Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bookstores matter

Skylight Books is the kind of quaint bookstore you once found in every community large enough to support a retail book seller, usually perched on main street, or wherever residents congregated to conduct commerce. Actually, let me edit that sentence to read, Skylight Books is the kind of quaint bookstore you once found in every community large enough to support a retail book seller, before large chain and online book retailers began stealing their customer bases.


On Friday, I visited this vibrant book emporium, located in the Los Feliz neighborhood, to hear one of America’s last remaining journalists speak. Amy Goodman was at Skylight, along with her brother, David, as part of a 70 city tour supporting Standing Up To The Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times.

The noontime appearance drew a turnout of about 100 people, packing the bookstore with those of us who respect the work of the Goodmans, and the program that Amy is most associated with, Democracy Now. While 100 people is a good turnout at any book event for non-celebrity authors, this was also taking place in a city with a population over 3 million people. Goodman has spoken several times in Maine (appearance I always have missed, unfortunately), and I’m sure that in our state of just over 1 million, in a city like Portland, with 60,000 people, turnouts rivaled her LA appearance.


It’s unfortunate that while Amy Goodman has a devoted following, and many continue to tune in daily to Democracy Now, often on community stations like Pacifica's KPFK-FM, she is still unknown to those who get their news entirely from mainstream sources. Still, while not a household name, those that seek alternative sources for their information respect Democracy Now’s work that regularly covers the stories that corporately controlled media no longer deem viable.

Goodman, who the night before was in Idaho, and ran into traffic issues on her way from LAX, was about 30 minutes late for her 12:30 appearance. The friendly crowd chatted, browsed the book selection, and when Amy arrived, she was greeted by a warm ovation. David arrived a bit later.

She is a captivating speaker, rattling off details effortlessly. Her LA talk touched on how the majority have been silenced by the corporate takeover of our media.

She spoke about how the mainstream got the story wrong (on purpose), when Rosa Parks died. They portrayed her as “lowly seamstress that just wanted a seat on the bus after a hard day of working. “ In truth, according to Goodman, Parks “knew exactly what she was doing when she sat down on that bus.”

Goodman also spoke about Martin Luther King Jr., and his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, delivered exactly one year before this death, on April 4, 1967. King’s speech was a speech he didn’t want to deliver, and was advised to not deliver by those close to him, because he was taking on America’s militarism (and the war in Vietnam), but maybe even more importantly, America’s materialism, and it’s abandonment of its poor. Once more, King’s legacy has been “whitewashed” by a media that doesn’t want its audience to ever consider class, or disavow its culture of fancy cars, electronic gadgets, and cosmetic enhancements, to focus on the inequality of our country, a divide that continues to grow wider.

As Goodman said, “we need a media that is the fourth estate, not for the state.”

She closed with the election of “Barack Hussein Obama,” and the significance of his becoming president. As Goodman put it, “how do we organize today, when the community organizer in chief, is now the commander in chief?”

Both Amy and her brother David said that their new book is about the groundswell that they’ve encountered across America, of ordinary people, organizing, and working to take back their communities, and their country. It is a story of the people—not celebrity activists—but everyday people, working to bring about change. This is the groundswell that swept President Obama into office.

I bought a copy of the new book that I’ll probably read on my return flight. I stood in line with about 50 others, and had it signed by both David and Amy.

Amy Goodman will be part of a panel today, at the LA Times Festival of Books.

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