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The second Bush term is going to make the first four years look like the good old days.

Now that the American president really was elected, his gnawing sense of illegitimacy removed, his father's curse exorcized, his religious right flank empowered, and a hesitant world now falling to its knees to bow before him, watch out.

During the first four years, he and his gang restrained themselves from fully unleashing the repressive measures of the Patriot Act, knowing that it could cost them the election. The restraints are now gone.

And other repressive policies like the drug war? Watch that get used, now, as politically as the terror war.

It's mourning in America. My mailbox runneth over today with emails from friends and strangers who want to leave the United States and come down here to Latin America.

Nobody should do that to run from a fight: After all, if you are a citizen of the U.S.A., there is no place to hide from your own country's foreign policy...

And if Narco News, the first online newspaper to win First Amendment protections from the United States courts, reporting on the drug war and democracy from Latin America, has proved anything, it's that the fight can be waged very effectively from the outside and margins of the national borders, too.

So this is an invitation, both for those who now want to leave the United States (we help those who help themselves: many of my colleagues and I did it years ago), and for those who want to stay, but it is not an invitation to those who want to give up. This is only an invitation for those who want to continue fighting against the anti-democracy tyranny emanating from the North.

I'll tell you the specifics of that invitation in a moment, but first would like to reflect on yesterday's election and explain why I think the forces of change, and options for change agents, come out of it much stronger than before.

John Kerry put up the best fight that anyone in North American politics could have waged. He brought 55 million decent Americans to the polls (which, in 2000, would have won the race handily). He held the Gore 2000 states and added New Hampshire to the blue map. He adopted the best of Howard Dean's small donor-activist Internet strategy, and for the first time the Democrats had parity with the Republicans in the money game. He took it to Dubya, winning three debates in a row. He very nearly got 311 electoral votes that would have made the election a landslide on the other side. If he had, pundits would be falling all over each other today talking about the new electoral map in America. But two big Bush 2000 states where Kerry pulled close stayed in the red zone: Florida and Ohio, with their less than ethical governors, sleazy secretaries of state, and voter suppression tactics, proved to be insurmountable.

Liberals and progressives, for the first election cycle ever, showed they could be tough, that they could dish it out to the adversary and not simply turn the other cheek over a confused sense of fair play. The left - a year ago, a non-entity on the blogosphere - has become its dominant network of voices: Markos Moulitsas Zúniga of the Daily Kos (and the considerable army around him), Ana Marie Cox, a.k.a. Wonkette, who stole Washington from Matt Drudge with humor and libido, and James Wolcott, who saw this shift coming, among others, are now here, I presume to stay. Michael Moore brought the art of blogging the news to the silver screen, with a new form of newsreel.

These folks, and more, have each used media to change politics.

Now, the cycle must be completed: politics must be used to change the media.

More on the grassroots innovations of 2004: Activists united as never before, across racial and ethnic and class lines, avoiding the sirens of spoiler candidates and the easy cop-out path of the "pox on all houses, purer than thou" stance that, in the past, has kept them divided. So much was accomplished to try and save the Republic. In the end, though, it wasn't enough.

Is all lost, then?

No way!

2004 was the year the other America learned how to fight back. Right up until the votes were being counted, the adversaries were freaking out. The forces for change were in their faces, and fought a valiant new kind of battle.

Unseating a sitting president during wartime has never happened before in the U.S. That president knows how close his opposition came to pulling it off.

Do we?

What many didn't count on, though, is that for the record 55 million on one side there were 59 million people who seem to live in the same country but on a different planet. Beyond the few wealthy ones who really did have self-interests in Bush winning (and the yuppie wannabes trying to get into that elite club) a huge wave of white, working class Christian family people came to the polls and voted for Bush. And the exit pollsters now tell us that it wasn't "terrorism" or the economy that moved their votes: it was "moral issues."

Moral. Oh, sure. Your grandma has no decent health care, your kid's school sucks, your teenage son might have to go die in Iraq, your job prospects are shrinking, you've got 100 cable channels trying to part you with your money, and your own expensive higher education, if you got one, didn't prepare you for real life… but you go to the polls and cast a vote guided by the fact that you don't want other people, different than you, from having abortions… and for those who don't cause abortions because they're not doing those nasty heterosexual things that cause pregnancy, you're not giving them medals either... you think you gotta keep them from having wedding rings.

What happens to a people to bring them so distracted by other people's sex lives that they've become divorced from their own true self-interests? Here's a hint: It's not religion, per se. After all, plenty of folks who read and believe in the exact same bible - Protestants, Catholics, Jews, other kinds of Baptists - voted the other way. In much of Latin America, evangelicals vote with the poor and participate in revolutions. So, it's not really the religion, is it?

No, something else has led us astray, and made it impossible for us, as citizens, to have any clue at all as to what is happening all around us.

It's the media, stupid.

The Commercial Media has exploited our deepest fears, sexual confusions, and that constant feeling of want under capitalism to turn us into, essentially, permanent consumers of shit we don't need, and debtors in order to pay for it. I'm not simply talking about SUVs or Happy Meals here: I'm also speaking of the elitist products, so worshipped by "educated" people… university diplomas, health care plans that make us even sicker, movies and pop songs that, as Woody Guthrie said, kick us when we're down... and the rest of those "respectable" products that we've been convinced that we somehow need. One way or another, they get us onto that hamster wheel and harness all the time and energy we put into it for their benefit more than ours.

Who can keep track of the real human events and the substance of politics, government, economy, war and peace when each day these mutant fuckers-in-mass-communication barrage us with very powerful, market-researched, psychological manipulation techniques to turn our fears and sexual frustrations into ratings points? They keep us empty and infantile and then they sell us a million ways to try to fill that undying well of need: usually it involves buying shit and going into debt for it, which traps us into working at jobs we hate, studying at schools that bore us and fill us with crap, and hating entire groups of people we'll probably never get the chance to meet because they have us all divided into market niches already. And all that frenetic alienated time spent in so much dissatisfaction just weakens us more for the next pill or product they'll have to sell us on the promise that it will make us happier.

It's the commercial imperative of the mass media that has so many millions twisted up into knots, deformed, fearful, frustrated, and unable to feel and see the human misery all around us. The media, if its reason for being is to make money, has to appeal to the worst in all of us in order to get and keep our attention and assure that the consumer serves the medium, instead of the medium serving us.

To those of us who once had higher aspirations for journalism, it is infuriating to see these professional manipulators hide behind a First Amendment that, truth be told, provokes their contempt. There is already no workstation left in that machine that would allow a conscientious journalist to truly serve the people (although my hat goes off to those few who work overtime, at the margins, to make sure at least some of their labor goes for the public good).

No, instead you have to get the public's attention in a very limited menu item of formulas for grabbing and holding them by the gonads or the reptilian, fear-governing, parts of the brain so they can be sold all those damn products and bad ideas that the advertisers want to insert into their heads and hearts.

Narco News Authentic Journalism scholar Jennifer Whitney, co-author of We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism (2003 Verso… we've been premiering key essays from it on Narco News recently: today's essay, Clandestinity: Resisting State Repression is timely in light of recent events), in Oregon this week to vote, reports that she spotted a young anarchist in Portland today with a homemade sign that said: "Now that the election is over can we all get back to work, please?"

In the limited menu items of "democracy" we're told to campaign and vote. Well, that has sometimes worked.

"This year," Whitney points out the obvious, "it did not."

In electoral democracy, voting always doesn't work for the losing side of any campaign. It only works for the victors. That don't mean it's a dumb idea or a waste of effort - I repeat, the opposition very nearly won yesterday, and got a lot closer than anyone thought possible a year ago - but, rather, we need to view democracy in much broader terms than mere elections; as a kind of constant election of daily life. To ignore the power of the vote altogether would be folly. But to fixate on it as the only path to change is equally retarded.

Democracy doesn't exist in nature. It has to be made. It only exists when it happens. And it happens in so many ways, often most effectively in those that don't involve elections.

There is a big lesson from the campaign of 2004 that must now be applied to all other aspects of practicing democracy: It's that when a multitude of people give a little in time or money or both, they can level the playing field against those who already have a lot and have grown fat and accustomed to pushing the rest of us around.

The lesson of 2004 is that it is no longer a given that the little guys and gals can't raise the money to take on the powerful. Howard Dean came out of nowhere raising millions of dollars through small donations given over the Internet, mostly from people who didn't want a war in Iraq. The $75 dollar contribution now trumps the $2,000 contribution in American politics. There are so many more people that only have a few bucks than those who have two thousand that, by the math, we outnumber them financially too, when we pool our tiny checkbooks into a much bigger one.

Politics will never be the same.

So what needs to happen now?

That same "swarm model" of fundraising needs to be applied to creating new, more authentic, forms of media that are not enslaved to the advertising model.

2004 also saw the formation of The Fund for Authentic Journalism, which brought Narco News back from the dead and, in just ten months, has turned it into the first truly participatory online newspaper in which the journalists who contribute the labor and the readers who contribute the funds collaborate in making the newspaper. This model assures that the newspaper, in place of pulling its public around by the nose ring in order to sell it products, serves the public interest as that very same public defines it.

Ten months, 500 news stories, and 800 comments, critiques, additions, and fact-checks by readers of those news stories later, Narco News' group blog, The Narcosphere, is fast coming of age. There are now 186 co-publishers participating, including the scores of Authentic Journalists from across the hemisphere and the globe, talking and translating for each other in the three big American languages of English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Today I would like to invite all the good people who worked so hard this year to change politics to enter the swarm and change the media... so that the media will never again be able to extinguish the authentic aspirations of a people.

We must tackle this problem of media. That's why so many of those 59 million Americans yesterday voted against their own apparent self interests and in favor of interests that are truly against theirs. The techno-trance of TV, radio, print and online media will not be defeated by simply complaining about it, or by academically denouncing the problems with it. The Commercial Media can only be toppled from its undemocratic power over democracy when we build the new, more authentic, people-driven media.

The road map is simple: What has been done to politics, in order for that revolution to be completed through to victory, must now be done to media and journalism.

There are two ways you can become part of the swarm: by donating your labor, or donating your money. If you write a news report that Narco News accepts for publication, you become a co-publisher: all our journalists are co-publishers of their own newspaper. Likewise, if you donate money - any amount, no matter how small - you, too, are welcomed as a co-publisher.

The rest is easy. You participate, in journalism, just like you've participated in politics.

On The Narcosphere, each copublishers gets her and his own blog, and unbridled opportunity to comment, correct, question, or make better, the news reports on Narco News and on your fellow and sister co-publishers' blogs there.

Now, some choice words for all of you who suddenly say you would like to move South.

If you're seriously considering my home, Latin America, as your new home, I strongly recommend that you avoid the most common rookie gringo mistake of imposing your own experience upon the experiences of your new neighbors other lands... Go to listen and learn, not with the idea that you have something to teach... If you are serious, you have to start learning the languages, the political and social realities here. You would do well to start interacting with likeminded people who have already crossed the borders in both directions, and The Narcosphere is the one place on the Internet where that is happening, already, in all three languages, across this great hemisphere.

Narco News began as a guy without a physical address, wandering around Latin America looking for news and hope with a laptop. It's now got its very own School of Authentic Journalism (where more than 100 scholars and professors have been training each other in the fine arts of reporting on the drug war and democracy in Latin America) and correspondents in every corner of the hemisphere. It's got The Narcosphere and the participation of its reading public, in collaboration with the journalists. And 2004 also brought it an important support from Civil Society: The Fund for Authentic Journalism.

The Fund has a web site. (They give away cool gifts like watches and DVDs to donors, too!) It exercises no editorial control over Narco News or our journalists. It's the only funding mechanism for journalism that I know of that considers its job to stay out of the way of editorial content decisions: that truly respects the old ethic of separation of the money side from the news side. I've worked for commercial newspapers, radio and TV stations, and large dot.com companies, and even for activist projects that didn't get the point... but I've never known true editorial freedom until now with the Narco News project.

This Authentic Journalism movement - and the networks we've built like the J-School and The Narcosphere - means, among other matters, that we have collaborators, friends, homes, and neighborhoods, wherever we go to report news on these continents. It's a beautiful form of mutual aid. It makes us better journalists. And it makes us better readers and participants in the journalism of each other.

So, if you're looking wistfully toward the South today, and you're serious enough about it to learn where you might be heading, this invitation falls from heaven.

And if you're looking to stand and keep fighting where you are, well, we report from the lands where social movements have been winning their countries and their battles, where they move toward democracy rather than away from it. And those stories contain not only the hope that is lacking right now in the North, but also the concrete strategies and tactics that, if applied up north, would change even the United States of America.

So, the election is over. Time to pick the next fights, and prepare to win them. Latin America is the closest laboratory to the United States where democracy from below is rising.

And the practice of Authentic Journalism is necessary to the practice of authentic democracy. One can't thrive without the other.

So if you want to refine your skills at this art, welcome aboard: We've got 186 journalism scholars and co-publishers who can testify that their time spent with this project has already sharpened their fighting skills.

That's the next wave: We're gonna do to the media what has happened to politics: in a word, we're extending democracy to the media, too.

I hope you'll be a part of it, wherever you are, and wherever you are heading.

The journey begins with a click.

Originally posted to Al Giordano on Wed Nov 03, 2004 at 08:28 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A nice thought. But how to do it? (none)
         It is clear that American democracy could not have been destroyed without the media's assistance.  Conversely, kill the media, and democracy can be reborn.  

         (Incidently, I have not forgotten how the media destroyed Howard Dean's candidacy--campaign problems aside--because they could, because they wanted to, and because he named them an enemy of democracy.  It took them less than three days, and I watched them do it--the visible part of the process--from beginning to end.)  

         So I am glad for your news and your thoughts.  New information channels are needed, with real reporters reporting, as you describe.  

         And the media needs to be taken down.  This is a problem of strategy and needs real thought.  I think physical methods will not work.  What else?  

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