‘Democracy Now!’ host Amy Goodman

The Democracy Now! host looks ahead to the next four years, particularly for progressives, and discusses her book on politics, The Silenced Majority.

Journalist Amy Goodman is host/exec producer of the grassroots daily international TV/radio news program Democracy Now!, which airs on more than 1,000 stations in 35 countries and at democracynow.org. An award-winning investigative journalist and syndicated columnist, she's received acclaim for exposés of human rights violations in East Timor and Nigeria and won many of journalism's most prestigious awards. Goodman began her broadcasting career as a volunteer at NY's Pacifica station WBAI, ultimately becoming its news director. Co-author of multiple New York Times best sellers, her new book is The Silenced Majority.


Tavis: For more tonight on the election of 2012 and what it means beyond just the results, I’m pleased to be joined by Amy Goodman. She is, of course, the host of “Democracy Now!” and a noted author, whose latest text is called “The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope.” There’s that word “hope” again. She joins us tonight from New York. Amy, good to have you back on this program.

Amy Goodman: It’s great to be with you, Tavis.

Tavis: I’m glad I have you for the full show. So much to talk about. Let’s start with the obvious – your thoughts on what happened this week with regard specifically to the presidential race, and whether or not you were surprised by any of the results.

Goodman: Well, I definitely thought that President Obama would win.

When you look at what Mitt Romney said along the way, when you looked at his actions, when you looked at what, the 47 percent, I just was wondering if he would win, if his number would be at 47 percent as opposed to 48 percent, talking about the people who wouldn’t vote for him.

But President Obama now, in this second term, I think presents an extremely interesting challenge to many of the people who voted for him. You now have the community organizer-in-chief as the commander-in-chief. That started in 2008. The question is, who does the community organizing now?

Now, I think President Obama himself laid out the challenge to people. It happened when he was running for office in 2008. He was in the backyard of someone’s house in New Jersey doing a sort of meet-and-greet, and someone at the end raised their hand and said, “What are you going to do about the Middle East?”

He relayed this story, which I had heard from actually Harry Belafonte, who heard it from Eleanor Roosevelt, and she had told Harry this story that President Obama related in the backyard. That she had brought A. Philip Randolph to meet with FDR and A. Philip Randolph was the greatest organizer of the 20th century, right, helped to organize the 1963 March on Washington, organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the Black conductors who were slaves, or their parents were slaves.

And he spoke to FDR, told him about the condition of Black people in this country, of working people in this country, and FDR said, “I don’t disagree with anything you said, but you’re going to have to make me do it.”

This is the story that Barack Obama, who was a senator then, running for president, responded when someone asked him what are you going to do about the Middle East. He said make me do it. Make me do it. I think that is the challenge of this second term.

Who is going to have President Obama’s ear? It is not about what’s in his heart or what he believes. He’s a community organizer. He responds to demands. As Frederick Douglass said, that power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.

That is, I think, the challenge of the many different groups that actually elected him. I think the first time around, in 2008, people were in shock. They were exhausted, and they also saw a real right-wing backlash against President Obama that they didn’t want to contribute to that was racist as well.

For example, the birther movement thing. You couldn’t be from here. And who wanted to be a part of that? But now it’s four years later, and the question is what will President Obama do? It’s not what he will accomplish, it’s what his administration allows everyone to accomplish.

I think back in 2008 people felt they had hit their heads against a brick wall for so long the wall had become a door, the door opened a crack. The question is would it be kicked open or slammed shut? It’s not up to the most powerful person on Earth, who happens to be the president of the United States. It’s up to a force more powerful, and that is people organized around this country.

They have an opportunity now. They saw that wall about to be put in place, which was Mitt Romney, and they opted for something else. They opted for the door. But the question is will they kick it open. That is the challenge. That is the question right now. There are two forces more powerful than the most powerful person on Earth: Organized people and the actual force of nature. That’s what we experienced in New York this past week, superstorm Sandy, and this is very serious.

What, for example, climate change means for everyone. So when you have nature joining with the force of people, this can change America.

Tavis: Let’s talk some progressive politics here. If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard somebody who has said this over the last four years, I’d be independently wealthy, and that is what you have just shared now, respectfully, Amy, that we have to make him do it, that we have to push him, that we have to hold him accountable, that we did not do our job pushing him enough.

Here’s the problem I have with that statement. Every time somebody says to me we didn’t push him hard enough, the people who typically say that are the progressives who are responsible for pushing him in the first place.

So when somebody from labor says we didn’t push him hard enough, I want to just say, “Well, where were you?” When somebody from the peace movement says, “We didn’t push him hard enough,” I say, “Where were you?” So the people who are saying to me that we didn’t push him hard enough in the first term are the same people who were responsible, I think, for doing that, at least where progressive causes are concerned.

So here’s my question. If we were saying this for the past four years, that we didn’t push him hard enough, why am I to believe now, all of a sudden, that those persons who were saying that for four years are now prepared to do that in the next four years?

Goodman: Well, because I think that door that’s open a crack, people recognize it will be closed, and this is the critical moment in time. It also converges with all these other issues. My book is called, which I wrote with Dennis Moynihan, it’s a book of columns, it’s called “The Silenced Majority.”

The reason we called it that is because I really do believe that those who were deeply concerned about war, those who are concerned about the growing inequality in this country, those who are concerned about climate change, about the superstorms we’re experiencing, the dust bowl conditions of the Midwest, the raging fires from California to Colorado, the fate of the Earth, those who are concerned about these issues are not a fringe minority.

Not even a silent majority. But the silenced majority, silenced by the corporate media, which is why we have to take it back, and that is a critical part of all of this – demanding that the media open up and provide a forum for people to speak for themselves.

I want to give an example of the first day of the Democratic convention in Charlotte. I was going inside, it was about to be gaveled open. I get this text that said there’s going to be an action on the corner outside, right near the convention center. I go over, because it’s often more interesting to be outside than in, and this bus pulls up, and it’s got butterflies all over it.

It’s the “Undocbus,” and undocumented immigrants get out of the bus very quickly. Now, they were inspired by the young dreamers, the high school and college students who sat in on President Obama’s campaign offices, and other Senators’ and congressmembers’ offices, demanding that the DREAM Act be passed.

They risked more than arrest. They were incredibly brave. They risked deportation, often to countries they didn’t know. Maybe they moved here when they were six months or a year old. Yet they still did it, because they are demanding a fair, compassionate immigration policy in this country.

Now, President Obama, I think, I was humiliated by this. He was a community organizer, and the immigrants that are doing this I think represent the modern day civil rights movement, and he understood their power. So he actually, months ago, issued a kind of an executive order that said undocumented immigrants 30 years or younger, if they meet certain criteria, can get deferred action.

They can actually stay legally in this country for a few years and work and study and not be afraid of deportation. It was a tremendous victory for these young people, but they want more, and they aren’t stopping. They’re demanding passage of the DREAM Act.

So this bus brought them and their parents. It was a family affair. They got out of the bus quickly, and I was talking to the first woman who came out of the bus and asking her, “Why are you doing this,” and a media personality came up to me. I don’t even call them journalists. I just can’t. He said, “Well, what do they want and what are they doing?”

I said, “I think they’re about to get arrested.” He said, “Well, what are they asking for?” I said, “Why don’t you ask one of them?” I was interviewing a woman named Rosie Carasco. He said, “Well, just sum it up for me.” I said, “Rosie, why don’t you tell this gentleman what it is you want?”

And she replied, “I want to know what kind of legacy President Obama wants to leave. I want to know if he wants to be remembered as the president who deported more immigrants than any president in history, or whether he wants to be remembered as the president who sided with the immigrants.”

Pretty eloquent. So this personality started taking notes. Why is it so hard for them to speak to people at the target end of policy, at the heart of the story? These pundits we get on the networks who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us and getting it so wrong. So it’s critical we take on the media as well, and demand that they open up.

Tavis: Right. I want to talk about taking on the media in just a second. I promise I’ll get to that. But to your point now about the story of Rosie and her saying to this media personality, to use your phrase, that she wanted to know what the president would have as his legacy, that is the ultimate question now.

In the second term, it’s about the legacy. Tell me what you think – I can’t get inside of his head, as much as I’ve talked to him over the years and read all the books and interviewed him, of course, of the years, I can’t’ get inside of his head, but what’s your sense, at least, of what he wants his legacy to be? Because clearly, that determines what he’s going to do in the second term.

One of the things that has been said about him time and time again is that he really hasn’t laid out an agenda specifically of what he wants to do in the second term. I suspect that will come in the coming weeks. It certainly will come, perhaps, at the State of the Union address.

So we’ve got to wait and hear from him exactly what he wants that legacy to be. But what’s your sense of what he wants it to be, and do you see anywhere connected to that legacy this spirit of community organizer, which is how he started? I don’t see that part, Amy.

Goodman: Well, I don’t think it’s about what he wants. I think for the movements that we cover all over this country it’s about what they want. Because I think President Obama has shown over the years, even before he was president, again, that he responds to demands.

Tavis: Right.

Goodman: You saw how difficult it was for him dealing with the Republicans at the beginning, and how much in that direction he went. Where were the people organizing who I again think are actually the majority of people in this country? I do think in the last year we have seen remarkable movements, from the Arab Spring, which helped to inspire Wisconsin.

Of course, Governor Scott Walker also inspired the Wisconsin uprising, the largest protests that had ever been seen in Wisconsin. President Obama didn’t go there, and he was criticized for this. He’s extremely cautious. But it is a mass movement that I don’t think we have seen the end of.

In fact, I think this week we saw one of the results of it, and it was the election of Tammy Baldwin, the congressmember from Wisconsin who took on the, what was it, four-time governor Tommy Thompson, the Tammy versus Tommy race. Tammy Baldwin will now be the first openly gay senator in this country, and she is the first woman senator from Wisconsin. She has made history.

But it’s not only about electoral politics. What happened in Wisconsin was profound. People across the political spectrum organizing against the attack on public unions that we’re seeing everywhere, especially on teachers, as if they’re the new terrorist, the new T-word, teachers. Think of the teachers that I think of, that I revered when I was growing up, who helped shape me, who I owe so much to.

Teachers have become the ones who are seen as wrecking society. Well, that’s not how people in Wisconsin felt, and they took over the capital building. I saw some of the biggest men I’d ever seen in my life, the Oshkosh prison guards, and I said to them, “What are you doing in the capital building, taking it over? Who did you vote for?” and they said, “Well, Governor Walker.” I said, “Then what are you doing here?” and they said, “Protesting Governor Walker.”

I said, “Why?” He said, “They didn’t tell us he was going to go after our wives, the teachers, and our neighbors, the nurses.” We saw people marching, I saw someone in the freezing cold outside, an older gentleman with white hair and silver glasses, marching with a sign that said, “IRS auditors against Walker,” and you knew Governor Walker was in trouble.

Now, President Obama didn’t swoop in and actually join people, which was surprising, because when he ran for president he said he would be joining people on the picket line. But I think it had a tremendous effect. He saw how people were galvanized. Then you move on from there and you see what happened in September/October of 2011, and that was thousands of people forming a circle around the White House, a ring around the rose garden, demanding that President Obama halt the Keystone XL Tar Sands pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf of Mexico. Twelve hundred people got arrested.

Then people moved on up to New York, and that was Occupy. That was Occupy Wall Street. Now, that was very significant. In the corporate media, first there was silence and then they mocked them. Who are these people, what do they want? But I don’t think there’s been a more successful slogan of a movement in history, “We are the 99 percent.”

Any Madison Avenue PR exec would drool to be the one credited with that expression, and the word “occupy” has occupied the language; certainly occupied some of the political rhetoric that President Obama has used. So he’s very aware of it.

Where that goes now, it is not clear. Mahatma Gandhi I think said it best about the media. He said, “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.”

Tavis: Yeah.

Goodman: We’ll see what happens. But I think there is a lot that is happening on the ground.

Tavis: Let’s talk about public media. You mentioned it a moment ago, and most Americans are fully aware of the attack that public media would have come under had Mr. Romney won. We all recall the Big Bird comment, so obviously as I sit here on PBS tonight we, of course, were very sensitive about that particular comment.

But it was clear what direction Mr. Romney wanted to move in where public media is concerned had he been elected president, so the first question is whether or not public media is safe. Is Big Bird safe now that Mr. Romney lost, number one, but more broadly, talk to me about the democratization of public media.

You’ve continued to talk in this conversation about corporate media. I know where you’re going with that. But talk to me about the democratization of public media. Why it is – you do public media; I do it every day – why it is that in some regards it’s easier for a Black man to be president of the United States than it is to host a public TV or a public radio show in cities across this country.

Let’s talk about the public media, because it came under attack during the campaign. What say now you about public media going forward?

Goodman: Well, public media, I’ve just come from a 100-city tour as we traveled around the country to speak to people, hear what they have to say, do fundraisers for public radio and television stations. So I’m deeply immersed in that world, and like all media, it has to open up to provide a forum for people to speak for themselves.

I see media as a huge kitchen table that stretches across the globe that we all sit around and debate and discuss the most important issues of the day – war and peace, life and death. Anything less than that is a disservice to the servicemen and women of this country, who can’t have these debates on military bases about whether they will be sent to kill or be killed, whether they’ll be sent to live or die.

Anything less than that is a disservice to a democratic society. Public media should be the model for all of the media. It should be diverse; it should not just give voice to the minority elite in Washington. I’m not talking about people of color, either. I’m talking about just a small, elite minority in Washington.

Because there is this vast – not only America, but people all over the world, media is so important. It is the way we learn about the world outside of our family and friends, and if someone comes from somewhere, then you learn about it.

We have to be able to see the rest of the world through something other than a corporate lens. In terms of national security, equally important, the rest of the world needs to see us in the United States through an independent lens as well. That’s what public media provides. There’s a reason why it was fought for and developed and set aside in the ’60s.

Activists pushed President Lyndon Johnson to set a part of the spectrum aside in the time of hypercommercialization of the media, that there would be educational television. It ranges from Big Bird and educational programming for kids, but to long-form documentaries, to talk shows like yours, where you’re not just concerned about the sound bite but the whole meal.

Because people who are at the heart of a story are not so practiced in being able to make a point in eight seconds, and it is a gift to be able to hear what people have to say, and especially someone who’s not just repeating the consensus in Washington. They need more than eight seconds, because no one will know what they’re talking about unless they explain what it is that they are saying. We’ve got to take on these critical issues.

Tavis: Let me ask you a very quick question, because I want to turn, in the few minutes I have left, I want to turn back to the politics in Washington, since you mentioned Washington a moment ago. But very quickly, how do you respond to the accusation leveled at you so often, and leveled at me, obviously, that we are advocacy journalists?

I just got a letter, literally, from the interim managing editor at “Current” magazine. This is, of course – “Current” is, by the way, it’s the bible, if you will, for public media. Everybody in public media reads this magazine that comes out every week called “Current.”

The editor of “Current” sent me a letter just recently, Amy, asking me if I would respond to the president and general manager of WBEZ, the big Chicago NPR station has written a piece talking about you and talking about me and a few others who he labels as “advocate journalists,” and that public radio and public TV is no place for advocacy journalism. Very quickly, how do you respond to that kind of critique?

Goodman: I think about the issue of climate change. “Democracy Now!,” we have been to every U.N. climate change summit, in Copenhagen, in Cancun, in Durbin. Thousands of people gather from around the world. They look at the United States as so backward that in the United States, we are still debating whether actually climate change exists.

So we give voice to all the people that are working on this issue of global warming, and you could say well, then, you’re taking a position. You’re taking a position if you say the world is not flat. But there’s a consensus now that the world is not flat, so you don’t have to debate that issue.

I think it’s so interesting how until last week, when this superstorm hit the East Coast and now Mayor Bloomberg switched his allegiance and said he would support President Obama and the cover of “Bloomberg BusinessWeek” was “It’s global warming, stupid.” The consensus is going to change, and now what we do on “Democracy Now!” is we explore the issue as opposed to being told oh, you’re taking a stand, you’re saying global warming exists. No, you should debate it.

Well, I think that there is much more interesting debates to be had, like we accept global warming. Now let’s debate what the solutions are. I can’t think of a greater group of advocacy journalists than those in the corporate media, for example, and the commercial media.

They’re telling you how Social Security has to be ended; we have to deal with Medicare because this is what’s going to deplete the reserves of this country. They are taking very serious positions. It’s not about whether you take a position. I think as a journalist it’s whether you are fair, whether you are accurate, and that you provide people a forum to express themselves, to fairly represent themselves. That is what I think journalism should be all about.

Tavis: I accept that. Tell me why you’re hopeful that no matter how hard the president gets pushed, that he can actually get anything done in the next four years before he becomes a lame duck in two years, given that Congress is still divided? Can he get anything done, no matter how hard we push him?

Goodman: Well, I think it shouldn’t just be about the battles he has in Congress. A lot is said about the gridlock. I think the problem is the bipartisan consensus in Washington, because that consensus doesn’t represent most people in this country. Just look at the presidential debates.

Neither major party presidential candidate Mitt Romney or President Obama, even mentioned climate change. That’s a good example of how the debate has to go way beyond what they’re arguing about in Washington. Look at the example of poverty. We have to be very serious about opening the debate and going beyond the bickering that goes on in Washington, D.C., because we’re talking about the fate of the planet.

Tavis: Her name, of course, Amy Goodman. She is the host of “Democracy Now!,” the author of the latest text called “The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope.” Amy, always good to have you on the program and I’m sure we’ll be doing it again as this second term of the Obama administration gets under way.

Goodman: It’s so good to be with you, Tavis.

Tavis: Thank you, Amy. That’s our show for tonight. You can download our app now in the iTunes app store. I’ll see you next time on PBS. Until then, good night from Los Angeles, thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.

“Wade Hunt:” There’s a saying that Dr. King had, and he said, “There’s always a right time to do the right thing.” I just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. We know that we’re only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. And Walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the U.S. As we work together, we can stamp hunger out.

“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: November 9, 2012 at 10:03 pm