Lizzy D'Sousa Interview Transcript

MATT JACOBSON: And could you just start out by giving me a biographical sketch -- who you are, where you came from, what you've done, what you're doing now. You can be as elaborate or not, as you'd like. LIZZY D’SOUSA: OK. I am a journalist and educator. I came to New York about 12 years ago. I was born in India, where my family's from. Soon after I was born we moved to Australia where I grew up in Sydney. When I was 20, I left Australia and started traveling and working in Latin America. And somehow ended up in New York, and was already doing radio journalism throughout Latin America -- filing for the BBC and the ABC. Then I came to New York and got involved with community radio here with WBAI, and have been part of the Pacifica community -- producer, reporter, host, and started an organization where we train people -- community folks, high school students, people who really are not represented in the ranks of journalism, to be medium makers, and that has grown into an organization called People's Production House. This year we turned 10 years old. I think kind of as with the country, it's an exciting time for us as well. MJ: Can you say a little bit about, well, your initial introduction to journalism, how you got into that in the first place. Then also you said, somehow you ended up in Latin America, which there's probably a lot kind of laying behind the word “somehow.” But what I'm really interested in is the relationship between your moving into journalism as a path, but also your kind of coming to consciousness politically. What's the relationship between those two things. LD: Great question. So, I was raised Catholic and grew up in a very homogeneous community. We lived in like a beach side community in Sydney. We were one of the only immigrant families. MJ: How old were you when you went to Sydney? LD: Less than a year old. MJ: Oh, OK, so you really grew up in Australia. LD: We went back to India frequently, a couple of years to visit our grandparents and family, but grew up in Australia. Sydney, it was a very different place when I was growing up where you really only could practice your culture behind your closed doors. So we were very Indian behind our closed doors, but the minute we stepped outside -- I think I really did grow up believing I was a good little white Australian girl. I don't think ever really realized that there were all these other parts to me culturally. When I graduated from high school, which was an all girls' school, it was a Catholic school, I don't think I even really knew what being gay or lesbian was about. I just did the next natural thing and applied for a university, which seemed like an extension of high school. I ended up at a university in a communications programs that was majority gay and lesbian. It was just a real awakening of just like, woah, where am I? I chose to do a major in Aboriginal studies. I had grown up with a very close friend who was Aboriginal -- we played cricket together. But I never really knew much at all about the struggle of Aboriginal people. Learned the white Australian history version of it and believed it. Got to university and just had all these things shatter my world. My very kind of white, Catholic, homogeneous world. My sister was very politically active at the time -- she was a little older than me. I think she was trying to educate me. I rejected that a lot, because you can't learn from your older sister, when, of course, I clearly had a lot to learn from my older sister. She was a member, actually, of a Trotskyist party, and in her own way, was really trying to help me see the light. So that was kind of a collusion of a lot of things happening post high school. With my best friend at the time, we just really wanted to travel. I think part of that was realizing that a lot of the community that I'd grown up with, my high school friends, I didn't actually have that much in common with them because I was beginning to see the world in different ways and to understand the struggle of Aboriginal people, and that you don't celebrate the day in which colonization happened. In fact, Aboriginal people are celebrating that they're still surviving. That's just a whole different concept. So, slowly I'm beginning to come to see these issues. But there's a real clash going on. So anyway, we decided to leave to travel in Latin America. One of my high school teachers had given me an Isabel Allende book a while ago, and said I think you'll really like this book. And it had just kind of triggered this imaginary place for me that was the entire of Latin America. But then my sister gave me Angela Davis's autobiography to read, and I think that was part of her like, gosh, let me just try and educate this little sister of mine. She's only 15 months older. But I was the cheerleader, and I was the one who went out to nightclubs and got drunk -- just the things that she really could see that I needed some guidance. So she gave me, like one of the things she gave me to read was Angela Davis's autobiography, and it just opened a door in my head. The one scene in it, which I still today remember so clearly is Angela Davis in Cuba, in the fields working. The picture that Angela Davis painted in that book of Cuba just seemed like, wow, what an amazing society. I had not read any Marx or Engels. I hadn't read any -- it just seemed like, woah, imagine if you could live in a society like that. That's just what lodged in my head and I just had - I need to go to Cuba. I need to go see this for myself. Like I'm not going to believe what anybody tells me, I need to go see it for myself, at age like 19. But I also clearly knew they don't speak English in Cuba, I need to learn Spanish. So when my best friend and I were like OK, we need to figure out getting out of Australia, let's go to Latin America. They speak Spanish there, we can, like, with our no Spanish whatsoever, we'll be fine. We took a year off university and saved and saved and saved and saved and saved and went over. And I think that was really the start of my political education in many different ways, just seeing. I've spent a lot of time in India and seen incredible poverty, but never registered in a way of people actually organize against these things and they struggle and they know what's best for their families and their children and they'll put forward solutions -- they're not people to be pitied, and et cetera, et cetera. I began to really see that in Latin America like up close. I think it was just each day you'd learn a little more, you'd see something else that shocked you or saddened you or made you question who you were. Also then, running into different people who would give me different things to read. So, I think that was really where I started to get some kind of real politicization. MJ: You talked about growing up as the -- you said the "typical white Australian girl," which you say with some irony, although I sense that maybe you didn't experience it with any irony at the time. How does your own immigrant status in Australia play into any of these kinds of searchings and questionings that you were engaged with at the time. Or thinking ahead to the kind of work that you moved into later. LD: I mean we always knew we were kind of other and outsiders. But we also had a large family. Both my parents have six siblings each, so we had a lot of cousins and most of them lived in Sydney. So, we had a very safe community to grow up in. MJ: Was there a larger Indian community there, aside from your huge family. LD: There was, but we didn't so much interact with the larger Indian community. It was mainly just our family because there was enough of us. And our cousins were in the same situation as us. So we all grew up together and were very tight. I think that, to a large degree, helped offset a lot of the things that were kind of alien outside of that. I would say I had a great childhood. Like I don't feel at all like I was -- I think as I grew older, I realized that it's OK to be proud of being Indian and to celebrate that and to invite your friends over when your mom's cooking this food that makes the whole street smell. For the most part, that's really embarrassing because everybody comments on that and they know the you're like that, but then you start to realize well actually, that's not something to be embarrassed. So those kinds of things but -- I don't feel like it's any big woe story by any means. But like my grandparents were denied. They had most of their children in Australia and they kept getting denied the ability to stay in Australia. And they were old, they couldn't live in India. They actually did have what we would imagine in the U.S. was equal then of a deportation order sent to them many times. They finally ended up leaving the country to go back to India. They had a horrible time. My mother was always fighting it -- writing letters, calling elected officials, blah, blah, blah. At the same time, actually, when I was just starting seventh grade, starting high school, there was a really big anti-Asian sentiment in Australia because more Asians were coming in to Australia. We always grew up thinking we're Asian -- not necessarily south Asian, as the identity's understood here in America. In class we'd sit there and the teacher, on say the current affairs program on the nightly news, there would be call-in polls -- "Should all Asians go home? Call this number, yes. Call this number, no." While I knew that that quite maybe wasn't me, like they were really talking about another type of Asian, it still stung really deep because people calling in yes, they should all go home. And then the next day school the teacher would talk about it, and one girl would put up her hand and be like, my parents called in like 25 times and said yes, all Asians should go home. I'd kind of be like I'm Asian, should I go home? And people would be like you're not Asian, your Indian. As if that's OK -- you kind of look like us, you're just dark skinned. So it was just very confusing. So you always knew you were an outsider and an other, never completely accepted. I was kind of part of a geeky group. But by the same token-- MJ: So then when was it that you came to the U.S.? LD: When I was 21, I think. MJ: And what were the circumstances there, just more travel? Did you come intending to stay? LD: No. I was working in Ecuador with an indigenous filmmaker. I had been in Ecuador a while and had met him and I was doing radio and sound stuff at the time. He had just gotten this grant to make this -- he's indigenous -- to make this film on the 26 indigenous communities, and he hired me to be his sound recordist, which to this day is the best job I've ever had and it was my first job ever in life. Or my first real job besides all the waiting tables and working at the bodega type equivalents in Australia. He hired me. I spent like a good six months, like I'd go out to these really remote communities to do kind of pre-production and set up the shoot and then call the crew and they'd come out from Quito, and then we'd do the shoot. It ended not in a great way. I was young and didn't realize a lot of the ways of the world and was very much taken advantage of, and then got to a place where I just literally had to escape. This was like back pre-9/11 -- flew to New York on somebody else's ticket. Anyway, I just can't even believe I would do that now. But got to New York and had extended family here who took me in, and I was just kind of in this so, what do I do? Should I just go back to Australia? My dad was great at that time. In Sydney he was just like, just stick it out. You've had such an amazing -- like you don't want to come home on a low note. Like see if you can stick it out. And it was really good advice. MJ: I'm curious about -- you've talked about your sister's politics, and I know something of your politics. What about your parent's politics? I mean how did they look at the world and what were they encouraging you to do during these years? LD: Well, not that we knew at the time, but my father -- I guess he's kind of like a closet socialist. He was busy working, and my mom was very Catholic, raised us very Catholic. So, I think she's learned along with us -- she's come to politicization along with us. My dad, very politically savvy, very wise. He just never really pushed it on us. And he never came to church with us, he never practiced. He's more definitely an atheist, even though he was raised Catholic. He just interestingly, when my sister first, and then me, both kind of started to question this very Catholic upbringing and what the church was trying to tell us, and just moved in a much more politically left direction. And that brought us closer to him, realizing that he shared a lot of these. MJ: So, you're in New York. When does it first occur to you that you might be here for a while, that maybe, in fact, you're going to stay here? And what were your first political engagements? Because eventually you become quite active in-- LD: Well, I went really early. I mean within I'd say weeks of coming, I went to WBAI, which is politically very left. MJ: And just assuming that with your background in sound you'd be able to do something there? LD: I had been doing some pieces in Latin America and they were increasingly getting more political and more political, and then increasingly the BBC started rejecting them more. So I had all this great sound-- MJ: I assume there's a relationship between those two things? LD: Yes. And it's funny, because now I can look back on it and I was definitely very -- just like when you first start to see that light, you just whoosh -- like there is no other way, it is this way. So, Americans who I was meeting in Latin America and was talking to about what I was doing, various people would say, oh, there's this great program in New York called Our Americas, and this guy called Mario Moreno does it and you should send him your stuff. I was like, cool. And I did it and he took it -- of course, I never got paid. And I was just like, but hang on, I need to get paid for this stuff. Then soon I realized, well, at least someone wants to listen. So I hooked up with just various, I was able to send various little bits and pieces of radio. Then when I came to New York I was like let me go meet this Mario guy who took my radio and never paid me for it. And he was like yeah, come meet me, I'll be at the studio on such and such day. I walked in to meet him, and he was like, hey, want to do this show with me? And there it was, literally, within a week of getting to New York I was producing with him and co-hosting with him. So, yeah, then I was in New York for about six months and my visa ended, a tourist visa. And by that point, I was just juiced again to New York had just seemed like this amazing place where you could do so many different things. And I had learned some basic Spanish, and I was like, you know what, I'm going to go to Cuba. So I went to Cuba -- I was there for about 10 months. Then was getting told by my university in Australia, if you don't come back and finish we are not going to let you finish, even though I had done some subjects at the University of Vermont that I was trying to get them to credit. They credited some and then they were like, no, you've got to come back and at least do one semester. So that was why I had to leave, and went back to Australia for a few months. But in the meantime, I had kind of met my partner in New York and just wanted to be back in New York. So, finished school, came back, and never left. MJ: I want to talk about this current historical moment that we're in, and there are many different ways we could define that and I'll kind of let you define it. But first, since I know that you've written about immigration and you've done a lot of work around the issue. Here we are two or three days after this extraordinary Bill was just passed in Arizona, basically making it potentially illegal to be Latino. I'd love to hear your initial take on what's going on right now around the politics of immigration and especially in Arizona, but not exclusively. LD: Yeah. I mean I don't hold much hope under an Obama Administration that things -- I think the work that I've done around immigration has led me to understand that it's going to take a generation before we get to a place where immigration is not understood in a framework of criminal justice or criminality or something that needs to be policed. And I think many people don't remember a time when it wasn't like that, but it really wasn't like that. I mean the '80s was a great time in some ways, especially for asylum seekers, where I think there were more enlightened minds leading immigration policy, and so, human rights workers and advocates were being hired as asylum officers. The goals were not to like find people out as trying to like trick their way into America. It was actually to help find a place for people who were true victims of persecution. And maybe it's a matter of semantics, but when you talk to people who worked in the immigration system in the '80s, you just get such a different feel for how the nation -- you know, and it's, of course, gone in waves. I think we all know America's immigration history locked up all sorts of groups at all different times. But I think there are periods in America's history that were more enlightened. You wouldn't even think of putting people in jail -- immigrants in jail. Like if you came here and made an asylum case and were denied, it's almost a no-brainer now. Like it's not even questioned that you should sit in jail while you wait deportation because you might escape. You might go out into the community. I think that's the kind of mindset that no matter what an Obama Administration wanted to do, but honestly when you look at it, breaking it down by policy, nothing's really going to change. Like he might be outspoken about what happened in Arizona, but it kind of doesn't mean much when he's also having secret policies, like this secure communities that we can't even get information on, that you have to sue -- The Center for Constitutional Rights is suing to get information on. Which likely will just lead to massive increase in deportations. I think it's going to take a generation of -- and I don't even feel like we're there; not with this Administration. The leadership on the issue to get us back to a place where immigrants are -- I don't even want to say like a good or a positive thing, because that's puts like some value judgment on a person, but that-- MJ: But the fact of life anyway. But that kind of neutral product of the political economy or something like that? LD: Yeah. Just like we're not making these like -- I feel like the place where we're at is that we have extremists writing immigration policy and getting it passed, as is the example of Arizona. We have generally just well-meaning people being OK with that, and actually, the more and the more and the more that it goes on, not thinking there's anything wrong with that. MJ: Right. Or at least accepting enough of the basic premise, that it is a criminal justice issue. LD: Right. And just even that you can't have a discussion about what does it mean to be illegal as a person. And not in like open all the borders. But it just gets so polarized. So, if you want to talk about the shades of gray in there, you can't, because you're either like a bleeding heart, liberal, open borders person, or you're a crazy, white supremacist, extremist who doesn't want anybody here. MJ: So when you talk about it's going to take a generation, what's the work that you can envision that could -- I mean what are the kind of incremental steps that need to be taken? LD: I think we need to learn lessons from the right, and I think it's not enough to just rely on the goodness of people and that they'll come to it. What the right did to get us to this position was literally have a strategic plan, like a 20-year plan. And they said, let's infiltrate all levels. Let's infiltrate Congress, the judiciary. Let's make sure we have these astro turf groups. Like let's get to the big -- who holds power in this society? Like big environmental groups, let's infiltrate those, and make immigration an issue in those. It was really well thought out. When you look at these plans and you look at the fact that it actually happened, and some of my research actually tracked the ways in which just regular staff people of these kind of really right wing immigration groups were being put up to work for members of Congress. They were in their offices, they were writing legislation. Like I think the left needs to do the same thing. Like to get it back to a place, because it needs to happen in the public debate. And so our lawmakers need to be saying it passionately and believing it. So it can't be a fringe thing. And we can organize for change and we should, and all the change we want is really -- you know, there are so many community organizations that are immigrant-based that are led by immigrants that have great proposals, great solutions to get us out of this. We need to listen to them. And if folks can start to get into places of power, that's one of way changing it. It's not the only way, clearly, but that's one way of starting to -- because right now you can't get elected unless you're "tough" on immigration. You just can't get elected. How does that change? You have to come out and say -- even in New York City, right, a place that's majority immigrants. To get elected, you're talking tough on immigration. Where is the politician who's going to say end -- moratorium on deportation. End all deportations now until we can have a thorough examination of this system to see whether it's working, for who it's working. What are the legal underpinnings of this? How does this fit in with international law? MJ: And what are the economics of it? LD: And what are the economics of it? Well, I think Arizona's going to show really clearly what the economics of it are when people leave that place en masse because it's not safe to be there as an immigrant documented or not documented. That state is going to feel the pinch. And that means quality of education's going to go down, quality of hospitals are going to go down. Yeah, the greatest evidence in response to all the anti-immigrant haters who perpetually put out this lie that undocumented immigrants are taking services comes from the comptroller of Texas, which is a border state. Which a few years ago, put out a report that was absolutely stunning, and I can't remember the exact figure, but it was in the billions -- maybe $1.7 billion or something like that -- that the State of Texas nets -- nets -- from its undocumented immigrant population. So if all those people left, they would be $1.7 billion worse off. And that's because most people believe they don't pay taxes, which they do. Because the government wants you to pay taxes. You need a social security number to get a job. There's a tax number called an IT, an individual taxpayer number. Many undocumented folks have that. MJ: And then they, of course, never make claims against it. LD: And they never make claims, right. And they are also paying a hell of a lot of sales tax. So there's many ways in which immigrants are contributing that goes uncounted. That's just one piece of evidence to actually show-- MJ: So, for a cultural that's so addicted to the bottom line, how is it that our politics doesn't reflect these really cold, economic realities? LD: I mean I think that that's not an easy question to answer, because I think we're an incredibly complex people. We are easily swayed by -- I think that there's a real need to belong. And if you can belong -- if you can bond with somebody over something, even if it's xenophobic, but that brings you closer to somebody else who you can then be part of a community with, I think there's something powerful in that. Especially in hard economic times you need community. So I think you lose sight of your -- I think that's one way that I understand it. I think another way is that this is a credit society, like I don't think there's really -- now more so because people have been hit hard, but you can have a very low income and have a lot of material goods, expensive material goods. So I think there's also somewhat a false sense of what is that economic bottom line, which has changed a lot in the last few years. MJ: Right, and where one's so-called natural allegiances would fall. That's interesting. I still think though, it's kind of like the way the health care debate unfolded where I just felt like if there were real leaders out there on the left of things, I mean wouldn't -- for example, wouldn't every Texan know about this $1.7 billion? I mean wouldn't that be part of the equation that was at least part of the discussion? LD: I mean and I think that's where information is so crucial. And how do we get information? It's through the media. And don't quote me on that $1.7 billion because that's not quite it, but it's somewhere there. No, but that's absolute. And then just further to that point is that what that report also did was, so there's a group called FAIR, Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform, who are kind of the leaders in the anti-immigrant movement. MJ: And have been for 20 years at least. LD: Yeah. John Tanton, the founder of that group, was actually one of the people who sat down and wrote these kind of the blue prints, that 20 year strategic plan for how you get from that kind of more enlightened period in the '80s to a place where you could have -- like their dream then was big. Their dream then was like let's have all Americans say, believe, vote for, the fact that immigrants need to be put in jail and then deported. Right? If you said that back in the '80s, people would have laughed at you, which is why I think we can dream big right now. We need to get to a place in 20 years where x, y and z. But to get back to your question, so you have these really hard line groups who don't at all have any qualms in manipulating the truth. So when they put out reports, which FAIR does all the time, and they say illegal immigrants are costing the state this much, or there's this many -- they count documented immigrants in their illegal immigrant count. How do they do that? It's because if you're in the country without any papers and you have a child here, and that child is a citizen, well, actually, no, you're not documented, so we're not going to consider your child a citizen. Even though the law in the country considers them a citizen. So, if they're going to school, they become an illegal person in that school, which is just a patent lie. But journalists and the media are not doing their homework. They're not reading the fine print, they're just reporting FAIR's figures. So the information that's being put out, and in a time when, of course, journalism in this country is in crisis. MJ: Yeah, and I wanted to talk to you about that, too. There are at least two dimensions to it that are worth noting just in the context of what you were just saying. One is journalistic practices, and the fact that we just aren't doing the homework. So, really the way reportage goes these days is you just report on what somebody said. And if somebody else says something different, then you report on what they said. But there's no kind of digging of the sort that used to be kind of normal-- LD: Not even really any fact-checking. Digging would be great, but just cross reference. MJ: So there's that, but then there's also something which I mean has just gotten worse and worse in the last 10, 15 years, which is the kind of little boutique realities that one can tune into. So that there's-- LD: That's a nice way of putting it. MJ: -- there's not like a common anymore. I mean I have the sense that when you have three networks you get protests in the streets of the sort we saw in the Vietnam era. When you have 500 networks, you get kind of what we see now, which is a really sporadic kind of fragmented polity. I'm just wondering about your thoughts -- maybe both as a journalist and some of the changes that you've seen or some of the struggles that you've had in the work that you've done, but also as a citizen, how you see the media landscape and its importance right now? LD: I think this is our moment, because the system itself has proven that it's not sustainable and it's crashing and burning, with regard specifically to journalism. It is not sustainable to have a profit-driven model for news gathering and reporting. And there's many reasons for that, and there's many implications coming out of that. But I'll just cut to the chase and say that people who believe that the media -- one of the roles of the media. I don't want to be so -- I don't know if ideologically driven is the word, but just I think the media is there to entertain us. And that's a fine reason to have media. But I think a very important reason for me -- and I've come to learn that after teaching in high school for 10 years and realizing that the reality of many people is that we do all enjoy pop culture and we want it. So, it's not a reality to say that the media should only be this. So, there is a space right now for people who believe that the media has a public interest role, to put it politely. That information should be used to better our societies, our communities. And that we who are in the media should be putting forth information that help people better their own communities. That in sum is what I believe, a large reason the media exists and should exist. And that can look so many different ways. There is no one way, and I think that's what evolving and developing right now. But for those of us who have kind of a public interest, a social change, a social good aspect for media making, right now is our moment. I feel like it's our moment because the non-profit model is on the rise, even though it's being touted as this brand new, new hot thing -- it's really not new or hot, it's been around for a very long time. Which is what I was so inspired by when I first came to America. I went to WBAI, and I was like woah, like millions of people around the country can each give whatever they can give, and you can have this media, this radio station -- that's amazing. I've never seen anything like it. So everything from listener-supported or user-supported media to user-driven media so that people are engaging with each other. And I think there's room for all sorts of things. But I think it also means that we have to be very critical media consumers at the same time, because room for a lot of things means that there's a lot out there that you need to sift through and wade through, and have rose-colored glasses on for some of. I think that's the piece where we continue to communicate with each other, because where we educate each other every day about ways in which we can be critical media consumers. I think that that includes everything from the social media, like being as everybody here at People's Production House, will tell you, I'm the least social media user out of everybody. I find Twitter kind of annoying. Really studying of how is this impacting journalism, and is this really a part. I think really the biggest piece is that everybody has eyes and ears and can tell a story. That doesn't mean we are all journalists, but it means we contribute to a larger telling of a story. MJ: The underside of that though is -- I mean there was this case -- I'm sure there have been other cases like this, but the one that is on my mind, it was the day of, or maybe the day after, the health care reform vote, when those Congress people were kind of assaulted on their way out of the building. And because it wasn't captured on YouTube, the charge is being made that, with plausibility in some quarters, that it never happened. In other words, if it's not on YouTube it's not real. I think that's a very scary underside to what goes along with the kind of democratization of information that we've seen, which is so exciting and really powerful in certain ways. LD: Yeah. I mean I think that's absolutely one concern. I think another concern is people with power will still have more access. I think that to me is the bigger issue of we can all wonderfully proclaim that-- MJ: We can tweet. LD: Yes, that we can all be part of this and we all have -- we now have much more equal access. When the reality is that's not true. So even this recent Federal court decision to not allow the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, to rule on Comcast, which is essentially a blow to people who believe in net neutrality. And you can throw around terms, and most people might not even know what net neutrality means, but that is huge for the way we communicate. Because that means that it is allowing a big telecommunications company, like Comcast, and, of course, then all the others, to say, oh, hey New York Times, if you pay me this premium rate, I'll make your speed so much quicker. And then oh, that little WBAI or People's Production House, they can never afford to pay that. So you don't even have to worry about it. People are going to come to us. Not that they're saying that directly -- they don't even need to say that. MJ: Right. That will just be the reality. LD: That will be the -- and I don't think that's hit home in a big way. I mean that has the potential to impact us, I think, even more so than media conglomeration did. I was like who is going to sit trying to get onto a website that's waiting, waiting for the page to change, waiting. I mean this is literally what it's going to be. Waiting -- page still hasn't changed. Now, if I was on another site, like CNN or the New York Times, bam, bam, bam, bam, my page is changing. I mean what are you going to do? So now who has access to getting out information? And it's not only just -- I don't mean this as like a -- I'm not even so much worried about the New York Times and CNN, it's the very powerful groups who in the sense of what John Tanton and his extremists did in infiltrating Congress and the judiciary, et cetera, et cetera, and big environmental groups, like the Sierra Club, to say immigrants are bad for the environment. All of a sudden you have the Sierra Club coming out, because on their board of directors now, and high up, is immigrants are bad for the environment. Well, now, if you're wealthy and you can do this, it's just like let's create astro turf media on the internet and we can afford to pay way more. And let's do it through the guise of we're kind of apolitical, we're not these extremists, and let's mainstream these ideas, because we're so much more powerful and we have more money. So I think that, to me, is the danger of it all. If people aren't vigilant, I said earlier I think this is our moment, I think it's also our moment to be extremely vigilant. MJ: So what form does vigilance take in this context? LD: Really getting involved in media policy -- knowing what's going on, knowing what to ask of your elected officials. And I think for me it's like community organizations across the country. This is going to effect what you do. Like you might organize around racial justice issues or housing issues or economic justice issues or the right to this or the right to that. You need to care about media policy, you need to care about things like net neutrality, because if you don't, your access to getting information out is -- you're going to be squashed. So, I'm not saying stop fighting for racial justice and stop fighting for economic justice and that your really critical campaign that's going to stop this slumlord coming in and doing blah, blah, blah, with this city's collusion, or whatever it is you're fighting for. Don't stop doing that, but keep two fingers in a media policy world, because it's going to have an impact on you. So, get active. MJ: How much has the media landscape changed in the time that you've been a practicing journalist? Are the things that are so apparent today, have those been creeping up on us for the last number of years? Or how do you see it as a practitioner? LD: It's a hard question, I think, when you're in the middle of it. You just adapt to what's thrown at you, rather than I don't feel like in the years of doing it, maybe in the last couple of years where I've become more educated on media policy issues and realize that they really do affect our field as a practitioner, but also as a consumer of information. But prior to that, I think you just adapt. So, you realize that you can't do certain things. An editor gives you an edit that makes you say, OK, well I get where you're coming from. You hone your pitches to certain outlets because you know they only run this kind of stuff. So I think it's more like you just kind of survive inside of the system. MJ: The structures that you find. LD: Yeah. So I'm not sure. Just really the last couple of years, I've been able to be more actively critical of it. MJ: We've talked about immigration politics in recent years. Let's talk about the bigger picture. I've been travelling all over the country talking to all different kinds of people, and there's a pretty broad consensus that this is an extraordinary moment historically. Although there's no agreement at all about what's extraordinary about it, or what the phrase "this current moment" even means. But when I say that phrase to you, what do you think it means? I mean what are the things that come to mind? And what's been your experience of this historical moment that we're in, whether you want to define it as Obama and his Administration, or some people have talked about it as post 9/11. There's very different layers to it. But what's your sense of-- LD: I mean I think I have to start that question really personally, because I do think this moment is about Obama. My niece was born 24 hours before Obama accepted that he had won the election. That was just like two -- in the space of 24 hours, that was two of the most amazing things that had ever happened in my life. Then two weeks later my daughter was born. And I think, especially for those of us who lived and worked in the Bush Administration, which was a big, global moment as well. Globally, Australia had an incredibly right wing Conservative, repressive government for many more years than the United States did. In Great Britain, even though it wasn't a Conservative government, they just went along. The world was in a much more Conservative place in terms of like the wealthier nations, and then in terms of poorer nations, there was a move to the left. So you had this big juxtaposition happening. Clearly, the people who were really feeling it, who were on the receiving end in poor countries around the world, were moving towards governments that were more socially based, that had social contracts with their people, that believed in those. But I think the world listening to Obama and seeing Obama, and just kind of wanting to believe in this man, and then seeing him get elected, was an absolutely incredible thing. And having spent most of my life in Australia, and, of course, many people all over the world love to hate Americans, or at least love to poke fun at Americans, which is how I'd say Australians do it. All I could say to people when Obama was elected was there may be a lot of crazy people in this country, but could you ever see your country electing a non-white, ever? I think just to stop for a moment and see how powerful that is. Like this country, which was rooted in slavery, elected a black man. So by no means, I don't think, can not be taken lightly. MJ: Does it make you think anew about the character of the country? I mean did that moment, the election, or maybe even before that, but the moment that you thought and realized that Obama was going to become the president, did it make you look backward across history and see it differently? Or how did you experience that almost jarring transition from Bush to Obama? LD: I don't know. I don't think it caused me to look back. I think on the one hand I definitely was caught up in some euphoria. There was also the contrarian in me, which was like rolling my eyes and saying, yeah, great, now we've got a black president, everyone's going to say racism's over, and that's not even the half of it. So it was definitely the cynic in me who was just like actually I wish he hadn't won because that sets all of our struggles back, because now that he's won, well, none of these other things are problems anymore. But I think the overwhelming feeling was like oh, my God, this country did it. I can't vote in this country, I'm not a citizen. So I don't have a say. I teach in public schools around the city. So, I can tell you that I've never seen such actively engaged young people at like eighth grade, ninth grade, tenth grade level. Just even on the I can do this front. I think if nothing else -- if Obama achieves nothing in his presidency, what he did, what I saw of young people of color across this city in that whole campaign leading up to it, is incredibly powerful. And just the fact that he's so smart. Thank you, we just need a smart president. I think the other part of me is just very cynical about American politics because it's so personality driven. And Australia's not like that. You don't vote for a person. You don't put all your hope -- everything goes into this one person. This one person's going to change the world. It's just not a part of what I believe is actually true. It's about a movement and a lot of people, and I think that's, for me, one of the biggest things that the work is not getting somebody elected. That work is holding them and the people you elect accountable for all the things that you need after it. So I think the "moment" needs more active participation from all of us. I think it's unfair to say oh, well Obama, he hasn't done this, and he hasn't done this, and he hasn't done this. Because the reality is the system hasn't changed. We might have this wonderful orator who can manage to somehow speak to people who are ideologically opposed and make both of them say this is the man. But the system hasn't changed that he's operating in, and I think health care is a great example of that. What really can you get done without mass, public organization? It's participation in your government. And I think that's something that I'm not sure America at large gets. We're very passive. We'll sit back and watch the commentators shoot it out on CNBC, but that doesn't really involve me. I think that's where, when you look at many countries around the world, it's so different. People are active participants in their community, in their local community, in their bigger community. I think that's really the disconnect here is that this moment could be amazing, but maybe it happened in the wrong country. Maybe it should have happened, I don't know, in like Venezuela or-- I mean that way, people would really hold you to your word. You know, but not hold you to your word, they would be your people base. They would allow you to do what you say, because they would be there en masse to say yeah, that's what we want. So, I think for me, the moment is less about Obama, and it's more about the fact that we all need to understand that participation in our communities to start with, whether that means being on the local board of your child's school, or going to a local meeting that's held with your community board, or talking to other people who you see at the subway station the same time every single morning about what works and what doesn't work and what you love and what you hate. And building that sense of community, starting there and then saying, well, let's really work together to make sure that we make our local community into what we want it to be. That empowers the great orators and all the rhetoric out there. Without that, it is just that -- it's just speechifying. MJ: In other contexts, you've talked about increased participation. We talked about vigilance, we've talked about voice in different ways. Is it conceivable to you that Obama could get the kind of real support from a mass base that he needs to make good on the promise of that initial moment? Or is it just endemic in American politics that we're just going to sit back on our heels and wait for him to do something good, and be critical of him when he doesn't? How do you see that? LD: There's the cynical answer, and there's the hopeful answer. I guess that changes every moment, every day. I would want to hope that we could do that. I think there are many good people working on that every day, so I don't at all want to make it seem like there isn't. But I think, again, it's about -- I think the people who are most comfortable are the least active, and they need to take the lead from people who have an active drive to participate. I need to participate because I need better housing, or because my child's school needs to be better. So, to me it's kind of reversed. The people who are participating right now are the ones who traditionally always have participated, because they have to, they know. Their reality is that they can't rely on electing somebody and then just kicking back and watching them. But now more then ever, they need the support of people who traditionally don't get involved or don't get active. I think that's a critique that's hard to make, because it's kind of the middle class, for a very generalized way of looking at it. It's an educated class. It's the people who want to sit back and critique, but they don't want to get active. If it meant that you, yourself, had to get active, -- which is why I look at the huge movements for immigrant rights. Those are people who have everything to lose. MJ: Right. Well, in that sense, do you think that the economic crisis could be a blessing in disguise in those terms, I mean in jarring people out of their complacency, creating a new kind of class-based -- or maybe not class-based, but at least politically economy-based understanding of the lay of the land? LD: I feel like the sad part is -- is like now we're being told that we're coming out of the economic crisis, and I don't see that as having happened -- maybe in very small, tiny little pockets here and there, but in a mass sense, no. So, I feel like that moment's gone. The hardest moment of that economic crisis might have been the push for that. So if we're passed the hardest moment, which doesn't mean it's not going to get harder-- MJ: Yeah, maybe we aren't passed the hardest moment. LD: Maybe we aren't. MJ: What's your sense of that? As you move about the city, what's your sense of -- well, to put it this way, what has been your experience of the economic crisis? LD: I think we are coming out of it a little bit, because many of the folks who we work with -- nannies and domestic workers, street vendors, day laborers -- you know, folks who are on the front lines of this crisis. You know, the Bear Stearns employee loses his job, the first thing he does is lay off his nanny. I think we're in a slightly better place. I don't want to say we coming out of it, but we're in a slightly better place than we were, because folks who I know who have been out of work are finding work. So, there's slightly more work for day laborers now. The wait on that corner is not weeks. Now it might be a little less. Domestic workers, it's still very hard to find a job, but it's slowly getting better. This is a little anecdotal. I haven't done any studies. I think people got very creative, and maybe a little bit of that is paying off. I don't know. It's hard to really tell besides those little indicators. Young people who come through our programs, for a couple of years there, there was absolutely no summer employment. And now some of them are getting jobs. Not great jobs, but they're getting jobs. And there was a period when nobody had work. So, I think just anecdotally that way it feels like things must be a little bit better. MJ: It's hard to gauge. I've talked about this with other people, too, that there weren't any really massive public markers of the crisis anyway. Like you could read about statistics in the paper, but, as you said, the credit society, even poor people look pretty good. So it's really hard to tell -- and there are no, you don't see the scale of the crisis out there in the public way. So, it's very hard to perceive trends. LD: I think the one on the markets just didn't -- like New York City's such a commercial city. I mean much less, like everything for a while there was just like two for one, huge sales, like everything was on sale. MJ: 90% off. LD: 90% off. And now you really don't see that so much anymore. MJ: Although you still see the vacant store fronts -- tons and tons and tons of them. I don't know if they're coming back. That I don't know about. Well, one more thing I wanted to ask you about, and this, in a sense, maybe brings us back to Arizona. But the opposition to Obama. Have you been surprised by anything you've seen on-- LD: I'm surprised he's still alive. No -- I mean this country has a horrible history. I know a number of people who literally were very scared for him when he got elected for his own personal safety and that of his family's. No. I mean I think the opposition -- I'll admit to you that throughout the health care debate, it just baffled me. It absolutely baffled -- and I've covered politics in this country for 10 years. And I just could not -- like I couldn't find, just as a thinking person-- And I still can't in my head understand that. I would go to my partner and I would say can you explain this to me? I just don't understand how this argument can hold water. Like how is it taken seriously by people? I mean, yeah, they passionately believe it -- but how does it even make it on to a newscast as a serious argument because it just-- Like that is one of the first places where it's like wow, this is such an issue. Like this is so deep because it's real simple, really, right? It's just like everybody needs health care. What you're arguing against is that people don't get to have health care. And I feel like, of course, I'm tainted because I grew up in a place where there was socialized health care. But there's not even an ideological issue, right? It shouldn't be -- yes, I get you don't want government in this, so that becomes an ideological issue for you. But how is there any sentido, sense, to what this opposition is saying that can't just be carved to bits and pieces by a proactive Obama Administration? Just being like well, you can go ahead and vote for them who clearly want to deny you of all of this, and then it gets turned into death panels and all these kinds of-- It's just like wow, this really is beyond sensical. Yet, it is being reported like it is completely sensical. It makes it absolutely the way -- you know, there's this side and then there's this side. I think for me that says more about not the opposition to Obama, but the neutral and the supporters of Obama -- that the rest of everybody couldn't shut that down. Kind of like what are you people talking about? OK, go over there and have your little conversation while we serious people over here figure out how to get real health care to everybody. And that didn't happen. They actually were really serious players in this, and taken really serious by everybody from the president down. So that, to me, is just like OK. That's why the rest of the world laughs at America. MJ: Do you think Obama's getting better at this in terms of playing that game against that opposition? LD: I want to say yes, but I think it's like I look at what he's doing on immigration and he's not. I don't know. Again, but I just come back and I don't think it can be about one person. It's like even if he was amazing on it, I think it's about more of a mass outcry against those people. Then Obama can stand up. I mean clearly Obama, he's a smart man, he knows that they're stupid, and that he needs to get them out of the way to get done what he needs to get done. But the only way he can do that is if everybody who voted for him or everybody who believes in the kinds of things that he was saying on the campaign trail, actually gets active. So right now you have a small plate, a small group of people who are active, and they're always the people who are active. He needs to be able to stand on top of his base. Not to have his base look to him and hope he does something. MJ: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you feel like we should have? LD: You've covered a lot. That's-- MJ: Well, thank you-- LD: --very wide-ranging. MJ: --so much.

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