The Power of Voice
Radio as a Force for Justice
by Kate Simmer and Curtis Rumrill

Much of empowerment is based in voice; much of oppression
The radio tower goes up for Radio Free Urbana> (WRFU), November 11, 2005. Based in Urbana- Champaign, IL, they are a community-supported alternative station like WXXE. Photo: JJ Tiziou,

is based in silence. Below are brief examples of how independent media can serve the community, cultivating resistance to oppression.

Language, Pride and Dissent
"This is radio for all people, rich and poor."

So says Lucrecia Linares, a radio announcer who lives in the Veracruz Mountains in rural Mexico. She speaks of Radio Huayacocotla, "La voz de los campesinos," a short wave radio station that broadcasts in Spanish and three indigenous languages.

Radio Huay serves a vital role in the indigenous community. They hold fundraisers to buy traditional instruments for young musicians. They broadcast messages from migrants to the US who wish to contact their families. They inform the community about the abuses of local employers. They foster active participation of campesinos through training and broadcast platforms.

During the Zapatista rebellion, Radio Huay was shut down by the Mexican government, which accused them of broadcasting in code (actually community announcements in indigenous languages). Campesinos advocated strongly for its return; after three months of struggle, it was back on the air. (

Radio Conciencia
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has thousands of members, mostly Latinos, Haitians, and Mayans. Most speak little or no English, aren't protected by labor laws, and live under threat of deportation.

CIW ( created Radio Conciencia, broadcasting in Spanish, Creole and indigenous languages, to reach workers. Its effects were immediate.

A company called Balance hired over 600 people for cleanup and reconstruction after Hurricane Charley. After learning that 300 workers were not paid, Radio Conciencia invited workers to come to the CIW office. Nearly 300 workers arrived. They then confronted Balance, winning $57,000 in back wages.

In 2001, CIW asked Taco Bell for guarantees against forced labor and for a one-cent-per-pound wage increase for tomato pickers. Taco Bell refused. Radio Conciencia aired shows explaining the relation between Taco Bell's profits and worker hardships and invited workers to plan speaking tours. In March 2005 Taco Bell gave in to CIW's demands.

Today CIW meetings draw hundreds of workers.

WXXE - Community Radio for Syracuse­­
Radio Huayacocotla and Radio Conciencia illustrate that when radio stands up for people, it lays the foundation for resistance. Like the communities these stations represent, Syracuse suffers because of poverty, racism and social divisions; like these communities, the mainstream media has a vested interest in keeping us disempowered.

Syracuse Community Radio (WXXE) is Syracuse's own grassroots radio station. A Pacifica affiliate, we're located in the Westcott Community Center on Syracuse's East Side. We have two pending FCC applications to broadcast on Syracuse's FM dial, and currently broadcast in Fenner at 90.5. You can hear our webcast at

We're working hard to prepare for the approval of our applications. We've restructured our governance system and begun holding membership meetings. We've elected a new Board, created new Bylaws and revamped our website. We've done considerable fundraising and financial restructuring to ensure that we are fiscally responsible, accountable and sustainable.

We're learning and growing. To educate ourselves and network with other community radio activists, we recently sent representatives to the Grassroots Radio Conference and the National Federation of Community Broadcasters' Annual Conference. In short, we're working to make the dream of community radio a reality here in Syracuse. But it's not enough.

Syracuse is ripe with passionate, talented people. Our success depends on our ability to organize these people into a radio station. We need you to join a project that could reshape the political landscape here, changing people's lives.

We're currently focused on developing our webcast. We need people who are committed and responsible, who can devote about five hours a week to join our volunteer webcast production team.

We need a Program Director, Volunteer Coordinator, Office Manager, and Grantwriter. For more information, contact Thom at 516-732-0354 or

If you can't fill one of these roles, you can still get involved - host a radio show; donate your time, money or equipment, spread the word.

Community radio isn't just about talking: it's about using our collective strengths to make something truly our own. In that process we learn about ourselves and what we can do if we work together. The medium really is the message!
Grassroots Radio Resources
Syracuse Community Radio:

History of the Grassroots Radio Movement:

Pacifica Foundation:

Kate is a local organizer on the board of Syracuse Community Radio. Curtis wears skirts.