Dispatch from a Scavenger Hunt Champion

I haven’t been on a hunt since I was ten. I vividly remember listening to "Another One Bites the Dust" as the cold air dug its claws into me. I dug through the spring snow to find the last treasure. Every handful of snow I dug, I was an inch closer to glory: a plastic oblong sphere. I couldn’t stop looking, no matter how cold I was. I had forgotten that feeling until today. As we were let loose on the western bridge city, I felt a rush of energy flow into my caffeine-lacking, just-awoken body. We were going to win.

I never lost hope, whether Emily was toughing it up the Burnside bridge or Lucy was bandaging her injured toe. Sure, we may not have been the underdogs, as two of the three of us were familiar with the territory, but that didn’t mean we were lacking heart. From our lack of forethought on meal planning to our garb, we gave ourselves roadblocks. But we were eager to overcome.

Halfway through, we had the lead. We couldn’t lose. But sure enough, as we returned our steeds to their stables, a group of four emerged from the heat-distorted horizon. Beat by beat, neck and neck, our two groups battled through the environment. As we realized we would be stuck together for the next few stops, the tension subsided. We could rest. But only for a moment, as out of the corner of my eye, three figures loomed large behind us. How could this be happening. It was them. The last three. It was down to the wire.

The final minutes of the hunt were a blur. I remember responding to Jordan’s “it’s not a competition, bro” with a sharp “life’s a competition.” I remember Emily seeking any water she could find, throat parched, stomach screaming for sustenance. I remember Lucy yelling “go, go, go!” as the final stop came into view.

Against all odds, we prevailed. Sure, Molly and Phil reiterated how this hunt was not a competition, but we knew deep down they were proud we had won. We were unsure as to how our peers would react to finding out they hadn’t conquered the 2017 MISC scavenger hunt, but our sweat-drenched clothes warded off any who dared oppose us. Sometimes people say I take things too seriously. Take this seriously: we were the champions.

–Atlas Finch

A Guide to Portland Pronunciations

This week our group finally took the leap of faith and plunged into life in Portland. After what seemed like hours of listening to "Sweet Caroline," we returned to our home away from home, also known as the Citizen store front. It was here that we all eagerly awaited to be greeted by our host families and whisked away to their humble abodes. However as time dwindled on , it was reminiscent of being the last kids in Pre-K , who would excitedly crane their necks at the sound of the door opening.

Once I was connected with my new Portland dad, I was whisked away to the neighborhood adjacent to the Hollywood District called "Rose City Park" named after the local elementary school. Here I was shown my new home for the remainder of my time in the 97217, and began to learn some of Portland’s rich, though maybe not the most diverse, history.

My family welcomed me with open arms, and explained that as empty nesters they were looking forward to having the house full again. I’ve become acquainted with the home's two cats, especially the elder, who is 20 years old and eats baby food.

My homestay hosts bestowed upon me an assortment of atlases and maps, just in case my modern technology failed me. They also took me on a tour of my new “home” in their Prius.

This weekend we will be checking out a few of Portland’s cultural gems including a Jazz and Blues festival by the Willamette River as well as a book talk by Roxane Gay.

I think I’ll end with a takeaway from this week: a woman sitting next to me on the bus educated me that Albina Avenue is pronounced "alb-I-na" like "albino," information I am incredibly grateful for as to not embarrass myself at the food carts, or "pods," down on Skidmore Avenue, where there's even a dish named after the notorious street.

Another fun pronunciation lesson: Willamette is with a sharp a, like you’re crinkling up your nose.

The adventure has only just begun, and I don’t really know where it’ll go but I’m excited to see where this path takes me!

–Moira Peterson

What The Babadook Can Teach Us About Social Justice

I have to tell you that I am deeply, fundamentally not at all a horror movie person. My horror meter peaks out at Stranger Things and that’s really pushing it. But somehow, after much poking and prodding from Atlas and Lucy (our cohort’s horror connoisseurs), this week we all sat together and watched The Babadook (2014).

The next morning, squished up next to one another in the living room before a seminar, Molly (MISC’s coordinator) teased and asked, “What can the Babadook teach us about social justice?” Now, we’re less than a week into the program, with 500 things flying through the air at any given time, but I can’t seem to escape one facetious comment. In this brief time I’ve found myself thinking deeply about a whole lot of things: well-told stories, systems of injustice, mobilizing meaningful change through media, and—bafflingly, of all things—The Babadook

If this is sounding a little wacky, let me backtrack for a moment. On Tuesday, Outside podcast’s Peter Frick-Wright led us through a storytelling and audio production session. “At its most basic,” he began, “a story is a conflict and a resolution.” During the break, Isa prompted my favorite conversation during our time at camp with one probing question: how do you resolve a conflict about an ongoing, entrenched social issue?  

This warrants a quick summary (spoiler alert, sorry). Essentially, The Babadook follows a mother and son and their midnight hauntings by a shadowy, scythe-fingered creature called the Babadook. While the boy acknowledges the monster’s presence and prepares himself to fight back, the mother—who, after seven years, is still mourning the death of her husband and struggling to support her oddball, outcast son—dismisses his fears as childish ravings even in the midst of accelerating signs and bumps in the night.

“The more you deny me, the stronger I get,” the Babadook tells her via the world's creepiest, most disturbing children’s book. Denial leads to full-on Babadook possession and soon she’s chasing her son around the house with a massive kitchen knife. The climax takes us to the basement where the boy’s booby traps force his possessed mother to confront the monster head-on. “You have to let it go!” he yells. She vomits up a stream of black sludge. “I think this is a metaphor for grief!!” a member of our group shouts mid-scene during our viewing. Evidently. The Babadook closes out with mother and son gardening in the sun-saturated backyard. After gathering a bowl full of worms, the mother makes her way down the basement stairs and sets the bowl down on the concrete floor. Something shifts in the shadows and the bowl slides from the sunny patch of floor to the shaded corner, pulled by phantom limbs. She hasn’t defeated the Babadook, we’re meant to understand, but she has carved out a space for it. She is healing her grief by accommodating it.

This is a long-winded, but I think useful way to get at the intrinsic challenges of fusing media storytelling with social justice. Isa’s question—“how do you resolve a conflict that has no obvious ending?”—points to a fundamental question that I hope to wrestle with for the rest of the summer: do the formulaic demands of storytelling ontologically diverge from the messy, entrenched realities of injustice and oppression? “Your story can’t solve poverty in America, so how do you resolve a story about poverty?” Peter’s answer went something like this: to find resolution in an ongoing conflict, pivot. “Find a seam or an avenue in the story that will get you to the landing your audience needs.” Essentially, look harder—things aren’t always what they appear and resolutions will rarely look the way you’d expect them to.

What can the Babadook teach us about social justice? Sometimes you have to pivot in unexpected directions for your story to find its natural resolution. Sometimes instead of killing the monster, you let it shack up in your basement.

–Emily Curtis

Seen, Heard, and Felt by Others

As our MISC time at camp came to an end, I was filled with this new sense of warmth and togetherness with my fellow aspiring media & change makers. Never have I been around more dynamic, intelligent, and hilarious conversations about films, music, documentary ethics and even reality television.

From sharing a house together for five days, to recording one another’s thoughts and wild moments to prepare for these audio postcards, to making food together, and sitting around bonfires together, so far my time spent with everyone in MISC has been super chaotic, inspiring, tiring, and rewarding all at once.  

When we arrived back to our home base Citizen, I couldn’t help but feel this rush of excitement and anxiety for all the experiences and growth that will come our way in this space throughout the next six weeks. I believe it’s where the magic will happen as well. The “magic” of media making which occurs in the process of making ideas and visions which only exist inside of our minds at the moment into a tangible product that can been seen, heard, and felt by others.

However, what’s even more special about these projects we are now embarking on this summer is that they are being crafted from a place of passion inside all of us for empowering, fueling, and inspiring social change. Whether that may mean changing someone’s mind about a stance they held on a specific social issue or creating a platform for someone to express their personal truth that traditionally would be silenced or influencing a political policy affecting an entire city, state, or country.  

Tomorrow marks the first official day of beginning the early stages of our audio documentary project. While I have some experience over at Skidmore College combining visual and audio elements to help tell a story, never have I tackled purely using sound to do, like we required to do when making our audio documentary pieces.

I'm curious to experience both what may feel limiting without delivering visual information as well as the new possibilities audio documentary storytelling will bring! For this media pursuit, I am hoping to work with a Portland non-profit organization called The Women’s Beat League, who work to empower women and female-identified individuals who are interested in djing and production work as well as cultivate a community for them. I’m very excited to potentially work with them and see where this incredible MISC opportunity will take me as an aspiring media maker and social rights activist.

–Amanda Peckler

An Unconventional Summer Camp

I almost mistook a side alley for my home for the next six weeks. I was on the way to the Media Institute for Social Change meet-up and had just bumbled through my first use of Uber. I attempted to be dropped of at 3636 N Mississippi Ave, the program’s headquarters, but instead somehow managed to set the Uber to the Mississippi Ave a street over that was just a dilapidated alley. I trekked my bags a street over to the headquarters: Citizen. There I met with the ten people who I would soon travel what was supposed to be two hours to a cabin in Gearhart. After introducing ourselves several times as other program members arrived, I had my first foray into the Portland food scene.

I ordered a burrito bowl and awkwardly sat at a picnic table as everyone else sat and watched me eat while drinking fancy ginger lime Agua Fresca. Soon after my culinary extravaganza we all piled into a black rental van that somehow fit twelve people and twice as many bags.

We passed the car ride playing Heads Up and jamming out to our roadtrip playlists. I got to know a few people along the way. I learned that there were two of us (Lucy and Theo) who went to Carleton College and studied media studies. I also learned that three people all went to Western Washington University (Isa, Kienna, and Madi).

We hit traffic on a windy mountain road surrounded by droves of trees. Being trapped in a van with near-strangers while playing Heads Up, doing horrendous accents, and attempting to mime making a bed was interesting, but altogether enjoyable.

Once we got to the cabin we were assigned rooms and Atlas and I were relegated to the basement to share a bunk bed as the girls shared rooms full of double beds and Theo got his own queen size. We were all assigned meal crews and Atlas and I got the only two-person group. Later that night had a dinner of impromptu pizza made by the first meal crew. Afterward, we did personal interviews of other program members.

The next day we shared our media self-portraits we made with the group. People made everything from a compilation of snapchat videos to a layering of sound bytes from the past year. Then, we had lectures from Phil on interview questions as we listened to This American Life and Fresh Air.

In our free time we explored the beach. The beach was like a dessert with fragments of desiccated branches curling out of the sand. It was like a graveyard for trees and sea creatures. We even found the skeleton of some sort of animal and an intact crab exoskeleton. Moira brought the crab back to the cabin Lord of the Flies style, speared on a stick. The night concluded with us all covering our eyes during a screening of The Babadook. I could have sworn I heard the Babadook’s knocking that night.

On the third day of camp we got through Phil’s lectures on storytelling. It wasn’t so bad because we got to listen to clips from Radiolab on Orson Welles’s "War of the Worlds." We ended the day by watching My Own Private Idaho at Phil’s behest. It wasn’t what we expected, but it was a good movie nonetheless directed by prolific and also extremely strange director Gus Van Sant.

On Monday we had to go to Astoria and interview a stranger. I interviewed a mother who was sitting alone in the ARC Arcade close to the river. She told me about growing up in a poor family, being separated from her husband while he toured in Iraq, and having her newborn baby. It was nerve-wracking finding someone who looked interesting enough to interview and who was approachable. Mostly it was just scary to approach a stranger.

Yesterday we had the pleasure of meeting with local Portland media-maker Peter Frick-Wright. He taught us about storytelling from a radio perspective and the tricks of the trade to recording good audio. We messed around with Hindenburg and listened to This American Life. He taught us how to duck audio under an interview, layer audio, and use reverb. Probably the most important lesson I learned from Pete though was to always unplug people’s fridges before starting an interview. He said to leave keys in the fridge to remember to plug it back in after an interview. Note to self: popsicle keys are better than bad audio.

–Jordan Joseph

My Private Oregon

For the next six weeks, our Summer Documentary Program students will be taking the wheel at the blog. In our first student post, Lucy Stevens (Carleton College 2018) reflects on her time at our "summer camp" orientation in Gearhart.

At MISC’s coastal summer camp, one might describe the learning curve as ‘experimental.' Sunday afternoon, as one giant mass, we put on our headphones and found our training wheels together. It was simultaneously hilarious and enlightening; here we were, tottering around on sleepy beach-town back roads, extending out our new microphones towards the environment the way eccentrics comb the local beach with metal detectors.

Unlike most of the students on this program, as a native Portlandian, I grew up going to the Oregon coast and have actually spent a lot of time in and around Gearhart. However, I was surprised as the familiar roar of the ocean and titter of birdsong, fed to me through my earbuds, took on a different quality, becoming more crisp and intimate. Suddenly, each crunching gravel footstep, each peal of laugher, became potential material for my audio postcard, one of our current assignments.

Though the tiny device in my hand, the native soundscape was becoming creative material. I began to interview the others intensely, almost tongue-in-cheek, half searching for sound bites and half wondering at the power of my Zoom H1—and entirely certain that most of my recordings were going to be drowned out by audible distortion of the coastal breeze. But that was a minor concern; after nights of enjoying creatively scrapped-together meals, watching scary movies, and sharing anecdotes about our different lives across the country, it was exciting to be making our own content together.

By Monday morning, after a somewhat bewildering (but entertaining) screening of My Own Private Idaho the night before, the time for tinkering was over: our MISC group was taking Astoria to test our interviewing skills! It was really interesting to go back to a town I’ve hung around in the past to interview a complete stranger. I ended up having two conversations with people from two entirely different walks of life, but I think that I ended up with a much more fully fleshed-out impression of Astoria as a permanent residence and as a brief stopping place.

Afterwards, everyone seemed to have peeled back some interesting corner of Astoria through each of their interviews. I’m so excited to read more about the stories they uncovered! 

–Lucy Stevens

Are you now more or less pessimistic about the Trump adminstration than right after the elections? We spoke with four Portlanders about their emotions right after the November election--newly elected city council member Chloe Eudlay; Wanderlust ring master Noah Mickens; local activist Cameron Whitten; and, Natalie Sept, who had worked on the Clinton campaign.

Summer Documentary Program Alumni Profiles

In celebration of all the emerging media producers from ten years of our Summer Documentary Program, and in an effort to continue to share stories of social change, MISC is excited to profile our alumni and the inspiring work they're up to around the country. This week we're proud to introduce Eli Plenk, a graduate of Hampshire College working toward restorative justice in Massachusetts.


I serve as Program Manager for Our Restorative Justice; a nonprofit in Lowell, MA that works with school, courts and communities to implement alternative approaches to justice that disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. The role is a sort of catch-all job that involves a fair amount of on-the-ground work with criminal justice involved youth as well as more structural and strategic work for the organization. The on-the-ground part of my job involves shepherding young people through a restorative justice diversion program, which is an alternative to regular court in Lowell. Our model centers on the belief that those closest to a case are the ones most qualified to resolve it and as a result our work is really about bringing together important people in a young person's life and coalescing a system of support around that kid. We work with young people for at least six months, and over that time meet regularly with them and their family and facilitate a series of restorative circles. In circle folks collectively problem solve, with the goal of healing harm and addressing the root causes of the young person's criminal justice system involvement. Beyond that work I'm also working to expand the organization's reach; both topically and geographically. We're building a restorative justice program in Boston and recently began taking status offense cases. As far as we know we're the first organization to ever design a restorative justice model for status offenses, which is incredibly exciting given how many young people end up endlessly system-involved as a result of those cases. I like this work because I think restorative justice is a viable alternative to mass incarceration that addresses harm without resorting to retribution. It does a good job of actually dealing with the things that lead young people into the system and as a result it feels much more sustainable than our country's traditional approach to justice.

Education: Hampshire College, 2013 (American Studies major, Education minor)

2009 Summer Documentary Program video: A Home of My Own

Would you like to share any of your recent work?
Last summer I wrote a piece for the Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy on faith, race, and social change. It was a profile of my friend Yehudah Webster; a deeply religious African American Jew who I met while involved in organizing against police brutality in New York. The piece emerged from a series of conversations we had, which challenged me to think differently about faith, and in particular about faith based activism. The piece has a number of typos since clearly neither I nor the team of Harvard grad students who edit that publication can spell even the most basic words. Nonetheless it's something I'm proud of and I hope people will take a look if they're so inclined. The journal is linked here and my article is on page 75.

What is a lasting memory from your summer with MISC?
I remember sitting with the other fellows (in a basement I think?) brainstorming possible documentary topics. I was astounded by the depth of my peers' ideas and by their commitment to a brand of thought that borrowed from both organizing and media making. I was new to Portland and new to adulthood and new to media and that summer I was just beginning to learn what intersectional political work entailed. Those conversations about what to cover, why to cover it, and how we as media makers relate to larger social and political movements will certainly stick with me for a long time.

Can you recommend a film, podcast, book, or media work?
I recently finished reading Yo Miss: A Graphic Look at High School  and loved it. As a former teacher and current youth worker I'm very leery of books or movies that depict urban education. They tend to gravitate towards two problematic extremes; either the kids all live these totally hopeless lives and the teacher comes in and instantly saves them with literature or science or whatever, or the text is so busy trying to prove that urban kids are great that it over steers in the other direction and doesn't address the challenges that many young people face. I appreciated Yo Miss because it was the first book I read about urban education that was able to capture a more nuanced reality; one that felt true to my experiences as an educator working with low-income kids of color. It's a graphic novel about a teacher working at an alternative high school in New York City that's designed for young people who have not done well in traditional schools and are at risk of dropping out of high school. It doesn't shy away from the very real and sometimes painful struggles that young people in a school of that nature face, but it also doesn't let those struggles define the characters. The author (who is a teacher at this high school) takes the time to explain the cast of characters in a way that's neither rosy nor judgemental and does a good job of illustrating what teaching is like on a day to day level without losing sight of some of the structural factors that inform that reality. Each young person and adult in the books has a lot of pain and a good amount of joy and relates to this school in a slightly different way that's based on their personalities and histories. Overall it's an incredibly fun and honest book that doesn't take itself or it's characters too seriously (think Dykes to Watch Out For about urban ed). In addition it's eminently readable and you can easily get through the whole thing in an afternoon or two. When people ask me what they should read to better understand urban education this is the one book I unequivocally recommend.

Thanks for sharing your work with us, Eli! And thanks to all the alumni who shared their work and stories with us. This is the last alumni submission for now, but you can learn more about the Summer Documentary Program and if you are an alum, please email rose@mediamakingchange.org with your story. 

At the base of the American dream is homeownership. But, as current economic troubles tell us, it is not so easy. A Portland-based program helps to place families in land-trust homes. A short profile by students from the 2009 Northwest Institute for Social Change summer program.

Summer Documentary Program Alumni Profiles

In celebration of all the emerging media producers from ten years of our Summer Documentary Program, and in an effort to continue to share stories of social change, MISC is excited to profile our alumni and the inspiring work they're up to around the country. This week we're proud to introduce Trisha Patterson, a 2016 program alumna and Senior at Western Washington University in Bellingham.


I am working on a film about an Indigenous Land Defenders camp called the Unist’ot’en Camp in northern British Columbia (below). I am also studying to take the LSAT, with hopes to studying environmental law at the University of Oregon. Go Ducks.

Education: Western Washington University, 2017 (Public Relations major, Political Science and Environmental Policy minor)

2016 Summer Documentary Program
Video: Erion: stepping to the line
Radio: Exchange. Barter. Share.

What is a lasting memory from your summer with MISC?
Being given the privilege of being mentored by established creatives and filmmakers throughout the process of producing radio and a film is the most prominent and lasting memory I have of MISC. The leadership at MISC gives their hearts and all of their energy to organizing the program in a way that is intentional and effective, yet allows room for intense creativity and cooperation among the group.

Can you recommend a film, podcast, book, or media work?
I would recommend Mia Mingus’ Changing the Framework: Disability Justice. This is the title of a zine I recently read that discusses disability politics, accessibility and ableism.

Here's a note to our MISC community from Trisha:

Howdy social changers, 
I came to MISC last summer, my mind brimming with stories, and anticipated (correctly) a jam-packed summer of learning, growing and solidifying a passion for media and storytelling. 
That summer in Portland, Oregon was foundational to my experience in journalism. It taught me to think critically about the subjects I portray and the issues I choose to engage in. I gained the technical knowledge to quickly navigate editing software and got the inside scoop on an industry I’m attempting to jump into. 
When I returned to Bellingham, Wash. for my senior year at Western Washington University, I started thinking about future projects I wanted to work on and ways to document and share the activism and organizing I saw going on around me. I became active in the Bellingham No DAPL Coalition and got more involved in organizing surrounding Indigenous sovereignty and resistance to fossil fuel infrastructure. 
This winter, I travelled north to the Unist’ot’en Camp, a critical frontline resisting colonialism and fossil fuel expansion. During the time I was up there, I collaborated with another camp supporter to create a short video (13 minutes) about what life at camp is like during the winter. It’s this type of DIY media that contributes to grassroots organizing for social change, and I’m proud of the work we accomplished in such a short amount of time. 
I hope you all have a powerful year, and thank you for the change you are helping create.  
A documentary short about the life and purpose of Unist'ot'en Camp, December 2016, produced by Listening and Remembering. http://unistoten.camp http://listenremember.org
In 2007, Erion Moore II was a varsity basketball player and soon-to-be college graduate. A year later, he was diagnosed with scleroderma, a debilitating and life-threatening disease. After eight years of fighting it, an adaptive yoga program at the Daya Foundation helps Erion regain his strength so he can shoot free throws again. Filmed during the 2016 Summer Documentary Program by Trisha Patterson (Western Washington University, class of 2017) and Rashad Saleh (Brown University, class of 2019).

Thanks for sharing your work with us, Trisha! Watch Trisha's film Winter at Unist'ot'en below, read more about her experiences since summer on our blog, and learn more about the Summer Documentary Program

Summer Documentary Program Alumni Profiles

In celebration of all the emerging media producers from ten years of our Summer Documentary Program, and in an effort to continue to share stories of social change, MISC is excited to profile our alumni and the inspiring work they're up to around the country. This week we're proud to introduce Molly Bennett, a Colby College alumna, freelance writer, audio producer, and assistant to an author in New York City. 


I work as the personal assistant to an author and do freelance writing and audio production on the side.

Education: Colby College, 2011 (Anthropology/Creative Writing double major), Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, 2011, Hollins University, 2014 (MFA in Creative Writing)

2009 Summer Documentary Program
Video: How does your garden grow?
Radio: Tool Library

Do you have any recent work you'd like to share? Here's some of my food writing for Paste. And here's a chapbook (see below) I wrote that came out this fall.

What is a lasting memory from your summer with MISC?
Learning about tool libraries, working cameras at Pickathon (with Rose!!)

Can you recommend a film, podcast, book, or media work?
I just saw the Contemporary Color documentary (officially out next year) and it is the most whimsical, emotional, riveting thing I've encountered in a long time. I did not know I wanted to see high school color guards perform with indie bands but it turned out to be the thing I wanted most in the world! Books: West of Eden by Jean Stein (my boss). Obviously I am biased but this book is an oral history masterpiece. Podcasts: Right now I'm really into The SporkfulOn Being, and Reply All. Those three tend to hit most of the parts of my soul.

Thanks for sharing your work with us, Molly!

Growing Gardens promotes home-scale organic food gardening to improve nutrition, health and self-reliance while enhancing the quality of life and the environment for individuals and communities in Portland, Oregon. Film made during the Media Institute for Social Change's 2009 Summer Documentary Program by Molly Bennett (Colby College '11), Kira Fisher (Vassar College '10), Jensen Power (St. Olaf College '10), and Rose Holdorf (Macalester College '11).