Dec 8th, 2008
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It is a profound honour to accept this award on behalf of my colleagues at Democracy Now and a whole community of independent media in our country, the United States, and around the world - whether it's low power FM or college and community radio stations, public radio and television stations, satellite television, the independent channels here in Stockholm, broadcasting every morning on channel fifteen at eight o'clock, open channel.
Democracy Now began close to thirteen years ago. It is a daily, grassroots, global, unembedded, independent, international, investigative news hour. I also - as we together at Democracy Now accept this award - I want to shout out to my colleagues who are watching right now as we live stream, both on the Swedish parliament's website and also at democracynow.org. And part of that family is all the listeners and viewers all over the country and the world who support independent media - and I thank you distinguished friends and family for being here and honouring my sister laureates, what an honour to stand with them! As we stand with journalists around the world who deeply believe that the mission of a journalist is to go to where the silence is, that the responsibility of a journalist is to give a voice to those who have been forgotten, forsaken, beaten down by the powerful - it's the best reason I know for us to pick up our pens, our microphones and our cameras both into our own communities and out to the wider world. The media can be, must be, a major force for peace.
As we interview Palestinian children and Israeli grandmothers, Iraqi aunts and Afghani uncles, and children from Somalia to the South Bronx, the media can build bridges between communities because you say "that sounds like my baby, it sounds like my grandma, that sounds like my aunt or my uncle, it sounds like family - even if we disagree - it sounds like someone I want to protect, who has a right to exist". The media can build bridges between communities, not advocate the bombing of bridges.
I come from a community of independent media, I came out of Pacifica radio - together we founded Democracy Now. Pacifica, almost sixty years old, founded by a World War II resister named Lewis Hill, who, when he came out of the detention camps, for having resisted war, said there has got to be a media outlet that is not run by corporations that profit from war, but run by journalists and artists. And that's how Pacifica was born, the first station KPFA in Berkeley, California, in 1949. And then they grew to five stations in Los Angeles, in New York, in Washington, D.C., in Houston, Texas. The station in Houston, called KPFT, went on the air in 1970 - no sooner had it gone on the air then the Ku Klux Klan blew it up. They strapped dynamite to the base of the transmitter. They understood its power! That if you give voice to a man, like Paul Robeson - is there a man like Paul Robeson, that great singer, actor, scholar, activist, African-American leader, who is where you might say black-listed, I'll say white-listed, from almost every public space in America, but he could be heard over the airwaves of Pacifica. Or a debate between the great writer James Baldwin versus Malcolm X on the effectiveness of non-violent disobedience, broadcast over the airwaves of Pacifica. Yes, the Clan understood how dangerous Pacifica was, because it allowed people to speak for themselves. And when your hear someone describing their own experiences it breaks down bigotry, it breaks down stereotypes and caricatures that fuel the hate groups - like the KKK.I can't remember if it was the Exalted Cyclops or the Grand Dragon - I often confuse their titles, these leaders of the KKK - but he said it was his proudest act. And so when KPFT got on the air again the sober lining of this, of course - it was a small station that couldn't afford advertising - and the KKK blew it into the consciousness of the people of Texas. When they got back on their feet and rebuilt that transmitter they blew it up again.
But they can't kill independent media! They can't kill people's desire across the political spectrum to be heard and the public's right to know! It is our responsibility to bring out the information that allows people to make the most important decisions of the day; decisions about war and peace, life and death. What could be a more serious decision than a country deciding to go to war? Everyone must participate in that decision! Everyone should be heard! I see the media is a huge kitchen table that stretches across the globe that we all sit around and debate and discuss these critical issues. And anything less than that is a disservice to the service men and women, the soldiers who are sent off to fight - because they can't have these debates on military bases. They rely on us, a civilian society, to make the decisions about whether they will kill or be killed. Anything less than that is a disservice to a democratic society!
As the Right Livelihood Award for the first time honours journalists I think about the journalists in Iraq and how dangerous it has been for them to report. That international community of brave truth seekers like José Couso, the Spanish journalist who reported for Telecinco, or Taras Protsyuk, the Ukrainian journalist who was filming for Reuters. It was April 8th 2003, a few weeks into the invasion of Iraq, they were on the balconies of their hotel, the Palestine Hotel, where hundreds of unembedded reporters where - those are reporters not embedded in the front lines of troops, because they want to ensure that we get a picture from the target end; not the reporters who go into the tanks and ask the pilot - or the plane - ask the pilot or the tank-driver "what happens, what does it feel like to press those buttons?" But to be there embedded in Iraqi communities, or hospitals, to know what it feels like to be at the target end. There was José, there was Taras, their cameras on the balconies, when a US tank picked up its sights and opened fire on the Palestine Hotel, killing both of these brave journalists. It wasn't a few hours after Tariq Ayoub, who was reporting for Al Jazeera, a young reporter who just came over the border from Jordan, had gone to the roof of the Aljazeera offices simply to fix the camera angle and when the US military strafed the offices of Al Jazeera, he was killed, his wife Dima Tahboub cried at his funeral. Hate breeds hate, the US says they're involved in fighting terror - who is involved in terror today?Or Mazen Dana, who was outside Abu Ghraib, one of the leading camera men for Reuters, picked up his camera, had already talked to soldiers, when he was shot dead by the US military. He filmed his own death. As a soldier said, "we engaged a camera man". It is absolutely critical that journalists who are the eyes and ears for all of civilization in these conflict zones be protected, because they protect everyone else by broadcasting, by writing about, by recording the images of war.
In the beginning of the invasion president Bush invoked an executive order saying that you will not film, photograph or videotape the flag-draped coffins of soldiers coming home, or the body bags when they were offloaded from the planes. Why? He understood the power of the images! I think of Nadia McCaffrey, a mourning mother. Her son Patrick, when he was called up to go to war, sat with her for hours. He didn't think the war was a right response to the September 11th attacks. His mother encouraged him not to go but he felt that he would be deserting his buddy and so he went to Iraq and he was killed there. When his body was sent back to the Sacramento International Airport in California, Nadia McCaffrey engaged in a defiant act. She invited the videographers, the film makers, the reporters, to come to the airport, to film the casket of her son as it was offloaded from the plane. She encouraged the camera people to snap away, the film makers to turn on their cameras, the reporters to take note. She said "my son did not go to Iraq in darkness, I don't want him coming home in darkness". It is our responsibility to go to where the silence is. To record those images.
Which brings us back in time to September 11th, September 11th 2001, that fateful moment. It was just before nine o'clock in the morning in New York when the first plane hit the first tower of the World Trade Centre. We broadcast from a hundred year old fire house, a landmark building, and we were getting ready for the show, just blocks from Ground Zero - the closest national broadcaster from Ground Zero - we didn't know what had happened. We were then very small and we were in the garage, the attic, of this firehouse. We then began our broadcast. It was nine o'clock in the morning, now we broadcast every morning at eight. At 9.03 the second plane hit the second tower of the World Trade Centre. We still didn't know what had happened. We though were doing a special that day - on the connection between terror and September 11th.
September 11th 1973 in Chile, when Salvador Allende died in the Palace as the Pinochet forces rose to power. Unfortunately, the US backed Pinochet forces, the Nixon backed Pinochet forces, the Kissinger backed Pinochet forces, the ITT backed Pinochet forces - as he rose to power to begin his murderous seventeen-year reign killing thousands of Chileans.
September 11th 2001 is not the first time that that date was connected to terror.
September 11th 1990 in Guatemala, Myrna Mack, a Guatemalan anthropologist was killed by Guatemalan security forces. Unfortunately US backed Guatemalan security forces, her sister Helen, one of the Right Livelihood Award winners.
September 11th 1977 in South Africa, Steve Biko, founder of the black consciousness movement, being beaten to death in the back of a van by apartheid forces, unfortunately again US backed apartheid forces. He died in the early morning hours of September the 12th 1977.
September 11th 1971, upstate New York at the Attica Prison, prisoners rose up against the prison conditions. Two days later, September 13th, then New York governor Nelson Rockefeller called out the state troopers; they opened fire, killing scores of men, both guards and prisoners, critically injuring scores more, and injuring hundreds more.
September 11th 2001 is not the first time terror has come to US soil. Ask any African-American about slavery, ask any native American about what happened in our country. But September 11th 2001 was a horrific moment. 3,000 people incinerated in an instant. We'll never actually know how many people died on that day because those who go uncounted in live go uncounted in death - and they are the undocumented immigrants who worked at the World Trade Centre. And we should know their names; we should know their stories, because that's what dignifies a life.
Which makes me think of a little boy named Kevin who was nine years old, an Iranian boy, who was born in Canada. This was just recently this year. His parents sought political asylum there, they were denied and they were sent back to Iran where they were imprisoned. Though, eventually, they got out and they were flying back to Canada to retry getting into Canada. But their plane went down in Puerto Rico because someone had a heart attack on the flight and they had to land there. But because they didn't have the proper documents to come into the United States they were offloaded into a private immigrant prison. We finally were able to call into that prison and talk to this little boy, and we asked Kevin "how are you feeling right now?". He said he slept with his head up against the toilet in this private prison. And he said "I just want to go to school, I want to be free". With those words on our website at democracynow.org, the US media didn't pick up the story very much. You know, we live in globalized world, yet we are so insulated when it comes to getting information. There are hundreds of channels in the United States but what matters is who owns them. And there are just a handful of media moguls. We have to challenge media consolidation in the United States and around the world then ensure that the internet remains open and free. But because we could put Kevin's words on the internet, Canadian media picked up his voice from television to radio and printing those words, and ultimately his family was led out of that prison and received in Canada. That is the power of a media that allows people to speak for themselves. It is liberating!
Back to September 11th, in the aftermath. As we broadcast that day we could see what was happening. The war machine was gearing up quickly. We decided not to go off the air. And what was being projected to the rest of the world was very dangerous. It was not a scream for revenge, not New York! Thousands of people were gathering in parks, with candles, weeping, looking for their loved ones. I think it was best represented by a sticker, by a group called "Artists against the War", that went up all over New York, that said "Our Grieve is Not a Cry for War". We saw those pictures go up everywhere, the pictures of lost loved ones. It were the colour-xeroxes of photographs that people desperately put up on the outsides of hospitals and park benches and land posts all over New York. You could almost see it as the September 11th wall paper - thousands of these images. Or a photograph of a woman holding her child and it said "if you've seen my wife, last seen in tower one, please call her husband". Or a picture of a young man that said "if you've seen my son, last seen in tower two, please call his father", and a phone number. And I thought how similar those images were to the placards carried by the mothers of the disappeared in Argentina, as they walked the Plaza de Mayo every week. "Have you seen my grandson? Have you seen my granddaughter?"
September 11th united us with people around the world against terror. But that's not the feeling that was being generated in the media. It was isolating the US from the rest of the world, giving voice to a singular group, the pundits who were pushing for war. Not people like Rita Lasar. Rita lost her brother Abe Zelmanowitz on the 27th floor of the World Trade Centre. He was working next to his best friend Ed, who is a paraplegic, they worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield, we have private health insurance in the United States. On September 11th when Abe's brother was screaming at him on the cell phone to get out now, that he could survive if he left the tower, he said as soon as the emergency workers come up to help Ed, to help me bring him down, we'll go out together. And he went down; he was killed with so many others. A few days later when President Bush gave his national cathedral address in Washington he invoked Abe Zelmanowitz with the story and called him a national hero. And Rita, his sister, said "no". And she wrote a letter to the New York Times that actually got published. She said even if she knew the worst pain of her life it would only increase her suffering to know that a woman in Afghanistan would soon lose her brother. She said: "Not in my name! Not in my brother's name!"
And I think of Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez who lost their son Gregory Rodriguez above the hundredth floor of the World Trade Centre, he worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, they lost more than 700 of a thousand workers on that day. They wrote a letter that swirled around the internet, it was a plead to President Bush. They said it would not decrease their suffering to know that a mother and father in Afghanistan would soon lose their son. They said: Not in our name! Not in our son's name! And a nationwide movement grew up called "Not in our Name", September 11th families for peaceful tomorrows. And sometimes you saw them on television, telling their stories, describing their loved ones, who truly where heroes. But when they move from description to prescription what should happen, they cut away to the "terrorism experts", the Henry Kissingers, and the Oliver Norths. Oliver North, the lieutenant colonel in the United States deeply involved in the Iran-Contra Scandal selling weapons to Iran and then skimming of the profits and illegally funding the Nicaraguan Contras. And Henry Kissinger, well, we know his record. Henry Kissinger who is involved in supporting Pinochet's rise to power in 1973, supporting the Argentine generals in the dirty war, last Cambodia, Vietnam - how many millions died, not to mention tenth of thousands of US soldiers - and his visit to Indonesia to meet with a long ringing dictator in December of 1975 with then President Ford giving the green light for the Indonesian invasion of East Timor, one of the great genocides of the 20th century.
It is very important that the media sets the records straight, tells the stories of those who are responsible for death and those who are fighting for life. And gives a forum to those voices that I really think represent the majority of people - not only in America but around the world. Because those who are opposed to torture, those who are opposed to war, are not a fringe minority, not even a silent majority, but the silenced majority. Silenced by the corporate media which is why we have to take it back.
How tired are we of that small circle of pundits we see on all of the networks, who know so little about so much, explaining the world to us, and getting it so wrong?
We have to provide a forum for people to speak for themselves, tell their own experiences in this time of global warring and global warming and the global economic meltdown we have to bring on the creative thinkers, the true experts, the people of the grassroots, who know about solutions in their own communities and bring them to a greater world, as Krishnammal does, as of course Asha does, as Monika does and so many human rights defenders around the world. Where are their voices? Not occasionally when they win such a grand award as this but on a regular basis. These are the people who should be on the front pages of the newspapers, the headliners in every newscast in the world, and we will know peace someday. Instead we have a nine second sound bite culture. What can be said in that amount of time? We have to break the sound barrier. The media are the most powerful institutions of earth, more powerful than any bomb, more powerful than any missile. In our country, in America, the Pentagon has deployed the media and we have to take it back! It's not good for the generals, it's not good for the low level soldiers, it's not good for a civilian society.
This past summer, at what was supposed to be the celebrations of democracy, the Democratic and Republican conventions in Denver for the Democrats and in St. Paul for the Republicans, the Democracy Now! team was out in four, so our coverage was called "Breaking with Convention, War, Peace and the Presidency - from the streets to the suites to the convention floor" and we were covering it all and expanded two hour a day coverage in our unembedded style. In the first day of the Republican convention there was a major protest, thousands of people marched from the capital in St. Paul to the convention centre against war - lead by US soldiers, American soldiers who had fought in Iraq or Afghanistan or both or neither and were refusing to go back. We were there, broadcasting their voices. And then I went into the convention centre to get the voices of the convention floor, to interview delegates from the hottest state, from Alaska. And my colleagues were out on the streets covering more of the protest and I got a call on my cell phone that Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, our producers, had just been arrested and that - maybe - that they were hurt. I raced from the convention floor, went to the address that they said it was a large parking lot, riot police had lined up, had contained the area fully, I ran up to them with my credentials flying around my neck - the ones that allow us to interview presidents and vice presidents, you know that are checked for security, and the once that allow us to interview congress members and delegates. And I said that my colleagues had just been arrested, they were fully credentialed, they just needed to be freed, I'd like to speak to their commanding officer, I said to the riot police. They immediately ripped me through the line, twisted my arms back and slapped those handcuffs on that dig into your rest, put me up against the wall and pushed me on the ground. I demanded to see Nicole and Sharif, I heard that they were hurt, I couldn't find Nicole but I could see across the parking lot there was Sharif, his arms behind his back and his credentials hanging around his neck. They finally took me to him, and we said we are journalists, you have to free us now, where upon the Secret Service ripped the credentials from around my neck. I was put into the police wagon where I found Nicole and she described what happened. They were covering the protesters, riot police came at her. She was not planning to film her own violent arrest but that's what happened and as the police took her down shouting "on the ground" and she was shouting "press, press", showing her credential, they had their boot or knee in her back, her face on the ground, pulling on her leg which bloodied her face. They take out the battery of the camera if you have questions about what they wanted to do. Sharif was telling them to calm down. He had the microphone. They pushed him up against the wall, kicked him twice in the chest, got him down on the ground, they bloodied his arm and they arrested him. We were brought off, I was brought of to the police cages, the protest cages in the police garage, they were brought off to jail. And ultimately we were freed that night because of protest all over, people calling and writing, and there was 49 second YouTube video of my arrest that got more hits, were shown more times on YouTube than anything in those two days. Amazing, the power of a free and unfettered internet! We were freed and when I was interviewed by the networks, one of the network reporter said "how come that it didn't happen to me?" and I said "oh, were you out on the street?". He said "no" - and that's the thing. It is our job to cover all aspects of society.Democracy is a messy thing. Whether it's the uniform voice from the convention floor or the corporate suites, the corporations that are sponsoring the parties, or being out on the streets - it's our job to be in all those places. And when reporters are beaten or arrested, when they are silenced, that's closing the eyes and ears of a democracy. When I challenged the police chief the next day of St. Paul and said "what did you instruct your police to do, how are reporters to operate?" he said: "You could embed with our mobile field force". And that, like reporters embedded in the front lines of troops in Iraq, I think that has brought the media to an all time low. Because if you are sleeping with the soldiers, eating with them, if they are protecting your life, what kind of perspective are you going to bring?
We have to be able to report! We have to be able to record events without getting a record ourselves! And of course it gets far more dangerous than what happens to us as we know from our colleagues in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is so important that we bring out the voices of people on the ground who are experiencing what most people in my country, in the United States, don't even know.
I want to end with just a few quick stories. How important it is to cover movements. The media denigrates activists. In the United States, go back to Rosa Parks, December 1st 1955, the remarkable woman who sat down in the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. And in so doing stood up for all for us - sat down in the bus because she wouldn't go to the back of the bus. She didn't just stand up for African-Americans but for all of us. Because if anyone of us is diminished we are all diminished. That night her friend, her colleague, her activist, Jo Ann Robinson mimeographed 35,000 leaflets that began the Montgomery Bus Boycott, that ultimately led to the integration of transportation in Montgomery a year later. And a few days later, when Rosa Parks went to court, the Montgomery Improvement Association had its meeting and they chose as their leader a young minister who had just come into town, named Dr. Martin Luther King. Rosa Parks helped to launch Dr. Martin Luther King. And when she died just a few years ago the media said "Rosa Parks was just a tired seamstress, she was no troublemaker". That's where they got in wrong. She was a first class troublemaker. She came out of the local NAAPC, she was the secretary, she worked with the president who came out a radical labour politics, together they've been challenging the racist laws for years.
And to show how great she was go back a few months to the summer of 1955 when Mamie Till, just a mum in Chicago, sent her son Emmett Till to be with family in the south - a fourteen year old African-American boy. He was sent to Money, Mississippi, and in the middle of the night he is ripped out of bed by a clan of white men, he is tortured, he is mutilated, and he ends up in the bottom of the Tallahatchie River. This is a famous story in America, the story of Emmett Till. When his body was dragged up and sent back to Chicago his mother did something very brave, like Nadia McCaffrey with her son Patrick back in a body bag from Iraq. She said she wanted his casket open. She wanted the world to see the ravages of racism, the brutality of bigotry. Thousands streamed by his casket and saw - and Jet Magazine, another black publication photographed his distended head, and they were published in the magazines of our country, and seared into the history and consciousness of America. Mamie Till, Emmetts mother, had something very important to teach the press of today: Show the pictures! Show the images! Could you imagine if, for just one week, we saw the images of war in Iraq - across the day, across the night. Above the fold, newspapers every day, photos and stories on top of newscast. For one week we saw the babies dead on the ground. We saw the soldiers, dead and dying. We saw the women with their legs blown off by cluster bombs. For just one week! Americans would say "No!". People around the world would say "No!" That war is not an answer to conflict in the 21st century.
I will end back in World War II. To the White Rose collective. A brother and sister named Hans and Sophie Scholl. Hans and Sophie were not Jewish, they were German Christians, but together with their professor and other workers thought: What can we do in the face of the Nazi atrocity? They thought the best we can do is get information out. And so they published a series of pamphlets. And they got them out anyway they could through Germany. Hans and Sophie were captured, they were tried, they were found guilty and they were beheaded. But that philosophy, that model - on one of the pamphlets across the front - it said "We will not be silent!" should be the hypocratic oath of the media today.
We will not be silent!