It has always been my dream to create a platform for global dissent. A place where citizen journalists can go beyond the headlines and begin to chip away at what is really going on in the world and in their communities.
Almost all news outlets around the globe are owned by banks, governments, and corporations. We get the news they want to give us, unless we have time to dig beneath the surface. In so called “democracies” like the U.S., politicians fight for months on end about a pandemic relief bill — they are incendiary and polarizing on Twitter — but when it comes to pouring $740.5 billion into the military, there is little to no debate in government or from the press.
It is critical to our survival as a species to make room for the perspectives that are not represented in mass media or in the government. We need a place where we can call into question the hoarding of resources and capital.
Our nonprofit publication is meant to be a place where citizen journalists can call out the fuckery. And because The Boycott Times is independent, funded through the sales of our apparel and through donations from our readers, we are beholden to no one but you.
WHO IS A CITIZEN JOURNALIST?
The term “citizen journalist” is used to describe a person who is not a professional journalist, but is doing journalism.
So, what exactly is a professional journalist? Is it a person like me? Trained at Columbia Journalism School from 2013 to 2014 and paid by publications for my words. Or is it someone paid to sit behind a desk and read off a teleprompter five nights a week?
What about the people willing to get in the line of fire to find out what is really going on? Does it matter if they’re being paid or not?
THE BOYCOTT TIMES
What if someone started a publication that trained citizen journalists, held up traditional journalistic standards, created a code of conduct (or a creed) and paid them for their work? Would they still be considered citizen journalists or would they then be considered pros? And why is being called a citizen journalist a bad thing?
At The Boycott Times we don’t think it is. We think it is something to be honored.
So, why aren’t citizen journalists, following in the footsteps of Ida B. Wells, revered? Because corporate media has used the term to discredit truth tellers willing to report on corporate corruption and state brutality. They are called biased and amateurs for exposing how the system works.
Why? To keep voices critical of the state at the margins. Gatekeepers suppress those questioning the power structure–that is how they maintain their control. But, as can be painfully seen, the status quo is driving us towards extinction. This is why well informed dissent is so badly needed right now.
History is filled with everyday people, compelled to pick up a pen, a laptop, or a smart phone as their tool to hold power accountable. They now have a place to work with editors that will never censor their truth.
At The Boycott Times, we will train citizen journalists and provide a platform. When their work is published on the site, they will be compensated.
The 2020 U.S. election was record breaking in terms of turnout. Biden received 81.2 million votes and Trump got 74.2 million. But that means around 80 million U.S. citizens, who were eligible to vote in 2020, boycotted the election. They were not coordinated, but they were in concert. And they share somethings in common: the majority are young and do not believe in the system. This is why we Boycott.
We are living in two different realities. Rich and poor. There are shades of grey, but the gap is growing larger by the day and no talking points will change that. Until resources and capital are distributed in a more equitable fashion, the tension will only multiply.
In the United States, we boycott a system that incarcerates more than any other, evicts families during the middle of a pandemic, and looks the other way while more than 100,000 kids in New York City, “lack permanent housing.”
We boycott not because we want to. We boycott to sound the alarm.
WHAT IS A BOYCOTT
Economic withholding and labor strikes are nothing new, but it wasn’t until 1880 when a community in Ireland decided to collectively shun a man named Charles Boycott that the word entered the zeitgeist.
Charles Boycott was a detested rent collector known for brutally evicting tenants. And 140 years ago the people finally had enough. They organized and all of his workers agreed to quit, no store in town would serve him, the post office would not give him his mail — until finally he sold his land and left town. The term and tactic then spread because organized boycotts work.
In South Africa rent was boycotted until apartheid laws were repealed. And in 2020, the Cancel Rent movement was born from that same legacy, fighting for rent and eviction moratoriums (as well as rent and mortgage forgiveness) through rent strikes and dynamic organizing during the middle of a pandemic. When a government boycotts another country, they call it a sanction. Regardless of its name, a boycott is often the most extreme nonviolent direct action that can be taken by a group of people that are out of options.
The word “boycott” has become common place, typically when a group of people start a hashtag and symbolically boycott a specific company or product on social media. The word is often misused, however, like when the 2020 NBA wildcat strike to protest police violence was called a boycott. What is undeniable is that the word boycott has taken on a life of its own.
Boycott has become a rallying call for: cut the shit.
Merriam-Webster defines boycott as: “to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (a person, a store, an organization, etc.) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions.”
We define Boycott as the coming together in concert to fight the fuckery.
WHO IS BOYCOTT?
Boycott is everyone who is tired of being manipulated — as Fannie Lou Hamer put it, for those “sick and tired of being sick and tired” — but the idea was born in Colombia.
When you fly into Medellín’s downtown airport, you drop beneath the clouds and are suddenly in an enormous crater of eternal spring surrounded by miles of brick buildings intersected by winding roads. The first time I met Danny, the Art Director and co-founder of The Boycott Times, was in Colombia on September 4, 2016. Danny’s laugh is deep and genuine just like his word.
Danny showed me his home, Comuna 13, which a few decades ago was one of the most dangerous places in Colombia. Now, this community carved into the hill is filled with the smell of chicharrón frying, the sound of children laughing, a football match overlooking miles of rambling homes framed by The Andes. Danny lost his uncle there, during the violence. No family in Comuna 13 seems to be left unharmed from that time.
As we walked off the last of a series of outdoor escalators built into the hillside, Danny told me his dream to create a clothing company for the people in honor of his uncle. I told him my dream, to create a publication for dissenting citizen journalists. We talked late into the night, drinking Aguardiente, and discussing how we could combine forces to create a global collective of artists and writers.
The next day I flew back to New York City and the dream was put on hold. It wasn’t until April 11, 2020, when Danny sent me a WhatsApp message that read simply: “It’s time,” that the vision was rekindled.
Danny had started a clothing brand in Colombia and I had been working as a journalist in the United States. We stayed in touch, but suddenly we were both on lockdown because of COVID-19 and had time on our hands.
When I reread his message, I knew exactly what he meant. It was now or never. We launch our vision or we say goodbye to what could have been.
The first person I called after I spoke to Danny was Tef Poe, who I met several years ago at Harvard. We were introduced through mutual friends, but I already knew who he was. If you were paying attention to the Ferguson Uprising in 2014 and 2015, it was impossible to not know who he was. Tef, the co-founder of Hands Up United, was fighting empire in a different way. He was an independent emcee, a professional journalist, and an unapologetic revolutionary.
I was in New York City in 2014 glued to social media, getting my news from journalists like Tef and his comrade Bassem Masri–who passed away in 2018. If you wanted to know what was really going on, it wasn’t CNN or NPR that was going to tell you. It was people like Bassem streaming live on his cell phone.
After meeting in Boston, Tef and I linked up in Puerto Rico to work on his forthcoming book, Rebel to America. While in Puerto Rico I told Tef my dream to launch a publication for citizen journalists, where we could lay bear the tactics of those in power and create a forum to collaborate from.
Tef looked at me for a minute before responding: “That was Bassem’s dream, too.” For years, Tef and Bassem had talked about starting an independent media company. They had seen first hand the misinformation being propagated by the major media outlets during Ferguson.
When I called Tef in April and told him about The Boycott Times, he immediately went to work assembling a global dream team of writers, musicians, and artists. Poe’s integrity and the consistency in his critique of empire can not be questioned. By the end of May 2020, The Boycott Times was a registered nonprofit publication and Tef Poe was named the executive director.
The second person I called after hearing from Danny was Cornel West. I met Dr. West in April 2017 in Manhattan. I was on my way to see a John Coltrane documentary. When I walked out of the subway, he was standing there on the sidewalk, his arms behind his back, looking up at the marquee. He was swaying to Coltrane’s A Love Supreme coming from the lobby of the IFC theater on Sixth Avenue and West 3rd Street, back when movie theaters were still open.
I had never seen West in person before and there he was. Without much thought, I walked up to him and thanked him for his work. I went on about his impact on my thinking. Before long, West began inquiring about my life. My ambitions.
“I am trying to do something with my words. I love your words. I think you can help me get there,” I heard myself say.
A few months later I was sitting in Harvard Hall in a class on Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, and W.E.B. Du Bois taught by Cornel West. His lecturing is his art. The vast knowledge contained within one human is mind boggling. It was as if West had memorized every word the three giants ever wrote.
West became a mentor in my life after I took a leap of faith and followed him to Harvard in September 2017. When I told him about my idea to create a publication of dissent for the people he asked to be on the board. From there we were off. West lit the fire and continues to stoke the flames.
The next call went to Marie Brown. She is a publishing legend and the first to tell me when I am moving in the wrong direction.
I met Marie Brown in 2013 and she took me under her wing. Sitting with her in the Harlem brownstone is like sitting in the presence of God. She seems to always know what you need to do next, but will not tell you explicitly because it would be meaningless if you did not get there on your own.
When I told her about The Boycott Times it was simultaneously sobering and exhilarating. She laid out the trials and tribulations of running a publication as she had once done. But she also told me to step on the gas and not letup and agreed to be on the board.
“You can’t do this alone,” she told me before we hung up. “The writers will come, but you are going to need a team of journalists that support your mission to get it rolling.”
After hanging up with Marie Brown, I knew who I had to call next. I remember checking the time. It would have to wait a day because of the eight hour time difference — I was too excited to wait, so I sent a text.
In September 2017, I met Christine Mungai, curator of the Baraza Media Lab in Nairobi, Kenya. She was also taking Dr. West’s class on Hansberry, Baldwin, and Du Bois. When we met, Christine was at Harvard as a Neiman Fellow, one of the most prestigious honors awarded to a journalist. Her work was uncompromising and she was always determined to get to the truth. I knew if she joined The Boycott Times, we would begin to build the team that Marie Brown had in mind.
Her first two pieces for Boycott, have been two of the most read pieces to date.
When I first got to Columbia Journalism School, I thought I was going to be surrounded by people who wanted to hold power accountable and report on injustices. But Vik Sohonie was one of the only people I was able to find at Columbia who was on the same page.
After graduating, Vik started his own record label called Ostinato Records that was nominated for a grammy in 2018. Each album is accompanied by the history of the music and the people who produced it. Growing up in India and Singapore and living between New York City and Bangkok has given Vik a worldwide perspective that he brings to The Boycott Times. Vik’s expertise extends far beyond music, and his letter to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from the global South after winning the U.S. election was read nearly 1,000 times.
With Tef, Vik, and Christine on board I began to get excited, but I also knew that we needed a voice that represented the future. I audited 16 classes over four semesters at Harvard and I took several classes with Ciarra Jones. I learned more from her than I did from several of the professors. When she spoke, it felt like I was listening to someone who could see a different future than I could see.
When I first read Ciarra’s words I knew that she could be a tremendous addition to the project. A lot of people act out of fear or for money, but Ciarra always acts out of a deep desire to see a better future for those who she loves. It was a thrill for me when she agreed to join Boycott.
SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN
The only redeeming aspect of my experience at Columbia Journalism School was Professor Freedman. In fact, if it were not for his Book Seminar second semester, I was very close to dropping out.
Freedman worked at the The New York Times for decades and I wanted to tell him what I was doing with The Boycott Times. Though progressive, Freedman and I do not see eye to eye on every issue, nor do we need to. But if I could get him to buy in on a dissident platform for citizen journalists called The Boycott Times, perhaps this project could reach a larger group of people than I was thinking.
After understanding the mission, Professor Freedman joined our advisory board. His insight into the operations of traditional media outlets has been indispensable and he has made me believe that we can capture anyone who is tired of being lied to, no matter their demographic.
LORGIA GARCÍA PEÑA
I only met Lorgia García-Peña at the beginning of 2020, but I read her important work and knew how beloved she was by her students at Harvard. When I interviewed her for the Boston Review, I also learned that she was a journalist in a past life.
The more we spoke, the more I realized we were on the same page and when I talked to her about the project she became an advisor on the spot. Since the beginning, she has been one of the biggest supporters of the project because citizen journalists need a safe place to share their words.
PASTOR MIKE McBRIDE
Pastor Mike McBride was one of the first supporters of The Boycott Times. His example as a moral and spiritual leader in the community has been inspiring and runs as an undercurrent through our work.
When we Boycott, we do so because, for everyone to eat, the current system must be dismantled. We follow those that have come before us to demand a different way forward, where the people are not beholden to the will of those who wield the most power.
Miguel Acevedo has been with Danny from the beginning. He has been instrumental to Boycott operations in Colombia. Miguel has an eye for the future and plans to incorporate visual art into each piece.
Through relationships with photo and video journalists all over South America, we plan on exploring stories through pictures and videos that can not be seen anywhere else.
While Miguel keeps his eye on the visuals, Matt Kumin has joined our team to oversee our legal affairs. As the General Counsel and a board member, Matt has been with The Boycott Times since its inception.
As a civil rights and cannabis attorney, Matt has been practicing law for the people since opening up his own firm in 1995.
I am Mordecai Lyon, the Editor in Chief of The Boycott Times. In just our first few months we have received thousands of unique visitors to the website, sold enough apparel to pay our contributors, and acquired several thousand Instagram followers. But if we want to grow — we need your help. We are a nonprofit, so every dollar that we make on the sales of our clothing goes back into expanding this platform.
In 2021, we plan on continuing to publish citizen journalism while also covering the actions of dissent from around the world; the protests, the strikes, as well as any attacks on civil liberties and press freedoms.
If you support our mission buy yourself a hat or a shirt at BoycottX.org/Shop. If you want to learn how you can become a financial partner reach out to me at Mordecai@BoycottX.org. All power to all the people.
Mordecai LyonEditor in Chief
Lyon is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and a contributor at The Undefeated & Boston Review . As a researcher he contributed to the publication of Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It by Wendell Potter and Nick Pennimen. Lyon spends his time between New York City and Cambridge, MA. Read Lyon's Boston Review interview with Cornel West here and his interview with Lorgía Garcia-Peña here.