“If We Want a Better World, We’ve Got to Work for It”
September 9, 2004
I have been writing since childhood. I started doing it because it was fun. So were ice-skating and roller-skating, football and basketball, playing Monopoly and reading comic books. I still think of the last items as fun. But writing, while still enjoyable, has now become a matter of life and death.
Don’t get me wrong. I use the words “life and death” not because I survive on the income I receive from writing. Quite the contrary. I would have died long ago if I had had to survive on the few hundred dollars I have gained from my writing.
I say “life and death” because I am convinced that the mass media have been the cause of innumerable deaths and untold injustices throughout the world. If the public were truly told what is happening in the world, today’s reality would be very different. I believe in the goodwill of the common people. But I have come to realize that the news that the majority of the world’s inhabitants receive depends on what a small group of powerful and wealthy people who live in a bubble decide to give them.
In the eighteenth century, the English novelist Bulwer-Lytton wrote “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Today I think he would use the word “mass media” instead of “pen” and “weapons of mass destruction” instead of “the sword.”
But, sadly, there is another change in the quotation that I think would be necessary. It would also have to say that, too often, the mass media ARE weapons of mass destruction.
I began to think this way in April 2002. That is when there was a coup in Venezuela to overthrow the government of Hugo Chávez, resulting in scores of deaths. For a few years previous I had seen the lies that were being spread throughout the world about this man and those who had voted for him. But when the coup happened I realized clearly that those who held the money also held the pens, the radio stations and the television channels and there was little hope for some positive words coming out of Venezuela about Chávez.
As I mentioned previously, I had been writing since childhood. As a Roman Catholic priest I continued to write until 1994 when I married. Survival then became the priority. There was no money in sight from writing and Charlie put down his pen.
But when the coup happened, I knew I had to do something. I wrote an editorial that was published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Somehow Patrick O’Donoghue of Vheadline.com got hold of it and asked if Vheadline could reprint it. I was so computer illiterate that I didn’t even realize that there were independent on-line newspapers and that people read them.
From there one thing led to another and I decided to forget about survival and to simply write. Then I saw that Narco News was sponsoring a School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico. The only formal journalism studies I had were in high school. I decided to apply for a scholarship.
Al Giordano replied. No more money was available for scholarships but he wanted me at the school as a professor. I took him up on the invitation. A friend who had a good year selling real estate gave me the money I needed and I went. I will never regret the wonderful experience of those ten days.
In age, I was the grandfather of the J-School. In background, I was the resident theologian. In ideals, I was back in my youth of the 1960s.
We had dreams in the ’60s. In the Catholic Church fresh winds were blowing from the Second Vatican Council. In the U.S. some youth were thinking about the “Peace Corps.” Others were marching with lit candles to end the war in Vietnam. And “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair,” filled the airwaves and my mind.
I never wore a flower in San Francisco but years later, in the middle of the night, I tried to drop a rose from a bridge in Cheyenne on a speeding train carrying nuclear weapons to somewhere in the world.
We had dreams in the ’60s. Most of them got squashed. In many ways we failed. But maybe the world would be even worse today had we not tried to do what we could.
In the midst of those dreams I went to Mexico for the first time in 1963. Now, forty years later, I was in Mexico again in the midst of children of the flower children (and children of the children of the flower children). Once again there were youth with dreams: writers and media specialists who wanted an alternative reality, and who wanted to help bring it about through an authentic journalism. It was good. And it gave me hope that what my generation was incapable of accomplishing, maybe this generation could.
When I received the invitation to be present at the 2004 J-School in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I wrote Al Giordano that I would be present come hell or high water. My realtor friend has not had a good year so far and so I used some of my social security money, went a little further into debt, and bought the airfare on my own. Most everyone else in Cochabamba had to find other ways to come up with money to get there also. But we made it, and, once again, it was good.
I am writing this today not to ask for money from readers for the J-School. I am asking for commitment! If we want a better world, we’ve got to work for it. That means putting our lives on the line, and if we do that it means putting our financial resources on the line, too. I think the second follows automatically from the first if a person is serious about what has to happen.
You can make that commitment by donating online, at:
Or by sending a check to:
The Fund for Authentic Journalism
As a priest I often said to people, “I don’t want your money. I want your hearts.” I write the same to you today.
One last suggestion from this part of the world where something special is happening: If you’re coming to the New América, come to listen, to learn and to love. And, oh yeah, be sure to wear a flower in your hair.
|All contents © 2004 The Fund for Authentic Journalism|