Throndson, the show highlights achievements made by local men and women with physical and mental disabilities. Throndson says, “I realized there was no programming about adults with disabilities. I wanted to showcase to the community the great things these people are accomplishing.” As part of the nonprofit Abilities United, Community Connections is a program that helps the disabled population be a part of their local community by giving them an opportunity to commit to social and volunteer activities. With 35 local organization partners, activities include park cleanups, book sorting at libraries, and helping to produce the Media Center’s Community Connections series.

First launched in 2007, the show was birthed out of a grant from the Silicon Valley Foundation. Since then, there have been approximately 15 episodes interviewing people like Temple Grandin and former State Senator Joe Simitian. The most recent show partnered with the Bridge School and addresses the topic of Alternative Communication.  Interviewing two guests that use augmentative communication devices, the show divulges the hardships her guests faced in the past lacking proper communication. But also reveals how these devices become a portal to their thoughts and lead to great accomplishments.   

It is episodes like this one that help break the stereotypes of people with disabilities. “I regularly face misconceptions about people with disabilities,” says Throndson.  It is through education that Throndson feels those negative opinions change.  Educating people about developmental disabilities teaches people that the disabled are reliable, respectable and hardworking individuals who are more than just their disabilities.  Education shows the strengths of the disabled and shows people that inclusion is important. “We all have our struggles and dark places. We have all been pushed aside at some point in our lives,” says Throndson.

 Being on the show allows her guests with disabilities to openly talk about those dark places, but also embrace their stories of perseverance. Throndson says her guests get very excited to be on the show because they get to be stars.  “The last guest Clay got so excited that we saw the apparent joy on his face. Being on the show was wonderful recognition for him,” says Throndson. The show positively affects both the guests, and Throndson as well.

“It has given me a joy of life. I know that sounds corny but it’s true. There is brilliance in seeing a person with disabilities. For often having a disability can seem like a drawback but then so many gifts and joy can come from their struggles. Hearing and seeing these stories of perseverance is what has kept me doing this show for 10 years,” concluded Throndson.

Written by Katie Rentzke 

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