Phil Busse wants to educate the nation’s future rabble-rousers The former managing editor of The Portland Mercury and one-time mayoral candidate has started a summer program for aspiring activists and media professionals. The 11-week program, called the Northwest Institute for Social Change, will educate undergraduates about media and social movements through a combination of academics and hands-on experience.
Phil Busse wants to educate the nation’s future rabble-rousers.
The former managing editor of The Portland Mercury and one-time mayoral candidate has started a summer program for aspiring activists and media professionals. The 11-week program, called the Northwest Institute for Social Change, will educate undergraduates about media and social movements through a combination of academics and hands-on experience.
“The idea came in part from frustrations in my professional life,” Busse said. “I’ve been working in various forms of media for 15 years and am only just now finding traction…the institute is designed to save future students those 15 years.”
The program, which offers a full scholarship to every student accepted, is designed to explore the ways in which artists, journalists, musicians and filmmakers can affect the world of politics, according to Busse.
“Basically, I want to re-create The Clash,” Busse said. “We don’t want the A-plus, sit-in-front-of-the-class student–we want the student who is a future rabble-rouser, who has earnestness and seriousness of purpose but maybe hasn’t found the right setting.”
The institute’s students will spend two weeks in Vernonia, Ore., studying media and the history of social movements on former Portland Trail Blazer Larry Steele’s farm. Then the institute will move to Portland, where students will spend their mornings studying and their afternoons working on media projects.
Students will work on documentaries about gentrification and police profiling with teenagers in North Portland, and will work at the Northwest Media Literacy Center and The Portland Mercury.
“We want them to have a tangible end-product at the end of the summer,” said Louis Cohen, the institute’s project director. “They’ll be working in the field, which will balance what they’re learning, theory-wise, in their classes.”
Busse said, however, that the institute is not a professional or trade school. The institute’s website calls its program “hard-core academics,” and classes will be taught by media professionals and professors from Reed College, the University of Oregon and PSU.
“It’s a critical thought program,” Busse said. “The media that they use is just the manifestation of these core skills.”
Cohen said the institute had three main goals for its students.
“We want them to feel passionate about making a difference. We want them to have tangible tools and a historical perspective on what it means to effect change through media and art. And we want them to have real experience, to build their portfolio, practice networking-so the next time they want to do something they’ve paved the way to continue,” Cohen said.
Since admitted students will not pay for their summer classes, housing or food, the institute’s funding has come from what Busse called “generous private donations” and community fundraising efforts.
“We’re hoping next year George Clooney will foot the bill,” Busse said.
In its first incarnation, the institute was planning to educate future politicians instead of future opinion-shapers.
“With this current administration and because of the war, we spent a lot of time talking about how grim things are,” Cohen said. “The institute was one stab at trying to address that.”
The fledgling politician-oriented institute had gotten as far as designing brochures when all its materials were stolen out of Busse’s car.
“I realized that I’d really rather teach students about media than teach them how to be politicians,” Busse said. “The project was changed by some meth-head who smashed in my window.”
The institute is currently taking applications. Twelve students will be accepted for the 2007 program, and Busse anticipates that they will come from all over the nation.
“We’re specifically recruiting from 40 colleges,” he said. “We’re reverse-engineering from the student body we want, which is a really rich mix: students from the Ivy League, from Evergreen, from PSU.”