WORD COUNT 624                                                                                                                              FEBRUARY 20, 2002  

REBUILD DEMOCRACY WITH GRASSROOTS COMMUNITY NEWS by Peter Phillips

 Fifty-five million non-voters in the United States cynically understand that it takes money to access our two-party system and have opted out of the national voting charade. They sense that citizen participation means little in the current political decision-making process.

 Our collective cynicism was greatly reinforced with the recent revelations that two-thirds of U.S. Senators and close to half of the House of Representatives accepted financial donations from Enron. Politicians are quick to claim that campaign contributions have no impact on their voting records and constitute representation, but the public knows better.

 Those of us who still vote intuitively recognize that money in politics negates grassroots democracy. Voters and non-voters alike mistrust political-corporate elites who pontificate on the virtues of privatization and globalization, while supporting cutbacks in social spending and the need for personal belt-tightening. We resent being told to lower our expectations while the political insiders laugh and wink behind their tax-free Cayman Island bank accounts, lobbied legislative victories, and White House visits. There is a deep uneasy feeling inside us as we recognize the money sickness within the bowels of our political system, and that the time for the great flushing is rapidly approaching.  

How do we connect with each other? How do we find citizen-based popular agreement and action? How do we fight personal cynicism and paralyzing despair? What steps of social action are needed to heal this systemic illness?

 Certainly the corporate media are not the ones to answer these questions. The National Association of Broadcasters is one of the principle lobbying groups working against campaign finance reform. It is the corporate media that reap the profits from the billions of dollars spent on candidate advertising, "donated" by moneyed insiders. Television news and the national print media chains do not encourage grassroots citizen action. Their role as corporate-political insiders is to keep us at home and entertained instead of active and involved. They think that if they scare us enough with stories of evil ones, we will hide away and not question our declining freedoms, lessening access, and loss of civil liberties.

 Our choice of social action is quite evident. We must find mechanisms for communicating with each other. We must build our own media systems from the bottom up. We must empower thousands of voices to tell Real News stories, stories that speak truth to power.

 Imagine Real News originating from local communities that tells our stories of democratic action and positive social change. Real News would not be measured with Arbitron ratings. It would not be there for the selling of materialism, or elitist propaganda. Real News is measured in collective movement for human betterment. Real News stimulates democratic activism and helps us find the foundations for shared action. Real News ignites, shapes policy for equality, and stands up to the robber-baron power brokers.

 So how do we build this grassroots Real News system? It is already partially there in the form of thousands of independent non-corporate newspapers, magazines, Web sites, radio stations, and local cable-access TV shows. But we need more of these and greater access for working people nationally. The Internet gives us new tools for accessing Real News, yet we need to create other more expansive outlets at the local level.

 This transformation is a job for the activist in each of us. Reach out, find alternative sources of Real News, and develop systems for sharing that news with your local community. Find like-minded friends to help create a local listserv, newspaper, or radio or TV show. Support the independent media that already exist and encourage multi-dimensional sharing of Real News stories. A good start is the Real News resource links at www.projectcensored.org, www.mediachannel.org or www.Indymedia.org. There will be no political reform without media transformation.

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 Peter Phillips is an associate professor of sociology at Somona State University and director of Project Censored, a media research group that documents the penchant for mainstream media to ignore many policy issues that are important to the American public.

 (EDITORS NOTE: A photo of Peter Phillips is available at: www.opedresource.com )

 

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