Amy Goodman's 'Empire'
Shortly before 9 o'clock on the soggy evening of March 28, Amy Goodman strides onstage at the New York Society for Ethical Culture in Manhattan amid an explosion of whoops and applause. She is the last in a line of speakers for an event billed as both a fundraiser for WBAI and the launch of the paperback leg of her book tour, and Goodman has sold out the several-hundred-seat house.
"AAAMY!" hollers a fan from the nosebleed seats.
Goodman's indie-media star status had been building since well before 9/11, but it's begun to approach critical velocity during the past year, as she's traveled the country to promote Exception to the Rulers. Goodman has dubbed this second leg the "Un-Embed: the Media Tour," but in many ways it has been less of a book tour than a "free the media" organizing drive. Each event has been an occasion for Goodman to exhort her audience to "be the media," as well as to raise money for community broadcasters. To date the events have raised more than $1 million.
To skeptics, this tour is perhaps little more than the standard self-promoting book junket--fronted by an author who happens to have the stamina of the Grateful Dead. But in many ways this effort--particularly Goodman's call to "take back the public airwaves"--is what has set Democracy Now! apart from its sibling media outlets, giving it the texture of a movement as well as a radio and television show. Because what Democracy Now! has recognized, perhaps better than most progressive news outlets, is that without the strength of a grassroots movement it's tricky--perhaps impossible--to create a robust, independent media; and without an independent media there is little chance for free, unfettered reporting. And, of course, without unfettered reporting, well, there's not much hope for democracy.
"I see the media as a huge kitchen table that stretches across this country, that we all sit around and debate and discuss the most important issues of the day: life and death, war and peace," Goodman says, winding toward the end of her speech at the Ethical Culture Society. "Anything less than that is a disservice to a democratic society.
"Democracy now!" she adds, punching the air lightly with her fist. And then, with a sudden, self-conscious smile, she steps back from the microphone.