Some years back, when I was in an AIDS conference in South Africa, I met some HIV positive women from Uganda who had come up with the idea of memory books. They included photos, diaries, anecdotes and family histories meant for their children so they would not forget their parents who in many cases were already dying.
I saw one of these “books”-that actually came in a box with memorabilia and written with great care and much love. It was a beautiful expression of why we need to share our pasts and the memories we treasure.
Later my brother Bill put together a memory book about our late Mother, the poet Ruth Lisa Schechter, to preserve and memorialize her many achievements and poems and thoughtful reminiscences. That book brought this African concept home to our home and another direction.
Clearly there is a value in sharing the lessons and even the legacies of our lives.
Fortunately, we still have small presses in America which will publish memoirs. My first book, the More You Watch The Less You Know published a decade ago by Seven Stories Press was a ‘mediaography,’ an account of my experiences and reflections about working in, and then against, big media companies. It dealt in part with mergers and my own (sub)merged hopes and led me to start the Mediachannel.org that I still work on and struggle to sustain.
Now there are three new books out that I want to tell you about, books that chronicle the experience of three men I consider colleagues and comrades who have now published accounts of their political experiences, journalistic adventures and movement work. (And yes, I am also inspired by the often even more personal and often more insightful remembrances of women but it so happens these authors come from my side of the gender divide.)
I believe deeply that we need to acknowledge our mentors, teachers, guides and formative ideas even as we work to expose and attack our enemies. To build a community, we need to support each other. (If not us, who?)
The first new book is from Norman Solomon, whose work frequently appears on Mediachannel.org and on websites in every corner of cyberspace. Norman is prolific, pumping out pieces, books, and often appearing in the media. His new book MADE LOVE, GOT WAR (PoliPoint Press) tells his story as only he can tell it in the context of his reporting on the warfare state. He has reported extensively on Iraq and about Iraq, traveling there with actor Sean Penn, His book is blurbed by Phil Donahue, Joe McDonald of Country Joe and the Fish, and Josh Rushing the former Marine who became an AlJazeera correspondent,
I could identify and shared in some of his experiences, but I found his thoughts bout memory itself most provocative. He is aware that mass media uses a synthetic form of media to actually induce amnesia about the larger meaning of events.
He writes “What can be remembered can be buried. But is the reverse true? Memory excavation looks like a messy business. The writer Eduardo Galeano has commented that the greatest truth is the search for truth. Norman is an excellent reporter and wordsmith, passionate and committed-but he is also introspective. His book is focused on his concerns about war and has its introduction written by Pentagon Papers whistle blower Daniel Ellsberg.
The next memoir is from someone I know a bit better-Norman lives on the West Coast and I on the East-and that’s Michael Albert whose REMEMBERING TOMORROW (Seven Stories Press), after reading it, went on my central shelf, in my bathroom where I do most of my more intense reading these days. It is there that I dip in and out of Michael’s remembrances, every day because I always discover something new about his journey from activism with SDS-where we first met in Boston “back in the day” to the pioneering work he’s done since on “Life After Capitalism.”
I can’t tell you how much I admire his tenacity, nuanced analyses, low-key commitment to nourishing independent media and ability to fuse activist causes with strategic ideas on building social movements and rethinking theory and practice.
Michael lives in rustic (to me) Woods Hole, Mass with his partner and inventive running-mate Lydia Sargent He works closely with Noam Chomsky who calls his accomplishments “truly remarkable.” You may not know Michael’s name -he is an anti-celebrity at heart- but you may know The Z Magazine he co-founded and the website ZNET or heard about the school he runs for young activists. (I was happy to “teach” at it myself. I actually learned more there than I taught.)
Michael’s book gets more personal than Norman’s and is very candid and critical (and self-critical) in his assessment of his own problems with colleagues and other left magazines which tend to preach values they don’t practice. Michael is far more than a critic-he applies his ideas in his work and uses his background to imagine other ways of organizing society and economic relations. He has spelled out a vision of participatory economics and urges on live lives after capitalism.
He is also one of the few left intellectuals I know with a giant TV screen (before they became fashionable) and a TIVO machine. He’s an actual media consumer and sports junky but even so his book contrasts the more thoughtful coverage he encountered in Italy where he was widely interviewed after receiving a major government honor to the way the mass media ignores his work and the work of so many of us in America.
Michael is a bit frustrated about the book’s distribution but his experiences are inspiring and thought -provoking because he is so down to earth, and common sensical about ideas that go beyond liberal reform and take us into the arena of personal and political transformation. I was part of some of the campaign he describes and he does them justice-but also asks important questions that we probably should have. Thank you Michael for sharing your story, pain, frustration and hopes.
AND THEN THERE IS BOB
Finally, the third book COMMMUNICATIONS REVOLUTION (The New Press) is by Robert McChesney, a widely respected media historian and now the president of Free Press, the media reform organization that he has built with Josh Silver, John Nichols and a team of activists. McChesney is a leading critic of media concentration and pretty soon colleges will be building libraries just to stockpile his detailed studies and thoughtful books. There are many of them.
Bob does not suffer from academic arrogance. He hosts a weekly media-oriented radio show and speaks around the country. He is generous with his praise of other’s work-and did write a preface for my first book and cites me in this one. (I also give him a plug and believe every word of it.) But beyond whatever mutual admiration there is between us, he is someone who we can all learn from because he actually gets into the often suppressed history of why our media is what it is-and why it is mostly so awful.
Yet I also learned things about him I didn’t know-his proclivity for making lists, for one thing, and his long march intellectual struggle inside universities with academics and experts who want to make communications studies, narrow, parochial and irrelevant.
In many ways, this book is an intellectual’s biography in which he discusses the thinkers who influenced his thinking-and, bravely, does not exclude Karl Marx. His discussion of Marx’s economic ideas are worth reading if only because others ignore them or perhaps are afraid of confronting them. (Albert certainly isn’t)
In some ways his book is also a call to enlightenment and action for his colleagues and media students who wants to see the role media plays in this world, and why it-and the academic discourse about it needs to be Reformed or maybe I should say buried and then reborn.
All of these books should encourage us to once again reflect on the connection between the political and the personal. It is gutsy of these writers to stray from the objective to the subjective and share more about who they are, where they have come from and where they believe we should be going.
Unlike the dying mothers of Uganda whose memory books are aimed at their families, the living writers of America launch theirs to set us on a more thoughtful path in our lives and passion for change.
News Dissector Danny Schechter has 8 books under his too large belt. (Newsdissector.org/dissectorville) He is a blogger, filmmaker and still a trouble maker. He has a poem in the new volume CHE IN VERSE. Comments to [email protected]