Many pro-democracy activists attended the Media and Democracy Congress held in San Francisco in March. Freedom Writer's Liz Gore asked them: "What can activists and alternative media do to counter the Religious Right?"
MAKANI THEMBA, Certain Trumpet Program: We need to look outside of this country — we are so focused on politics and history here, but there are people all over the world building mass movements. We have things to learn. And we have infrastructure — we have opportunity to bring people together. The Christian right and the libertarian right are using the same tactics we have used, but they have more money and more technology and they use these synergistically. We know focus groups work, we know organizing works! We just need to do it and we need to do it without feeling like we are manipulating people.
SCOTT NAKAGAWA, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: I think we really need to understand that the right wing is the definitive grassroots force in the United States right now in terms of framing the debate around very important issues. They have managed to do this by wielding what I call a wedge strategy — identifying controversial and divisive social issues in order to penetrate mainstream hearts, minds, and pocketbooks. The Religious Right is still attacking women's abilities to access reproductive health care services. We must also begin to articulate a broader agenda from our side, a compassionate agenda that deals with jobs and job loss, that understands there has been a tremendous amount of wage loss in this country.
PAMELA SPIVAK, Dyke TV, San Francisco: We should try to find the common ground, so we can avoid succumbing to the culture war framework of "us" and "them." If we listen to each other we can do better. We can't change the minds of people on the far right, but we can reach out to the people in the middle.
VAN JONES, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, San Francisco: The success of the Religious Right has been facilitated by the failure of progressive-minded people to create a religious left. We are just not vigorous enough in asserting the spiritual roots that inform our work. When the left began to dissociate from the church, it gave the right wing the opportunity to organize one of the most powerful institutional bases in the country. To be truly committed to a life of faith, we [who are people of faith] have to stand up for love and reason, for caring, for including everyone at the table God has prepared for us. Our sheepishness about talking in these terms has really hurt us. It is very hard to take on the government, the corporations, and the church and win. That's what the left has been trying to do, and you can see the results.
PEGGY LAW, Director, National Radio Project: We who have a different message need to learn from what they have done. We need to organize at the local, state, and national levels. Too often the more progressive, humanist vision has been geared only toward the election process, every two years or every four years. There are more of us who want a different agenda — we have the numbers on our side! We have to make the link between media and activism and movement-building in this country. There is enormous hope and possibility in beginning to organize a more progressive, just and inclusive movement.
SUE VALENTINE, Institute for Democracy in South Africa: We need to break down barriers. Communication must happen at the personal level. If people are scared, that's when they retreat. Many people in South Africa voted for apartheid out of fear: stereotypes and misconceptions were shoved down their throats at every level of society. The only way to change that is contact, people getting to know one another and coming to an understanding of common humanity.
ALAN KORN, National Lawyers' Guild Committee on Democratic Communications: Activists can counter the right by employing some of the tactics the Religious Right uses: by becoming effective spokespersons, by learning to use the media and by listening to people. Instead of writing these people off as a bunch of lunatics, let's see what their concerns are and educate people. Though they may advance a message that seems simplistic, the underlying issues are complicated. There are other options to deal with the social ills that exist and these are not being addressed in mainstream media.
A radio program using material from these interviews has been produced by the Women's International News Gathering Service (WINGS) of Austin, Texas. The program will be broadcast on community radio stations throughout the country. For more information, contact WINGS at (512) 416-9000.