The many pillars of a working democracy, coming out of the civic culture, are rarely publicized these days. The people who constitute these pillars keep going, believing that there can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.
One would think that the rapid expansion of television and radio spaces would find room for these civic activities on special channels and stations. Instead, ninety percent of television and radio time is devoted to advertisements and entertainment. The rest is mostly staccato news bits, weather, traffic and sports.
So here is a year-end salute to four civic organizations that seek to improve our society and engage your attention:
1. FAIR, which stands for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, exposes in its magazine FAIR how “news” is not reported, or is distorted and slanted toward corporatist propaganda, in part, because fewer than 20 giant corporations now control most of the U.S. mass media. FAIR has, time and time again, caught the big media moguls and, their mouthpieces, like Rush Limbaugh, with their pants down.
Whether the myths relate to propaganda about Social Security or Medicare or the right-wing media machine, fueled by. profiteers and pundits in their service, FAIR comes through month after month. Praised by Studs Terkel and Tim Robbins, among many others, FAIR can be subscribed to for $19 a year by contacting 1-800-847-3993.
2. From Madison, Wisconsin comes PR Watch, the watchdog group over the corporate public relations complexes. The Founders are John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton whose first’ book “Toxic Sludge is Good for You” skewered with biting, witty prose the “lies, damn lies and the public relations industry.”
Their latest searchlight reaches into the inner sanctums of astroturf, phony grass roots lobbying by corporations toward Congress. Using front groups with civic sounding names like the “Council for Solid Waste Solutions,” phone banks call people and induce them to agree with the pitch and then connect them via form letters directly to their member of Congress. Senator Byron Dorgan says: “We’ve had letters back from people unaware of the fact that something has been sent in their name and saying ‘In fact, I don’t feel that way.”
In 1994, for example, an aide to Alabama Democratic Senator Howell Heflin was astonished when a letter signed with his own name came to Heflin’s office objecting to President Clinton’s health care proposal.
PR Watch and its Center for Media & Democracy can be reached at 3318 Gregory Street, Madison, WI 53711.
3. The National Labor Committee has gotten headlines recently with its exposes of horrible working conditions and serf-labor inside factories in El Salvador, Honduras, Southeast Asia and other Third-world countries which produce brand-name products, such as Nike shores, for stores in the U.S.
These sweatshops contract with U.S. retailers like Wal-Mart, Bradlees, J.C. Penny, Sears, Fashion Knitwear and others. Four cent an hour wages and military control in Burma do not discourage U.S. apparel companies from importing clothing to this country. Tens of thousands of U.S. textile jobs have been lost in the past three years due to such imports.
To learn more about how well-known U.S. companies cut deals with Third-World factories and look the other way while their often teen-age workers are cruelly treated and stripped of any labor or other rights, write to the National Labor Committee, 275 7th Avenue, New York, New York, 10001.
4. In Elmhurst, Illinois is the Citizen Advocacy Center whose avowed purpose is to build democracy. The Center takes on community injustices (from highway toll gouging to arrogant city councils to civil rights, housing abuses), trains people in civic skills and the tools of democracy and litigates in the public interest.
Theresa Amato, the Center’s director, is on the front lines in practicing democracy and teaching others to do so skillfully. She wants to have citizen skills taught in elementary and high schools as part of a reinvigorated practical civics curriculum that links the classrooms to the community.
Her E-Mail is [email protected], telephone is 630-833-4080 and address is P.O. Box 420, Elmhurst, IL, 60126.
For a veritable cornucopia of civic groups and activity on a broad range of issues, log into the website of www.essential.org.