Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Broadcasting a Challenge to Empire

What are my personal reasons for broadcasting a challenge to empire every week?

Each Monday morning, I get up early and walk over to the student center at Keene State College. My destination is WKNH, the college radio station on the third floor. As mentioned in my last post, I am one of the community volunteers who sit at the station’s control panel one morning a week to broadcast the hour-long Democracy Now! news program with award-winning journalist Amy Goodman and then several other shows from the Pacifica Radio Network.

Now available on over 400 noncommercial radio stations across the country, Democracy Now! has become the fastest growing alternative media collaboration in community radio’s history. Each weekday morning, Democracy Now! provides hundreds of thousands of listeners around the country with access to people and perspectives rarely heard in the mass media. As its own website says, this maverick news program includes reports and interviews with independent journalists, ordinary people from around the world who are directly affected by U.S. foreign policy, grassroots leaders and activists, as well as progressive academics and independent analysts. In addition, Democracy Now! hosts real debates between people who substantially disagree, such as between White House or Pentagon spokespeople on the one hand, and grassroots peace activists on the other. And on Goodman’s show, these people talk, they don’t shout.

Those of us who help broadcast Democracy Now! around the country each have our own personal reasons for volunteering. For me, it is one of the ways I make a public witness to the moral vision at the heart of my Quaker faith. At its root, the way of Jesus is a profound challenge to the worldy way of empire, greed, lies, and violence. His is a prophetic conversion call to the way of peace, justice, truth-telling, and care for creation. As Paul wrote to Jesus’ followers who lived in the belly of the Roman Empire over 2000 years ago, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable, and perfect.”

I like Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! program because she’s a journalist that refuses to conform to torture, wars of aggression, military occupation, illegal spying against citizens, or corporate rule, social injustice, the death penalty, and ecological degradation. Like all good muckraking journalists of the past, Goodman seeks to uncover the truth as a means to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Amy Goodman also has guts. She once was attacked and almost killed by the Indonesian military for daring to cover the US-backed Indonesian genocide against the East Timorese people. While my own media work at WKNH is not at all heroic, I still believe it is meaningful. Given that a real democracy requires educated and informed citizens who are not cowed or hoodwinked by people in power, I feel like I’m doing my small bit each Monday to help foster a more diverse and democratic media in a country where just six-to-eight corporations now own and control over 50 percent of the nation’s mass media outlets.

We will need to restructure the dominant corporate media system in the years ahead, and change the very undemocratic policies of the Federal Communications Commission, but I am still impressed when people start building a functional alternative media voice in the here and now.

Next post, I'll list some alternative community radio resources in case this type of media activism might appeal to you or someone you know.


At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Peter Alexander said...


This is great. Since graduating from the EAO program--actually since my last semester in 2004 when I took the job as Executive Director of the Brattleboro-based safe-energy advocacy group, New England Coalition, I have been on a learning curve even steeper than the academic rigors of the program. In my new position as E.D. of the Madison-based Biodiversity Project, I have gained a healthy respect for the role that strategic communications can (and must) play in building a broader constituency for protecting the environment and building a world in which social justice is the norm, rather than the exception.

Environmental activists need to learn the language of their target audiences, and to do this they need to understand their audiences' values and interests. Too often we end up preaching to the choir rather than reaching out to the "save-able" folks whose votes and opinions can swing legislation and policy in the right direction. (This was painfully evident to me in the rabid language of the extreme anti-nuke crowd in Vermont.) A well-trained activist, therefore, should get some training in how to run focus groups and informal public opinion polling (as we did in one exercise I remember at ANE) and how to frame "values-based" messages that are strategically aimed at the "swing voters" we so urgently need to come to our side.

Keep up the good work!

Peter Alexander

At 1:06 AM, Anonymous Dave Morley said...

It looks as though I get the privilege of being the first to respond.

Considering the fact that I’ve gotten involved with radio this summer, I felt compelled to offer a little blurb here; after all, it was Steve who first got me interested in using radio as an outlet for advocacy in the first place.

For those of you reading this who might not know me, I will have achieved second-year EAOP student status this coming Fall after finishing my first practicum with a non-profit called CorpWatch, which is based out of Oakland, California. As the name implies, CorpWatch is a corporate watchdog, and monitors the “behavior” of corporations all around the world, from environmental polluters here in the US to war profiteers in Iraq.

Initially some folks seem to think that this is a bit far removed from the field of Environmental Studies, but after I remind them of the effects that the modern day transnational corporation has on the environment, public policy and ultimately national sovereignty (I could go on), they generally seem to make the connection.

These days CorpWatch is primarily a progressive journalistic group which acts as a resource to concerned citizens, activists, grassroots groups, and others. Part of my work here involves helping out with CorpWatch Radio, generally researching and writing copy for the weekly (or soon to be weekly) radio show. We cover news stories in an effort to further expose corporate malfeasance.

So far it’s been a fascinating and rewarding experience. I’d say the biggest lesson that I’ve learned so far is the importance of being properly informed—and by this I mean being informed on all sides of an issue so as to be able to put forth a rational, balanced, and effective argument. While many of us hold and act upon what the mainstream tends to categorize as “radical” beliefs (and indeed, to the extent that we want to see a radical transformation of society come about, they are), it’s important to communicate these ideas in such a way that reaches people “where they are,” as Practicum Coordinator Kay Delanoy recently commented. You can’t expect a hard-line conservative to make the jump to progressive environmentalist overnight; it’s a learning process, and one thing leads to another.

When it comes down to it, the opinions that the majority of us in the environmental/social justice movement are acting upon are rooted in love, commonality, equality, and justice—these are things that should appeal to all—they just need to be presented as such.

All of that to say I’m having a grand old time out here and learning a lot, and am excited about taking my experiences here back to Antioch in a couple of months. Working on stories for CorpWatch Radio has helped me to become a better writer, thinker, and hopefully, a more effective advocate. There were many internship opportunities that I might have pursued this summer, but I’m glad I followed my instincts on this one. Who knows, maybe I’ll even join the ranks of volunteer DJs alongside Steve this Fall!


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