Transcript:

Speaker I'm from Houston, Texas, and grew up in Texas, lived in New York and worked in the entertainment industry and then moved to California twenty five years ago until moving to D.C. six years ago to take on this job.

Speaker So when you were working in entertainment in Los Angeles, at what capacity what were you doing before you got involved in the political scene?

Speaker Actually, I worked for Norman Lear. That was my second job in the entertainment industry that made me move from New York to L.A. to take a job to work in his film production and run his movie theater chain.

Speaker You ran a movie theater chain? Yes. What how long did the did you do that job? What was it? It was about Norman as a boss at that time.

Speaker I was there for five years and learned a lot about Norman's business style and knew about his work with people for the American way. But that was more of a of of a side thing. But I learned a lot from him when I saw the way he brought his integrity into business, which in the entertainment industry is often few and far, far between.

Speaker I have heard I like it. I move closer to you and you get a closer look at me. Great. OK, actually, let me. Oh, it's funny, we interviewed Jerry Perenchio and Alan Moore, so it's fun, it seems like no one's business. I was a bit unorthodox at times. Could you describe what his business was?

Speaker Well, it was always very interesting that I think Norman has always lived with his integrity, no matter what he's done. And and so often that would be picking up the phone and talking to somebody rather than calling lawyers. And the usual thing that happens when people get into a dispute and cut off and work out something, you know, very quickly and easily, mainly because of, you know, leading with honesty and honesty and integrity.

Speaker What did you know about his work before you came to work for him? Did you grow up watching some of these shows or watching him in reruns or tell me a little bit about that.

Speaker I did. I was a major fan and was working at Columbia Pictures at the time, and I was flown out for an interview when I and I was very excited just to have the chance of meeting Norman Lear. And I thought when I met him, I thought, well, if I don't get the job, I've met Norman Lear. I thought that was really cool. I'm down now. 20 years later, I get to deal with him and work with him on almost daily basis. It's a real treat for decades.

Speaker So it's really it's really cool. It's funny he collects people at a young, intelligent people and then he doesn't. Right. Is that something?

Speaker Yes, as a matter of fact, one of the things that we do with people for American way, which I'm so proud of, which Norman has been totally excited and invested in, is empowering young people. There are now thousands of people who are trained activists. We have almost a thousand young elected officials under age 35 in all 50 states. And it's been the biggest cheerleader. And it's I often say when you're in a room with many of these young leaders who come from very diverse backgrounds and are of all ages, that often he comes across as the youngest person in the room.

Speaker Tell me more about that. How is that playing that?

Speaker Well, it's incredible, the energy, because I often people who were, let's say, you know, 19 or 20 years of age, they were not even thought of, never mind being born when Norman was at the height of his his his popularity in terms of the TV shows. But I think that they get his energy immediately and thank God for TV land, because a lot of them know the shows already. And it's also interesting, too, for particularly people of different different backgrounds often talk about their parents talking about the first time they saw an African-American on television who might have been there, their parents, they mentioned that that that was one of Norman shows. So that really translates and people really get it and they get the energy. And often when they're talking to him, even in the short conversation, they get the fact that he gets what they're about in terms of their whole belief in America. And and in many ways, Norman shows really predicted the diverse world that we are now living in. He brought diversity into the living rooms of of families all across the country. And now that that is now the reality of most people's lives, it's so true.

Speaker There's almost I don't want to say depression or clairvoyance or whatever, but. It was he just paying attention to the area or was did he see something else? It was coming up to see that they we're going to.

Speaker Well, I think in terms of Norman's activism, I think we see over and over that the America that he saw that really existed but wasn't being portrayed by the people. But that was the reality of diverse America was even a reality back then. And it's even become more so. And I think that Norman had an incredible eye of knowing that that's what the reality was and that's where the where things were heading.

Speaker I also think in terms of Norman getting young people and their values and their belief in America, it's often different than people that have been around to use the flag as a weapon and wear their religion on their sleeve. That's not the way that most people live their lives. And that's why I think a lot of young people really get the fact that Norman is so invested in these young people's programs.

Speaker When did you first tell me about the founding of People for the American Way? And it was founded in 1981. Right. Right. Um, so what were you doing in 1981? And tell me about how the origins of people for.

Speaker I was just finishing college in 1981 and had heard about people for the American way, but People for American Way was founded because Norman Lear, along with other people, were really concerned about the rise of the religious right and the fact that they were bringing religion into politics. It's now seems very normal and we're all very used to it. But back in the day, that was something unusual. You know, preachers preached on on Sunday, but they didn't try to influence the political process or bring their own religion into the field. And that's what Norman, along with several other co-founders, created, People for American way to fight that.

Speaker Now, I know this goes back. He just wanted you bottled water for yourself.

Speaker Oh, I just made sure you had one of these. Might tell me if you think I need it. I will, actually. I just I just thought to yourself, I'm going also just also just note. I forgot to tell you earlier, even like.

Speaker That was to tell you that I gave it a couple of beats before the recess. Like, after a phrase is done, there's a sense for like, OK. Oh, yeah, it was great, not perfect. Actually. Now, in the film, we're doing something we're doing some historical context, of course, to the era and everything, because we want we want a wide audience, people that might not know their history very well. So we've been getting all this material of that Moral Majority and, you know, Jerry Falwell, fire and brimstone. But if you could just give a little context for sure, he noticed that I made a film called Jesus Camp. My.

Speaker Oh, yes, I know of it. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I remember that. That's right. Yes, yes, yes.

Speaker Anyway, so we sort of I, I completely I'm fascinated by a little bit of the origins in terms of why and how did the preachers and the religious right seep into politics. Can you give a little context before we go into people?

Speaker I think the America at the time before the founding of People of America, what American way that there were many religious people that were very frustrated by the fact of what they saw was the socially liberal culture, the fact that the America that they knew was no longer the land of the 1950s where, you know, people married, couple slept in separate beds and, you know, there were no visible gay people, African-Americans, Latinos were, you know, not seen certainly in the culture. And I think they were upset by the loss of that. I think many of Norman shows. Showed that that this was a you know, that America was changing and a lot of people were concerned by that and they felt that they didn't want to sit aside and and watch these changes anymore, you know, particularly after the 60s. I think they wanted to take America back and they were going to do that through the political process and things like the Supreme Court that had not been politicized before.

Speaker You had ministers that were praying for the removal of a Supreme Court justice and whatever that meant, they were going to take back the Supreme Court, they were going to take back the government and they were going to start from the bottom up. And they were very effective at it.

Speaker And when you see start from the bottom up, what do you what do you mean that they were going to be electing people?

Speaker The right wing wanted to elect people with school boards and take over, particularly in education, which they were concerned about, that they would take over from the ground up, that they would just start winning races and getting people elected, which is why I'm so excited about our program of electing young people, because really this is the answer to that. It's really allowing a diverse set of people who really have the American values. They really the American way that are being elected at all levels of office, but often at the ground level. I mean, a lot of times you can get a twenty five year old who's very excited about being on a school board.

Speaker Yeah, sure, it's a smart, smart approach, so let's just let me ask you about the young people you were describing. You say these are activists. Now what? What? Tell me what they do. It's hard to explain in terms of it's not really a lobby organization, but is it a whistleblower or is it a watchdog? Right. Explain a little bit.

Speaker Well, we have several different programs. Maybe I can just give you a brief overview of them, but one is right wing watch, which is really at the core of what we do. I mean, people for the American way. When I was a kid, when it was founded in nineteen eighty one and today one of the core part of our mission is to, to monitor whether the right wing, what they're saying, because we do feel when people know what they're saying and they're going to do the right thing and when they don't and when they can say this in the shadows and nobody knows about it, then I don't think people really have the power to to really act on it. So that's the core in terms of following the right and right wing, which is one of the key programs in the youth area. One of our programs is to create lifetime activists on the college level. That's called young people for and that takes people and trains them for a year to become lifetime activists. And rather than as we do on the on the left of just saying, well, you'll come to us when it's your time. This is actually training people at the at the college level become lifetime activists. Out of that, many of them were running for office and winning, almost always winning because they were just training community organizers. And that created a young elected officials network, which is now almost a thousand progressive young elected officials at all levels of government in all 50 states.

Speaker Yeah, that's that's that's really impressive. So. So Norman, was was he why do you think he was particularly outraged personally and offended? This is a wealthy, successful, already anointed legend. Why would he wade into these waters? Tell me a little bit about what possessed him.

Speaker Well, Norman was going to do a comedy movie about the rise of the religious right. And and then he realized that it was much deeper. This was not just a movie and this wasn't just something that was funny, but it was a much deeper level. And that's why he decided to retire from his successful television shows to really devote his life to activism. And I think it's is why he's as active as he was even in the very beginning, because of the fact that, you know, that problem has only gotten worse. So he got together very smartly and taking back the symbols of America, which has driven the Wright crazy now for over three decades. The fact of calling an organization called People for the American Way, which has been an endless frustration to to the right wing who say that that's not the American way because they want to own the flag and they want to own the Bible and we're not going to give that to them.

Speaker It must drive them nuts. We were talking I was talking a little bit about the symbology of patriotism and Americanism, how they were co-opted so strongly by the right and the way Norman talks about these issues and about patriotism. It's really kind of usurping their language and bringing me back to what?

Speaker I think that's very powerful and nobody can talk about America and American values and God and how that works out process better than Norman Lear.

Speaker So he starts organization. And what is the first act? What does he do first?

Speaker One of the most started of the aisle started at the start of the organization. There was a television show called I Love Liberty, which really kicked it all off. And I think it showed the fact that you could have you could bring people from different different walks of life and different political philosophies together around America.

Speaker And it combined, you know, people like Lady Bird Johnson and Barry Goldwater and Jane Fonda and Frank Sinatra all together to talk about America. And you could have Robin Williams doing doing his imitation of the American flag that they could all be there together. And that's really been the spirit of trying to bring people together who might have different political beliefs altogether around American values.

Speaker And I'm watching that show that I didn't I had never seen it mean, we love it. We're just amazing. Yes. All those people. Yeah. Yeah. That could happen today.

Speaker It'd be very hard to do today. Know probably impossible. No one. Just the way the networks are set up, the fact that there were three networks at the time that you could get the television time to do that is is really remarkable and probably can ever happen again. And things have gotten so partisan, too, that it's very hard to get. You know, Jane Fonda was introduced by a video about from John Wayne talking about Jane Fonda. So it was pretty extraordinary, I'm sure.

Speaker And that was really delighted. It just I mean, you know. Just to have achieved that, the accomplish that, I could just see it being completely just tickled by this room full of people with such opposing. Yes, what did all these people have in common? Why do they participate?

Speaker I think it was a belief in American values, which is what really people for American way and what Norman does today, it's really about saying that we have much more in common, that we have differences. And when you talk about democracy and freedom of speech and freedom of religion and people participating and voting, they can all unite around that and every American should. So it's really kind of connecting to those core American values.

Speaker Um, and I wanted to ask you about the first PSA that was before I left Liberty. Yes, yes. Can you tell me about what was the first PSA you did, why you did, why it was so important?

Speaker Well, Norman did an ad that really became very successful. They ran it in a few places, but he became a national story. And it was about a construction worker who talks about American values, about the fact that he and his wife have different views on religion, but and the children have their own views. But they don't that that they can all speak their mind and have their own beliefs and that that's really the American way. And that's what helped create the organization.

Speaker And what was the reaction, the initial response to that? Had that had anyone put, like, something like that on the air before?

Speaker Yeah, it had never been done before of really people talking about religion in a television advertisement and talking about politics. And it really created a sensation and really created a national conversation.

Speaker And why do you think was there a real hunger, was it something that people were, like, quietly thinking about with someone else finally articulated, or why do you suppose that that struck a nerve with that?

Speaker Well, I think the words about whether somebody is a good Christian or a bad Christian based on their political beliefs was really a very simple notion, but one that had not been discussed much because at the time there were a lot of the people on the right wing that said there's only one way that's a Christian way, which is a very, very specific way of beliefs and wanting to bring politics into that. The fact that you might do what your preacher says in terms of right and wrong, but then you might vote differently than you're your preacher. And that was a conversation that was just starting to happen because there were a lot of people on the other side that were saying there was only one way.

Speaker It's just it was very, I have to say, clairvoyant that that already he was already talking about that in eighty one. I mean, he already had his. What did this ignite? I know that several conservatives were not happy with his shows and thought that they were sort of like the mark of the devil that they already had was already in their sights. And what did started for people, for the American way do in terms of igniting this base of people against him? And how did that.

Speaker Well, Norman was certainly very famous being a Hollywood liberal at the time, particularly after shows like All in the Family. So he was definitely in the sights of the of the right wing. But what Norman did, which was so smart, was to really bring together people of many faiths all across the country. Business leaders, leader of the Catholic Church, many Protestant leaders who were all have had very similar concerns, although they had different accents there from different parts of the country. And that was the brilliance, I think, of what Norman did in terms of creating people for the American way and is a spirit that we try to keep alive today, which is really bringing different voices around, that it can't just be one voice heard. But Norman very smartly gathered people who were who had different voices, who were respected in their own ways to show that this was really about America. This wasn't about a Hollywood liberal and it was personal plaything. This was really about creating a movement.

Speaker That's right. And enduring movement. I mean, it was so easy to call something a vanity project or whatever, but now it almost seems like more you want to do this. You're a Jewish Hollywood liberal like this can be kryptonite. Why do you just enjoy your life? But it was sort of that concern that it was going to be just not worth it. But of course, I think this is the thing is I'm most proud of. Right.

Speaker Well, I think it's also really interesting in Hollywood where people can take on a cause and get involved with something else a year later. You know, the fact that thirty five years into this, that we've really created a structure in Norman's as involved as he as he was at the very beginning, because there's always going to be a little guy who's going to be put upon and who's going to be who the religious right or the or the right wing overall is going to go after. And so what he wanted to do is to create a permanent structure where there's always somebody out there looking out for the little guy.

Speaker It's very effective. What would you say, I know again, what is the mission, what is the core mission of people for the American American way?

Speaker The core mission of people for American way is fighting the right, and that could be taking it in many forms. It's either calling about calling out what they're saying or by creating programs that we can really get people involved in the political process to take our country back.

Speaker You to do that, coopting their language to take our country back. The thought police might not like me saying that, but I this is totally an aside.

Speaker I just happened to be asking you this on camera, but were you involved in the op ed that I was writing about? I mean, you must be following the Koch brothers.

Speaker Oh, yeah. We do a lot of work on money and politics. I mean, that's all part of it. And I don't know. I can explain. I mean, the parts of that. But, yes, you know, money in politics and the Koch brothers are the new enemy. And one thing I think it's probably really important to say is that the right wing, it's not just the religious right anymore, which is one of the most important things. The right wing has really morphed into a much bigger movement of the wealthy, powerful people who are, you know, the haters, the people who are anti-gay. I mean, they're all brought together on the right wing. And really, it's a very important movement now. And many people have predicted over the years that the right wing has gone away and they've always been wrong.

Speaker Absolutely. I mean, it wasn't and worried about the eventual base of the Tea Party, right?

Speaker Well, one of our favorite expressions that people for the American way is an expression I know that Norman loves, as well as that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty that you're going to have to watch every single day to make sure that that we're able to articulate our values and to be able to have the democracy we want.

Speaker And it's never done. America's not done. There's always work to do. And and the work becomes more and more important.

Speaker It's funny sitting from today's perch, it's like the Moral Majority, that moment almost now that we're reviewing the footage. And again, I'm personally connected to the issue. Right. So it's something which I'm very interested in. It almost seems charming. It almost seems cute to what happened. I mean, in hindsight. Right. Wow. When it was just that. But these these these handful of men now, it really became about money and politics. And it's a lot more nefarious.

Speaker And I think the in the Internet has changed things as well. I mean, I think that progressives think that although we've got technology and everybody who's cool and hip, we've got the Internet and they don't. Well, that's not true. Now, what used to be a somebody who used to be a nut in a log cabin in Idaho is now a nut in a log cabin in Idaho. But how is a radio program that can reach tens of thousands of people every day? And that's how things have changed. And that's why you always have to be watchful and dealing with the threat of wherever it is. But there's a vast, vast network of people that are communicating with millions of Americans every day, which creates this paranoia that has become very, very dangerous in this country.

Speaker I feel like every time I see Norman or Dr.. You have imagining this just on the phone with you or he's having dinner with you and you guys are getting together or your name comes up a lot. What do you talk about when you guys when you meet up? What's what's on his mind? What do you do in these encounters that you have?

Speaker One of my favorite things is when you get a message from Norman that says, call me when you're up. Now, he doesn't know whether you know which time zone you're in or where you are. But basically, he's got an idea. He has a concern. He and always I look forward to the conversations because it's always interesting and you never know where, where, where the conversation takes you. But there's always a great idea in there somewhere. And one of the things that I love that he says is that he never wakes up a day without reading the newspaper and thinking, thank God for people, for the American way.

Speaker It's so funny, I think I've have I'm having I'm having a little bit of a similar experience just now and then, it's like I got an idea for the girl interview, so.

Speaker And so-and-so and have you heard about this thing?

Speaker It's it's funny because you don't really know where it's going. I can imagine for you it's a full time thing. What what are some of the phone calls that you've gotten, the ideas that have come your way that did or did not happen? I'm just curious what sort of things.

Speaker OK, well, we had a brainstorming session a few weeks ago in terms of how to use them, and I absolutely loved the fact that Norman said, well, why don't we position me as a 19 year old who has seen a lot and done a lot and wants to make the most of his last 15 years of life.

Speaker That's pretty. I love it.

Speaker That's really good. This is great. Um. So you were on the board in nine since nineteen ninety four to ninety two.

Speaker Oh yeah, no you're right now you're working right now. So tell me.

Speaker Did Norman personally ask you to take over as president and tell me about that transition and what that meant for you?

Speaker One thing I loved being on the board and one thing I love about people for American way is that it's it it's not just a single issue organization. And as we say that the right wing doesn't organize itself that way. They're not just in silos. And when they I loved about people for American way is that it deals with a range of issues wherever wherever the right wing is, we are. And it's the same people who are anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti women, and it's always the same people. So it's important to have an organization that really focuses on them overall. And I was very happy as a board member and then was asked to become president six years ago and move to Washington. And I didn't see myself doing that. But it's been a wonderful experience. And, you know, I get to work with people like Norman and a whole range of people. I think everybody, the people I get to meet and work with or I think the most interesting people and I'm glad I don't have to work for the other side.

Speaker Hell, yeah. Besides Jon Stewart, I feel for the American way. Who else is watching, right?

Speaker Well, the right wing watch really surprised a lot of the programming to many of the programs that you see, whether it be the comedy shows, because as scary as the right wing is, they're usually very, very funny. And so we supply things to most TV shows. And when you watching the TV and you'll see a little red box that's from people. It's People for American Ways, right wing watch. And we supply that information. And I would say most journalists who were involved in the political process in any way to use right wing watch extensively so that you will you'll find something and you'll start calling around. We finally started putting a little R watermark on just a few years ago because rather than saying, oh, we do what, we did that and now you can actually see it, you'll see right wing watch the logo on on the screen of your television when you're watching MSNBC shows, you know, this is something that we really hope because we're having a hard time.

Speaker I think you guys have been doing tons of people for about our time and of course. But we've been having a hard time. You know, obviously, it's a visual medium. So we want to show as much as possible what you do.

Speaker And we have a little right wing watch film, which I'll make sure you've got. You're going to remind me, Suzanne, I'll reach out to we have it, which has different people mentioning. Right.

Speaker We watch in different ways that would be helpful. And just no one to look at this blog.

Speaker And yeah, because we've got Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart and all saying things about right wing watch.

Speaker OK, OK, so that's something that we can that's good to know. And then we can show. Right. Think people will understand. Right. Yeah.

Speaker Yeah. We, we did a little video because there was nothing better than being able to show what they're doing. We also have a lot of the right wing talking about. Pretty much saying disparaging things about.

Speaker Love that you've got to have that. So that's good to know. So what is your strategy then in shaping? Well, I don't know if you're trying to shape our political life, but you're shaping the conversation. And how is your strategy sort of changed and evolved over the last several years?

Speaker I think one thing that people for American Way is very involved with, which Norman has been very supportive of, which is actually getting people out to vote because it used to be back in the day, you could point out something that's really extreme and that was enough and it would go away. Now, it's really important to get people to go to the polls and whether that be young people, African-Americans or Latinos, to get them out to vote, because that's going to really change the country at the end of the day.

Speaker And how does that what does that look like? What do you right now? Is that going to college? Tell me what that.

Speaker Well, back in the day, an average be taken out in New York Times and L.A. Times and maybe The Washington Post. And again, that was that was enough. But now, through advertising, through getting people to the polls, rather than actually having buses going from college campuses or from African-American churches to take them to the polling places to getting them registered.

Speaker It's a whole range of of of activities in order to make sure that these people go and vote and you get volunteers, you guys get volunteers to help do that during elections.

Speaker We have staff and volunteers. Volunteers include young people on the campuses all across the country to African-American ministers, through the churches. And that's what's it's done through the churches.

Speaker I see. And so that's that's really how many would you estimate how many volunteers and staff we have?

Speaker Well, we have seventeen hundred, for example, ministers with churches that can recruit other churches, but they are seventeen hundred churches that are involved on that. And then then the young elected officials is almost a thousand young elected officials, as I mentioned. And then we have fifteen hundred alums of our our young people for our program.

Speaker Now, how essential is Norman to the. The operation, the. Flowering the continued growth of this organization. And how does one make sure that, you know.

Speaker After 15, 20, 30, 40 years continues, yeah, well, normally I would say now is is the biggest cheerleader, but it is his first to say that he has been a part of it.

Speaker And we've really tried to create a structure that really can endure, you know, into many generations that we have actually the Norman Lear Eternal Vigilance Fund, which is an endowment that we've created to help make sure that we can continue on the programs. But Dorman's the first to say that he is, you know, is a cheerleader and a supporter and an idea person and, um, but that the organization is is healthy.

Speaker Thirty four years later, what are the greatest achievements? Would you call? Between this LGBT rights, voting rights, religious right. What would you say that the greatest achievements you want to think about that?

Speaker Right.

Speaker Yeah, yeah, so I think many of the achievements that we've seen over the years and it's funny sometimes you get the long term effects of them just recently with marriage equality being approved by the Supreme Court. Very interesting that Anthony Kennedy was the deciding vote on that and Anthony Kennedy was appointed by Ronald Reagan after Robert Bork was defeated, the Supreme Court in the very famous defeat in 1987. But it's interesting to see the fruits of that all these years later in a very important decision.

Speaker Tell me about the significance of the Bork episode before Burack.

Speaker Important? I think. Yeah, I know. I get it. I think we are make up. We have to make that make that mistake to.

Speaker The Robert Bork fight was, I think, a very, very significant battle, because it really was a way of showing that that the the left was not going to roll over and allow extremists to be on the Supreme Court.

Speaker It was really a great awakening, I think, on both sides of the importance of the court and and how important it is to get a justice that you believe is going to act in the best interests of the country.

Speaker And what was people for his involvement in and galvanizing people on the case?

Speaker People for was a leader in really galvanizing the country. And that meant getting people like Robert Rauschenberg to appear at the Supreme Court hearing. It was about getting Gregory Peck to do an ad that aired about, you know, talking about Robert Bork and the fact that there was a TV ad you're talking about the Supreme Court justice fight was really, really significant. And to have somebody like Gregory Peck behind it was you can't get better than that.

Speaker Can you give me a little little context on what year end and sort of what he represented?

Speaker That was in 1987. And Robert Bork was really extreme on almost every level. And it's interesting, when he was no longer approved, he was even pulling his punches before 1980, 87.

Speaker But then when his real beliefs came out, when he no longer thought that the court was a possibility, it showed him in terms of his feelings about about about LGBT equality, about women's rights were extreme by any measure. So it was actually a vindication over the years that it was really the right thing to do and really important and it would have changed our lives significantly have he been had he been on the court.

Speaker So that was interesting. What the TV ad with Gregory Peck. So tell me you have that right. You have it. Do we have it? I have not seen. Make sure to go to.

Speaker I think we do OK.

Speaker We'll make sure I just reach up your degree and we'll make sure you get that.

Speaker I'm not even like any hearings. I mean, I'm not sure we have this full story. I can't speak for sure. But that's something that we should look into. The is what? Is there something unique about having a very experienced and seasoned Hollywood producer at the at the helm of an organization? What kind of advantages? I mean. You just come with that in terms of ideas and production value and ways to reach the people, I'd like to.

Speaker Yeah, I think in talking about the ad that created people for American Way or the Robert Bork ad, I mean, having the most creative people in the country on our side on these issues has always been a really important element in terms of getting the message across. And I think it really helped in terms of the left.

Speaker And this is not just people, you know, picketing on the streets are doing a rally, that there was really an element of going into people's homes, through television. That was a very powerful thing and really important in order to combat the rise of the right wing.

Speaker I mean, someone who understands the media the way that Norman and his ilk. I'm sure all the people that were hired, it having that, it's such an amazing weapon, I mean, I love liberty, like the production value. Yeah, I mean, it's such a such fanfare. How did the concept for all of liberty, if you could just tell me just one, was distinctly how did that concept come up for a little bit? What was the purpose, really?

Speaker The purpose was really to take back the symbolism. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. The purpose of I love liberty was to take back the flag words like liberty and freedom and America, and really to take back those symbols was really one of the motivating factors of saying that we can we can take back the flag and and we don't have to cede that to the right wing.

Speaker That was perfectly set. I just wanted done that one that one way. So it was. And it was on all three networks, it was a two hour special.

Speaker I'm not sure which I don't know if it was on all three networks. I know it was definitely on. I know it was definitely one of the networks, yeah, um.

Speaker Answer that, did you guys get involved in the Alito fight?

Speaker Yes, people's American Way, one of the most important areas of our work is to make sure that judges at all levels get a fair hearing and that we make sure to keep extremists off the bench. Sometimes that is wonderful and we can be supportive of great appointments to all the courts, including the Supreme Court.

Speaker But often in the work has been trying to keep off the worst of the worst, which is very, very hard in other administrations. But it's really one of the most important parts of the work continues to be one of the most important areas. And so we've been involved in all the Supreme Court battles ever since Bork.

Speaker When some lose, some, absolutely.

Speaker A little thing was KmH.

Speaker One other thing to add to that is that one of the things that people for American Way tries to do is to try to get our side to understand the importance of the courts. The right wing has gotten it for a very long time. As a matter of fact, before was founded by because there were a lot of of the television ministers that were calling for a removal of a Supreme Court justice. We really try to empower the our side to really understand the importance of the courts and how elections really do matter and and how that presidential appointment of a Supreme Court justice can really change the course of this country over 30 years. I mean, look at cases like Citizens United that were a five four decision and it was all based who was on the court.

Speaker I think it's just dawning on people now. That was what we're dealing with.

Speaker We are waking up the left, as is is waking up to the importance of the courts, which is really important.

Speaker I was still there would be like like like that pope, like Ratzinger would be like, I'm going to retire.

Speaker Yeah, good luck with that. And too crazy. Yeah. To be on the Supreme Court. Good luck with that.

Speaker But we see the Supreme Court overreach. I mean, they have been they've been overreaching. And I think that we're seeing the effects of that.

Speaker I know what game this plan is.

Speaker I think he's playing a political game. For longevity, really more about not losing elections, like, for example, on the Obamacare, you know, I think there's a there's a theory that he is more of a Republican than he is a conservative.

Speaker Interesting. So. Aha, so it's like I'm not going to be part of giving Hillary Clinton the presidency, right, because they're going to use this. That we took health care away from all these people, right?

Speaker And when the tide is running towards marriage equality, allowing those cases last year is a vote on that where, you know, they really want to overturn things like affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act, you know, which is appalling.

Speaker It's like give them a soft one, but let America and let's let it disenfranchise African-American voters. So sinister when you put it like that. And unfortunately, it makes a lot of, um, let's see, the DA. Oh, yes. When people for was created was the hope and the idea that it would soon be irrelevant and there wouldn't be a real need. Tell me no.

Speaker Would be before was founded, there was a belief that the religious right could decide that they no longer wanted to be involved in politics and they were going to go back to their churches and and let the American process happen the way it happened before. That never happened. The right wing has only become bigger with, you know, the corporate right or billionaires who want to influence the process further to make more money. Homophobes and haters of all stripes have all united, and that is never so. The religious right is no longer just the religious right is really the right wing.

Speaker And there's.

Speaker I mean, the need for this organization, unfortunately, it seems like it's more than ever.

Speaker Yes, yes. I mean, we may Jesus camp, we rushed it out. We rushed it to the vet. We rushed it because we were like, it's not going to be relevant anymore. We do this when politics and religion are totally moribund. And here this movie is not going to matter. And we were like, right? Oh, yeah, yeah. You could be the tide in that direction.

Speaker That's why I say one thing I love about people for the American way is always has the perspective that there's always going to be somebody out there oppressing. There's always going to be the haters, there's always going to be people they're going after. And sometimes that's changing. That changes have the same people that were after, you know, trying to change the Supreme Court are now the ones that are at the forefront of of fighting against LGBT equality, immigrant bashing, which is a new one, anti-Islamic behavior, which was not around thirty four years ago because now so prevalent.

Speaker You know what's shocking is that. The Trump thing is interesting because absolutely everybody's outrage and shocked, but we realize that people ran to support him, that. You can't go too far, right?

Speaker We all know he went too far, the example, the examples are abundant of the fact that the right wing I mean, they have created their own disaster. The Tea Party taking over the Republican Party has been disastrous. I mean, people of America, we used to have many Republicans on its board and now we're living in a very different time. That party has changed. It's become so extreme. And the yeah, Donald Trump is a perfect example of it. Marriage equality. It's interesting. There's not a single Republican presidential candidate that didn't come out against the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.

Speaker Yeah, yeah, oh, absolutely.

Speaker Is for a marriage between a man and a woman. Now there's different extremes. You have people calling to amend the Constitution. Scott Walker is a leader on that to amend the constitution to to ban marriage. Which would you if it was if it was a constitutional amendment? Same thing on Donald Trump. I mean, Donald Trump said that you would think that within hours everybody would have responded. But it took many days and then the responses were weak because that's how far it's changed. Donald Trump is now number two in the polls.

Speaker That was Blood-curdling to me.

Speaker Yeah, that's where they are. And it's really interesting. People often say they can't understand why they wouldn't do. They know they need to get Latinos in order to win the presidency. But just because you know you need them doesn't mean that you can go against your base. They've won elections. Twenty ten and twenty fourteen were a testament to the anti immigrant strains of that party. Sadly, they don't feel they really. And it used to be a bipartisan issue.

Speaker It's no longer we've heard about these death threats from Norman and letters from Falwell and Robertson were really death threats. Norman Mailer received death threats. We know about that.

Speaker I know that there are always there are always threats when we get them today to the organization. I'm sorry. That was my fault. There are always threats and we get them today from people who think we shouldn't be doing the work that we're doing. And they're constantly saying that they're going to try to stop us.

Speaker Oh, absolutely. Like emails and emails, letters and all the calls. Bomb threats, really. Well, that sounds scary.

Speaker I hate putting that in this thing in case people get the wrong idea. Oh, yeah, we got them.

Speaker Yeah. I don't think somebody chooses to watch a biography of Norman Lear, wants to bomb Jesus, I mean, God forbid, um.

Speaker You know, we. We can't find we're trying to track any of these this fall, well, mainly he did that. He mentioned people for directly.

Speaker I don't know if you have any records, but we do have are you sure you have the 911 piece? Right? There's Robertson and Falwell are discussing right after 9/11, and they're blaming. People for American Way, lesbians and the ACLU, we're getting it probably from the.

Speaker Yeah, and we don't have it, we have it, it's it's a great piece and it's basically.

Speaker They were talking they were talking on the Falwell and Robertson, we're talking after 9/11, and they were basically saying that, you know, we brought this on ourselves and then blamed it on lesbians, people for American way and the ACLU. That that they brought on these attacks by, you know, bringing down America.

Speaker What was that phone call like you got from that was before I was in this job, but it was amazing.

Speaker There are people like Al Franken who absolutely love that and are always talking about people, American women. And he always reads the quote about the. Actually, he has a very funny thing, I don't know if we have any we're on tape, but he has a very funny thing. He said that when they say that that was taken out of context, he said the only way that could be taken out of context is if you cut out.

Speaker I'd be a total idiot if I said something like that. Yes. What a badge of honor, though. Absolutely. Oh, yeah. Well, I think you don't. I think sometimes by the enemies you keep. Yeah. Yeah. So then again, I think you're often known by the enemies you keep.

Speaker Wow, that's really true.

Speaker And one thing I was actually thinking about, this whole interview, which made me also think about Norman, was that there is an incredible combination. And I think what Norman has brought to this organization, which is Norman, is a great combination of. Deep love and values and love of America, along with being a fighter. You know, that's not just about. Teaching, you know, peace and love, but a lot of times it's about fighting back and making sure that people know, you know, who who is out to undermine all the values that there are in America.

Speaker And I think that that is something that we cherish as an organization and hope that we continue to do. And that's something that's very deep in Norman soul.

Speaker Yeah, I mean, it's the spirit of the organization feels feels like him in terms of he might call himself a wet person. Yeah, but you don't hug your way to justice. You don't like high five, your weight, right, Humby? Right, right, right.

Speaker And he seems to understand or moderating a message, pulling your punches in order to get the other side to believe it. Norman Lear is a is a lover and a fighter.

Speaker Can you just tell? Elaborate a little bit more on how his personal characteristics trickle down into the spirit and attitude of your.

Speaker Well, I think that spirit of Norman, which we're always reminded of, that one of really articulating values and to not see God and not see the American symbolism, but also watching what they're doing and really studying it and fighting back, that is really at the essence of the work that we do.

Speaker Something I really love about Norman, it's like, you know, he's so loving and.

Speaker Tolerance and all these things that then help, you know, when you take a stand, it's for real and that is something that is. I think it's crucial to make anything happen.

Speaker Absolutely, and I think continuing fighting and organizing and never letting up again, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. You just have to keep on fighting every single day in order to get the America that we want.

Speaker I know, but isn't it tiring?

Speaker It is. But I think it's also invigorating again.

Speaker I mean, I'm so excited about the people that I get to work with are all the people that really have great hope for America. The other side wants lower taxes. Nobody on our side will ever get lower taxes by being involved in the work that we do. It's all about really creating a better America.

Speaker What do you think it's Norman going off after all these years, where does he get this creative energy from? I'm trying to I'm studying the man so I can figure out how to be like that at ninety two. Where is that come from?

Speaker I think. Anybody that knows Norman Olsen becomes a student of Norman, about how does he do it? How does he hope to get that energy?

Speaker I think it's an incredible curiosity that is never ending. And there's also an amazing optimism that even in a very intense fight. With not very nice people, he's doing it because it's an optimistic viewpoint that we're going have a better country and a better world if we win this fight, that optimism is invigorating. I think it's also infectious.

Speaker Very well said and by the way, one thing I will add also that what makes Norman the youngest person in the room?

Speaker Is often that he shares this optimism about the future with young people who might be just starting out of their activism, but they are, but they share an optimism and hope for the future. And that's never jaded and always optimistic.

Speaker Sorry, we just had a noise in the background during the last.

Speaker Does that start with you so you understand? Oh, OK, so I'm glad it wasn't me. It wasn't me. All right.

Speaker So one thing about Norman being the youngest person in the room is that often he shares with somebody who's 22 years old and incredible optimism for the country that that that with a hard fight and by staying with it over time, we're going to win is something that he has in common with people who are very, very young.

Speaker Excellent. What did you learn from Norman personally as a human being?

Speaker One thing I've learned is to lead with integrity from Norman, and I try to do that every day.

Speaker To never give up and to to keep on fighting and really connecting to the deeper values, I think sometimes in the political process it's often about winning and losing as opposed to really staying grounded in terms of what it's all about. You always ask that question, what's it all about, Alfie? And I think if you really ask that question, particularly in the world of social change and politics, I think it's a great reminder of the fact that, you know, these are these are important values that we're all fighting for, inclusion, getting everybody in the process. And one thing I've also learned is that if we can get everybody in this country or a lot of them are most of them voting, the country is going to change overnight.

Speaker It's so true, it's so simple, but yet. Seemingly with redistricting, et cetera and so forth, and so there's always.

Speaker Some blockage around the corner, but I'm hopeful the next election just to getting out again, we don't have to get everybody out, but just getting enough of right people out, it will. It will. The country will change. It's changed a lot over the last eight years and there's a long way to go. But, you know, we can see that. We can see the difference of what it's like when people don't turn out 2010 and 2014 and when they do and in 2008 and 2012.

Speaker I just can't believe we had to wait almost six years to hear our president sing Amazing Grace. Yeah, that was just like thank you. The whole week was like, oh, that's the dude reelected. No, I know he has his reasons. That's real nice to see that guy. This is zero, except I just thought that was so, by the way.

Speaker And an example of the programs, the Reverend Pinckney, the that was a member of both our young elected officials. He was in the original class and part of our African-American ministers network. Yeah. So he was like the intersection that a lot of people that are both ministers and young elected officials. And he was he was one of them was in both programs.

Speaker Oh, my God, I did not.

Speaker But we had folks that were there, but I couldn't. But it was. But talk about the front lines, I mean, that is invigorating the fact that these people are literally on the front lines and particularly in places like that. Yeah, and by the way, many of the people that are. You know, doing this work or doing it in really difficult places. I mean, this is not just about activists in New York and Los Angeles. I mean, many of the programs are really people who are doing incredible work in places like South Dakota and South Carolina and places like Mississippi and Alabama, where the work is really, really important.

Speaker Hostile territory. Exactly. What else do I need to know? What else do I need to know?

Speaker Did you did you want to talk about the textbooks? Did you or did you hear me about that? Yeah. Sorry. I can just tell you briefly about that.

Speaker Please tell me the textbooks stop in the Texas school book publishers. Yeah, I skipped it. Please. Thank you.

Speaker Great. Yeah. The 19. OK, great. Great. OK.

Speaker In 1980s, Mel and Norma Gabler in Texas were concerned about what was being.

Speaker I'm sorry, just put on the floor.

Speaker In the 1980s, a couple named Mel and Norma Gabler in Texas decided that they were concerned about the schools and wanted to bring the culture wars into textbooks and in schools and Texas being very important. At the time, it was pre Internet. What was going in the Texas textbooks was often going in textbooks all around the country. So they wanted to rewrite American history and wanted to rewrite science. So they went about that.

Speaker And people from People For was a leader in the fight against the Gabler's and their cohort to change textbooks in this country and to not give up on American history and not give up on teaching science and schools and how that turned out. The great thing is and it's a great reminder of the important work still to do. It was a tremendous victory in terms of that, in terms of focusing national attention on what people were learning in schools. But it also shows you those battles are still still going on today. There's still, you know, major fights about things like biology, teaching, creationism, climate science, you know, very prevalent in terms of those battles are still going on today.

Speaker Did you see that film about the Texas school book case?

Speaker Yes. Yes, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Speaker A while ago, I thought it was quite good to get inside the discussions, but it was like a young filmmaker can't recall the name. When when when do you employ Norman? When like when do you need to use that? What do you bring about? Like what is it like you carefully decide when you should publicly speak about something like did he talk publicly about about what's happening in Texas if he has. I don't I'm not I'm not aware of that. Again, I'm thinking of more areas. I can we can be like, oh, we should find that piece of footage.

Speaker Well, I think and I'm sure you get all the tweets and stuff right. He's been he's been writing a lot about it. I mean, in terms of using Norman, I think nobody has a better sense of how when their voice can be helpful and addictive than Norman and when it's best coming from somebody from a certain community. Norman has been attuned to that ever since the beginning of people of American way, which was really about saying, no, there should be many voices.

Speaker So it's not you know, he's very conscious of that know, as are we in terms of where we're going. It could really add value by having his voice in the mix where it's appropriate.

Speaker Right. It's smart. You don't we use them, right? Smart.

Speaker What's it all about, Norman is a good title for this movie, by the way, I'm taking requests looking for a title. Tell me what else I need.

Speaker This is very great, I feel like being covered to see if there's any other.

Speaker I did some notes and we've, you know, obviously. We're always, always going to be limited in how much we can cover. Yeah, in the. At one point I was going to make about the.

Speaker This question will tell me, like, who are the progeny of Norman when it comes to the effective Hollywood activist base? I have a few people in mind, I was going to say maybe Cloney and maybe Russell. Is there any way that he. Open the way for this this friend of ours.

Speaker I think that Norman, leading by example, has really created many people who become active in social causes in the entertainment industry. And I'm always amazed how many people say Norman Lear was the one who inspired me to get involved.

Speaker We interviewed George Clooney for the film. Yes, how do they go? Was it you know what? I missed it. Can you believe it? But my co-director was here and apparently he gave us a great interview we're using in the film is very smart.

Speaker Right. I know. This is amazing. Yeah. I do think that there is nobody like Norman, though.

Speaker Tell me about that. Put the people down there.

Speaker Can I. Can I tell me. Tell me.

Speaker Well, I mean, the one thing it is kind of a little bit of a negative because there's you know, there's I mean that there is nobody like Norman who's willing to back something for decades and stay in these fights and back it with his money, creativity, time and full attention.

Speaker There are there's nobody like Norman Lear.

Speaker I know, and that is like who what kind of people can populate to replace this verb?

Speaker I mean, this is a real thing. I mean, who's it going to be? Someone has to do. Why isn't there. Is it just too much of a pain in the ass the for one career one's career? Why?

Speaker I think it's a lot of reasons. A lot of reasons behind it. No one, you know, having the resources, having the time, having a longevity, having the deep passion and the great knowledge, I mean, that's a lot to put together. And I don't think it's we can't wait for another know. We have to just do what we can with a wonderful number of people who who have become activists. By the way, a lot of times people change their passion, too. I mean, you know. Sure, activism can sometimes be like fashion that can change. But he is stuck with it in a very deep level.

Speaker We interviewed Russell Simmons and, you know, he was talking about I want to be the next norm and I want to I want to be that person. He was inspired also. I mean, obviously, he's an activist, but as much as well as the right things, but.

Speaker Yeah, it's surprisingly few and far between. People that will step up.

Speaker Yeah, there's tremendous people like Rob Reiner, I mean, it was an amazingly effective person. Interesting. Did you interview him for the. Yes, but what an interesting thing that he has become such an effective. Voice and in in activism, yeah, and activism all forms, whether it be marriage equality or, you know, early education, I mean, very, very effective and interesting that that being Norman surrogate son, you know, is basically credited for even introducing those ideas.

Speaker Yeah. You know, that's absolutely a direct, direct connection, I think, in terms of activism.

Speaker I think Norman has taught a lot of people how to fish.

Speaker Yeah, tell me about Norma's decision to buy the Declaration of Independence. Were you around during that time?

Speaker I was around, but not directly involved. There probably would be other.

Speaker I feel really happy with this.

Speaker Great, let me just see if there's anything else I read a couple of other other things which I.

Speaker In terms of making the connection of neurons, which I think about often is Norman's work in terms of World War Two or defeating fascism and being involved with the great social justice movements and this being kind of the next phase in that.

Speaker Let's talk about that, because we're definitely covering his World War two service and his first blush with anti-Semitism as a child. But we're going into all of that, right? It would be great if you could.

Speaker An important thing to know about Norman is the fact that whether it be dealing with anti-Semitism as a child, fighting fascism, as a bomber pilot in World War Two, being really on the forefront of all the social movements of the 20th century, it's only appropriate that now in the 21st century that he's really equipped an organization to be dealing with the battles going forward, which are all along the same lines. There are many of the same battles that come, but they're all cut from the same cloth. And Norman has been a leader throughout that whole process.

Speaker That's so great, I had they don't have anyone making.

Speaker Bringing them together so that we see in the background, the other jewels here is up in the.

Speaker Yeah, and they're not the only other thing, which I think I don't have in here and mentioned is the.

Speaker The fact that the you know, the far right is now think tanks, media empires, colleges, for example, Jerry Falwell, you're dealing with that. There's this incredible infrastructure now which creates their permanence, which is why there needs to be a long time for where we started.

Speaker Right. OK. OK, and now. Right. Right. Right, right. OK.

Speaker When people for American Way that was founded, there were a lot of very vocal preachers, televangelist, but that was really the most important part of it. But now they've really morphed into Norman was very smart and seeing the fact that they create an empire of think tanks, colleges, not for profit organizations and media watchdogs all throughout the right wing, and have been doing it very thoughtfully and fully funded for decades. And that's what requires organizations like People for the American Way to fight this back in the long term and know that it's got to combat this vast infrastructure of the right wing.

Michael Keegan
Interview Date:
2015-07-07
Runtime:
1:05:40
Keywords:
None
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
N/A
MLA CITATIONS:
"Michael Keegan, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 07 Jul. 2015, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1047
APA CITATIONS:
(2015, July 07). Michael Keegan, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1047
CHICAGO CITATIONS:
"Michael Keegan, Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). July 07, 2015. Accessed January 27, 2022 https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/archive/interviews/1047

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