Reply to comment


Una Voz for Low Wage Workers

Posted by: admin on Tue, 2010-12-07 21:31

Domestic workers and day laborers in Los Angeles are using the tools of journalists to broadcast reports on issues that affect them. The project Mobile Voices/VozMob has created an open-source platform where workers-turned-bloggers publish reports by mobile phone.

By Paromita Pain

Much is written about low-wage workers and immigrants in the United States. Not as much media is created by low-wage and immigrant workers. An initiative in Los Angeles is giving low-wage workers and other underrepresented communities the tools for reporting the stories of their lives.

One recent report shows day laborers passing the time waiting for jobs by singing and entertaining each other. Another documents the police arresting someone merely for “resting.” These are examples of the subjects covered by reporters contributing to Mobile Voices ( Mobile Voices provides an alternative media channel that encourages low-wage worker communities to tell their stories. Using an open-source platform, Mobile Voices lets mobile phone users post text, photo and video content to a publicly available site.

“Mobile Voices was created with different ideas and dreams coming together,” says Amanda Lucia Garces, Mobile Voices Project Manager. “We believe that they [workers] are subjects of their own reality, so we work to empower them. They are the ones that read reality to write their own history and we help facilitate the process.”

The project recently won a 2010 World Summit Award, in the category of “M-inclusion and Empowerment.” The awards recognize innovation in mobile applications.

Mobile Voices, also known as VozMob, was started to counter the mainstream media’s representation of the lives and struggles of communities who have been left out altogether, or, even worse, completely misrepresented in mainstream media. It facilitates greater participation from these groups in the digital public sphere, especially those with limited access to computers.

“Although we started with only low-wage immigrant workers, in 2008 we were joined by the Los Angeles Action Network and now we have added two more affiliates,” says Garces. “Mobile Voices is for unrepresented communities.”

Reporting the World as They See It

Now almost three years old, Mobile Voices helps broadcast the voices of this community through the use of multimedia messages that workers create to tell their stories. Mobile Voices estimates that about 80 percent of low-wage workers have access to a mobile phone. These workers can use their phones to file reports on their lives to be featured on the website.

Mobile Voices recruits and trains workers to be reporters and bloggers. They do this in collaboration with organizations, like the L.A. Action Network, that have established ties to this population of workers and to impoverished Angelenos more generally. None of the reporters/bloggers get paid and there are no parameters for content. Each individual blogger chooses the subject matter for his or her blog.

Right now the trainings are multi-layered. Garces explains: “We usually work with adult workers who have some experience of using mobile phones. So we discuss how they can best use their cellular phones as a tool and talk about issues that affect them such as unpaid wages and health and safety concerns. We hope that many become reporters but we really want them to understand that they can also document their struggles and upload them to our site for the world to see.”

Media Joined With Activism

Mobile Voices is a collaboration between the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California and the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA), which supports the day laborer community across Los Angeles.

Before Mobile Voices began, Garces was an organizer at IDEPSCA with a dream of countering the anti-immigrant portrayals of her community in the media. She was already involved in popular communication efforts. In the process, she met and started working with a group of university researchers and professors from USC interested in similar issues.

To build what Mobile Voices is now, Garces explains, involved the work of a huge group of people. Most importantly, it involved the people from the communities it was going to serve. It was and is a participatory project between day laborers, household workers, students, programmers and organizers.

“Together, we tested sending multimedia messages, brought new ideas of how they would like the site to look, had the developer code our ideas and install new features; all to start all over the following week,” says Garces. “The model is based on popular education methodologies -- working alongside the workers and learning with them. We believe that they are subjects of their own reality, so we work to empower them.”

Another member of the project, The Popular Communication Team (Maria de Lourdes Gonzales, Manuel Mancia, Adolfo Cisneros, Crispin Jimenez, and Marcos Rodriguez), was approached because they were involved in a worker-run newspaper called La Jornada XXII. They also liked the idea of the newspaper as a multimedia project and so La Jornada XXII became filled with Mobile Voices stories.

While most of Mobile Voices’ activities involve working with day laborers and domestic workers to create multimedia reports, they also help them in other ways. They visit the day laborer centers to teach the workers how to use their system. Some are working to be bloggers and reporters. But others are learning how to use computers. They are also working with household workers to develop a platform for allowing health and safety violations to be documented.

“The finest moments of the project are the workers’ empowerment, their view of their role in being social change actors and using technology to show our world,” says Garces. “A worker without a cell phone two years ago is now a worker with a flip camera, cell phone, photo camera, computer and who edits audio, video, and does public service announcements. Now, that is fine!”

Watch a video report here.

Paromita Pain has been employed with The Hindu Newspaper, Chennai, India since January 2003. She writes for young people on a range of themes, with a special interest in media for young people, health issues, human rights and youth in situations of conflict. She can be reached at
Recent Articles by Paromita
The Muppets Take Bangladesh
Boosting India’s Community Health Workers
A Campaign to Educate All of India’s Children

Photo Credit: USC Annenberg School of Communications


This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
13 + 3 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.