DEMOCRACY NOW!

What is it? Why do we want it?

Mary Ellen Kavanaugh

Stopping the War on the Poor after hundreds storm the Heritage Foundation, one of the country's leading conservatives agrees to walk in poverty's shoes

• Did the US really liberate the women of Afghanistan? Playwright Eve Ensler speaks from Kabul as she prepares for talks with Afghan women leaders

• Louima Juror Speaks Out—calls appeals court ruling "totally absurd," remains anonymous out of fear of "unsavory characters" in Officer Schwarz Support Committee

Are you asking yourself what these headlines are about, and why you can't seem to recall hearing much about the stories?

You're not alone.

These stories were all covered in depth on Democracy Now early in March, 2002.

Democracy Now is a national, listener-sponsored public radio and TV show. The program was launched six years ago at KPFA in Berkeley with a narrow focus on elections. Because of its success, Democracy Now broadened its focus and became a national news show committed to bringing the voices of the marginalized to the airwaves, on issues ranging from the global to the local. Democracy Now focuses on a range of issues that demand attention, highlighting grassroots efforts to enhance and ignite democracy. (www.democracynow./about.htm)

The program can lay claim to a number of scoops and has picked up some of radio's highest awards. From its series on the Chevron Oil company's collaboration with the murderous Nigerian dictatorship, to host Amy Goodman's reports from East Timor, Democracy Now features the kind of reporting that is seldom done in these days of corporate funded media news.

The show is aired on Pacifica Radio Network, which owns five non-commercial stations in New York, Washington DC, Houston, Los Angeles, and Berkeley. Pacifica was started 50 years ago by incarcerated war-resister Lew Hill.

You may also know of the show because of the controversy surrounding it.

In the summer of 1999, Goodman was ordered to institute certain changes in the program's operating procedures and she objected. Management at KPFA threatened to terminate her. She filed a list of grievances through her union. Things escalated and management had a lock-out, closing KPFA—only to be met by a response from listeners (10,000 protesters) forcing management to relent. As this was going on with Democracy Now, Pacifica board members were also engaged in a struggle—for the heart and soul of the network.

The show then moved to WBAI in New York and again in December, 2000 management changed the locks in the middle of the night. While the show managed to make it to the airwaves"in exile" in 2001, it returned to WBAI and the Pacifica Network in 2002. The show is back in full swing, with staff able to focus on production rather than survival. Pacifica has a new board, made up of listeners determined to return the network to its peace and social justice mission.

An editorial in The Nation (November 13, 2000) called Pacifica listeners "the most politically pumped-up demographic in Radioland." Washington DC local Pacifica Advisory Board member Sam Husseini says that Pacifica's airwaves have become what he calls "wildlife preserves" for those with marginalized views.

I agree. After listening to this show for a while, you will come to realize how bland many public radio shows have become. Because it does not have to answer to anyone but listeners, this show can take more risks and bring us full stories in a timely way. How refreshing!

Local activist Andy Derby works close to Geneva, New York where the local public radio station WEOS 89.7 carries the show. He credits his awakening as a political being to hearing bits of Democracy Now, which he is currently working on bringing to Syracuse area airwaves. (See sidebar.)

As of this writing, there is no local reception for the show (except for those with satellite television). If you have a computer with speakers and the right software, you can hear the show at www.democracynow.org. You can also pick up a free tape or CD-rom at the Peace Council or My Sisters' Words and listen to some archived shows. That will introduce you to the show. Then you might want to contact WRVO (315-312-3690 or wrvo@wrvo.fm) and let them know you'd like them to carry the show. You may want to back that up with a donation or the promise of a second donation (if you've already made yours this spring) when the show gets picked up.