March 24, 2008

Amy Goodman on Patriotism, Indie Media & Why She Became a Journalist.

Editor’s Note: I have chosen to name our various ‘Conversation’ features ‘Bodhisattva.’

But the outstanding examples of compassionate heroism featured in these pages are not technically Bodhisattvas. They aren’t Buddhist, generally, for that matter. A Bodhisattva is a formal term for one who has vowed to put the welfare of all sentient beings before their own. I grew up Buddhist, so this represents a way of connecting this feature not just to idolatry, but to non-theism—that is—you or I, however humble our talents or monstrous our defects—can follow the steps of the ladies and gentlemen featured on these pages. And, too, ‘Bodhisattva’ is more apt than heroism—it connotes that when we think of others’ welfare, we actually begin to live our own lives. It’s not about how great we are. We begin to learn to smile and cry at the same time—what Chögyam Trungpa, below, referred to as ‘the ideal human emotion.’

We are actually making a conscious effort in our life to be of benefit to everybody. The Bodhisattva vow is the commitment to put others before oneself. It is a statement of willingness to give up one’s own well-being, even one’s own enlightenment, for the sake of others. And a bodhisattva is simply a person who lives in the spirit of that vow, perfecting the qualities known as the six paramitas—generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, meditation, and transcendental knowledge—in his effort to liberate beings. Taking the bodhisattva vow implies that instead of holding our own individual territory and defending it tooth and nail, we become open to the world that we are living in. It means we are willing to take on greater responsibility, immense responsibility. In fact it means taking a big chance. ~ Chögyam Trungpa, from The Collected Works of Chögyam Trungpa.


INTRODUCTION to a CONVERSATION with AMY GOODMAN, via Waylon Lewis of elephantjournal.com

I don’t listen to the radio, but I know who Amy Goodman is. She’s one of a handful of alternative media voices who transcend their own medium, directing (to some extent) the murky, placid waters of the mainstream. Arch, articulate spokeswoman for Democracy Now!, Amy and her brand are as strident as the exclamation point in their show’s title suggests-a yin to Rush Limbaugh’s yang.

So, though I’m a dues-paying, knee-jerk liberal (I volunteered for Dr. Howard Dean) Amy’s exhortations strike me as shrill, off-putting, more self-perpetuating partisan blather.

But then, preparing for this interview, I actually listened to her for the first time. And as I found my ignorance recede, admiration filled its place. She has the courage of her convictions (google “Amy Goodman,” “East Timor”). Like Kuchinich and Nader, Amy may be predictably left-of-left-of-center (the Los Angeles Times describes her as “radio’s voice of the disenfranchised left”)-but there’s no louder, clearer voice for independent media in the world today. A New York Times bestselling author, Ms. Goodman has won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the George Polk Award and the Overseas Press Club Award (which she refused).

After months of asking for an interview, we pinned her down in elephant’s Turkish Tent (thenomadictentcompany.com) at the Sustainable Living Fair in Ft. Collins, Colorado, which ele co-sponsored along with Whole Foods, New Belgium, Clif, Blue Sun Biodiesel, Organic Valley, Renewable Choice Energy…and Democracy Now! -ed.</i>

Waylon H. Lewis, for elephant journal: Hello, so we have a few friends [piled into the Turkish tent, we had six people including the founder of Gen Green, Charisse McAulliffe]. Here’s an organic cotton [elephant] tank top.

Amy Goodman: Oh, beautiful.

ele: We’re on? So, this is Alex, our film man.

Goodman: I haven’t read it yet [picking up a magazine and opening up to an ad].

ele: That’s New Belgium, a co-sponsor of this fair.

Goodman: Oh, yes.

ele: We focus on [what] we call “the mindful life.” Hey, Allie, if you want to jump in, you can. Yeah, we haven’t quite started. We focus on a lot of political content-we do a weekly talk show: [this week] we’re hosting all the City Council candidates in Boulder. We focus on yoga and organics…anything that is good for us and also good for the world. ‘Cause too often, you know, it’s one or the other. You have your S.U.V. and your second home and that’s good for you…but not the world.

We recently interviewed Paul Hawken. I asked him a question that I want to make a tradition. I just heard your speech out here, which somehow is inspiring even though it’s always painful to hear the bad news about what our country is doing, and what we’re not doing to be more active. Given all that you know: you’ve made a study of politics, independent media and [U.S] involvement in the world-are you optimistic?

Goodman: I am optimistic-because of all that people are doing. I mean here we are, sitting at the Sustainable Living Fair: there are thousands of people here, scores of booths on renewable energy. On something profound, which is driving us into conflict in the world: this search for resources, taking the U.S. wherever that might lead us.
If we stop depending on fossil fuels, it would change our foreign policy. We are thirsty for oil. And so we go to Iraq, we are threatening Iran, Venezuela. These are oil-rich places -no coincidence there. We’re talking about the ascendancy of the “oil-igarchy” in Washington: Bush, a former failed oil man; Vice President Cheney, former Halliburton C.E.O.; the Secretary of State just had an oil tanker named after her, The Condoleezza Rice, and she was on the board of Chevron for 10 years; Andrew Card, the G.M. lobbyist, was Chief of Staff. Here in the most powerful country [in the world], the wealthiest corporations are oil companies, like Exxon Mobil.

But there is something more powerful than the President and these corporations-and that’s all of us, together. People are finding their power slowly, but surely, in different ways-and that’s what gives me hope.

ele: I grew up studying school textbooks that talked about Abraham Lincoln building his cabin, the wonderful ideals we were founded on…Boulder is a liberal town, and I grew up with a real love for what we were trying to do differently: a country that nurtures and welcomes dissent and freedom of the press, things that I know you and our readers value. So I find it difficult to listen to your show: it’s hard to hear about something you love doing such horrible things.

Goodman: Your point is an important one: our country represents something much better. All of those founding principles: the importance of an independent press, the sanctity of dissent…that’s what we have to get back to. Now, dissent is being criminalized. People are afraid of the F.B.I. or whoever coming to their door, saying, “What did you mean by that comment?” when you walked over to the water cooler. [A] woman in Albuquerque, New Mexico, wrote a letter to the Weekly Alibi, her local paper. [She was] concerned about the war. She was [subsequently] forced out of her job as a V.A. nurse. They sequestered her computer. They said she could be guilty of treason. And she had just written a letter to the local paper saying, “I’m deeply concerned.” People should not be afraid. It’s not only that they should feel free to speak out-it’s essential to the functioning of a democratic society. It is what we learned in elementary school. And we have to protect those principles. They should not just be enshrined away; we have to live them.

ele: You were [just] giving a speech to a huge audience [at the Fair]. There was a fellow in the back wearing a pro-going-to-war-in-Iraq shirt. I don’t remember the statement, but it was aggressive: “Support our troops! And if you don’t agree with that, go away.” He listened raptly to your entire speech. He didn’t seem angry. I kept wondering if he considers you to be a patriot. Because I think dissent is the essence of caring about something, whether it’s a person in a relationship or a country that you love.
Do you consider yourself patriotic? Do you consider flag waving [to be] patriotism? What is patriotism?

Goodman: It’s standing up for the highest principles of your country. I don’t think sending young men and women to kill or be killed is patriotic. It’s protecting them. It’s having a vigorous debate about what we represent in this country. Years ago I was on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show. I was talking about how problematic the Persian Gulf War was. Afterward, I got women calling from Southern military bases: “Thank you, we’ve never heard this view before. It’s what we think.” They can’t have these debates on military bases. They rely on us in civilian society to have these discussions. And the place to have them, where we can all join in, is in the media.

That’s why media is essential to the functioning of a democratic society. The issues we have to discuss? War and peace, life and death. I’ve spoken with many soldiers and recruiters who say thank you, because they can’t have these debates. They turn to us. The level of dissent in the military is enormous. It’s not covered much by our American press, but [Democracy Now!] certainly covers it.

You have a media that traditionally beats the drums for war; that circles the wagons around the administration in time of war. It’s a terrible mistake. They see it as being patriotic. Thomas Jefferson would say it’s just the opposite. Because independent media is what will save us. It is not a part of the government. [Media is] not supposed to be for the state, but the fourth estate. The White House, the State Department, the Pentagon-they have their paid spokespeople, and that’s just fine. But that’s not what we are as journalists. We’re not supposed to be megaphones for those in power.

ele: A servant of the government is a servant of the people: they should be empowered to have their own opinions, [to] dissent. There’s a story about General Marshall [Army Chief of Staff] disagreeing with F.D.R., who hated people disagreeing with him in public, particularly. And Marshall did it, but he did it with a confidence, an evident love and respect for his country. And F.D.R. said, “You’re right,” and changed his whole policy. An example in the military of patriotic dissent.

Most people don’t realize when they read The New Yorker (one of my favorite magazines), or most newspapers: they aren’t independent. What percentage of media is independent?

Goodman: Well, I think those in the mainstream media would say that they are independent. There are different ways to measure it-nothing guarantees [independence]. It’s important to support commercial-free media-media not brought to you by corporations of profit from war. That was the tradition pacifists started.

ele: We’re underwritten by yoga studios, and co-ops..!

Goodman: Have you been doing your exposés of yoga?

ele: [Laughter] Actually, it’s a serious question. I mean, we don’t write positive things about an advertiser who produces toxic yoga mats, for example. It is important even in our environment to be independent. And it’s tough.

Goodman: Right. People will appreciate it: because whether you’re writing for consumers, citizens, Americans or the world, whether you’re broadcasting or writing, it’s important to be honest [and] true to yourself.

ele: Our readers can sense it. I think that’s why [we’re growing]. How many listeners do you have?

Goodman: Listeners and viewers. We’re broadcasting to 500 stations around the country, a larger audience than MSNBC. Millions of people go to our website, democracynow.org, view the show on public television, public access T.V., satellite television, Dish network, Direct TV, Free Speech TV and Link TV-these are independent channels. We broadcast on Pacifica stations, N.P.R., low-power F.M. stations, on college and community stations in the United States and Canada. And in Spanish. Our headlines are in 150 stations around the world. Every month, two or three new stations pick us up.

ele: And there’s a reason for that enthusiasm and growth: people believe that you believe what you’re saying.

Goodman: People are looking for authentic media.

ele: I was asking friends of mine before this interview what they would want to know. One of them, a young lady who works for an environmental organization here, wanted to know what your initial inspiration was-how you got your start.

Goodman: From my parents; my family. My mother was a peace activist, my dad was with Physicians for Social Responsibility. He looked exactly like Peter Sellers. He had a famous face in Long Island, New York, because Physicians for Social Responsibility made this poster of a doctor in a white robe, and in his stethoscope was a nuclear mushroom. It said, “Your doctor is worried.” And that was my dad. He was famous to the passengers on the Long Island railroad-his poster was in the stations.

He was a caring surgeon and community doctor. He led a task force in our community to integrate the schools. We had de facto segregation, because of where the African-American residents and the white residents lived. I would go with him, in fifth grade, to cafeterias and auditoriums in our schools and hear people screaming at him because they were against bussing-or they were for it. Watching him judiciously find a way to bring people together and change the direction of our community-that had an influence.
My younger brother, who I write books with, David, he set up Dave’s Press. I think he was eight years old and I was 10. I was the envelope stuffer. [Laughter] You saw these signs to Dave’s Press in our house-arrows up to his bedroom. He had that old Xerox machine where you burned the image…you pressed down and it would make a copy. And that’s how we made our monthly newspaper. It went out to the extended family. I collected pennies from my grandfather, from my parents, all my brothers-they were often delinquent. I’d slip [a bill] under the door, “You owe three cents. Pay up now!” In the Letters to the Editor pages, we’d debate. My grandfather’d write, “Dear Dave, you know how much I love you, but you’re wrong on Vietnam.” David would write back, “Dear Grandpa, thank you for being the first subscriber to my newspaper, but you’re an idiot.” [Laughter] Then my Great Uncle Abe would write in and he would say, “Solomon,” that’s my grandfather’s name, “How could you write that to your grandchild?” It became a forum for family discussion. That was the beginning of being involved in journalism. I went on to my high school paper, always believing that media was where we could find common ground.

ele: If you ask my dad, who voted for Reagan and for the first Bush and the next Bush…

Goodman: And how does he feel now?

ele: He claims to be an Independent, not a Republican.

Goodman: Hmm, that’s interesting.

ele: Yeah. Back in the day he was a Buddhist-that’s how my parents met; they were Buddhists. He’s had an interesting journey. A lot of his friends would not consider Democracy Now! to be bi-partisan, [or] bringing-things-together. How do you speak your truth and bring all people into the room?

Goodman: I don’t see the spectrum as between the Democrats and Republicans-that would be a small spectrum. That’s the problem with media today. In the lead-up to the invasion, the Democrats joined with the Republicans in authorizing the [war]. It’s not just Bush who did this, not just the Republicans-as I’m sure your father could point out. And he’d be absolutely right. They joined. The Democrats enabled the Republicans.

There is a greater opinion outside of the corporate parties: the people of this country. We have viewers and listeners across the political spectrum. We bring out voices from every walk of life, around the world. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about humanity; it’s about saving the earth.

ele: Saving the earth: we’re here at the Sustainable Living Fair in Fort Collins-and thank you again for coming. What’s one thing you would encourage us to do?

Goodman: I think you have to find the thing that you like doing. And do it. It’s not one thing. Whether you’re a teacher or a student, a health care provider or an artist, an activist or a farmer, whatever you do, do it well. Whatever it is you do matters-if you’re from the United States, you come from the most powerful country on Earth. It matters not only in your community, but in this country, and it has a ripple effect around the world. So yes, you have an awesome responsibility to do something.

ele: It’s an honor.

Goodman: Thank you.

ele: Dennis, we’re just going to get two photos without horrible me in the picture.

For more: democracynow.org

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