RAY SUAREZ: The book is "Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Troubled Times." The author is Studs Terkel. He's written 11 books of oral history, allowing ordinary Americans from all walks of life to tell their own stories through him. This latest book looks at how people survive difficult times in situations, and hold onto hopes. Studs, it's great to see you.
STUDS TERKEL: Seeing you is wonderful, brings back memories of Chicago.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, this isn't quite an array of personalities and people from a bewildering set of walks of life. What's the connective thread that connects them all...
STUDS TERKEL: The connective thread is simply they are people brave, who are active, who are citizens in an open society called the United States of America. In short, they are activists, which is why we were born to begin with.
"Hope Dies Last," the title I got from an old Mexican farm worker. She helped Caesar Chavez organize the farm workers. Her name was Jesse Delacruz. She was retired at the time from Fresno, California, and she said to me once, "When times are troubled and we're bewildering, we have a saying in Spanish: Esparanza muera al ultimo, 'hope dies last.'" And in a sense, these people represent that idea.
These people are those to whom I pay tribute, activists they're called. And they've done stuff over and beyond their call of duty, which is something to be born, to live, to die. They're more than that. They want to have a meaning in the world. And as a result of their hope, the rest of us are imbued with a little hope. And they're a prophetic minority.
See, the people I've talked about are those who have been a minority, and you've been egged and tomatoed and beaten up, and later on that which they have worked for have come to pass.
RAY SUAREZ: There are many people in this book who have tremendous reserves of patience, good humor, and a kind of peace, some of them at the end of long lives of these struggles that you mentioned.
STUDS TERKEL: Yeah.
RAY SUAREZ: Very little anger, very little rancor, very little willingness to get back at anybody.
STUDS TERKEL: Well, I think... see, I think that's always a bit of bitterness in everybody to some extent. But they have something else, that hope, the idea that we are thinking people. See, who was one of the first guys we know to have hope when this country was being born?
It was Thomas Paine, who wrote "Common Sense." And Thomas Paine spoke of a new society, the United States of America where a cat can look at a king, a commoner can tell the king to "bugger off," or a guy can tell the president to "bugger off-- if you're wrong, you're wrong."
And that's what this country was about. The nature of dissent being part of the nature of a person's being, if you feel the guy who is your chieftain is wrong. And so Tom Paine was one of the first.
He's the one who was saying-- I'll try and paraphrase something he said in "Common Sense"-- fear was pursued around the world, people were afraid to think, reason was equated with rebellion, until sometime people finally could find themselves, and find themselves and find that they are kindred to the rest of the world. And that was an inhuman idea that the rest of the world is the enemy that was surrounded by axes of evil rather than rather than axis.
And so this is what the country was about. We have to change the whole world to raise the world. And that's what these people in our time do. There were the abolitionists back during the slavery days. They took beatings. They were a hopeful people, too.
RAY SUAREZ: What keeps you at this? You've won many of the greatest awards and recognitions of men of letters and women of letters in this country, including the Pulitzer Prize, the humanities medal. You could kick back and just enjoy the compliments that I'm sure come your way every day as you make your way around Chicago by bus. Why keep at it?
STUDS TERKEL: If I did, I would check out tomorrow. When someone says, "When are you going to retire?" I say, "When you say that, smile." No, I check out while I'm working. For example, wouldn't it be dramatic if I were to check out... I'm 91 years old, right, I've had a pretty good run of it. If I were to check out right now, pretty good headlines tomorrow, it could make the show.
RAY SUAREZ: Definitely. You'd be the lead, I think.
STUDS TERKEL: But the point is, I have an epitaph all set for me: "Curiosity did not kill this cat." And basically that's what it is, I'm curious. Do I have diminished hopes to some extent? Yes, I do. My hopes diminish. But I'm quoting an old English journalist friend of mine, Jimmy Cameron, who said, "My hopes have diminished but my curiosity remains." And so my curiosity... my hope, by the way, is not diminished, but at the moment it's taken a whacking or two.
RAY SUAREZ: Are there some people who you think would really stick with the people who are watching this program if they got to know them, their stories that you'd want people to know out of this book?
STUDS TERKEL: I think out of this book would come... out of this book would come hope to a great many people, because they have it. Almost 10 million protested the preemptive strike, Feb. 15 of year 2003. That was a moment of hope. And those people who feel that are imbued with it, you see. This is the aspect of... what I'm worried about is a national Alzheimer's Disease. That is, there weren't no yesterday.
There was a Depression years ago, and the same ones who say there's too much regulation, too much big government, are the ones whose daddies' and granddaddies' butts were saved by government regulation after the crash of 1929.
They prayed to the government of Franklin D. and the New Deal, "save us," and it did. And so we have seemed to have forgotten that, or being not taught that. That's the part that gets me, this national Alzheimer's Disease. So all my books, certainly this one, tries to recreate a memory of what was, and what is, and what can be. Basically, that's what it's about.
RAY SUAREZ: The book is "Hope Dies Last." Louis Studs Terkel, always good to talk to you.
STUDS TERKEL: Thank you very much, Ray. Great seeing you again.