“Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman is on a crusade. At a speaking stop in Peoria, Ill. on October 30, she was three-quarters of the way through a 100-city tour for her new book, The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope, and was losing her voice, but not her focus. Like her show, the book — collection of essays cowritten with Denis Moynihan — zeroes in on two themes: the power of social movements and the importance of independent media.
As Goodman spoke, her voice warming and rasp disappearing, it became clear that for her, these are not two separate things, but part of a single, urgent mission: giving voice to the voiceless. And in case that sounds abstract, she has dozens of examples from the past four years of how exactly it’s been done: by climate protesters in Copenhagen, by anti-mountaintop removal activists in West Virginia, by whistleblower Bradley Manning, by Wikileaks, by her own show.
When Goodman concludes her speech with, “Democracy now!” the Peoria crowd — half college students, half local liberals — appears ready to go off like a gunshot and change the world. At this moment it’s impossible to imagine that the tagline was born of a focus groups or marketing surveys; it’s just a distillation of what Amy Goodman wants, and when.
Judging by her schedule, “now” is as critical a demand for Goodman as “democracy.” As Moynihan told the Peoria audience, “She doesn’t waste a single minute of her day.” That became evident as I chased Goodman over the next few weeks, trying to catch her on her cell phone in spare moments in airports and cars. Here, patched together, is our conversation.
I have no idea how you travel this much. You’re going from city to city, you’re speaking almost daily, and you somehow manage to do a staggering range of reporting on “Democracy Now!” — it feels like whenever a protester is arrested anywhere in the world, someone puts up the Amy Goodman Bat Signal, and you’re there. How do you do it?
I have an amazing team. Our studios in New York City are dark right now [due to Hurricane Sandy] — they don’t have power — but our team is out in the streets. They’re in Far Rockaway, they’re in Jersey Shore, they’re in Red Hook, Brooklyn, talking to people about the storm’s effects.
You champion independent media like “Democracy Now!” Why is it so important?
The clearest example right now is the reporting on Sandy. The mainstream media, like us, has been broadcasting non-stop day and night about the superstorm, but unlike us, they have rarely if at all mentioned climate change. We had a NASA scientist on the show, Cynthia Rosenzweig from the New York City Panel on Climate Change, who says the city has been studying the effects of global warming for over a decade.
We are the ones making that connection; the corporate media does not. In all three debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, do you know how many times the words “climate change” came up? None.
Of course, climate change did come up in another debate, the third-party debates that we broadcast on “Democracy Now!” We set up two podiums right outside the first debate, and we invited Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, and Rocky Anderson, the former mayor of Salt Lake City and the Justice Party presidential candidate. We also invited Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, the Libertarian candidate, but he declined our invitation.
So first, we watched Jim Lehrer welcome people to the debate and announce the results of the coin toss: First question goes to President Obama, you have two minutes on the economy, President Obama. He’ll go for two minutes, then Mitt Romney, you’ll have two minutes.
After they each had their two minutes, we paused the videotape, and we said: Dr. Jill Stein, you have two minutes on the economy. And when she was done: Rocky Anderson, two minutes on the economy. And when he was done: Back to my colleague Jim Lehrer at the University of Denver. And that is how we broadcast the debate for that evening, expanding it to double the time. And the third-party candidates talked about things like drones and climate change, things that weren’t mentioned once in the corporate media debates. That’s what we call “breaking the sound barrier.” That’s what democracy sounds like.
When you told that story in Peoria you got a huge laugh. And I think they were responding to the excitement of this vision of a sort of vigilante democracy — that we can actually subvert the corporate media and introduce outside voices into this very controlled and scripted electoral process.But usually when people talk about democracy, at least in a traditional U.S. social studies class setting, they mean elections. Do you think that elections are the locus of democracy in the United States today, or does it lie elsewhere?
We have the environmental movement, the Occupy movement, the feminist movement, the anti- foreclosure movement. That is what democracy is, those movements. Fifty percent of Americans don’t vote, but I believe that the American people are not disengaged, they are deeply engaged — on issues of climate change, the economy, peace, housing. I really do think that those who are concerned about war, those that are concerned about the growing inequality in this country, those who are concerned about climate change — about the raging fires in California and Colorado, the despoiled conditions of the Midwest, the drenching rains in Florida, the superstorm in the Northeast — those who are concerned about the fate of the earth, are not a minority, not even a silent majority, but the silenced majority, silenced by the corporate media. And that’s why I titled my book The Silenced Majority.
The winners of this election — and this was an election for everything from school boards to the president — will be in power, and the president of the United States is the most powerful person in the country. But there’s a force more powerful than that. There is a bigger force, and that’s people’s power. And there’s another force more powerful than the president, and that’s the force of nature. And right now, with climate change, we are seeing those two forces merge.
Beyond the work of “Democracy Now!” and the rest of the independent media, what other forces or structural changes are needed to alter the way the mainstream media — and Washington, D.C. — operate?
Two things. One is free control of the airwaves. Right now the FCC controls them. The other is people’s movements calling for real democracy.
Jessica Stites is Executive Editor of In These Times, where she runs the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting and edits stories on labor, neoliberalism, Wall Street, immigration, mass incarceration and racial justice, among other topics. Before joining ITT, she worked at Ms. magazine and George Lakoff’s Rockridge Institute. Her writing has been published in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Ms., Bitch, Jezebel, The Advocate and AlterNet. She is board secretary of the Chicago Reader and a former Chicago Sun-Times board member.