Virtual Reality at Standing Rock: An Interview with Jeris JC Miller

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Jeris JC Miller is a global leader in social media, and a member of Shifting POV, a collective of virtual and augmented reality film makers, educators and artists chosen by Facebook and Oculus Rift for their 2016 Launchpad Kickoff Program. That Shifting POV chose to document the struggle of the water protectors at Standing Rock speaks to their commitment to use VR technology to educate and to inspire empathy, a stark contrast to the use of VR in violence centered games. Jeris is one of the only women consistently on the cutting edge of the evolution from PC computing to social networking to augmented and Virtual Reality. 

At Standing Rock, our future hangs in the balance as the past confronts the future.  Fossil fuel corporations, a linchpin of oligarchy, deeply enmeshed with local governments and law enforcement at Standing Rock repeat the long history of persecution of indigenous people.  But Standing Rock also exemplifies the way social media has replaced corporate media as the principle source of information.  Solar and renewable companies collaborate with the Standing Rock Tribe toward the creation of a model sustainable community.  And Virtual Reality is at Standing Rock capturing the truth behind the propaganda released by DAPL and its allies as they attempt to manipulate public opinion and evade responsibility for the violence they deploy to achieve their aims.

Consider for a moment how extraordinary it is to find a woman documenting the front line at Standing Rock, enduring tear gas, who worked with the CERN CMS Experiment group underground at the Large Hadron Collider filming and developing their Google HangOuts On Air program in preparation for the Higgs Boson God Particle discovery announcements.  Jeris served on the Social Media Team of NASA’s Orion First Test Flight at The Kennedy Space Center launching our Journey to Mars. She developed and deployed the Google Seattle Glass Explorers. She is a core organizer for TEDx.  She served on the steering committee for the Seeds of Compassion Conference which brought the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu to Seattle for a five day event attended by 150,000 people.  Jeris acted as a Digital Media Judge for Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2010 Poland and 2011 New York Competitions.  She participated in the Social Media Focus Group at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2010.

Jeris and her partners are at Standing Rock creating a VR series of short films on the women of Standing Rock for Yes! Magazine. It’s an honor to interview her and to share her eyewitness report and Shifting POV’s documentation of the brutality perpetrated against peaceful water protectors by law enforcement on Nov. 20.

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Shifting POV Team Members Aaron Moffatt & Jeris JC Miller

Tamra Lucid: Please tell us about Dakini 3 Media.

Jeris JC Miller: Dakini 3 Media was launched to support the Seeds of Compassion, which was a 5 Day Conference, a community–focused event to celebrate and explore the relationships, programs and tools that nurture and empower children, families and communities to be compassionate members of society.  We hosted the XIVth Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu at this Seattle, 2008 conference.  My role was as a conference organizer and Ambassador for the Seeds of Compassion. Dakini 3 Media continued to support the Compassionate Action Network and the 2008 TED Prize Winner Karen Armstrong.

How and when did you and Shifting POV first become involved with the water protectors at Standing Rock?

Upon partnering with documentary filmmaker Aaron Moffatt [ksfilm.org] we began to reshoot his Klamath film in virtual reality, as I was a member of the Facebook/Oculus Rift Launchpad Kickoff program.  We decided that as a starting point and context for our Klamath-Siskiyou protection efforts we needed to partner with and support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Water Protectors as we have similar focal points and objectives: to protect our natural environment and resources for future generations.

How has your experience of Standing Rock changed over time?

This is the third visit for our Shifting POV team. I acted as “scout” and advance reconnaissance and first arrived on site at Standing Rock in September shortly after September 3rd Action and shot the first virtual reality film at Standing Rock during theSeptember 20, Mandan, ND Action. Our team mate Aaron Moffatt followed and arrived at Standing Rock on October 1 through 10 and virtual reality filmed the actions on October 5th and 6th.

Our full team arrived for our third visit on November 20th, which includes Michael and Caroline Running Wolf [aka Old Coyote].  Michael Running Wolf is also a member of the Oculus Launchpad with me.  Michael and Caroline’s families are deeply connected within the Standing Rock communities.

Shortly after Michael and Caroline departed camp to visit with nearby relatives we were called to the bridge to stand with and support the Water Protectors and Aaron and I shot VR film, photographed and filmed on the front lines of what quickly became a war zone.

This action was incredibly brutal and very different from the prior peaceful protests we have participated.

What behavior did you observe by law enforcement on Nov 20?  How did the water protectors respond? 

As you can see by the photos and VR 360 Video we shot at the 11.20.16 Bridge Action this was a full on war zone assault by Morton County authorities by very heavily militarized police & national guard units against peaceful unarmed protesters who were heartbreakingly brave against far superior armed forces.

Aaron Moffatt and I were both tear gassed, projectiles whizzed passed us and flash bangs went off over our head. We were both at risk while filming and photographing the Bridge Action and on the front line.

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YouTube VR 360 Video
https://youtu.be/J0z1c09CGg8

What was the most profound experience you had at Standing Rock?

Watching the Water Protectors hold the front line while being blasted with the Water Cannon in sub-freezing temperatures…the front line was so brave they made me want to cry.


What was the most important thing you’ve learned from your work at Standing Rock?

How corporations can dictate and mobilize local public service agencies.  It is shocking what is happening in Standing Rock and undoubtedly it will intensify with the Trump Administration.

What sort of response have you received from you colleagues about your work at Standing Rock?

Our Southern Oregon, Rise Up! Communities, as well as Facebook Oculus Launchpad, Google Odyssey Jump, and YES! Magazine communities have come together to financially support and lend us the equipment we have used to film in virtual reality at Standing Rock.  We are very humbled and grateful for their support.

You have a background in tech that begins with the birth of PCs and network computing.  What was your involvement in the beginning of social networking?  How do you feel about its evolution and future?

I acted as a founding member of the Seattle Social Media club which launched Social Media into the Business and Tech Communities in the city of Seattle.  A small group of 30 people revolutionized the way the Seattle Business and Tech communities came to do business and communicate in an entirely new way.  I have always felt the Social Media revolution was a step toward global interactions. As we move from hand held sets toward Heads Up Displays I think we are seeing a platform evolution unfold.

What’s been your involvement with Google Glass? Do you think it can become a significant platform for education, and for cultivating empathy for habitats, endangered species and crisis situations?

I was a pioneer in augmented reality along with my Seattle Glass Explorer Co-Founders, Imei Hsu and Dr. Heather Evans.  As three women we launched augmented reality, with Google Glass prototypes and pathways we developed into the city of Seattle, for which I am very proud. I think augmented reality will have a tremendous impact on education and business; virtual reality, which is known as the “Empathy Machine” because of its totally immersive experience will undoubtedly have a significant impact on perception, cognition and neurosynaptic brain structures as well as empathy and compassion.  I think VR can become an invaluable tool in stepping toward a higher level of emotional intelligence.

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​Seeds of Compassion Conference
 

How do you see your work in the evolution of Virtual Reality technology influencing social networking and grass roots activism?  Is your work at Standing Rock proof of concept?

Our ShiftingPOV.com Standing Rock film is an early example of the emerging field of VR for Good and Social Impacts through it’s immersive experience.  VR allows you to experience directly through a VR headset and “breaks the 4th wall” of storytelling.  VR’s immediacy is incredibly impacting.  Yes, our Standing Rock work is a proof of concept, as is the United Nations VR Film, Clouds Over Sidra by Gabo Arora and Barry Pousman [our mentors], Nonny de la Pena’s VR films and Chris Milk’s work.

What was it like being an influential female contributor to the birth and evolution of internet technology?  Was it help, hindrance, or both?

Quite honestly it was a hard hard slog.  I was not trained as an engineer, but rose through the secretarial and marketing ranks to become a first generation woman technologist and developer. It has not been an easy path at all, but it has been my soul growth and passion and been infinitely rewarding over the course of my life.

What have you experienced and observed about women and minorities as contributors to the tech and content of Virtual Reality?

We are still such a low number within the AR VR development ranks which is comprised by 92 percent white males ages 18 to 40.  As a 60 year old grey haired woman I may as well be a golden unicorn. I am among the oldest VR developers and probably the oldest woman VR developer.

What is your view as a futurist of Standing Rock as a pivot point between fossil fuels and renewables at a time when the government is deeply enmeshed with the old energy corporations?

Standing Rock is very much a pivot point between fossil fuel technologies and emerging renewable technologies.  It is also in many ways part of the fulcrum point as we transition toward another era of space exploration by Space X and our Orion Journey to Mars.  We need Earth and her intact pristine biodiverse ecosystems if we are going to have any hope whatsoever of terraforming and establishing human life forms on Mars and among the stars.  We are explorers by our very DNA and we need to partner with Earth in order to launch our hominid species into extraterrestrial travel.

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This is the fifth in a series of interviews with Standing Rock Protectors. You can see the other installments below.

Standing Rock Protectors Interview: Cosme Duarte
Standing Rock Protectors: Gina Marie
Notes from Standing Rock
The Women of Standing Rock: An Interview with Shannon Kring

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