Preaching and progress: Day 1 of Media Reform Conference

Friday morning, Bill Moyers and Jesse Jackson. Bill, a great investigative journalist, gave the best speech I have ever heard. Perfectly constructed, and using the metaphor of the plantation (bosses in a big house with control of the land, and enslaved workers who know something is wrong but don’t know what to do . . .) to talk about media consolidation and the need for reform so that people can understand what is at stake. Like all good speeches, it took us gently somewhere troubling that we were not expecting to visit, and then returned us, shocked and galvanized, to a place of action.

Next Jesse Jackson, the preacher. We should be rising up, extending coalitions, building out and integrating. We should tell our stories, write our stories. We have a movement, a movement for democracy, against the war, for free and open media.

It was like being in church. Thousands of people sitting listening, then standing and yelling and clapping. It made me think about how preaching — in the American tradition anyway — is not just a form of engagement but a form of media, a way for people to get information contextualized and made relevant to them in their own communities, and in keeping with their own values.

Then I spent the afternoon at the Civil Rights museum, and the discourse of movements was drawn into sharp focus. Black people in the South experienced segregation, lack of employment, disenfranchisement, and real limits on education and life. Cities like Memphis still bear the physical scars: downtowns emptied by “white flight” full of eloquent panhandlers and gorgeous abandoned buildings. It has not yet been forty years since Martin Luther King was assassinated in a building I visited today. The South is still segregated, and people are poorer than ever and deeper in dept. The country is bankrupting itself in war, and depriving its citizens of jobs and health care.

The media is one part of the equation, but only one part. The ecology is complex, and the forces of the mighty well ingrained in so many spheres. I don’t know if we need to call media reform a “movement” — compared to getting women the vote, or ending slavery, it seems a small thing. But put together in the larger picture, it is part of what we need to think about when we think about how to do right with our time on earth: to do the best that we can, with as much energy as we have, for as long as we can.