National Conference on Media Reform, Final Report

I left off my NCMR coverage after yesterdays midday report. Saturday afternoon started off with my late entry to a history session looking back at some of the big media reform successes of the past.

Randall Pinkston talked about his rise to become the first black weekday anchor in the South during the late 1960s and early 1970s. They showed part of a documentary about the WLBT struggle, a lengthy effort to get the station’s license revoked by proving racial bias.

Nicholas Johnson, a FCC commissioner during the early 1970s, described his personal efforts to eliminate racial discrimination. He and George Stoney were pioneers in public access television.

Joe Bagent, Breaking the Beer Barrier

The author of Deer Hunting With Jesus stopped by to present an essay on Breaking the Beer Barrier.

Bagent’s key point in the book and his talk is the need for progressives to reach out to the working class, a group of people that have been getting the short end of the political stick for the past 40 years. In particular, poor white people have become Republicans by default because the leaders of the progressive movement either ignore them or talk down to them.

I liked his characterization of the working class as people who are unable to decide when, where, or how to work. They can’t decide when to take a vacation or go on break without getting permission. According to Bagent the working class includes 90 million Americans. The middle class, by contrast, is only 20% of workers.

Bagent’s presentation was witty and fun to watch. He’s getting to be an old man now and isn’t “trying to impress anyone to get laid.” So he speaks his mind, admits to being a commie and moves on.

Listening to him talk made me think about my personal class history. I’m only three generations away from immigrant great-grandparents. My grandfathers worked as a butcher and a fork lift driver. One owned a home and the other rented for most of his life, including a mobile home.

Some other points made by Bagent: why can’t beer and sports be part of a progressive political aesthetic, people in Belize will get together to watch sport championships so there’s no reason for anyone to look down on sports. His most subversive question to ask a poor white person: why are your kids teeth so bad?

Everyone has learned to become helpless. He once asked an audience of college students to stand up and then sit down when they had thought of something they could do after his talk to help another person. Many of them stood dumbly for a minute without thinking of anything. They’d rather listen to some “dumb redneck who has written a cheap book.”

Practical Tips for Building Effective Community Organizations

Michael Jacoby Brown led us through a couple of exercises and a short presentation on common issues faced by community organizations. How do you attract people, how do you stay motivated or deal with difficult personalities? His main message was that you need to talk one-on-one with the people you want to attract. Media messages won’t do it, they won’t get you committed people. The personal is key.

For me this is a difficult message. I’d rather focus on the technology and the media but it doesn’t finish the job. Finally he said that people will never join or donate if you don’t ask. And that may be the hardest part.

I think we are too easily seduced and brainwashed by the propaganda of self-reliance in America. For some this means thinking that they are in the top 20% of the income distribution when reality is much different. For others this means looking up information online before asking your neighbor for help.