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April 30, 2010

Make That Change

(Photo by Robin Holland)

In this week's special finale to the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers introduced people who are working to make the world a better place.

Moyers spoke with author Barry Lopez, who discussed his craft and his belief that no one has what he calls a "walk-on part" in the theater of life. He said:

"Who is it that says one person has a 'walk-on part?' That's a political question. Who is it that's standing there saying that person, this person, those [people] are walk-on parts, and this person here will be the star of the show? I don't like that. I don't like to hear it. What happens if a person speaks imperfect English in a culture like ours, is not articulate, but can dance in a way that makes you shiver? Why is that a walk-on part? When it comes to a political statement, you can turn on the television and see people who claim expertise that they don't possess. The kind of expertise we need is not a facile grasp of policy, but a love of humanity. That's what we need."

The JOURNAL profiled the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, who refuse to accept "walk-on parts" and are organizing to make their voices heard. One of them, John Blasingame, said:

"Sometimes you have to raise a fuss, as Rosa Parks did: raised a fuss, got things changed. Rosa Parks didn't just say 'no, you can't have my seat.' She actually said 'no, I will no longer participate with you in my own exploitation.' It was because of people who stood up, who refused to back down, who refused to be quiet, who refused to be put off, who suffered the shootings and the bombings and the water cannons and the police dogs and everything else, who got out of the back of the bus. And we, the working class, the common people in this country, need to look at that because where are we? We are in the back of the bus. And what really angers me is we own the bus. It's our bus, not theirs. Our bus."

Populist activist Jim Hightower talked about the importance of building people's movements to work on solutions for daunting problems in our nation:

"It's one thing to be mad, but it's another thing to get organized and find your way around it. My mama told me that two wrongs don't make a right, but three left turns do. That's what we have to do. We have to figure a way around these blockages of Wall Street today, of the corporate interests that are squeezing out small business, of the blockages in the marketplaces... It's not enough to whine...We can battle back against the powers, but it's not going to a rally and shouting. It's organizing and it's thinking, and reaching out to others, and building a real people's movement... One big difference between real populism and what the Tea Party thing is is that real populists understand that government has become a subsidiary of the corporations. You can't say 'let's get rid of government.' You need to be saying 'let's take over government.'"

What do you think?

  • Barry Lopez said that no one need have a "walk-on part" in life. Do you agree? Why or why not?

  • Are you involved in a people's movement to improve your community and/or our nation? What issues concern you, and how are you working to make the world a better place?

  • March 26, 2010

    Reforming Health Reform?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week, Bill Moyers spoke with journalist John Nichols and women's advocate Terry O'Neill about the health reform President Obama signed into law on Tuesday.

    Nichols said that the reform in and of itself is not sufficient, but that it's an important foundation and that activists must now demand further improvements to the nation's health system:

    "For a hundred years we tried to create a project. We tried to take this vacant site and dig a hole, put in a foundation, and start some construction. That's what's happened. The fact of the matter is it's best to understand the health care legislation that was passed on Sunday as the beginning of a construction project, and that's why some people fought so hard against it, because they understood [that] once you begin that project, it is very unlikely that we're going to fill the hole in, tear down all the construction... Compromises are always made, and the most important thing is that we're here today screamin' and yellin' about it... The objections that we raise to this health care bill, the demands that we make that it be improved, that we in fact reform the reform - that's what's going to give us a health care system that is humane, that is decent, that is worthy of the United States... Barack Obama is a cautious president. It is time to go out and make him do the things that need to be done. That's an organizing task, and people are ready."

    O'Neill said that the health reforms discriminate against women by, for instance, allowing insurers to charge them more for policies and not providing tax dollars to cover abortions, but that the new laws change the conversation and set the stage for an eventual shift to a single-payer system.

    "My organization looked at the entire bill at the end of the day when it was passed, and we concluded that on balance, despite the good things that are in the bill, the bill is actually bad for women... What's best about this law, really, is the concept of it. The actual provisions of it are not good, but the concept that in fact the federal government has the largest role to play, the idea that we as an entire society must have health care for all of our people has not been implemented, but the concept is in the bill... We've been told over and over again that gender rating is gone, but it's not. [For] employers with more than 100 employees who buy into a plan on an exchange, the insurance companies will be permitted to charge higher premiums, up to 50% higher for women than for men just because they're women... [And] age rating - the triple premiums being paid by older people has a disproportionate impact on women... It's so crucial that we undo this pernicious idea that somehow federal tax dollars should not be used to pay for abortion. They must be used to pay for all health care needs, including abortion, because eventually where we need to get to is a single-payer system."

    While Nichols and O'Neill both believe that President Obama's health reform laws provide an important first step towards a more equitable health system, others argue that they represent a troubling expansion of unchecked government power. Columnist A. Barton Hinkle wrote in the RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH that the reforms centralize too much power in the federal government with no mechanism to prevent intrusion into citizens' private lives:

    "The increased federal involvement in health care will become a pretext for increased federal involvement in, well, everything. The reasoning will be that individual health affects health care, which is now a federal enterprise. And everything can be said, with more or less sophistry, to affect individual health. So 'managing' the 'system' will become the all-purpose excuse for dictating the manner in which you live your life... Throughout the Bush years, progressives howled as the administration exploited a national-security crisis to expand executive power, while conservatives egged the administration on. Yet neither paused long to note that Bush did not even try to roll back expansions of federal power undertaken in the name of social policy... Obama has also pushed relentlessly for expansions of social welfare and the regulatory state. Every administration expands power where it wishes, but no authority is ever repealed. And so the ratchet tightens."

    What do you think?

  • Are you pleased that the health reform bill has been signed into law? Why or why not?

  • John Nichols said that health reform lacked compassion for immigrants, while O'Neill said that it should have paid for abortions. Do you agree? What else would you have included or excluded from the legislation?

  • How are you working to 'reform the reform?'

  • February 5, 2010

    A Single-Payer Solution?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    In this week's JOURNAL, Bill Moyers sat down with physician and activist Dr. Margaret Flowers, who was recently arrested for an act of civil disobedience - trespassing - as she attempted to deliver to President Obama a letter urging him to resuscitate the stalled effort at health reform and consider a Medicare-for-all plan, known colloquially as "single-payer."

    Flowers said:

    "I went into medicine because I really do care about taking care of my patients... I really thought that medicine was going to be about taking care of patients, and I learned otherwise - that it was more about fighting with insurance companies and being pushed to see more and more patients. When I looked at what was going on and looked at what works in other places and what models have worked here, I saw that if we have a Medicare-for-all system, then really doctors can practice medicine again... [The White House was] concerned that if we let the single-payer voice in, or if it was associated in any way with [their] legislation, that it would hurt their ability to pass that legislation, so they kind of put the kibosh on it... Why is [Obama] excluding us? Why isn't he letting us be at the table when this makes complete sense from a public policy, public health policy, and economic health policy standpoint?"

    Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who appeared on the JOURNAL last June, argued that single-payer is the best possible health reform but that it is not politically achievable in Congress:

    "The single-payer system would be the best of all... Because a single-payer actually would have huge bargaining leverage, be able to tell the providers what they can do and what they can't do without it being 'socialized medicine.' A single-payer would actually have the reins... But a President, to some extent, has got to be politically realistic. There is no real political option in Congress now for a single-payer... I'm a big single-payer fan. Unfortunately, we cannot get there from here because the political forces are just too strong against single-payer."

    On the other hand, columnist John Steele Gordon of the WALL STREET JOURNAL has argued that, historically, self-interested politicians have proven unable to run large enterprises sensibly. Gordon wrote:

    "It might be a good idea to look at the government's track record in running economic enterprises. It is terrible... Because of the need to be re-elected, politicians are always likely to have a short-term bias. What looks good now is more important to politicians than long-term consequences even when those consequences can be easily foreseen... And politicians tend to favor parochial interests over sound economic sense.... The inescapable fact is that only the profit motive and competition keep enterprises lean, efficient, innovative and customer-oriented."

    What do you think?

  • Do you believe single-payer is the best potential reform for the U.S. health system? Why or why not?

  • In the wake of the Republican Senate victory in Massachusetts that disrupted Democrats' legislation, what health reforms do you believe are politically achievable?

  • How are you and your community working to reform America's health system?

  • January 8, 2010

    Complex Issues & Public Outrage

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with two journalists from the progressive magazine MOTHER JONES about Wall Street’s power over Washington and why the public isn’t demanding more regulation of institutions that contributed to the economic meltdown.

    Political blogger Kevin Drum argued that laws concerning financial regulation need to be simplified and that the press doesn’t do enough to ensure that Americans are informed about Wall Street’s power.

    “It’s not that American bankers are greedier than anybody else’s bankers. It’s that our laws allow them to do things they can’t do everywhere else. We let them take advantage of the system... This stuff is very, very complex, and that is exactly the reason why you need simple rules to rein it in. Because the more complexity you have, the more loopholes there are, the more you can take advantage... One place where I think we should lay some of the blame is the media and the financial media... [The issue] is sort of down in the weeds, and it gets no attention... People don’t see it enough to get angry about it. You can’t get angry about something unless you’re told about it.”

    David Corn, MOTHER JONES’ Washington bureau chief, suggested that reforms are necessary but that the details of financial regulation may be simply too complex for the mass public to comprehend or make into an urgent political issue.

    “Ultimately, this is about knowledge. This is about information. This stuff is really complicated and convoluted. Try reading any one of these bills and figuring out what’s actually being said... It’s mystifying. These guys who know the rules – they know the language, they have the access, and they’re giving contributions to the people writing the rules – have all the advantages... A Democratic pollster told me, ‘Listen, if 99 percent of Americans can’t understand derivatives, you can’t regulate derivatives in our Democratic process.’ I think there’s a lot of truth to that; people have to understand it. If only the people who benefit from them understand what’s going on, they have the leg up, and there’s no way for average citizens to even enter the process.”

    What do you think?

  • Is financial regulation too complex an issue for the general public to mobilize around? Why or why not?

  • Would you like to see President Obama rally grassroots support for more financial regulation? If so, what measures would you like to see him pursue?

  • From National People’s Action to tea parties, many Americans are getting organized around issues of Big Business and Big Government. How are you and your community working for reform?

  • December 18, 2009

    How Effective Is Community Organizing?

    This week, the JOURNAL profiled Massachusetts community organizer Steve Meacham, who recruits activists and works to stop evictions of people living in foreclosed homes.

    Meacham described the process of people becoming inspired to work for systemic change:

    “People come to their first meeting because they have a specific problem they want addressed, and they initially keep coming because their problem is addressed… People keep coming over time, and a lot of people come even after their problem is solved because they found something profound here… People go from feeling like victims to being activists on their own behalf, and then they take a step beyond that and they become activists on other people’s behalf, other people that were in the same situation they were in. Then they become activists on other issues besides housing, and pretty soon they’re trying to change the system.”

    During the 2008 election campaign, John B. Judis of THE NEW REPUBLIC traced the history of President Obama’s experience as a community organizer. Judis suggests that Obama became disillusioned about the ability of community organizing to effect change:

    “[Obama said] that he feared community organizing would never allow him ‘to make major changes in poverty or discrimination.’ To do that, he said, ‘you either had to be an elected official or be influential with elected officials…’ If you examine carefully how Obama conducted himself as an organizer and how he has conducted himself as a politician, if you consider what he said about organizing to his fellow organizers, and if you look at the reasons he gave friends and colleagues for abandoning organizing… [you find] a disillusioned activist who fashioned his political identity not as an extension of community organizing but as a wholesale rejection of it.”

    What do you think?

  • How effective is community organizing at achieving major changes?

  • Are there more effective ways of pursuing systemic change?

  • December 11, 2009

    Pushing a People's Agenda

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers spoke with several figures who give voice to ordinary Americans and are calling for a new people’s movement to bring progressive change to Washington and the nation.

    George Goehl, executive director of National People’s Action, said:

    “I think more and more people are making connections around their own economic insecurity to what's happening with the banks and on Wall Street. So, suddenly we've got a growing movement of people who want to get out on the streets, put pressure on the banks, [and] they recognize it's a David and Goliath fight. And it's only through their action that we're gonna make things happen.”

    Renowned historian Howard Zinn, author of A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES and co-editor of the new film THE PEOPLE SPEAK, said:

    “Don't depend on our leaders to do what needs to be done. Because whenever the government has done anything to bring about change, it's done so only because it's been pushed and prodded by social movements, by ordinary people organizing. You know, Lincoln pushed by the anti-slavery movement. You know, Johnson and Kennedy pushed by the southern black movement. And maybe hopefully Obama today, maybe he will be pushed by people today who have such high hopes in him, and who want to see him fulfill those hopes.”

    A central task in forming a people’s agenda in a diverse country like America is determining what it is that the people want. Some recent polling from Gallup suggests that progressives may face a steep challenge in mobilizing a populist grassroots movement.

    One poll conducted in September found that 57% of respondents said that the federal government is “trying to do too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals,” while an October poll found that a plurality of 40% described their political views as conservative over 36% who described their views as moderate and 20% who described their views as liberal.

    What do you think?

  • What would constitute a people’s agenda for today? Explain.

  • Do you think grassroots movements have the power in today’s world to defeat powerful entrenched interests? Why or why not?

  • What issues in your community do you think need to be addressed? Have you acted to organize your community to achieve those changes?

  • June 18, 2009

    Creating Change from the Grassroots

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    This week, the JOURNAL examined the inspiring story of Leymah Gbowee and the extraordinary Liberian women’s movement chronicled in the documentary PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL.

    The film documents how Gbowee courageously and organized the women of Liberia to demand a peaceful resolution to the bloody civil war that for years had torn the country asunder. Risking rape and outright slaughter to protest non-violently, the women became a key force that helped to achieve a tentative peace, the exile of the brutal President Charles Taylor, and the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female president of an African country.

    Reflecting on the women’s movement that helped transform Liberia, Leymah Gbowee said:

    “With these women, one of the things I realized was the untapped power that they had. These were the people who knew when the fighters were going to attack. These were the people who just knew, by sitting at their market tables, strange movements, and they would go to people they trust and say, “Pack your things and leave because danger is imminent.” These are the people that could talk to the fighters. Then again, on the negative front, these were the women who were moving weapons from one community to the other in their bundles, so they knew when the war was coming, they knew how it was going to be, and they knew the fighters. They could stop whatever was happening in the different communities, [but] no one – not the UN, not all of the consulates and the analysts – none of them ever figured that this group of people had what it took.”

    Film producer Abigail Disney said that the story of Gbowee and the Liberian women is consistent with historical non-violent movements and a potent inspiration for those seeking change today.

    “It is really, in effect, a classic example of non-violent resistance in the vein of everything that Gandhi and Martin Luther King ever planned... All they were asking for was something that was essentially kind of conservative, which was “let’s just make these systems work, let’s just hold these systems accountable to the promises they made.” They were just asking people to do their jobs... This classic Gandhi non-violence, where the power equation is flipped in a moment, is so extraordinary, and we’ve seen it in so many places. The more we see it, the more often we’ll see it – making it visible [and] making it available to people will bring it out in places we can’t even begin to imagine.”

    What do you think?

    What lessons can American grassroots movements take from the Liberian women’s movement documented in the film PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL?

    January 18, 2008

    Is Cynicism Un-American?

    (Photo by Robin Holland)

    Reviewing Professor Harvey J. Kaye’s book THOMAS PAINE AND THE PROMISE OF AMERICA in THE NEW YORK TIMES, historian Joseph Ellis wrote:

    “'The promise of America' that Paine glimpsed so lyrically at the start cannot be easily translated into our 21st-century idiom without distorting the intellectual integrity of its 18th-century origins... In the wake of Darwin's depiction of nature, Freud's depiction of human nature, the senseless slaughter of World War I and the genocidal tragedies of the 20th century, Paine's optimistic assumptions appear naïve in the extreme. What a reincarnated Paine would say about our altered political and intellectual landscape is impossible to know. Kaye hears his voice more clearly and unambiguously than I do, a clarity of conviction that I envy. My more muddled position is that bringing Paine's words and ideas into our world is like trying to plant cut flowers.”

    Responding to this review in his JOURNAL interview, Kaye said:

    “I got to the end and I thought, 'How sad. The loss of hope, the loss of aspiration - how un-American,’ I almost said... Americans should always be trying to plant flowers. There are ways of sprouting things anew, and that’s what America’s about. We have no reason to fear. We have no reason to be cynical, no reason to be desperate...

    We need to have this kind of confidence in our fellow citizens that they somehow are able to take advantage of that confidence. It's our job to join with our fellow citizens and join them in the courage that we have.”

    What do you think?

  • Is cynicism about the direction of the United States “un-American?”
  • How much can “confidence in our fellow citizens” cure the ills of our body politic?
  • If such confidence can be effective, how can ordinary citizens “plant flowers” for a better nation and world?

  • January 4, 2008

    Crashing The Parties?

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    Discussing elections with Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL this week, Kathleen Hall Jamieson highlighted the importance of citizens left out by the polarized and exclusive process of selecting Presidential nominees:

    “You could say that at issue in both Iowa and New Hampshire is going to be: Where are the independents going and what does that say about the country? We tend to think, because the primaries are so structured around party, that this is about Republicans and it's about Democrats. And Ron Paul only gets into this discussion because he comes in as a libertarian but runs as a Republican in the party... But we forget in the press that people who vote and the people who are governed are not only Democrats and Republicans. There are libertarians there. There are undecideds there. There are people who legitimately say ‘I don’t identify with any of this. I’ll call myself independent.’”

    In his interview with Moyers, Ron Paul suggested that America’s two-party system belies our democratic rhetoric.

    “We send boys over there to promote democracy in Iraq, but we don’t really have democracy here. If you’re in a third party, if you’re in the Green Party or Libertarian Party, you don’t get any credibility. You can’t get on debates. You can’t get on ballots hardly at all. It’s very, very difficult. And the two parties are the same. You don’t really have a democratic choice here.

    Foreign policy never changes. Domestic fiscal policy, the welfare entitlement system never changes. Monetary policy won’t even be discussed. And that’s both parties. The vehicle that you use I think is not as relevant as the message. And that has been what has driven me, the fact that we need to change course in this country.”

    What do you think?

  • Does the two-party system adequately provide citizens with real choices on various issues? If not, can citizens reform the parties to change this?

  • Does the two-party system essentially mandate the exclusion of serious third-party contenders?

  • As Ron Paul’s Web-based, grassroots-driven campaign has seen some success, do you think the Internet can democratize the political process and/or the two-party system?

  • Media and the Presidential Election

    (Photos by Robin Holland)

    In her conversation with Bill Moyers on this week’s JOURNAL, Kathleen Hall Jamieson discussed the media's influence on ‘outsider’ candidates like Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich:

    "Those two have provided a clear alternative in the debates and expanded the range of discourse within each political party. Alternative parties don’t get to have debates. They don’t get that kind of television coverage. We don’t have any way to have those ideas percolate back into the mainstream. We don’t have any way for the public to see that those are legitimate and viable options and as a result, potentially, to rally behind them. And so, when those voices are marginalized, where people are taken out of the debate, that’s problematic for the process.”

    Dennis Kucinich agrees. Having been rejected from THE DES MOINES REGISTER debate before the Iowa caucuses and now the ABC News debate before New Hampshire, Kucinich tells Moyers:

    "How can you have a debate if you don’t have a voice that challenges all the others? Right now every other Democrat on that stage will be for keeping our troops in Iraq through at least 2013. Every other Democrat on the stage will be there to keep a for-profit healthcare system going with all of these Americans who don’t have coverage. Everyone else on the stage will be there for the continuation of NAFTA and the WTO. I mean, my position on the American political scene is to show people there’s a whole different direction that America can take here at home and in the world. And the Democratic Party in narrowing the choices and the media in trying to block the point of view that I represent is really doing a disservice to the American people.”

    What do you think?

  • Do you agree that media and its political coverage has too great an influence on the elections?

  • Does mainstream media effectively serve the public interest in elections and create informed voters? If not, what are ways in which it can improve?

  • Do you think we have too many or too few debates? Are we including enough participants in the debates?

  • January 3, 2008

    Bill Moyers Rewind: Ron Paul (2002)

    This week on THE JOURNAL, Bill Moyers conducts two conversations with presidential contenders, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) and Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), candidates with an inside view of the process who know well the power of the press to set expectations and transform the agenda.

    Congressman Ron Paul appeared on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS in 2002 and explained why he was not yet convinced that an invasion was necessary and justified:

    Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry of TechPresident, a blog which focuses upon how 2008 presidential candidates are using the Web, recently wrote:

    "Over time, online strategies that shift power to networks of ordinary citizens may well lead to a new generation of voters more engaged in the political process. That, in turn, could make politicians more accountable, creating a virtuous circle where elected officials who are more open and supportive of lateral constituent interaction, and less top-down, are rewarded with greater voter trust and support."

    Do you agree? What effects will the Internet have on future presidential elections?

    November 2, 2007

    Is the Internet the antidote to media consolidation?

    by Rick Karr

    Rick Karr by Robin HollandA majority of Americans (pdf) think media consolidation is a bad thing, as we report in this week's JOURNAL. So why do Republican members of the FCC want to allow more consolidation?

    The answer, in two words, is "the Internet”. Let's look at the argument that leads up to that conclusion:

    (Photo: Robin Holland)

    Continue reading "Is the Internet the antidote to media consolidation?" »

    October 4, 2007

    An American Depression?

    There's no question that the Christian Zionist movement in United States is growing strong. As CUFI founder John Hagee, who already claims two million members in his young organization, and would like to align all American evangelicals to his cause, recently exclaimed at CUFIs annual A Night to Honor Israel:

    When 50 million evangelical bible-believing Christians unite with five million American Jews standing together on behalf of Israel, it is a match made in heaven.

    But why has this movement had such a profound allure for many Americans?

    In his conversation with Bill Moyers this week, Rabbi Michael Lerner offers one explanation, discussing the appeal of dispensationalism, or the religious view held by many Christian Zionists, that the second coming of Jesus is incumbent upon the Jews being in Israel. He offers this reasoning:

    Dispensationalists are onto something. They are onto the growing depression that people are feeling, a deep emotional depression in the United States. A lack of any hopeful picture of what the world could be - and that failure is not a failure of dispensationalists. It's a failure of the mainstream political framework in this country that to address the major questions facing the world in the 21st century.

    What do you think?

  • Are Americans yearning for some new philosophy to fill a void left by mainstream politics?
  • Besides Christian Zionism, do you see any signs of other movements beginning to fill this void?

  • October 3, 2007

    Preview: Christian Zionism

    This Week on Bill Moyers Journal:

    As leader of the politically powerful group Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Pastor John Hagee wants to bring millions of Christians together to support Israel. But some say his message is dangerous: “It is time for America to…consider a military preemptive strike against Iran to prevent a nuclear holocaust in Israel and a nuclear attack in America.” Bill Moyers Journal reports on CUFI and then gets theological and political context from Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, a Jewish journal of politics, culture, and spirituality, and Dr. Timothy P. Weber, an evangelical Christian, historian, and the author of On The Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend. Also on the program, a year after the tragic shooting, Bill Moyers looks at what the Amish can teach us about healing.

    Can't Play This Video? Click here for quicktime and windows media versions.

    Check Your Local Listings here and we'll see you on the blog after the show.

    September 7, 2007

    Mountaintop Ministry

    Allen Johnson co-founded and heads the advocacy group, Christians for the Mountains, an organization that summons Christians to help protect the environment, paying particular attention to the southern Appalachian Mountains region.

    Since this segment originally aired in October 2006, Christians for the Mountains has joined up with other denominations in making mountaintop removal mining an issue of urgency among the creation care leaders nationwide. In May 2007, Allen and Roman Catholic priest Father John Rausch hosted religious leaders for a two-day tour of mountaintop removal sites, and at the end of the tour, the two dozen religious leaders signed a joint statement against mountaintop removal practices.

    For first-hand insight into the mountaintop removal fight here is a brief essay from Allen Johnson:


    Continue reading "Mountaintop Ministry" »

    August 31, 2007

    Seeds of Change

    By Grace Lee Boggs

    I was privileged to participate in the great humanizing movements of the last century, but I can’t recall a time when the issues were so basic, so interconnected.

    How are we going to make our livings in a society becoming increasingly jobless because of hi-tech and outsourcing? Where will we get the imagination to recognize that for most of human history the concept of Jobs didn’t even exist? Work, as distinguished from Labor, was done to produce needed goods and services, develop skills and artistry, and nurture cooperation.

    How do we rebuild cities like Detroit that were once the arsenal of democracy into models of 21st century self-reliance and sustainability?

    How do we redefine education so that 30-50 percent of inner-city children do not drop out of school, thus ensuring that millions will end up in prison?

    What will move us to care for our biosphere instead of using our technological mastery to increase the speed at which we are making it uninhabitable?

    Can we build an America in which people of all races and ethnicities live together in harmony, and Euro-Americans, in particular, celebrate their role as one among many minorities constituting the multiethnic majority?

    And, especially since 9/11, how do we achieve reconciliation with the two-thirds of the world that increasingly resents our economic, military, and cultural domination?

    These are the times to grow our souls. Each of us is called upon to embrace the conviction that despite the powers and principalities bent on commodifying all our human relationships, we have the power within us to create the world anew.

    We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.

    Actions like these seem insignificant because we judge progress in terms of quantity. But, as the decline of GM suggests, the time has come to rethink the way we think. In the words of organizational consultant Margaret Wheatley (Leadership and Modern Science):

    “From a Newtonian perspective, our efforts often seem too small, and we doubt that our actions will contribute incrementally to large-scale change. But a quantum view explains the success of small efforts quite differently.

    Acting locally allows us to be inside the movement and flow of the system, Changes in small places affect the global system, not through incrementalism, but because every small system participates in an unbroken wholeness. We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”

    August 20, 2007

    What Adam Said to Eve

    By Bill Moyers

    Prepared remarks for the annual conference of the
    Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
    On August 9, 2007 in Washington, DC

    I wanted to come and thank you for what you do. Half a century ago my own journalism teachers – Selma Brotze in high school, Cecil Schumann and Delbert Maguire at North Texas State, and Dewitt Reddick and Paul Thompson at the University of Texas – stoked my passion for journalism, as you do for so many young people today.

    That passion bloomed early. In 1950, on my 16th birthday I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town where I grew up – the Marshall News Messenger. It was a good place to be a cub reporter – small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something every day. I soon had a stroke of good luck. Shakespeare said: "Merit doth much but fortune doth more." Some of the old-timers were on vacation or out sick, and I got assigned to cover what came to be known as the “Housewives’ Rebellion." Fifteen women in my hometown decided not to pay the Social Security withholding tax for their domestic workers. They argued that Social Security was unconstitutional, that imposing it was taxation without representation, and that – here’s my favorite part - "requiring us to collect [the tax] is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage." They hired themselves a lawyer but lost the case and wound up holding their noses and paying the tax.

    I've thought over the years about those women and the impact their story had on my life and on my journalism. They were not bad people, they were regulars at church, their children were my friends, many of them were active in community affairs and their husbands were pillars of the business and professional class in town. They were respectable and upstanding citizens in all. So it took me a while to figure out what had brought on their spasm of reactionary rebellion. It came to me one day many years later. Fiercely loyal to their families, to their clubs charities and congregations - fiercely loyal in other words to their own kind - they narrowly defined democracy to include only people like themselves. The women who washed and ironed their laundry, wiped their children’s bottoms, made their husband’s beds and cooked their families’ meals, these women too would grow old and frail, sick and decrepit, lose their men and face the ravages of time alone, with nothing to show from their years of labor but the creases in their brow and the knots on their knuckles.

    Continue reading "What Adam Said to Eve" »

    July 5, 2007

    What Can I Do?

    As this week's story on the Earth Conservation Corps and Bill Moyers' interview with E.O. Wilson both demonstrate, local efforts can make a difference in helping to maintain a healthy and sustainable environment.

    Back in October, when we aired "Is God GREEN?" the MOYERS ON AMERICA special about recent efforts within the evangelical movement to preserve our planet, many viewers wrote in about local environmental successes in their community. Here are just a few excerpts:

    Joan Conley wrote:

    I am very fortunate to live in the city of Syracuse, NY which is right next door to the Onondaga Nation. The Onondagas have a long history of dedication to the land. About a year ago they filed a land rights claim that is not about getting land back or getting money. It is their wish to work with us--their cousins, as they call us, to do a meaningful clean-up of Onondaga Lake, which is said to be the most polluted lake in the US; and also to engage in a real work of stewardship of the land and all of it's creatures. It has been my great privilige to learn about loving the creator through loving creation.

    Jennifer Knott-Kimbrell wrote:

    In Austin, Texas our church held a light bulb exchange. We encouraged members and visitors alike to bring in incandescent bulbs and trade them in for Compact Fluorescent bulbs. Now people want to know things like if the altar candles burning are petroleum-based, or if the insulation in the building is enough. It all starts with one person, one event and goes from there.

    In the spirit of continuing the conversation, we ask you to tell us about environmental programs going on in your city or town, as evidence that little by little, important work is being done to save our planet and its diverse inhabitants. As E.O. Wilson reminds us, we've only discovered 10% of Earth's species. "We live in an unexplored planet." Only concentrated efforts, often starting humbly at the local level, can ensure that there's something left to explore.

    June 15, 2007

    When One Becomes Two...

    Both Andy Stern and Grace Lee Boggs agree that when active, informed citizens band together with common cause, they can make a world of change:

    I always listen to Margaret Mead who says never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has...

    ...We have seen incredible acts of courage and heroism by very small groups of people like in the civil rights movement...but we don't want small answers anymore. We don't want small changes.

    I believe that we are at the point now, in the United States, where a movement is beginning to emerge... the present moment, is demanding that instead of just complaining about these things, instead of just protesting about these things, we begin to look for, and hope for, another way of living. I see the signs in the various small groups that are emerging all over the place to try and regain our humanity in very practical ways.

    In your community, do you see signs of a grassroots revolution emerging?

    We invite you to tell your stories about groups that you've joined or witnessed in your local communities that speak to this notion of informed citizens effecting change, one small seed at a time.

    Photos: Robin Holland

    June 14, 2007

    Preview: Grace Lee Boggs

    Watch the video

    This Week on Bill Moyers Journal:

    Bill Moyers interviews writer, activist, and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs, who has taken part in some of the seminal civil rights struggles in U.S. history, about her belief that real change for democracy will come from the grassroots.

    “We're not looking sufficiently at what is happening at the grassroots in the country,” she says. “We have not emphasized sufficiently the cultural revolution that we have to make…in order to force the government to do differently.”

    Check Your Local Listings here and we'll see you on the blog after the show.

    A Companion Blog to Bill Moyers Journal

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