Take up the torch


For me, Pulse has been my university for becoming an investigative journalist, and for the Twin Cities, it’s provided a space for progressive voices. Ending both the newsprint and online editions of Pulse is a huge loss, for writers and for the community.

Opinion: Take up the Torch

Thomas Jefferson observed that ”Democracy cannot survive, or thrive, without an informed and vigilant citizenry.” If most people only know what their television tells them, how can they keep government accountable? If people are kept ignorant of facts, on issues of war to economics, how can they participate in a meaningful way or take action in their own interest and in the public interest? The so-called ”mainstream media”–which more accurately should be termed “corporate media”–primarily engages in public relations for the powerful, rather than being the watchdog for We The People, which Jefferson recognized as the mission of a free press in a country aspiring towards democracy. Judith Miller’s willingness to be a pipeline for the Bush Administration’s pro-war propaganda is simply a blatant example of what corporate media does every day as it favors economic elite voices and excludes–or minimizes– dissident ones on issues from corporate globalization to the continuing realities of racism and sexism in America.

I applaud ”citizen journalism” exemplified by Indie-Media sites around the country. The internet is an amazing resource for finding alternative to PR swill. But, the reality is that to do in-depth investigative journalism demands economic support. It’s damn near impossible to do ongoing journalism on the side after working another 40-hour-a-week job to put food on the table. Progressives should be deeply concerned about how to economically empower progressive print radio and television. On July 15, small-circulation print media are going to be hit with a 15 percent rate hike in postage, that publishing giants like Rupert Murdock’s—which includes the print version of junk food like People magazine—will NOT be subjected to. This amounts to a tax on progressive ideas and is an abandonment of the concept of a “marketplace of ideas.” Television is the most expensive medium. PBS regularly fights to continue to get government money with right-wing conservatives extorting networks to drop progressive shows—like cutting Bill Moyers’ NOW from an hour to 30 minutes—and to add many more conservative shows. Conservatives already have their own network—FOX—plus they dominate talk radio. Internet radio is also under attack, with Congress considering laws that could effectively end internet radio. For more information on this battle see http://www.savenetradio.org.

As a nation, we are becoming a corporate plutocracy, where the voices, needs and priorities of the vast majority of Americans are subjugated to an economic elite that remains primarily white and male. This year, Bush’s Supreme Court undercut women getting redress for discrimination at work, which will no doubt also set a precedent for racial discrimination, as well. Consistently, Bush’s Supreme Court mostly reinforces corporations’ power and disempowers ordinary people. Those who question our core right to privacy and making our most intimate decisions in our lives without government interference would seem—pardon the pun—hell-bent on taking apart the separation of church and state, brick by brick. I think the Founders would be appalled by both of these trends. The new conservative majority was even willing to, in essence, reverse the Brown school desegregation decision this week.

The Senate failed to pass the Employees Free Choice Act, which would have leveled the playing field for workers to organize and join unions, giving ordinary people a fighting chance against greedy corporations run amok, taking tax breaks to outsource jobs, feeding at the public trough for corporate welfare and distorting our electoral system by bankrolling political candidates. This is a bipartisan problem, with corporations having two political parties and We The People having none—yet–having the strength to challenge this duopoly. Neo-conservative Republican Party, which is increasingly tied to the Religious Right and the neo-liberal Democratic Party (Bill and Hillary Clinton’s “free-trading,” “welfare-reforming” new Democrats) both vie for corporate dollars.

My hope lies in recognizing, as Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” reveals, that massive social movements made up of ordinary people have always been the means for social change and for racial, gender and economic justice. No politician ever gave us anything from the end of slavery and Jim Crow legal segregation to the minimum wage to addressing violence against women and the AIDS crisis gay men first faced in isolation. It was people organizing that forced politicians to take action. We forget that at our peril.

Pulse has been a beacon for progressive politics and without it, there will be a little less light shining for making real the small-d democratic promise for peace with justice, for true equality for all. What I want to leave Pulse readers with is the challenge to pick up this torch. We must change America if we are to see the changes in the world we long for. To end war, create economic, social and political equality and to preserve the planet facing global warming and other environmental crises demands that activism not be taken up as a hobby or charity, but as essential for the survival of the American experiment in democracy and for human survival.

This week’s first United States Social Forum was titled ”Another World Is Possible—Another U.S. Is Necessary.” It’s up to white, middle-class progressive activists to challenge our own ways of organizing that exclude people of color and the poor. We must be willing to learn from people who do not look like us or live like us. For inspiration, we can look to Latin America, where people living on a few dollars a day, without cars, often illiterate and without access to the internet, have risen for the common good against elites, in Mexico, Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba—and even won. What’s stopping Americans from doing the same when we have far more resources?

It’s up to us to step up our resistance. The rest of the world is waiting.