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Challenging Representation

Rachel Rakes

La Lutta New Media Collective is a New York-based group of activists, artists, educators, and rabble-rousers dedicated to raising social awareness through new media. By providing technical and production assistance to community groups and individuals involved in movement building, information sharing, social justice, and human rights, they aim to empower those people and communities who are more often harmed rather than helped by new technology. They offer assistance in the form of Web site development, information system support and implementation, digital film and documentary production, and organizing performances, events, and gatherings in efforts to build communication centers for information exchange and movement building. La Lutta (the name comes from La Lotta, meaning "the struggle" in Italian) is now in their fifth year of operation.

Antonino D'Ambrosio is one of the co-founders of La Lutta NMC; I spoke with him over many long-distance, long-running phone conversations about La Lutta and the meaning of integration.

What's going on right now, what projects is La Lutta working on?

We have this big visual arts arm to the organization. With that, we're working on two documentaries: Once There Was A Village is based on a book by artist/activist Yuri Kapralov, covering 40 years of activism and social movements on the Lower East Side and Back in the Days is an examination of a Brooklyn community before it was ripped apart by crack. We are also doing a lot of outreach. We provided cameras to people filming anti-World Economic Forum stuff recently.

What other groups have you been working with?

We support a lot of local grassroots organizations here in New York. We lend our cameras and provide technical support to housing rights and anti-gentrification groups and work with younger people teaching them how to shoot and edit film. Sometimes the communities may have something specific in mind to do with the film, like a documentary or archiving, but we will also use some of their stuff in our projects. We also provide a space to display the different organizations' projects at the events we throw.

This is a Movement is a series of community events and conferences where different groups involved with La Lutta collaborate and showcase their work. Some of the younger activists we work with have given spoken word performances or shown their films at other events and benefits we put together. Our goal in this is to integrate all the different projects into a larger collaborative project. We're trying to eliminate these situations that arise where everything is so fragmented to try to show that there are so many connections in all this work. We think that the work these anti-gentrification groups are doing is great, but want to show that it's likely connected to the health care program around the corner in the same community. We understand those connections and bring them together through media projects, such as film.

Why Film?

Film to me is like technology: I have a love hate relationship with it. Like technology, it often separates us more than brings us together and only promotes the agendas of a small, exclusive group of people. It's also expensive and highly technical. We're trying to take that convention and turn it on its head using the tools of the oppressor. We're taking the understanding that film and television are how most people get their information and using it to reach and influence as many people as we can. Through film documentation we create a historical record of things we think are important. There's such a revisionist approach to the problems around us. Hardly anyone is preserving memory and in the mainstream media there's even a great effort to create a climate of constantly forgetting. All the film projects in production right now are historical. Once There Was A Village remembers an artist and working class community before gentrification took over and Back in the Days remembers a community before it was overrun by crack. This March we will be going to Cuba for the Tear Down the Walls conference to film it and create the visual world history that as soon as Castro dies will effectively be wiped away. Another film project we're starting work on, called America is a Day, approaches the lack of memory in this country head on.

Explain the concept of America is a Day.

America is a Day aims to show the chronic lack of memory in this country and how conscious and malevolent that amnesia is. Examining how Americans live day in and day outdemonstrates how de-politicized people are, how unable people are to contextualize what goes on around them. What we want to do try to get a cross-section of people who work, follow them around (ideally people will film themselves) for a couple weeks. Then after the few weeks are over we will get them together to interact and show parts of the films. With everyone together we will bring up specific things from the films that might create an interesting discourse where people talk about their experience, about what people see in their relationships, and what that means in terms of how people live. There are all these issues day in and day out that come up and people don't know what to do with them. One interesting thing about September 11 is that people were forced to have discussion of sophisticated complex political issues in a really uninformed way — in a really simplistic way. It showed that people have no way to process what goes on and that comes out in day to day interactions.

Creating context by preserving memory.

America is a day.

I know that's one of La Lutta's slogans, of which you have many. You seem to use a specific language and terminology on the site and in your press. What is the thinking behind that?

I started understanding the influence of slogans from my own experience being politicized early on through punk rock. Seeing Joe Strummer wearing a Red Brigades T-shirt turned me on to the Italian Anarchist movement, something I might have never stumbled onto. The punk scene was very effective as a movement that way. I think the Situationists were also very effective in their creation of new words and intriguing propaganda. Slogans are visceral, short, intense, and accessible. They have shown already to pique people's interest in our organization. People ask all the time what the term La Lutta means; that becomes an opportunity to inform people about our organization.

Do you consider yourselves an Anarchist group?

Not overtly. We are trying to stay away from any labels to reach as many people as possible. We realize that what you do and how you act is intrinsically political and are trying to stay away from wearing our politics on our sleeves — trying to counteract all the fractionalization that goes on in "the left" because of miniscule political differences. The main purpose of La Lutta is to provide solidarity in the struggle. People call us Anarchists for that.

You've been around for about five years now, how has the organization changed and what have you learned about this kind of activism?

My idea when we first started La Lutta was we have some skills: I can make films, I have a grasp on technology. I've had some opportunities and advantages. Why don't we start this organization that offers our skills to the community; we have the benefit of our experience to bring people together. We wanted to show that skills like these can be used for more than making money. We wanted to be a resource where people could call us for extremely varying kinds of issues and, at first, overextended our resources a little. You have to recognize where to place your energies. In the beginning we would get caught up with "left" groups who would monopolize our time, clearly because they thought their issue was more important than some of the other groups' we were assisting. I call this the "sandbox mentality" so prevalent in the left. All these groups have their corner of the sandbox, only worrying about the castles they're building. They forget that the sand is owned by someone else. We decided to concentrate on projects that are really achievable like Dispatch, our on-line writing and news journal. We give people the opportunity to contribute writing and if they do the work, they can become an active member of the Dispatch collective. The collective then changes form by the members in it and the work they are interested in. The infrastructure is set up to help people do what they want to do, what they love to do.

That's something very radical in itself.

Definitely. When people see that something is working, that they are getting done something they want to do, that can have a huge impact -- on individuals as well as whole communities.

La Lutta's Website is

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