"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Saturday, April 29, 2006,4:23 PM
America wake up
by Ernesto Cortes JR.*

Good afternoon. I want to thank, first of all, the Philosophical Society of Texas for inviting me here. If it hadn't been for you, I would have never, ever been to a city that I'd only heard about in song. I'm told it's the prettiest town anybody's ever seen, or, at least, that's what the song said. I hope that that becomes evident to me as I drive through it.

I was struck, as I was listening to Ms. Edelman, that maybe the best thing for me to do is to say "Amen, ditto, I agree." What more can I say? What more can anybody say about the challenges and the opportunities we have to really renew our most important and hallowed traditions of fairness, and equality and participation? But I guess I can't get away with that. So, I'll try to figure out if there's another angle that I can come at, notwithstanding that Ms. Edelman has just about stolen all of my thunder, taken most of my stories and made them better, and given me very little to work with. I'll have to throw away my script and try something new.

When I grew up in San Antonio-Ms. Edelman's talk reminded me about my early childhood-things were kind of like they were for her. The way I used to put it was that when I grew up, there were 250 adults organized against me. My father had six brothers and six sisters, my mother had eight brothers and five sisters, and we came from a Mexican Catholic family. My grandfather was kind of the patriarch, on my mother's side, of all of us. And, of course, all of my aunts and uncles had commadres and compadres. We want to St. Cecilia's Catholic Church and at that time, a Mexican Republican was somebody you just looked at, but didn't stare at. At least, that's what my father said. "Look, but don't stare." Okay. "Don't be impolite." Because we were all part of the Democratic Party. In fact, one of the highlights of my young life was when my Uncle Raul Cortes brought Adlai Stevenson as the first Democratic national candidate to the West Side of San Antonio in 1952. My father worked for Pepsi Cola for a while at the time, because they were hiring Mexicans. This was kind of an early version of affirmative action. And he got into trouble with all of his brothers and sisters, because he sort of suggested that maybe in '52 that voting Republican wouldn't be an evil act. Anyhow, I just want to give you a sense of kind of the culture that I grew up in, which was one where there were all these networks of relationships of family and congregation and church. When I went to school in the morning, the bus driver knew who I was. When I walked to school as a young person, it was kind of like walking through Checkpoint Charlie at different places, because everybody kind of would make sure that I was going where I was supposed to go.

So at the tender age of seventeen, I got out of town as fast as I could to go to not any place nearly as wonderful as Spelman, but A&M.

But I guess what Marian's remarks remind me of is how important those intermediate institutions were, those networks of relationships were to my own development and my own upbringing. And I was particularly struck by my own upbringing when I began to organize, in East Los Angeles in 1976, to create what became the United Neighborhood Organization of East LA. When my wife and I went to a parish festival and met with the leaders of what became the UNO organization, they were lamenting how that particular festival had been a fiasco, a failure, nobody came, because there had been a drive-by shooting. And what struck me more and more, as we began to try to find people who were interested in getting involved in building what became the UNO organization, that instead of 250 adults organized against one kid, as it was for me in San Antonio, it was the reverse, fifty kids organized against every adult, and the adults living under virtual house arrest, afraid to go out, afraid to go to church, afraid to go to work, afraid to go out anywhere, and the city's virtually living under a state of martial law. Informal, to be sure, but martial law nonetheless. Curfews, self-imposed curfews by adults, leaving the streets run by their children.

Now, unfortunately, when I got back to San Antonio and went back to Houston to begin organizing, we saw the same patterns begin to emerge. I was struck that Texas was beginning to go the way of Los Angeles. And now, as I go back to Los Angeles and look at what's going on there today, I'm reminded of Lincoln Steffens' remark, that I've seen the future, but it doesn't work. Because what you're beginning to see in places like Los Angeles, or places which are undergoing incredible polarization of class, and race, and ethnicity. This past Friday there was a front-page article in the Los Angeles Times, a very disturbing, disquieting article, about the fact that the African-American middle class has virtually left the city of Los Angeles and moved to Ventura and outlying counties, and even back to the south, afraid of the violence, afraid of the turbulence that exists in inner city Los Angeles. Places like the historic African-American communities, like Compton, and Watts, are left to only those who are very, very old and those who are very, very young and very vulnerable. The only immigration into these communities that is taking place is among people who are immigrants from other countries, who also, unfortunately, have to be counted among the most vulnerable. What's going on in Los Angeles reminds me of some analyses that I've read by people, like Frank Levy and Richard Murnane, who have written a book called, Teaching the New Basic Skills, which talks about the growing inequality of power and wealth in our society, and the decline in real wages that is taking place. Even white males who have high school diplomas have seen a precipitous decline in their real wages during this period of time, notwithstanding what's happening to African-American, or Hispanic, or Latino males, or females. I'm also reminded of Rebecca Blank's book, It Takes a Nation. She talks about how the economic growth is no longer an effective anti-poverty program, that, in fact, unlike the 1960s, where you saw economic growth reducing poverty, in the late '80s and '90s you've seen just the opposite, that as we become more and more affluent, as we see our real gross domestic product increasing, we're also seeing poverty rates increasing at the same time. There has been this fundamental disconnect between increases in GDP, and even increases in productivity. I was always taught, when I took economics as a young freshman, that the whole neoclassical theory hinged upon John Bates Clark's notion that as productivity increased, real wages were supposed to go up. There was this historic social compact, which existed in the United States from 1865 to 1973, that as productivity increased, real wages increased. I know that there were some things you had to do, in order to get those wages to go up. There was a fellow cited by Harry Johnson that said-it was a University of Chicago economist, no liberal, by the way-that there're two ways to get those wage rates up to the productivity increases. One is by investment in human capital. The other is class conflict. I used to tell people that I preferred the first, but I'm not unwilling to do the second, regrettably.

Unfortunately, at the same time that we've seen productivity go up, we've seen real wages go down. And, of course, there are some people who argue that that's partially because you've seen the power of organized people decline at the same time you've seen the power of organized money increase. Alinsky used to teach us at the Industrial Areas Foundation that there're two ways to get power; one is to organize money. People like Bill Gates have got lots of power. People like Rupert Murdoch have a lot of power. People like Warren Buffet have lots of power. Then the other way you get power is to organize people. And, unfortunately, as my friend, Frank Levy, says, organized capital has got organized labor on the run right now, because we have seen a significant decline in our capacity to organize working people to be able to negotiate and bargain. We've seen a significant decline in our capacity to participate effectively. We've seen both political parties kind of disconnected from their constituencies, or the constituencies that they traditionally represented. I used to say that the Republican Party represents those people who make over three hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year, and the Democratic Party represents those people who make over a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year. The rest of us folks have got to make do.

And I was kind of reminded of this even further when my friends in the BUILD Organization went to see Barbara Mikulski and began to talk to her about strategies for the Democratic Party, and she said to them, in a candid moment, "What do you mean? There is no Democratic Party. What we've got are franchise agreements." Lloyd Bentsen and Ann Richards, they got the Texas franchise, but there are no political parties. What we have are these permanent campaign, marketing campaign organizations. In fact, I'm reminded that a woman by the name of Kathleen Jameson, who used to teach at the University of Texas until she went to the University of Pennsylvania, used to tell her students, "If you want to understand electioneering in the United States, you should not take political science courses, because in political science courses we will teach you a lot of irrelevant stuff. Particularly, we'll teach you about all those dead white, European males, like Aristotle and Montesquieu, and we'll also talk about issues, and we'll talk about the great movements. And if you really want to understand electioneering, you really need to understand marketing campaigns. Because elections today are not about issues, and debates, or negotiations or agreements. Elections are now about how we persuade people to buy our product versus another, and that means you've got to master marketing technique. You've got to master the thirty-second spots and attack videos, and all that sort of thing." So, like I said, I don't think we do politics anymore. Every four years we have what I think is this quadrennial electronic plebiscite, which has nothing to do with real politics. And, to me, that's tragic, because I think if there is one thing, one idea that the United States has to contribute to the rest of the world, it is its understanding of democratic politics.

Alexis de Tocqueville, I'm told, when he came to the United States to study ostensibly prisons and other eleemosynary institutions, was really here to study American politics. And he thought it just might work. You know about Tocqueville, of course. He was a French aristocrat whose father had been guillotined, and for that reason, was not too keen on revolutionaries or revolutions. He was concerned because when he saw the counter-revolution take place, he thought that they were making the same mistakes again. So he came to the United States and hoped to find something different. And he found a couple of interesting things. One was that even though we kind of went crazy every four years with national political elections, the politics that really mattered to people was not the politics of national elections, but the politics of the local communities, the politics of the school board and the township.

The second thing that impressed him was the way in which people conducted politics-he said that Americans had this disposition to form all kinds of associations. But what he was interested in about this kind of associational democracy, which he wrote about, was, number one, this democracy was based upon understanding of people's self interest. Number two, is that it involved all kinds of bargaining and reciprocal arrangements, so that people would get together and work on, for example, raising a barn, and then those people would get together and work on organizing a school district. So what impressed him about was this bargaining, and negotiating, and reciprocal relationships that emerged, which began to build some kind of trust between those folks.

The third thing which impressed him was the fact that the leadership that emerged, that developed, was institutionally connected. It was connected to congregations, connected to townships and to other institutions. So, Tocqueville thought that maybe it might work, although he was concerned about the fact that there were some dark undersides to this whole American experiment, and that was that whole groups of people were left out, to wit, African-American males, women, and white men without property, and, of course, slaves. Because of this, Tocqueville developed a political philosophy, which I kind of share, which is to be conservative about family, and community and tradition, tradition meaning the living ideas of the dead versus traditionalism, the dead ideas of the living, and liberal about civil rights, and radical about power and participation.

Tocqueville also gave us another interesting insight. He thought that we had, what Americans had, what he called an Augustinian soul. And part of that Augustinian soul was our capacity to withdraw into ourselves, to become self-absorbed, to become only concerned with that which was our private interests. But he felt that that was not so bad, because there was an antidote to that Augustinian soul. And that antidote was participation in face-to-face local political activity, which enabled people to kind of transcend their private interests, to transcend their egotism, their narcissism, and their contentment. The other dimension of the Augustinian soul, which he was concerned about, was our inclination, which came out of our enterprise culture, which he thought was good and positive, our inclination and our capacity to generate wealth and prosperity, but also to overreach and to make larger claims on life than were appropriate.In a word, greed. But he felt that there was an antidote toward that inclination, and the antidote was the existence of families, and networks of families, and other intermediate institutions, and religion, congregations and faith-based institutions. And he felt those institutions, those networks of relationships would constrain this inclination to overreach and to make larger claims on life than were appropriate.

Now, obviously, you know where I'm going with this, and that is given the fact that we have now created this new technological revolution, this globalization of our economy, this thrust towards transcending national sovereignty, we have also, at the same time, given its potential for creating large amounts of economic wealth and creating all kinds of opportunities, undermined our capacity to form local communities. Peter Drucker wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review, where he talked about the fact that given the imperatives of technology and the logic of the marketplace, community values have to suffer. And that's the way it'll have to be. But then he lamented, if that's so, then how do we begin to seek some sort of understanding of what is the common good?

Now, I'll argue that if we are going to create, in fact, those values of trust and reciprocity, and solidarity, which I think are foundational not only for the creation of a democratic culture, but also for our enterprise culture as well-Kenneth Arrow wrote a very fine book called The Limits of Organization, where he talked about those values of reciprocity and trust that are essential for the creation of our enterprise culture. And Walter Oken has written Why the Market Has Its Place, because the market is this wonderful, powerful institution for generating wealth and making choices, and has its place, but the market has to be kept in its place. And not just by government, but also be society. But if we do not have those thick networks of relationships, which enable us to constrain that enterprise culture, if we do not have those thick networks of relationships that enable us to develop what Bellah describes as habits of the heart, those patterns of behavior which Tocqueville thought were so important to associational democracy, then we have to think about ways in which we can recreate them.

Now, the other insight that I thought Ms. Edelman gave us was that we cannot go back to the 1950s. We cannot recreate that kind of wonderful time, which wasn't always so wonderful, when I had to undergo all the constraints of those 250 adults. But we can begin to think seriously about trying to initiate a strategy to recreate or to revitalize the institutions of family, congregation, neighborhood, labor union, and professional association, which can establish a different kind of politics. A politics which is centered on the values and visions of a free and open society, democrat with a small 'd', and the responsibilities of a republican culture, republican with a small 'r'. I would argue that in order for such a politics to work, it has to be also connected and centered in the values of our three great faith traditions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We are all people of the book. But if we are going to understand the imperatives of those traditions, we are also going to have to recognize that we cannot be people of the book, we cannot be true to those values, unless we understand that we have to create the mixed multitude, the mixed multitude where our traditions of Sinai and Pentecost enable us to create the sense of peoplehood, people who are able to engage in a covenantal relationship with our creator.

Several years ago a fellow by the name of Sheldon Wolin wrote an essay in a book called The Presence of the Past. He had some reflections on a great biblical story, which I'd like to share with you, about two brothers in the Book of Genesis. Well, they were twins, and these twins, of course, were Esau and Jacob. And Esau and Jacob were born to one of the great patriarchs, Isaac, and his wife, Rebecca. Now, you know about Esau. Esau was his father's favorite. He was Isaac's favorite. Esau was a wild kind of a guy. He kind of got his mother all upset because he used to like to roam around. But Esau was also hairy, he was a hunter. He was a man of few words. He was kind of what I call a '50s kind of a guy, all right. Now, his brother, Jacob, was a bit different. Jacob was his mother's favorite. He was a great cook. He was smooth of skin. Jacob knew his way around a tent. A cunning, shrewd guy, he was kind of a '90s kind of fellow. Now, one day Esau was out hunting and had been unsuccessful, and he was starving and he was famished. And he saw his brother, Jacob, making this stew. I guess it was lentil stew or pottage stew, I forget which. He saw his brother, Jacob, making this stew, and he came to Jacob and he said, "Jacob, I'm starving to death. I've been unsuccessful. Feed me." Jacob says, "Brother, you know you can count on me, but what do I get for it?" And Esau says, "Brother, what do you want?" Jacob says to Esau, "Sell me your birthright." Esau says, "Well, my birthright is not going to feed me right now. What good is it? I'll starve to death with my birthright. It's not going to keep me warm at night. I can't make love to my birthright. After all, my birthright is my identity, my father's obligations, it's a burden to me. Of course, I'll sell you my birthright." And we're told in the Book of Genesis that from that day forward, Esau despised his birthright. Wolin suggests, and I tend to agree, that you and I, we are Esau, because we have been willing to sell our birthright for material things.

What is our birthright? Wolin argues that our birthright is our politicalness, our capacity to come together and to negotiate, and to deliberate about the issues that concern us; the raising of our children, the education of our children, the disposition of our families, and what happens to our communities. Or as Aristotle defined politics: that which has to do with those deliberations, which take place around the Agora, the public square, those deliberations about family, property and education.

Now, of course, Aristotle was a fairly limited fellow. He was one of these dead, white, European males that my daughter always tells me about and thinks are irrelevant. And to be sure, Aristotle had a very, very limited perspective, because Aristotle thought that only certain groups of people should be able to do this political thing, because he thought that what made us human was our capacity to do politics, because there was something about us which only emerged when we were able to engage in these kind of deliberations. But, unfortunately, Aristotle didn't think that all of us were human. He thought some of us, because we were so absorbed with our needs and our necessities, that we were so absorbed with our private interests, and I'm told, and political theorists here can correct me if I'm incorrect, that the way Aristotle described the word 'private,' or the Greek word for 'private,' meant idiot. Somebody who was totally concerned with his needs and necessities, or her needs and necessities. Aristotle thought, therefore, that those who were idiots were women, slaves, immigrants and people who work with their hands. Wolin argues that one way of looking at our political tradition, one way of thinking about our birthright is that it is about the struggle of those people that Aristotle thought were idiots, gaining their rightful place at the Agora, at the public square. It was the struggle of working people in the Labor Movement, of African-Americans and other people of color in the Civil Rights Movement, of immigrants, of women in the Women's Movement. It was a struggle for Jacksonian Democracy. It was the very basic struggle, which was a source of our own political traditions and our foundational documents. That is our birthright. No question.

There are some other dimensions to our birthright. Our burden, racism, oppression of women, oppression of white working people, certain imperialistic kind of tendencies, and indications of our limits to overreach ourselves. There are some things that we ought to apologize for. The Japanese aren't the only people that ought to apologize, to people that they've kind of picked on. And I know that's probably an unpopular thing. I wish that someday the rest of you would apologize to us Mexicans, I mean, I like being part of the United States, but you still owe us an apology, okay. And particularly, you owe me an apology for having to have to go through what I went through in San Antonio, because every year I had to celebrate, for one solid week, the defeat of the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto. Now, I'm a kid who grew up in a town which is 53 percent Mexicano, and I always wondered how come we celebrate the defeat of the Mexican Army every year. Anyways, I don't want to go on and on. Yes, I do, but I won't. Anyhow, that's also a part of our birthright. That's also part of our heritage. And we have to embrace that burden unless you believe that what's a little slavery between friends, and I didn't do it, so I'm not responsible.

Anyhow, my point is that Wolin has said that we are like Esau, willing to sell our birthright for material things. Or, as Ms. Edelman suggests, willing, because we are ahistorical, to give up our responsibilities and rights as citizens, to become consumers and clients.

Somebody asked the question about the role of Madison Avenue. I'm told that a child who is born in America, who lives to be seventy-five years of age, will spend three years of their life watching television commercials. Three years of their life watching television commercials. I happen to think that that's a formative dimension in their development. I happen to think that helps shape who they are and how they behave. There was a fellow by the name of Danby, who's a book critic of the New Yorker magazine, who wrote an essay about three summers ago. In that essay he argued that in order to raise a child today, you have to be a bully. And I've gone through those kind of tough, hard negotiations with my own sixteen-year-old son. I've won some of them. I won the battle against Nintendos, I won the battle against hundred and twenty-five dollar shoes, but I've lost some other battles. But it's hard to fight a sixteen-year-old articulate, tough kid, when you don't have any allies. And he's got enormous allies, okay. He's got enormous leverage about what other kids do, and how other kids behave. Danby argues in that article that it used to be that kids, before the credit cards and the charge accounts that so many kids have today, would grow a soul and develop a personhood. They would develop a soul before they became consumers and customers. But now, he says, it's the other way around. Most of our kids are becoming consumers and customers long before they develop a soul, long before they develop a personhood. That, unfortunately, is the product or function of our willingness to sell our birthright.

The great Czech poet, Havel, talked about how in 1968 when the Russian tanks came into Prague, the Czech people, the intellectuals and the middle class, made a deal with the nomenklatura, and the deal was as follows: that we, the nomenklatura, will provide you, the Czech intellectuals and middle class, with all the goods and services of a mass consumption society, the good restaurants, the good homes, the fine cars, the summer places to retreat to, in exchange for which we will make all the political decisions. And so, you can quit your civic associations and quit your political movements. Havel argues that the Czech people, as a result of that deal, underwent an internal migration. They withdrew into themselves and they became self-absorbed with their private lives and their private concerns. Of course, they had a pretty good excuse; they had Russian tanks at their head.

Hannah Arendt argues in her book Men in Dark Times that the German middle class, during Nazi Germany, underwent the same kind of internal migration. They also withdrew into themselves. They also became self-absorbed. They also became concerned with their private concerns of raising families, and getting jobs, and having the goods and services of a mass consumption society. Of course, they had an excuse, too; they had gone through the turbulence of World War I, the Great War, in defeat, and all that it implied. We see the same phenomenon, unfortunately, occurring here in the United States. Christopher Lasch talks about the culture of narcissism. John Kenneth Galbraith calls it the content of the contented class. Robert Reich calls it the secession of the successful, the withdrawal of those who are affluent, those who are cosmopolitan, those who are well off, well read and well connected, into their private concerns. And so, they all argue that more and more of upper middle class suburbanites are becoming disconnected from the concerns of ordinary people. I just read an article in the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly, which talks about how the Reagan Revolution has produced this group of upper middle class Republican yuppies, who have very little concern with their communities and very little concern with any other children other than their own, and who are now also withdrawing into this kind of self-absorbed, narcissistic kind of world. I will argue with you that unless we begin to restore the vibrance and vitality of our political institutions, unless we begin to restore the connectiveness of our intermediate institutions of family, congregations and schools, that we will eventually undergo the same kind of polarization, the same kind of discontent as Nazi Germany, and other countries as well. We will see increasing polarization between young and old and between races.

Now, there is an antidote. There is a story. There is hope. And that hope is that we can begin to recreate that social fabric, to reweave that social fabric, to reclaim our traditions. Now, that's what organizing is all about for me. It's not just about service. It's not just about being nice and being good. It's about learning that wonderful thing that we all have to learn from our political tradition, and that is politics. Not the politics of electoral activity, but the politics of negotiation, deliberation, and engagement. Now, in order for that kind of politics to occur, it requires that literally hundreds of thousands of ordinary men and women begin to tap their energies and to tap their capacities. And that requires an understanding of a universal that we try to teach in the Industrial Areas Foundation, called The Iron Rule. The Iron Rule is: never, ever do for anybody what he or she can do for themselves. It's as important to an organizer as The Golden Rule, because what The Iron Rule says is that people have the capacity to act on their own behalf, if they're mentored and if they are taught. Now, The Iron Rule-don't let me be confusing-The Iron Rule does not rationalize social Darwinism. It does not rationalize root, hog or die. What The Iron Rule says is that we have to invest in the development and the capacity of ordinary people. But what is inimical to the development of an Iron Rule is another unfortunate tradition in our polity and in our institutional structure, and that tradition is embodied in another story. And that story comes from a book written by a great, I like to say Mexican author, but my wife always gets mad at me, because the guy's name is Dostoevsky. And she says he's not a Mexican, he's a Russian.And I say yeah, but he understood the Mexican soul. Therefore, I'd like to claim him as a Mexican, but anyway he was a Russian.

Dostoevsky wrote this book called The Brothers Karamazov, which is a great book. And in the book is a chapter called "The Grand Inquisitor." And I know all of you, because you're members of the Philosophical Society, have read and memorized that book, so you'll permit me if I kind of summarize it very, very quickly. And summarize that particular chapter, which has to do with the nightmare that one brother tells to the other. Ivan tells his younger brother that this nightmare, which takes place during the middle of the Spanish Inquisition, Christ comes back to Earth. And he's recognized by all the people. And they make a big to-do of him, miracles are performed, a young girl was brought back to life. But he's also recognized by The Grand Inquisitor, who has him arrested, and them throws him into a dungeon. The Grand Inquisitor comes to see Christ in the dead of night. He says, "Why did you come back? You had your shot. We tried it your way. It doesn't work. For 1,400 years we tried it your way. We offered men freedom. We offered them hope. We offered them opportunity. They don't want to be free. They want to be taken care of. They want magic and mystery and authority in their lives. And after frustrations and pain, and sorrow, and agony and despair we finally got smart. And we went over and we did a deal with the other guy. And today in your name using your words we serve him. And we give people what they want.

They want to be told what to do. They can't even feed themselves. They have to give us the bread, so that we can give it back to them. They can't accept the responsibility and the anxiety. They don't want to be free. So be gone, lest we have to crucify you one more time. So the story ends. Christ kisses him and then goes into the dead of night.

Now, unfortunately, the Grand Inquisitor, from my perspective, is alive and well in most of our institutions. The Grand Inquisitor is alive and well in our universities. The Grand Inquisitor is alive and well in our workplace, in our churches, and in our schools, where the definition of a lecture course is where the notes of the instructor go from his notebook to that of the student, without ever going through the head of either one of them. Neal Poston, in his book The End of Education, says that our children enter schools as question marks, with energy and vitality, and leave as periods. Seymour Sarason says, "Public education is the only legalized form of child abuse we have in the United States."

Well, the antidote for the Grand Inquisitor, for his attitude that adults are children, for his attitude that they have to be taken care of, is what we call The Iron Rule, which is lifted up in another story. And, unfortunately, Ms. Edelman took the thunder out of that story, because that story is of another great leader by the name of Moses.

Now, as Marian Wright explained to all of you, Moses was raised in the House of Pharaoh by the daughter of Pharaoh, to be a leader. But he was also raised by a Hebrew woman. Now, the word 'Hebrew' is an interesting term. It does not refer to ethnicity. It does not mean Jewish. It means someone who lives on the margins, someone who is outcast, someone who is considered desperate, an outlaw. David becomes Hebrew to Saul, and Moses becomes Hebrew to Pharaoh. Well, Moses was taught to identify with those who are Hebrew. So one day he came across an Egyptian overseer striking and beating up on a Hebrew. And the Book of Exodus tells us Moses, seeing no one-now, I used to think that that meant that there was nobody else around. But then I learned later that what that meant was that there was nobody who was willing to act like a human being, or like a mensch. And Moses, seeing no one, struck and killed the Egyptian, buried him deep in the sand.

The next day he comes across two Hebrews fighting with each other, and says, "You should be brothers. You should be organizing. You should be in solidarity with each other. You shouldn't be fighting." And they say, "Oh, yeah, Moses, okay, you want us to follow you and get us in trouble, like you're in trouble. Who gave you the right to tell us what to do, Moses? Who made you our lord? And what are you gonna do to me, Moses, if I don't do what you tell me? Are you gonna kill me, like you did the Egyptian?" Well, Moses realizes he's in trouble now. So he splits. And realizes that he's not just in trouble but that his own people have turned against him, because the Egyptian didn't squeal on him. So who squeals on him? Well, his own people. So Moses says "I don't need this. I'm a smart guy." So he goes to the suburbs. He becomes part of the culture of narcissism. Gets a big home, marries Jethro's daughter, the boss's daughter.

But Moses has got a problem. His problem is his identity, his memory, his story. His story, which was taught to him by that Hebrew woman. And that story's so powerful, and so meaningful, and so significant to him that it confronts him. And it's like a burning bush, a fire that doesn't consume. It's what we call, in the eye of tradition, the kind of anger which is cold and calculating, anger with is different from rage, anger which comes from loss and grief.Anger, which is understood in the Norse word 'ang', which means loss and grief.

Anyhow, Moses realizes what he's got to do, and when Yahweh confronts him and says, "I want you to go out and free my people," he says to Yahweh, "Wait a minute. The people have rejected my leadership. Who will I say sent me?" And Yahweh says, "Don't worry about it, Moses. I'm gonna organize a sponsoring committee for you. You tell them that the God of Abraham and Sarah, and Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel, tell them that God sent you." Moses says, "Wait a minute, Yahweh. Wait a minute, God. You know, I've been away a long time. I don't know the language of the streets anymore. I stutter. My Spanish is rusty." God says, "Look, Moses, you're not supposed to be the charismatic leader. They've got lots of charismatic leaders. They've got your brother, Aaron, your sister Miriam. They've got Joshua. They've got Caleb. Your job is to be the organizer. The job of the organizer is to identify, test out, and train leadership. The job of the organizer is to put together organizing teams in parishes and schools. The job of the organizer is to teach people how to act on their own behalf, never violating The Iron Rule. The job of the organizer is to get people to start off small with small issues, and then get in bigger and bigger fights, and to begin to build larger and larger coalitions. That's the job of the organizer, Moses. That's the kind of work you've got to do." So Moses finally realizes he's got to do that, so he does it.

You know, the big story, and I don't have any time to go through it too much, but, you know, he frees the people from Pharaoh's army. They ask for a day off and then he gives them manna from Heaven. But the Hebrews are like a lot of us. They say to Moses, "Moses, what have you done for us lately? This manna is boring, it tastes terrible. Back in Egypt we used to have it good. Back in Egypt we used to have garlic, and leeks, and cucumbers, and we had fish every day for free, and now we've got nothing to eat but this crummy manna. It tastes terrible, it's boring. We want some meat." Now, can you imagine, 500,000 people all screaming, "We want meat." And it gets louder and louder. 500,000 people screaming for meat! And so, finally, Moses goes to God and says, "God, why do you stick me with this problem. First of all, you're the one who made them the chosen people. You're the one who made the commitment to them, not I, but I'm stuck with them. I've got to carry them around on my breast like a wet nurse. Where am I gonna get meat for 500,000 people? If this the way you want to treat me, why don't you kill me right now and get it over with?" This is all in the Book of Numbers if you want to read it. God says to Moses, "Look, Moses, you're being a jerk. Your father-in-law, Jethro, explained it to you. You gather your seventy best leaders, people that you know you can rely on, people that you can trust. Bring those seventy to the tent of presence for a meeting. Don't just get anybody, Moses. You've got to understand organizing is being selective. It means going after people who are relational, people who you've tested out in small group meetings and small actions. People you know you can count on to be reciprocal, to understand the need for deliberation. You bring those people, and you tell them that they've got to accept the burden that's on you, because you're not going to violate The Iron Rule." So Moses finally does what he's told. He gathers his seventy best elders, brings them to the tent of the presence, and puts the responsibility that he's feeling on them. He tells them, "You want meat to eat? There's some quail out there. Go out and organize some foraging parties. I'll work with you, I'll guide you, but I am not going to do it for you."

Now, I told that story to the Valley Interfaith Leaders in the Rio Grande Valley when we were going through, a big freeze in 1983. The Reagan Administration sent down a fellow by the name of Tom Pauken, who was supposed to bring us bread, but ended giving us scorpions. And you can read his side of the story in the book that he wrote, where he doesn't say very many kind things about me. At any rate we went through a kind of beleaguered situation, and we began to regroup and reorganize, and I told that story to our people. But I brought with me a scripture scholar, because I knew I would be saying some things which maybe they weren't used to. And he was okay with what I said, except he said to me, "You know, you only told half the story." I said, "What do you mean, I told only half the story?" He said, "Well, the other half of the story is in Luke's gospel, but it's not quail in Luke's gospel. It's loaves and fishes. It's not Moses in Luke's gospel, it's the disciples. It's not Yahweh in Luke's gospel, it's Jesus of Nazareth. But it's the same story. The disciples come to Jesus and say, 'We've got all these people. We cannot feed them. Send them away. Send them back to Mexico. Send them back to Haiti. Send them back where they came from. We can't take care of them. We can't educate them. We can't feed them.' And Jesus says to them, "Feed them yourselves." They said, 'We can't. All we've got are these five loaves and two fishes.'" This is my interpretation, the Cortes interpretation of the story. "Jesus says, 'You guys must think I just got off the boat. Don't show me what you've got for them, show me what you have for yourself,' because travelers at that time used to carry food and drink inside their clothes, but it was for themselves. He says, 'Because if you are willing to risk and model risk taking behavior, they'll emulate you. So, bring the people together in small groups and if you show them what you've got, what little you've got, they'll be willing to show you what they've got.'" Now, there's two ways of looking at the miracle; one is Jesus said, "Shazam," and everybody had a Big Mac and a Coke. Or the other way to look at it is that there were people there who hated each other. Nabateans, Samaritans, Galileeans, Greeks, Romans, all kinds of different groups of people who hated each other and mistrusted each other. The miracle was that by modeling risk-taking behavior, by modeling calculated vulnerability, by showing what they had, everybody there had a little bit of time, talent and energy, and they began to put it together. There was a more than enough for all of them. I will argue with you that the people in our communities have time, talent, energy. They need to be shown, they need to be modeled risk taking behavior, reciprocal behavior, and that's the role of local political organizations, which understand The Iron Rule. Thank you very much, and I'm sorry I went so long.
posted by R J Noriega
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Wednesday, April 26, 2006,12:01 PM
The Cultural Cold War
By Nathanial Catchpole

State and corporate funding of the arts is well known as a way of supporting culture which reinforces the status of the political and corporate elite. In the US and UK, opera, symphony orchestras, the ballet, museums, art galleries, plus the infrastructure that supports them, all get significant funding from both sources. Usually targeted towards an upper or upper-middle class audience and serving both their taste and social interests.

What is less well-known is the systematic state subsidy of corporate sponsorship and philanthropy, which has been going on in some form or another since the 1950s. Direct state subsidy is quite easy to trace and quantify, but in the US, and to a lesser (though increasing) extent in the UK, the State has supported many forms of cultural activity either covertly via intelligence services, or indirectly via the tax system. This has made public art institutions dependent on corporate sponsorship for their existence, and allows companies to get a significant kick-back from the state for what is already a very targeted and cost-effective form of advertising.

During the Cold War in 1950, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)set up an organisation called the Congress for Cultural Freedom, which existed until 1967 as the main body of their cultural wing. Run by Michael Josselson, at its peak the Congress had “offices in thirty-five countries, employed dozens of personnel, published over twenty prestige magazines, held art exhibitions, owned a news and features service, organized high-profile international conferences, and rewarded musicians and artists with prizes and public performances”[1]. It was originally set up with the primary purpose of funding cultural activity in Western Europe, one of its earliest major activities being the Masterpieces of the Twentieth Century festival in Paris, 1952. This month long festival included the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic, the West Berlin RIAS Orchestra, and works and appearances by as many composers as possible who's works had been banned or denounced by, or had physically fled, Nazi Germany and the USSR, including Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Hindemith, Berg, Debussy, and Copeland.

The Congress for Cultural Freedom wasn't set up to directly promote US foreign policy – to do so would have had no greater effect than US State Department sponsorship, which continued throughout the period, although with far less funding - and it would have been counter-productive if any of the people working for it or supported by it had realised it was a CIA initiative. Instead, its purpose was to build up the reputation of artists in the West who's work could in some way be viewed as supportive or at least uncritical of American foreign policy and free trade, and to show Western Europe as somewhere where the arts were both supported and allowed to flourish uninhibited by the ruling elite. Due to its secrecy (any detection of state intervention in the Arts on this scale would have made a mockery of the idea that the West allowed more cultural freedom than the Soviets), it managed to fund artistic activity which would never have received US State Department funding – the abstract impressionists, serialist composers, and many other “progressive” artists loosely aligned to the Non-Communist Left (NCL). “The CIA estimated the NCL as a reliably anti-Communist force which in action would be, if not pro-Western and pro-American, at any rate not anti-Western and anti-American.”[2]

In order for all this to remain covert, CIA money had to be funnelled through private cultural foundations – notably that of Nelson Rockefeller who was for many years the president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). Money was deposited into the accounts of a number of real and front foundations, and eventually into institutions like MoMA to fund specific projects and exhibitions. One of the main focuses of the Congress for Cultural Freedom was Abstract Impressionism (described as “free enterprise art” by Nelson Rockefeller), which it supported with exhibitions and purchases for a number of years:

“We recognised that this was the kind of art that didn't have anything to do with socialist realism, and made socialist realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. So one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy handedly was worth support one way or the other”.[3]

The Congress for Cultural Freedom was therefore characterised by two main approaches: channelling state money through private sponsorship in order to prevent any artists involved noticing the CIA's involvement, and funding “progressive” art, loosely aligned with the Non-Communist Left. Both to show how culturally progressive the West was, and to try to increase the status of artists aligned with the NCL over those who supported the Soviets. It also artificially inflated the power and prestige of “private” cultural institutions such as MoMA and the Guggenheim foundation, supplying them with ample support towards their already considerable resources.

The Congress was shut down quite quickly in 1967, after revelations came out about agents in its employ and its source of funding, mainly concerning the flagship Encounter magazine. Ironically it's major opponent following the revelations was the then president, Lyndon Baines Johnson - “[I] won't have anything more to do with [the CIA intellectuals]. They all just follow the Communist line – liberals, intellectuals, Communists. They're all the same.”[4]

However, since then, individual and corporate philanthropy and sponsorship have still been receiving significant state subsidy through the process of tax expenditure. Most large arts organisations, no matter how elitist, are registered charities, and donations to them are tax-deductible. In short, if a donor (private or corporate) pays a tax rate of 40%, £1 donated to a charity will give them a tax break of 40p, with only 60p of the donation coming out of pocket; the state therefore contributes an additional 2/3rds over and above their out of pocket donation. If someone pays a tax rate of 20%, the state contributes 20p against their 80p, an addition of 25% to their out of pocket donation. Due to the graduated tax system in both countries which has been in place to a greater or lesser extent over the past 20-30 years, those on lower incomes get considerably less subsidy for their donations to arts organisations and charities in general. Corporate donations are similarly tax deductible.[5]

This allows corporations and wealthy individuals to have considerable influence over the finances of cultural institutions, and more indirectly over what's represented in them, all with a considerable discount provided by the State. Direct state funding is slowly withdrawn (although the money is in reality still be spent), and either taken out of the Arts altogether, or channelled into new initiatives.

The common liberal or anti-corporate reaction to this sort of activity is that tax-loopholes should be closed up and the money spent directly by the state to make it accountable. All that would do would be to restore the bureaucratic elite to a central position of resource control for cultural activity instead of the corporate one. In fact, the same people with the same interests; many politicians, ex-politicians and high-level civil servants serve on the boards of charities and non-profit Arts organisations in the same way they are often also company directors. Quangos and other government agencies are by no means accountable, and an attack on corporate sponsorship can very easily end up supporting them as an alternative.

Creative Industries Development Agencies, are one of the most recent ways that the State and Capital are co-opting art towards their interests. People have been well aware for some time that artists are often the first to move into deprived areas and start the process of gentrification – opening small galleries or craft shops, giving deprived areas a veneer of cultural and artistic activity, and taking over and renovating disused industrial spaces for workshops and studios. Usually this is an organic process, many artists are simply unable to afford to live or work anywhere else and are attracted by cheap rents and empty space. With the advent of Creative Industries Development Agencies, the State is now targeting areas (East London, Brixton, Yorkshire/Humber region for example) to actively support this process. The agencies use money from regeneration budgets (notably from Ken Livingstone's London Development Agency with support from the CBI), to provide business advice, accommodation, marketing, and other services to people involved in “creative industries” - already a loaded term for cultural activity of any kind, placing it firmly within enterprise culture and commodity exchange.

Rent and property value, at least in areas of East London, has overtaken the capacity of artists and even those in the new media industries (regarded as responsible for most of the gentrification) to afford accommodation easily. Many redevelopments, including those with “live/work” planning permission (often a thinly disguised excuse for massive luxury studio apartments instead of either affordable housing or viable work space) are aimed at City workers in the financial sector, with corresponding prices. This leads to a polarisation where local residents can clearly see the priorities of developers, and begin to mobilise against it - the State is therefore having to artificially inject artists into these areas in order to give some kind of cultural authenticity and public service veneer to the development process.

Projects include housing Arts projects in derelict spaces for short periods to prevent them being used for squatting before redevelopment, and generally trying to reduce the negative effects of gentrification for cultural workers in order to prevent them being pushed out along with the wider working class (the same can be said for key worker housing). Although this kind of activity temporarily ameliorates the difficulty of finding appropriate space for a small number of approved artists, and those artists are rarely in a position not to take advantage of them, it doesn't deal with the issues of private land ownership that cause those problems in the first place. It also serves as a means to divide the interests of the working class – local residents (quite rightly) point to the money being spent on “creative industries” development, which isn't being spent on repairs to council accommodation, building cheap general-use housing, or infrastructure, often ignoring the fact that many artists are also on low-incomes with low-paid casual day jobs in order to pay these higher private rents. This becomes a smokescreen for the true nature of gentrification, which will eventually push out both artists and local residents in favour of luxury residential and retail developments.

The only way that artists and musicians can gain control of their activity without reliance on the State or corporate sponsorship, is to develop self-managing structures to work towards a society which will not leave their livelihood dependent on the State, Capital, or patronage by the rich. This involves recognising that their interests lie with the wider working class, and building solidarity between themselves and their communities in order to further their interests outside bureaucratic and sponsorship mechanisms. It is in all our interests to work towards a society where we are not required to take low-paid work or rely on benefits and patronage in order to meet basic needs, and where all individuals are able to reach their full potential through the liberation of work and cultural activity from Capital and commodity production.

Nathanial Catchpole
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,11:46 AM
The Ford Foundation and the CIA
James Petras


The CIA uses philanthropic foundations as the most effective conduit to channel large sums of money to Agency projects without alerting the recipients to their source. From the early 1950s to the present the CIA's intrusion into the foundation field was/and is huge. A U.S. Congressional investigation in 1976 revealed that nearly 50% of the 700 grants in the field of international activities by the principal foundations were funded by the CIA (Saunders, pp. 134-135). The CIA considers foundations such as Ford "The best and most plausible kind of funding cover" (Saunders 135). The collaboration of respectable and prestigious foundations, according to one former CIA operative, allowed the Agency to fund "a seemingly limitless range of covert action programs affecting youth groups, labor unions, universities, publishing houses and other private institutions" (p. 135). The latter included "human rights" groups beginning in the 1950s to the present. One of the most important "private foundations" collaborating with the CIA over a significant span of time in major projects in the cultural Cold War is the Ford Foundation.

This essay will demonstrate that the Ford Foundation-CIA connection was a deliberate, conscious joint effort to strengthen U.S. imperial cultural hegemony and to undermine left-wing political and cultural influence. We will proceed by examining the historical links between the Ford Foundation and the CIA during the Cold War, by examining the Presidents of the Foundation, their joint projects and goals as well as their common efforts in various cultural areas.

Background: Ford Foundation and the CIA

By the late 1950s the Ford Foundation possessed over $3 billion in assets. The leaders of the Foundation were in total agreement with Washington's post-WWII projection of world power. A noted scholar of the period writes: "At times it seemed as if the Ford Foundation was simply an extension of government in the area of international cultural propaganda. The foundation had a record of close involvement in covert actions in Europe, working closely with Marshall Plan and CIA officials on specific projects" (Saunders, p.139). This is graphically illustrated by the naming of Richard Bissell as President of the Foundation in 1952. In his two years in office Bissell met often with the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, and other CIA officials in a "mutual search" for new ideas. In 1954 Bissell left Ford to become a special assistant to Allen Dulles in January 1954 (Saunders p. 139). Under Bissell, Ford Foundation (FF) was the "vanguard of Cold War thinking". One of the FF first Cold War project was the establishment of a publishing house, Inter-cultural Publications, and the publication of a magazine Perspectives in Europe in four languages. The FF purpose according to Bissell was not "so much to defeat the leftist intellectuals in dialectical combat (sic) as to lure them away from their positions" (Saunders p. 140). The board of directors of the publishing house was completely dominated by cultural Cold Warriors. Given the strong leftist culture in Europe in the post-war period, Perspectives failed to attract readers and went bankrupt. Another journal Der Monat funded by the Confidential Fund of the U.S. military and run by Melvin Lasky was taken over by the FF, to provide it with the appearance of independence (Saunders p. 140). In 1954 the new president of the FF was John McCloy. He epitomized imperial power. Prior to becoming president of the FF he had been Assistant Secretary of War, president of the World Bank, High Commissioner of occupied Germany, chairman of Rockefeller's Chase Manhattan Bank, Wall Street attorney for the big seven oil companies and director of numerous corporations. As High Commissioner in Germany, McCloy had provided cover for scores of CIA agents (Saunders p. 141). McCloy integrated the FF with CIA operations. He created an administrative unit within the FF specifically to deal with the CIA. McCloy headed a three person consultation committee with the CIA to facilitate the use of the FF for a cover and conduit of funds. With these structural linkages the FF was one of those organizations the CIA was able to mobilize for political warfare against the anti-imperialist and pro-communist left. Numerous CIA "fronts" received major FF grants. Numerous supposedly "independent" CIA sponsored cultural organizations, human rights groups, artists and intellectuals received CIA/FF grants. One of the biggest donations of the FF was to the CIA organized Congress for Cultural Freedom which received $7 million by the early 1960s. Numerous CIA operatives secured employment in the FF and continued close collaboration with the Agency (Saunders p 143).

From its very origins there was a close structural relation and inter-change of personnel at the highest levels between the CIA and the FF. This structural tie was based on the common imperial interests which they shared. The result of their collatoration was the proliferation of a number of journals and access to the mass media which pro-U.S. intellectuals used to launch vituperative polemics against Marxists and other anti-imperialists. The FF funding of these anti- Marxists organizations and intellectuals provided a legal cover for their claims of being "independent" of government funding (CIA).

The FF funding of CIA cultural fronts was important in recruiting non-communist intellectuals who were encouraged to attack the Marxist and communist left. Many of these non-communist leftist later claimed that they were "duped", that had they known that the FF was fronting for the CIA, they would not have lent their name and prestige. This disillusionment of the anti-communist left however took place after revelations of the FF-CIA collaboration were published in the press. Were these anti-communist social democrats really so naive as to believe that all the Congresses at luxury villas and five star hotels in Lake Como, Paris and Rome, all the expensive art exhibits and glossy magazines were simple acts of voluntary philanthropy? Perhaps. But even the most naive must have been aware that in all the Congresses and journals the target of criticism was "Soviet imperialism" and Communist tyranny" and "leftist apologists of dictatorship": - despite the fact that it was an open secret that the U.S. intervened to overthrow the democratic Arbenz government in Guatemala and the Mossadegh regime in Iran and human rights were massively violated by U.S. backed dictators in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and elsewhere. The "indignation" and claims of "innocence" by many anti-communist left intellectuals after their membership in CIA cultural fronts was revealed must be taken with a large amount of cynical skepticism. One prominent journalist, Andrew Kopkind, wrote of a deep sense of moral disillusionment with the private foundation funded CIA cultural fronts. He wrote "The distance between the rhetoric of the open society and the reality of control was greater than anyone thought. Everyone who went abroad for an American organization was, in one way or another, a witness to the theory that the world was torn between communism and democracy and anything in between was treason. The illusion of dissent was maintained: the CIA supported socialist cold warriors, fascist cold warriors, black and white cold warriors. The catholicity and flexibility of the CIA operations were major advantages. But it was a sham pluralism and it was utterly corrupting" (Saunders, pp. 408-409). When a U.S. journalist Dwight Macdonald who was an editor of Encounter (a FF-CIA funded influential cultural journal) sent an article critical of U.S. culture and politics it was rejected by the editors, working closely with the CIA (Saunders, pp. 314-321). In the field of painting and theater the CIA worked with the FF to promote abstract expressionism against any artistic expression with a social content, providing funds and contacts for highly publicized exhibits in Europe and favorable reviews by "sponsored" journalists. The interlocking directorate between the CIA, the Ford Foundation and the New York Museum of Modern Art lead to a lavish promotion of "individualistic" art remote from the people - and a vicious attack on European painters, writers and playwrights writing from a critical realist perspective. "Abstract Expressionism" whatever its artist's intention became a weapon in the Cold War (Saunders, p. 263).

The Ford Foundation's history of collaboration and interlock with the CIA in pursuit of U.S. world hegemony is now a well documented fact. The remaining issue is whether that relationship continues into the new Millenium after the exposures of the 1960s? The FF made some superficial changes. They are more flexible in providing small grants to human rights groups and academic researchers who occasionally dissent from U.S. policy. They are not as likely to recruit CIA operatives to head the organization. More significantly they are likely to collaborate more openly with the U.S. government in its cultural and educational projects, particularly with the Agency of International Development. The FF has in some ways refined their style of collaboration with Washington's attempt to produce world cultural domination, but retained the substance of that policy. For example the FF is very selective in the funding of educational institutions. Like the IMF, the FF imposes conditions such as the "professionalization" of academic personnel and "raising standards." In effect this translates into the promotion of social scientific work based on the assumptions , values and orientations of the U.S. empire; to have professionals de-linked from the class struggle and connected with pro-imperial U.S. academics and foundation functionaries supporting the neo- liberal model.

As in the 1950s and 60s the Ford Foundation today selectively funds anti-leftist human rights groups which focus on attacking human rights violations of U.S. adversaries, and distancing themselves from anti-imperialist human rights organizations and leaders. The FF has developed a sophisticated strategy of funding human rights groups (HRG) that appeal to Washington to change its policy while denouncing U.S. adversaries their "systematic" violations. The FF supports HRG which equate massive state terror by the U.S. with individual excesses of anti-imperialist adversaries. The FF finances HRG which do not participate in anti-globalization and anti-neoliberal mass actions and which defend the Ford Foundation as a legitimate and generous "non-governmental organization".

History and contemporary experience tells us a different story. At a time when over government funding of cultural activities by Washington is suspect, the FF fulfills a very important role in projecting U.S. cultural policies as an apparently "private" non-political philanthropic organization. The ties between the top officials of the FF and the U.S. government are explicit and continuing. A review of recently funded projects reveals that the FF has never funded any major project that contravenes U.S. policy.

In the current period of a major U.S. military-political offensive, Washington has posed the issue as "terrorism or democracy," just as during the Cold War it posed the question as "Communism or Democracy." In both instances the Empire recruited and funded "front organizations, intellectuals and journalists to attack its anti-imperialist adversaries and neutralize its democratic critics. The Ford Foundation is well situated to replay its role as collaborate a cover for the New Cultural Cold War
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Sunday, April 23, 2006,4:00 PM
Village Voice Shake-Up
We focus on the shakeup at the Village Voice, where one of the paper's top investigative reporters was fired and two of its prize-winning writers resigned following a merger with the New Times Media - a chain of weekly newspapers based in Phoenix. In this week's issues, about 20 staffers wrote an open letter protesting the dismissal of James Ridgeway - the paper's Washington correspondent and one of its chief investigative reporters covering national news. Ridgeway had written for the paper for over 30 years. We speak with Ridgeway as well as Village Voice reporters Nat Hentoff, Tom Robbins, Sydney Schanberg - who recently resigned from the paper - and two reporters who have been following the story closely, Mark Jacobson and Tim Redmond. [includes rush transcript]

Tom Robbins, reading letter signed by 20 Village Voice reporters calling on management to "reverse discharge" of James Ridgeway.

Nat Hentoff, longtime Village Voice columnist, who has been writing for the Village Voice since 1957. We asked him about his thoughts on the firing of Ridgeway and about the new management.

Nat Hentoff, longtime Village Voice columnist.

For more on the Village Voice, we are joined by three guests:

James Ridgeway, in addition to being the paper's former Washington correspondent he is the author of several books. His latest is titled: "The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11." He also runs a website on video journalism at Ridgewayng.com

Sydney Schanberg, former press critic at the Village Voice. He resigned in February following the sale of the paper. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting in Cambodia during the 1970s and his story inspired the film "The Killing Fields."

Mark Jacobson, a reporter with New York Magazine. In November he wrote a major piece on the Voice-New Times merger titled, "The Voice From Beyond the Grave." He is a former writer at the Village Voice.
Tim Redmond, executive editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, we reached longtime Voice reporter, Tom Robbins, who is leading the effort to get management to rehire Ridgeway.

TOM ROBBINS: This is a letter that we sent to Village Voice management that was printed in this week's Voice.

“For 30 years, James Ridgeway has, in his person, his politics and his writings, defined what makes the Voice a special publication.

“From Three Mile Island to 9/11, Ridgeway has provided some of the nation's most incisive and insightful coverage of government misfeasance and malfeasance. He was one of the first journalists in America to spotlight the threat posed by a resurgent racist and neo-Nazi movement, an issue he hammered away at in the pages of the Voice years before anyone ever heard of Ruby Ridge or Timothy McVeigh. His reports on escalating environmental abuses exposed corporate law-breakers and bureaucratic indifference.

“Ridgeway’s writings on conflicts from Bosnia to Baghdad to Haiti have always provided the otherwise unreported flipside of the world according to the mainstream media, in short reporting that jibes precisely with the exact mission of the Voice. Over the past few years, Ridgeway expanded onto the web, filing regular nuggets of breaking news and even posting video reports on the 2004 elections.

“In light of this distinguished track record, the decision last week by the Voice’s new ownership to terminate Ridgeway is shameful. It also sends a terrible message as to the sort of coverage that the new ownership portends. We call on Voice Media Executive Editor Michael Lacey and Chairman and CEO Jim Larkin to reverse his discharge.” And it's signed by 20 staff members of the Village Voice.

AMY GOODMAN: Tom Robbins, a union steward at the Village Voice, reading the letter that appears in this week's Village Voice. We also yesterday reached Nat Hentoff, who has been writing for the Village Voice since 1957. He would join us today, but he’s on a train to Yale. This is what he had to say.

NAT HENTOFF: You know, it's very hard for me to understand what management anywhere does in most instances, but this to me is inconceivable. I don't know another reporter we've had at the Voice who is so widely knowledgeable about so many areas of government and all kinds of important areas and who does such consistent, comprehensive research. And for him to get fired is inexplicable. It makes no sense at all.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think is happening? And do you see this as a part of media consolidation in the country, crackdown on criticism of the Bush administration?

NAT HENTOFF: One thing I have learned over the years, I don't make generalizations. I try to be an empiricist. So I’m waiting to see what else is going to happen at the paper. Meanwhile, I keep doing what I do, and nobody has told me otherwise. And, for example, I’m doing a series now on the surprising, it seems, change in the Supreme Court maybe with John Roberts joining a concurring opinion that indicates, although they didn't take the Padilla case, that the next time the government tries to put him back as an enemy combatant, it's not going to work and it may be the end of that classification of people as enemy combatants. So I’m proceeding, as I always do, and I’ve been through all kinds of changes of management. But I do believe that whatever the future holds, to lose Jim Ridgeway is an enormous loss for the paper.

AMY GOODMAN: Nat Hentoff is still writing for the Village Voice, at this moment, at least. Jim Ridgeway now joins us in the studio in Washington, D.C. In addition to being the paper's former Washington correspondent, he is the author of many books. His latest is called The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jim Ridgeway.


AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Can you talk about why you're no longer at the Village Voice? How long had you written for them?

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, first, before I start that, I mean, I want to thank my colleagues at the Voice. I didn't expect this kind of support. It's very moving. And I don't know. I have written there, I guess, off and on -- I started writing there, I guess, in the middle ‘70s, and then, of course, I wrote with Alex Cockburn for many years and then carried on by myself. But the only thing that's saving me is the union. If I didn't have union protection, I would be nowhere. So, what happened there, you want to know what happened at the Village Voice?


JAMES RIDGEWAY: Does that mean is that what you want to know?


JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, I'll tell you what happened to me. I don't want to get into speculation, and my lawyer has advised me, as they say, to be circumspect. But I can say that there was an editorial meeting in the very beginning, in which Mr. Lacey appeared, and he said that – either there or he told Mark Jacobson that the Voice was a basket case and I think specifically referred to the front end of the Voice. And I asked for a meeting with him to tell him that I would, you know, support him in any way I could, support the new management. I was a team player, blah, blah, blah.

He killed my column, and he asked me to submit ideas for articles to him one by one, which I did, and which he either ignored or turned down, except in one case involving the coal mine situation in West Virginia. So, I mean, I just concluded he didn't like what I do. I don’t know what else to say, except that, you know, they won't say that I’m fired. I’m supposedly laid off. So, I don't know what that means. I’m in some technical situation, I guess.

But Lacey has talked, I think, not to me, but to everybody else, about how he wants to do investigative reporting, more local reporting. I think he doesn't want to do, you know, like -- he doesn't want to retrace things that have been done by the other papers, the bigger papers. I proposed stories on abortion. He ignored that. I proposed stories on the Minutemen on Long Island, who want to protect the Canadian border. And he said that was old story. Everybody’s done that. So, I mean, I don't know. I mean, it seems to me that the paper, at least from my experience, is kind of shutting down all its national coverage, but maybe not. Maybe this is my bizarre take on it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Jim Ridgeway, could you talk to us about what it has meant for you over the years to be able to cover these national stories in the Village Voice in a way perhaps that other mainstream or corporate media have not been able to do?

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, yeah. I mean, I started writing about, you know, the Ku Klux Klan and the far right racist sort of resistance, both the over-ground and the underground, in the early 1980s. Wayne King of New York Times did a lot of work on that, but then he left, and there really hadn't been much of anybody on the East Coast that writes about this stuff in any great detail. There are people in the West in the L.A. Times, Dallas Morning News, Rocky Mountain and the Kansas City Star, Trudy Thomas. But, no, I don't think other people have written much about that.

I wrote about Haiti from the early moments here when Aristide was coming back. And one of the things I really, really tried to do was to write about the conservative movement in Washington, I mean the new right in the early 1980s. And I didn't do it by attacking people and claiming they were all kooks and screwballs and stuff, but by trying to understand it and write articles that basically explain where this conservative movement was coming from and what it stood for.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Village Voice, or I should say former Village Voice reporter, Jim Ridgeway. We're going to break. When we come back, he will be joined by our guest in the New York studio, Mark Jacobson, who has written a piece about what has happened to the Village Voice, and Sydney Schanberg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter.


AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to former Village Voice reporter Jim Ridgeway in our Washington studio. And here in New York we’re joined by Sydney Schanberg, the former press critic at the Village Voice, Pulitzer Prize winner. He resigned in February, following the sale of the paper. He won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in Cambodia during the 1970s. His story inspired the film The Killing Fields. We’re also joined by Mark Jacobson. He’s a reporter with New York Magazine. In November, he wrote a major piece on the Voice-New Times merger, entitled "The Voice from Beyond the Grave." He’s a former writer at the Village Voice.

And I also want to say, we did try to reach Michael Lacey, who is the new Executive Editor of the Village Voice and co-founder of New Times Media, as well as Christine Brennan, the Executive Managing Editor of the Village Voice, but they did not return our calls. And New Times Media is now called Village Voice Media.

Sydney Schanberg, you attended a meeting in early February with Michael Lacey and the whole Village Voice staff. What happened?

SYDNEY SCHANBERG: What happened was very sad. Mr. Lacey came in and very quickly told the staff that he was disappointed and appalled by the fact that the front of the book was all commentary and that he wanted hard news. He said if he wanted to read a daily or regular critiques of the Bush administration, he would read the New York Times, and that's not what he wanted in the Village Voice. He was insulting to the staff. He figuratively or in effect called them stenographers. He said they had to stop being stenographers. When I objected to that, because that was so insulting, and I said that you can criticize any news staff in some ways, but the one thing that you couldn't call the Village Voice staff was a staff of stenographers, taking notes from public figures and just passing them on.

And I said it was unfair, and he said, “So, I’m unfair.” And then he added, he said, “Look, I don't care what rouses you, even if it's getting pissed off at me.” And I said, “I’m not pissed off at you. I don't even know you.” And he really had this huge one-ton or two-ton chip on his shoulder. And I think he walked into the room thinking that the people in the room didn't welcome him and didn't like him and, you know, and hated him. And he was totally insecure. And he gave the impression that he didn't understand the Voice and he didn't understand New York, and he didn't want to. He didn't like it, even though he was born here, I understand. I mean, he was born in Brooklyn.

And he said a lot of other things. He told the staff that they better prepare themselves to say goodbye to some of their friends. He picked a fight with Nat Hentoff, which was disgusting.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the mentioning of other media in the Village Voice?

SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Oh, he said, when he picked that fight with Nat, he was referring specifically to a story in which Nat had led off one of his pieces praising an ABC television investigative report. And Lacey said that was unforgivable and that wasn't good journalism, and that he in the future never wanted to see ever again a story in the Voice that referred to work done by another publication or media organization, which is kind of astounding. I don't know how you can do it, if you don't recognition the media as a power center in America.

My assumption was he didn't want to cover the press. His other papers, other New Times paper, don't have a press column. He’s not interested in that. And he really made me think that he really didn't want to have the Voice talking about national issues and have a national focus. He didn't understand that people in New York pay attention to those things, huge percentage of people in New York. And he didn't want a press column.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Sydney, in terms -- this whole idea of a weekly concentrating on covering news, when we’re basically dealing now with cable news, 24-hour cable news, channels in addition to the daily newspapers, there's no way that the Village Voice or any weekly could compete in terms of news coverage. In fact, the Village Voice's trademark has always been the interpretive commentary behind-the-news kinds of stories that require more of an involvement or the identity of the writer coming out in the writing, so it seems to be totally contradictory to the entire history of the Voice.

SYDNEY SCHANBERG: It's contradictory to my religion, which I think is journalism. And the mainstream press and television, certainly, do a very soft job of covering the press, either as corporate entities or as news organizations. Absolutely soft coverage. And that includes the New York Times. They have always -- and they’ve admitted it privately to me and others that they don't want to do this, and not making a clear explanation why. And so, the Voice has always, as an alternative paper, has always understood that that was part of their role, and I think it should be of any alternative paper.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Jacobson, we were not able to reach Michael Lacey, but you did. You interviewed him in your piece. Can you talk first about why the Village Voice and what happens to it is a national story?

MARK JACOBSON: Well, the Village Voice is for people, especially in New York, sort of a religion of sorts. In other words, if you grew up in New York City, you were reading the Village Voice, if you were of a certain kind of liberal mentality. If you grew up in sort of a place like Queens, like I did, the Village Voice was a little bit of a life raft for you that could be extended in the sea of the New York Times and all of this kind of stuff like that, which was like your parents’, and you didn't want that. So, therefore, you had the Village Voice and you’d read people like Jack Newfield and Lucian Truscott, all of these kind of hallowed names, and they would give you this other view of things. And that's what the Village Voice was.

Now, I would say the most functional word here is “was,” because, you know, when I talked to Lacey, who was going to be obviously -- I don't want to appear here to be the apologist for Michael Lacey, who is like, you know, I personally enjoyed hanging around with him, because he’s a good-time guy of a sort. He enjoys drinking and carousing, which is kind of a change of pace from the former management. But the paper, as itself, the Village Voice, has been on fallow times for many years. It's not just since this guy arrived two months ago. This paper has been in eclipse now for 20 years or something like that.

So I don't want -- and I’m sure Mr. Ridgeway, who is a very good friend of mine, and the idea that I wrote a -- like not uncomplimentary piece about Mr. Lacey, the idea that he comes and fires my good buddy Ridgeway is like appalling to me, because Ridgeway is not the kind of guy you would want to fire. The Village Voice doesn't need deletion. It needs addition, because there's nothing in there really. You need more stuff, not less stuff. And so the idea that this is a kind of glorious, kind of like fantastic journalistic enterprise, which is now being wrecked by these barbarians from Phoenix is just not the case.

AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined on the telephone by Tim Redmond. He is the executive editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. Tim, why is this a story that you feel is a national story? We’re talking to you from New York.

TIM REDMOND: I’ll tell you why it’s a national story. It's a national story, because the alternative press has always been kind of feisty, independent, challenging the status quo, and the alternative press has always been about independent media, has been about independent voices. And, you know, it sounds kind of hokey, but I got into this business 25 years ago, because, you know, I thought I could help change the world. And I’m not saying the alternative press has changed the world, but I think the Village Voice has made a huge difference in New York, and the Bay Guardian, where I work, has made a huge difference in San Francisco, and that's something.

And what the folks from New Times, now known as Village Voice Media, want to do, they want to buy up alternative papers all around the country and make them all the same. You know, I don't think anyone should own 17 alternative papers. And I particularly don't think a company run by people who despise activism, who are not activists and don't think of themselves journalistically as activists, who don't endorse candidates, who don't take stands on issues, who haven't even come out against the war, should be taking over the Village Voice. It's really sad. I mean, the Voice was always part of the activist tradition of the alternative press. And, you know, in the same way that a few big chains like Gannett have bought up and control most of the daily newspapers in the United States and a few big corporations like Clear Channel control an awful lot of the radio, a few big corporations control most of the TV, if we go that way in the alternative press, it's going to be very sad, particularly, as I say, when it is an operation that doesn't believe in activist politics. That's not what the alternative press has been about.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Tim, a question. New Times has a reputation, supposedly, for hard-hitting local investigative stories in many of their other chains. How do you reconcile that "reputation" with their current moves, in terms of the Village Voice?

TIM REDMOND: New Times has some good journalists, and they have done some good stories. I’ve never doubted that. But they don't believe in providing progressive community leadership on issues. They'll do some investigative reporting, and there's nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to the role the alternative press has always taken, which is to provide activist leadership, they don't believe in it.

Besides, you know, I don't care if Mike Lacey wants to run a kind of neo-libertarian paper down in Phoenix and say whatever he wants to say and do whatever he wants to do. But once he tries to take papers all over the country and make them all the same, you know, it's kind of like the Borg. They sweep into town, they take over a paper, and they remold it in their own image so it's exactly like all of the other New Times papers. If you go from city to city to city, you know, Denver, Phoenix, you go around, Houston and Miami, they all look the same. They all have the same voice. They all have the same tone. And that's not good for the alternative press, and I would say that's not good for the United States. It's not good for progressive politics. This is not what the alternative press is about.

AMY GOODMAN: Sydney Schanberg, what did Michael Lacey -- and again, we wanted to have him on, were not able to reach him or Christine Brennan, another executive, management in the Village Voice -- what did they say about covering President Bush?

SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Well, as I said before, he said, “If I want to read regular criticism or bashing of the Bush administration, I'll read the New York Times. I don't want it in this paper.” And I agree with Redmond about them doing a cookie-cutter job. This was a wrecking crew. And I just don't believe that you have to come in when you want to change things and tell people -- insult them. I just don't -- I mean, if you believe in journalism, you don't come in and insult good journalists. And there's something inside Lacey that led him to think this was an adversary group, this was a group that was adversarial to him, before he actually ever had a serious conversation with members of the staff.

And I asked him afterward. I said I had one question, and how could you have -- how could we have a press column if we can't write about other work done in the press? And he said, “Did you hear what I said in there?” And I said, “Yeah, you were quite clear. But that doesn't answer my question.” “Just listen. Just remember what I said.” And I shook his hand, and I walked away and I walked out of the place.

The fact is that there is something wrong with people who come into a newspaper and insult journalism. And I'll disagree with Mark Jacobson. It's very easy to say that something is a shadow of itself, and it may be true in some senses. There may be people who once were there that, you know, critics and others, but most of the people he’s talking about were writing commentary, as well as news. And the fact of the matter is the Voice still provides the majority of investigative coverage of New York City and New York state. And if Mr. Jacobson can tell me anybody else who is doing a serious job on this, I'd be glad to listen.

I should mention, by the way, so that people can say I was motivated, he called it the once lively press column. But I don't judge myself by what someone says in another piece.

MARK JACOBSON: That’s okay. I did notice in your response to my column you did manage to spell my name wrong the entire time.

SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Right. That's very important.

MARK JACOBSON: Well, it was important to me.


MARK JACOBSON: You wouldn’t like it if I misspelled your name, even though it was right in front of you how to spell it.


MARK JACOBSON: So, you know, regardless.

AMY GOODMAN: Actually, what --

SYDNEY SCHANBERG: This isn't -- you know, you want to be in a little debate society. That's high school stuff.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you something.

SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Let's talk about substance.

MARK JACOBSON: Well, let’s talk about substance.

AMY GOODMAN: What about fact checkers at the Village Voice, speaking of which?

SYDNEY SCHANBERG: As I understand it, Lacey has dismissed all of the fact checkers.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Ridgeway is still with us in Washington, D.C. Jim Ridgeway, former Washington correspondent for the Village Voice. There are a lot of issues you think are worth covering. Your latest book is The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11: What the 9/11 Commission Report Failed to Tell Us. What do you think needs to be covered, if you were still writing in the Village Voice?

JIM RIDGEWAY: Well, I suggested to Lacey that, you know -- he said he was very into this, what he calls, magazine writing, which means you find some guy and trace his life, I guess, until something happens to him. But I suggested investigation of like the New York ports and the security in the New York port system by a team of reporters and, you know, in terms of terrorism. And I have suggested over and over again ways -- and written about ways of looking at this hurricane situation, in terms of the way the government has responded to the hurricane stuff. And I was told by the acting editor at time, under Lacey, he called me up, and I wrote an article in which I attributed something to a document that the Washington Post printed. And he called me up and he said, that article you wrote, that is exactly what he doesn't want.

You know, I mean, and Izzy Stone said, “There’s good journalism and bad journalism.” It has nothing to do with some formulaic crap about, you know, some prototype about magazine writing or whatever, you know? So there's that.

There's the whole 9/11 thing about the responsibility of the airlines in 9/11. I mean, yesterday, there was a great deal of -- you know, everyone is terribly upset about this 93, Flight 93. But, I mean, why did Flight 93 ever get off the ground? I mean, you know, it got off the ground after two other planes hit. Why didn't somebody call all these pilots and tell them to stop or close their doors? Why didn't these things happen? What is the responsibility of the airline industry? So, I mean, there are issues like that that seem to me that people in New York City would like to know about. I mean, maybe the reporting will be wrong, but, I mean, they would like to know about it. I can't imagine anybody doing journalism in New York City and not talking about politics. What, are they crazy or something?

AMY GOODMAN: What about Zacarias Moussaoui and the latest news?

JIM RIDGEWAY: Well, I mean, to me, Zacarias Moussaoui is, you know, a horrible guy, and he’s a nut probably. But, I mean, he serves a very interesting political purpose here, because he covers up stuff that -- the activities of the F.B.I., and the F.B.I., you know, ran this absolutely incredible, ridiculous operation before 9/11, in which they, you know, overlooked hijackers living in California -- living openly in California, renting apartments from their own, you know, informant. I mean, all this stuff is fortuitously thrown down the hole, because everybody concentrates on what a bastard Moussaoui is. I mean, I don't doubt he’s a bastard, but I just think that the business of having an inquiry into 9/11 is a really big deal, having an open, decent inquiry that will answer questions that all Americans have. I don't think it's some conspiracy theory deal or anything like that. But I don't understand why the Village Voice wouldn't be in the forefront of doing something like that. I mean, what's going to happen? Is there going to be another 9/11 type thing in New York, some suicide bomber or something, and the Village Voice editorial is going to turn around and say, ‘Oh, let the New York Times do it. They do a better job’? I can't believe that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Sydney Schanberg, the Voice, of course, has been through many owners since Norman Mailer and his fellow co-conspirators started it. Even under Murdoch, it maintained some degree of political independence. And your sense, especially when I hear that, for instance, a young reporter like Jennifer Gonnerman who has done fantastic coverage of the prison-industrial complex has left, as well, your sense of its future?

SYDNEY SCHANBERG: Well, Jennifer Gonnerman is a very good example of Lacey saying one thing and meaning another. He said he wanted narrative journalism. And in that meeting, he praised her. He said you seem you know what you're doing. She wanted to know exactly what kind of pieces. And he said, “I don't think I have to tell you, because you're already doing it.” And yet, he refused to put her on the staff. She obviously -- I’m guessing now from what she said when she left. She said she hoped that they would use the staff to better advantage. And my guess is she wanted to be a full-time staffer, and they said no. They wanted to keep her on this, you know, penurious freelance basis.

So, I don't necessarily believe Lacey. I think when he talks about investigative journalism, he talks about isolated cases without connecting the dots. I believe in connecting-the-dots journalism. That's how we’re finding out about what's happening in Iraq and how this war was conceived. And people like Jim Ridgeway and Nat Hentoff and others, and I'd like to think myself, did that kind of thing and have enough experience and have seen enough of things happening in the world that we can connect those things for any audience, especially the New York audience that has an interest in national affairs.

I just think it's a sin to do certain things in journalism. I think, for example, that firing Jim Ridgeway is a journalistic sin, just as when the New York Times let Russell Baker go. You don't do things like that, just because somebody is older or whatever, you personally don't like their stuff, because the idea of a newspaper is to let all voices ring, let them all be heard. And that's not what he's saying. So I don't have any -- you know, I don't have any -- I don't know this man, Mike Lacey. But I don't have any respect for how he's behaved or how he's conducted himself at the Voice.

AMY GOODMAN: Sydney Schanberg, I wanted to go back to Tim Redmond, executive editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The Bay Guardian filed suit against the San Francisco Weekly, the East Bay Express and the New Times newspapers, charging that the nation's largest alternative news weekly chain had illegally sold advertising below cost in an effort to put the family-owned Bay Guardian out of business. Can you talk about this suit and how it relates to the discussion we're having now?

TIM REDMOND: Sure, it relates to the discussion, because it demonstrates that Mike Lacey and the folks from Phoenix don't believe in a diversity of voices. They don't believe in newspaper competition. They don't believe in independent press. What they did in San Francisco is they came into our market, they bought a locally owned competitor, the S.F. Weekly, which at that time was owned by a local guy. They bought it, and they immediately started selling ads at less than the cost of producing them, basically losing money, and they have been losing money every year in San Francisco, a lot of money, but it doesn't matter because they’re a big chain and they can draw on their profits from other markets. Their goal is to put us out of business, because they want the market to themselves. That's how these guys operate. These are monopolist anti-competitive people, the same way all of the big national news chains and the mainstream press that we’re also critical of operate. They came into San Francisco. As I say, their goal is to have the market to themselves.

Now, San Francisco, like New York, is a very political market, and we have always been a newspaper that is a part of that. We’re a part of the San Francisco community. We try to make the city a better place. They're not interested in that. Their politics are very cynical. Nothing is ever good enough for New Times, which is now Village Voice Media, sad to say. And their modus operandi is to dominate and control markets. That, again, goes against the whole grain of what the alternative press has been about. If these guys have their way, they would like to buy up every alternative newspaper in the country and make them all exactly the same. And that's a problem in San Francisco. It's a problem in New York. It's a problem nationwide, where there are alternative newspapers serving their community. And that's what these guys are about.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to end with Jim Ridgeway in Washington, D.C. We're talking about the print paper, the Village Voice, but it also has a web component that you have been very successfully writing in. Can you describe that, as we wrap up?

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Yeah, I mean, I think the web is the future of the alternative press, to tell you the truth. And I spent a lot of time and really worked as hard as I could -- I’m not very technologically gifted, but, I mean, I worked as hard as I could to put stuff on the Voice web, from spot news to investigative, whatever. And I wanted to introduce videos, you know, verite video, which I was able to do for a certain period of time. And then, you know, the support wasn't there.

But Lacey said he didn't care about the web. I said, “Look, I’m filing maybe three or four stories a week on the web, on a daily basis almost.” He said, well, you know, he didn't care about that. He said cut it back. You know, and I just don't know what to say about this, except that the future of this alternative -- there's no point in saying that alternative journalism is dead or anything like that, because it's going to survive and it's going to survive very, very well on the web. That's the future of this thing. And if guys like Lacey and Larkin and others, I’m sure, want to turn these things into like, you know, like shoppers, they want to turn these newspapers into shoppers that don't have anything in them and just use them to sell advertising, I mean, you know, they can do it, because the journalism will just plain move on. That's all.

AMY GOODMAN: Jim Ridgeway, I want to thank you for very much for being with us, Washington correspondent -- former Washington correspondent for the Village Voice. His latest book is called The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11: What the 9/11 Commission Report Failed to Tell Us. We have also been joined by Sydney Schanberg, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, resigned from the Village Voice after Jim was forced out. Mark Jacobson, who writes for New York Magazine and wrote a piece on what's happening to the Village Voice called "The Voice from Beyond the Grave." And in California, thanks to Tim Redmond, who has joined us, executive editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. We will continue to follow this and hope that Village Voice Media, which is the new name for New Times Media, will also agree to join us at a future point.
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