Democracy Now! celebrated 25 years on the air with a virtual event on December 7th. Special guests included:
Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident and author
Angela Davis, legendary activist and scholar
Danny Devito, Emmy Award-winning actor
Martín Espada, National Book Award-winning poet
Danny Glover, actor and activist
Winona LaDuke, Indigenous leader
Arundhati Roy, the acclaimed Indian writer and activist.
The event also featured musical performances by the Grammy Award-winning Mexican singer & songwriter Lila Downs and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine.
Amy Goodman, Juan González & Nermeen Shaikh hosted the virtual event.
AMY GOODMAN: From Pacifica Radio, this is Democracy Now! Welcome to this special event celebrating 25 years of Democracy Now! Thank you so much for joining us from around the world. I’m Amy Goodman, with Democracy Now! co-hosts Juan González and Nermeen Shaikh. And we’ll be spending the evening talking to an amazing roster of folks, from Noam Chomsky to Angela Davis to the National Book Award-winning poet Martín Espada, the Indigenous leader Winona LaDuke and the great writer Arundhati Roy. It may be that the Dannys pop in — that’s Danny DeVito and Danny Glover — and more. But first a few highlights from the past quarter of a century.
ORONTO DOUGLAS: Chevron, just like Shell, uses the military to protect its oil activities. They drill. And they kill.
AMY GOODMAN: President Clinton, U.N. figures show that up to 5,000 children a month die in Iraq because of the sanctions against Iraq.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: That’s not true. That’s not true. And that’s not what they show.
AMY GOODMAN: The past two U.N. heads of the program in Iraq have quit, calling the U.S. policy — U.S.-U.N. policy “genocidal.”
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Now, you just listen to me. You ask the questions, and I’m going to answer. You have asked questions in a hostile, combative and even disrespectful tone, but I — and you have never been able to combat the facts.
AMY GOODMAN: From Pacifica Radio, this is a Democracy Now! exclusive.
REP. MAXINE WATERS: He was kidnapped. He said he was forced to leave Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: Did U.S. security forces kidnap Haitian President Aristide? We’ll speak with Congressmember Maxine Waters and Aristide’s close friend, TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson.
RANDALL ROBINSON: He said tell the world it’s a coup, it’s a coup, it’s a coup.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: All that would be needed to do is to raise the economic level in Mexico, and the entire illegal immigration population problems would decline in this country. And not only that, but the country, if it had a higher immigration quota in connection with —
LOU DOBBS: Are you giving me instruction, or are you telling me what we agree upon?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: No, we don’t agree. We don’t agree, because you are demonizing illegal immigration as a separate issue. …
LOU DOBBS: How in the world can you use my name and “anti-immigrant” in the same breath?
AMY GOODMAN: Sir?
POLICE OFFICER: Ma’am, get back to the sidewalk.
DENIS MOYNIHAN: Release the accredited journalists now!
AMY GOODMAN: Sir, just one second. I was just running from the convention floor.
DENIS MOYNIHAN: You are violating my constitutional rights. You are violating their constitutional rights.
POLICE OFFICER: Sidewalk now!
AMY GOODMAN: Sir, I want to talk to your superior —
POLICE OFFICER: Arrest her?
AMY GOODMAN: Do not arrest me!
POLICE OFFICER: Come on.
AMY GOODMAN: Do not arrest me!
POLICE OFFICER: Hold it right there. You’re under arrest. Stay right there. Back up. Back up.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We’re on the edge of Tahrir Square. There are many rocks and stones that have littered the ground here. Army tanks are stationed, but they just stood by as Mubarak’s thugs came in on horseback and camel and attacked crowds. There’s many wounded here in slings. They are bandaged.
MARTINA CORREIA: [with crowd] I am Troy Davis! You are Troy Davis! We are Troy Davis!
AMY GOODMAN: Are you telling the dogs to bite the protesters?
WATER PROTECTOR 1: She keeps siccing them after people.
AMY GOODMAN: The dog has blood in its nose and its mouth.
Why are you letting their — her dog go after the protesters? It’s covered in blood!
WATER PROTECTOR 2: Stop!
AMY GOODMAN: We’re in occupied Western Sahara, in Laayoune, the capital of what many call Africa’s last colony.
PROTESTERS: Let them in! Let them in! Let them in!
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re outside New York City’s John F. Kennedy Airport, outside Terminal 4, where thousands of people have gathered to protest the Trump administration’s executive order.
PROTESTERS: Whose country? Our country! Whose country? Our country!
AMY GOODMAN: Just a few of the scenes of the last 25 years of Democracy Now! It is hard to believe that Democracy Now! has been on the air — first radio, then television — for 25 years. I’m Amy Goodman, joined by Juan González and Nermeen Shaikh. Juan and I began together 25 years ago. Nermeen joined us a decade ago. It is all hard to believe, but our mission together has been with the remarkable team that we work with at Democracy Now! and all of you, whenever you joined us over these last 25 years, making this possible, bringing a forum for people across the world to join together and speak for themselves, or we tell their stories in case they can’t be heard, if they’re in captivity, if they are protecting their family, to tell their stories until they can tell their own. This has been a remarkable adventure that we hope to continue for many years to come. Juan, I only came to know you right before, when we were covering Haiti, when you were working for the New York Daily News and I was working for Pacifica Radio, and we were in Port-au-Prince together.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, Amy, and it’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years. It feels like just yesterday. Of course, the media landscape has changed dramatically, but I think the important thing about Democracy Now! and the wonderful audience and listeners and viewers that we have is they all understand what we are trying to do, that we’re part of this grand tradition of the dissident press in America that goes back to the Working Men’s Press of the 1830s, the great muckrakers of the turn of the 20th century — Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, Upton Sinclair — through the labor press and the socialist press of the 1930s and the New Left press of the 1960s, and, of course, the progressive media of today. This dissident press in America has always sought to provide a different narrative about the news, not about the great celebrities and the powerful figures and the upper classes, but by and for the masses of Americans.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Nermeen, when you joined us 10 years ago, talk about your goals for Democracy Now! and where you see it in the world.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Amy, it’s been such an honor and privilege to co-host the show with you, to be part of this really remarkable organization that you began 25 years ago. I mean, for me, what’s very striking, and has become more so in the last 10 years that I’ve co-hosted with you, is how much people all over the world, in places I would not have imagined, first people watch the show, but also they lament the fact that there is nothing like Democracy Now! in most countries, because this show, what you’ve made possible, allows not just, as you say, people to speak for themselves, all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, but also allows us to have people on the show, like the ones that we’ve spoken to — Chomsky and Angela Davis and Arundhati Roy — who can give a broader historical context for the structures which produce the situations that we cover so often. And we have the ability to have these people speak, not for three minutes or two minutes the way that we see on mainstream media, but in fact for extended conversations, 20 minutes, even a full hour, as we’ve done so often with, for example, Noam Chomsky. So, it’s really an extraordinary program and really very, very rare, not just in the U.S. but also around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: And it’s such an honor doing it with you, Nermeen and Juan, and the absolutely remarkable team of producers and journalists and Democracy Now! family members who work with us today and have for the last 25 years. We are so excited about tonight, honoring everyone and honoring all of you all over the world who are joining us tonight, because you make Democracy Now! possible by watching, by reading, by listening. And also, in honor of our 25th anniversary, a generous donor has offered to triple match any donation that you make today. You can go to democracynow.org. Again, your contribution will go three times as far, whether you give $5, which would be fantastic, or $5,000 or $10,000. Whatever you give, it’s going to be tripled. And if you can’t, do not worry, because Democracy Now! is a free service for everyone. It is our mission in life. Independent media is essential to the functioning of a democratic society.
Well, we have such a program that we have planned for you tonight. We’re going to be talking to Angela Davis and the great poet Martín Espada. We’re going to be speaking with the world-renowned dissident Noam Chomsky. We’re going to go to New Delhi, India, to speak with Arundhati Roy. We’re going to go to northern Minnesota and speak to Winona LaDuke, the White Earth Reservation. And I think we’re going to have some little appearances, guest appearances, from Danny Glover, from Danny DeVito, and we’re going to bring you musicians, from Lila Downs to Tom Morello. And we’re going to go back in time to our 20th anniversary that was live in person, and we are going to have one of those big in-person events in the future, to join for our 20th anniversary, well, Patti Smith and Michael Stipe, who came out and surprised us, after two decades of Democracy Now! But right now, on with the show.
Well, as we continue to mark our 25th anniversary, our 25 years on the air, Juan and I are going now to California, where we’re joined by the world-renowned abolitionist, author, activist, scholar, professor Angela Davis. On this 25th anniversary celebration, Angela, it is such an honor to have you join us, as you’ve done so many times in the last decades.
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, thank you so much, Amy. You know, it seems like it’s been longer than 25 years. It seems like Democracy Now! has always been there. But I think I may also be thinking about I.F. Stone’s newsletter and some other progressive media in your lineage.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, to be counted in that amazing pantheon, someone like I.F. Stone, who said to journalism students, “If you can remember two words, remember 'governments lie.' If you can remember three words, remember 'all governments lie,'” it would be an honor for us to be counted together with I.F. Stone.
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, thank you so much for your work over the years. I was just reflecting on the fact that when no one else would cover Mumia Abu-Jamal, we were able to hear his voice on Democracy Now! And when no one else was thinking about Assata Shakur and the demonization of Assata Shakur, Amy, you and Juan and your colleagues were covering her case. So thank you so much. I don’t know what we would have been able to do in our efforts to push for radical social change if Democracy Now! had not been there.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Angela, I wanted to ask you — when we first spoke on Democracy Now! about abolishing about the prison-industrial complex, that was back in 2010. And you said then that, quote, “Prison abolition is about building a new world.” Here we are more than a decade later. The abolition movement has drawn more attention. What is key to understand about how this movement can continue to grow?
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, you know, let’s remember that the abolition movement has a very long genealogy. We can go back to the 1970s and the Attica brothers uprising. The people in prison there who rose up against the horrendous conditions also called for prison abolition.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That’s right.
ANGELA DAVIS: This was perhaps the first time that there was this public display of a way to address the prison system that was not couched in the ideology of reform.
I am absolutely surprised that abolition has entered into public discourse during this period. To tell the truth, many of my comrades and I assumed that it would be decades and decades, you know, perhaps 50 years from now, people would finally begin to understand that we cannot keep attempting to reform the police or reform the prisons. Reform is actually the glue that has held these institutions together over the years.
But it’s so exciting now to see young people, especially, talking about building a new world, recognizing that it’s not about punishing this person and that person, it’s about creating a new framework so that we do not have to depend on institutions like the police and prisons for safety and security. We can learn how to depend on education and healthcare and mental healthcare and recreation and all of the things that human beings need in order to flourish. That is true security, true safety.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about another aspect of that movement, as well. You’re the daughter of civil rights activists. You went on to become a prominent member of the Communist Party USA, a leader of the Black Panther Party. And you were targeted by the FBI. At one point, the FBI had you on its list of the 10 most wanted fugitives in America. Yet today, some of the loudest voices within the young radical resurgence in America, especially on the college campuses and in middle-class intellectual circles, are openly dismissive or simply ignorant of the most vital lessons of the Panther Party, the Young Lords and figures like Malcolm X, you and W.E.B. Du Bois, who all urged the need not only to battle systemic racism but also to strive for the solidarity of oppressed people of all races, for unity of workers against imperialism. But this new trend now, it seems to me, is focusing more on racial identity, individual biases and anti-Blackness as the central question for social change. And in doing so, they echo a historical strain of narrow nationalism, what we used to call in the Young Lords back then “pork chop nationalism.” The Panther Party, as well, called it that. Some have even sought on social media to cancel you and the lived experience and the sacrifices of radical socialists and the revolutionary movement within the Black and Brown communities. I’m wondering your thoughts on that? I’ve heard you speak on it, I think, at a forum in Germany recently.
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, yes. Yeah, I’m very disappointed that we don’t have a more capacious public understanding of what it means to stand up against racism, that racism is the very foundation of this country, based on colonialism and slavery. And that means, in the very first place, it is important to recognize the connections between Indigenous people and people of African descent. It is not possible to tell the story of people of African descent in the Americas without also telling the story of Indigenous people.
You know, I think that when we engage in serious conversations with young people who really want to learn, they begin to get it. They begin to recognize that we can’t work with these narrow assumptions about Blackness and who counts as Black and the efforts to dismiss what is often referred to as political Blackness. And, of course, Du Bois taught us so many decades ago that the reason for identifying connections and relationalities among African people and people of African descent has little to do with the biology or genetics of Blackness, but rather has everything to do with struggles against imperialism, everything to do with global struggles for a better world. But, of course, we continue those conversations.
And I’m actually impressed by the fact that increasing numbers of people are recognizing how important it is to have a decolonial or anti-imperialist perspective. If we did not expect to have abolition become a central element of public discourse during the early part of the 21st century — and it has become that — then I think we can be a little more optimistic about the possibility of encouraging people to think more critically about the future struggles against racism.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Angela Davis, we want to thank you so much for being with us. And I want to ask you, finally, about the issue of independent media, of people shaping their own narratives. I mean, I think that’s the power of the corporate media, is they tell a story, whether it is true or not, brought to you by the weapons manufacturers every five minutes or the drug industry every 10 minutes, you know, the commercials, as you talk about capitalism. If you could talk about a different kind of media in, perhaps, if you want to imagine this, a post-capitalist society and what that would offer, since it’s the way people can communicate with each other all over the world?
ANGELA DAVIS: Well, I think it’s so important now, Amy, to imagine new worlds. We cannot fight for those worlds unless we know how to imagine them. And independent, progressive media, like Democracy Now!, help to inspire us in that project of collective imagination to allow people to tell their own stories. And, of course, you go where the movements are unfolding. I’ll never forget watching your arrest at Standing Rock and how that campaign helped to galvanize a more holistic understanding of what it is we’re struggling for, the freedom that we’re fighting for, that we have to save this planet. And Indigenous people, the stewards of this land for so many millennia, have taught us that the struggle for the environment has to be central to our work. And you present their stories. So I thank you and Juan and all of your colleagues for the work that you continue to do. And I’m sure we’ll be speaking to each other in the near future.
AMY GOODMAN: Angela Davis, thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for gracing our airwaves and continuing this critical conversation. From me and Juan, all the best to you in Oakland.
ANGELA DAVIS: Thank you.
DANNY GLOVER: Hello. I’m Danny Glover. And I’m happy. I’m so glad I’m here to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Democracy Now! Democracy Now! is where I go to for independent news. And I’ve been doing that for years. You know, like Angela Davis says, we need to imagine something. Imagination is so important. Albert Einstein always talked about imagination. And it is important for us to support this vital instrument in our community. It is in our hands. And we can only sustain it by donating. We need you to donate. We need you to listen. You must listen. But we need you to donate. And I want to take this moment to celebrate that. And you need to go to democracynow.org to donate. Donate now today. Whatever you give is going to be tripled by an anonymous donor. So go to Democracy Now! and donate to keep us alive. Democracy Now! is about us, to keep us alive.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re continuing to celebrate our 25th anniversary, and we can’t think of a better person to do it with than our next guest, the great writer Arundhati Roy. She’s joining us from her home in New Delhi, the great writer, author, activist. How many times has she appeared on Democracy Now! to talk about her books, to talk about what’s happening in the world, to talk about her protests against everything from the Iraq War to her outspoken critique of growing Hindu nationalism in India.
But, Arundhati, it’s so amazing for Nermeen and I to be talking to you, coming really into your home in New Delhi. We see the spiral bookshelves behind you. It’s like that’s what you ascend, your books, as you, I guess, travel the world at home right now through the pandemic. But you were on Democracy Now! for the first time like 20 years ago, two decades ago, and then, from then on, all the landmark moments. I think of the Iraq War and you coming to the United States and your speaking around the world against it. Can you just talk about — well, first of all, hello. And, Nermeen, join in. Hello.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, hello.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Hello, Arundhati, and welcome back to the show.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Hi, Nermeen.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We really wish you were here in studio with us. Well, I really wish I were in the studio, to begin with.
ARUNDHATI ROY: I wish you were at home with me. That would have been nicer. It’s so strange, isn’t it? So intimate in one’s home, and yet so disembodied. It’s such a peculiar time.
But what are two decades, you know? And really, this shouldn’t be about me. It should be about you and what amazing work you’ve done for so many years, you know, for 25 years, how to hold the line. It’s, you know, at a time when media is in such crisis, not just structurally but conceptually, I think. We really need to worry about how we are going to continue, because I think it’s probably the biggest thing that’s under assault right now in all kinds of ways that 20 years ago we wouldn’t have dreamt of, right?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Arundhati, explain what you mean by that. What do you mean that media, independent media, is under threat in many different ways, including conceptually?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, what I mean by that is, of course, independent media has always been swimming against the current. But now, in a way, we have a media that’s independent of independent media, right? You have this atomization of how news and fake news and stories are being sort of pipelined across the world, and how does — and social media, which is ushering people into echo chambers from which they cannot — they’re then sealed into a kind of, you know, microideologies, and you can’t speak across those barriers. And so, somehow, those of us who do what we do are in the middle of this. You know, on the one hand, the giant corporate media, and the other hand, this corporatized, atomized social media, which has a very malign algorithms that are now creating a problem and creating so much information that the human brain can’t really process. So, how do we navigate our little boat through the storm?
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati, when you first came on Democracy Now! 20 years ago, it was October 19, 2001. Think about that moment. It was, you know, a month after the September 11th attacks, and you had just written a piece in The Guardian titled “The Algebra of Infinite Justice,” in which you said, “America is at war against people it doesn’t know, because they don’t appear much on TV. Before it has properly identified or even begun to comprehend the nature of its enemy, the U.S. government has, in a rush of publicity and embarrassing rhetoric, cobbled together an 'international coalition against terror,' mobilised its army, its air force, its navy and its media, and committed them to battle. The trouble is that once America goes off to war, it can’t very well return without having fought one.” Twenty years ago, right after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.
ARUNDHATI ROY: And look. I mean, look at the narrative symmetry of what we saw just a few months ago when it withdrew, after — in such a shameful way. I don’t know what to say, you know, right now, because I remember — I remember so clearly the time when I wrote that essay, you know, being told by everybody, “Don’t do it,” because anger was at such a height in the U.S., nationalism was at such a peak. You know, every car was flying four flags. And “Don’t do it,” you know? And I just couldn’t not write it.
But then I learned something, because when I came there, I learned never to confuse, you know, all people with their government, right? So, it opened up so many friendships and conversations and relationships that have lasted for so many years.
And today, I find — one of the things I find most unnerving is that you’ll have media, which 20 years ago, when I wrote this, was just — I remember being at a war tribunal in Iraq and somebody reading out something from a right-wing magazine in India — in the U.S., where they said, “I’ll be on the side of anyone who takes a bunker buster to Arundhati Roy.” And I said, you know, this is what I mean about the disproportionate use of force: Why a bunker buster when a bullet would do? But now the same media is saying what we were saying 20 years ago. You know, now it’s become something that you’re allowed to talk about in those spaces. But the trouble is it’s too late. You know? So, I just watch people who derided people like myself, who said she should be taken to a psychiatrist, she’s hysterical, she’s crazy, now saying exactly the same thing, you know? And just a sort of deep silence settles on me sometimes.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Arundhati, one of the most distressing responses to the pandemic has been the extraordinary inequity in access to vaccines. Could you speak about that in the context of not only India, but the developing world, in general?
ARUNDHATI ROY: Well, isn’t it just so sad? You know, you see that in countries like the U.S. or in many countries in Europe, people are — you know, people who don’t want the vaccine are protesting, and there’s so much vaccine just lying around. And in poor countries, that vaccine is just not available.
In India, you have a very peculiar situation where almost all the vaccine manufacturing has been entrusted to just one company. And I think India is sort of committed to making vaccines for 92 countries, while here, of course, in June, while people even in the city I live in were dying on the streets, were being cremated on the pavement, where there were burial grounds and the rivers were full of dead bodies, and people, of course, had not been vaccinated. There wasn’t any vaccine. Now a third, only a third, of the Indian population has been fully vaccinated. But we have huge hoardings. In fact, quite soon after the horrible apocalyptic summer that we had, where people were dying in their homes, people were desperate for oxygen, people who asked for it on Twitter were getting arrested for, you know, showing the nation in a bad light. And just as the fires had barely died in the cremation grounds, when the huge hoardings went up saying, “Thank you Modiji for free vaccine,” but, in fact, we had a tiered system of pricing for vaccinations. So, some are free, some are not. And while the government has committed to supplying these other countries with billions of doses, in India, still the poor are waiting.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Arundhati, you know, we just have a couple of minutes. We know you just have a couple of minutes.
ARUNDHATI ROY: Yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And we wanted to ask about — this is the 25th anniversary of Democracy Now! You’ve obviously appeared on the show many, many times. Could you say what Democracy Now! has meant to you?
ARUNDHATI ROY: It’s meant a place to breathe, an oxygen cylinder in the world, which is sort of metaphorically dying of COVID for many years. It’s been a place where you can be sure that you will be met with facts, with intelligence and with courage.
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati, as we wrap up, it’s beautiful to hear your dog in the background. I also have a puppy named Zazu. She tips her hat to you, or her paws, whatever. But tonight as we do the celebration of Democracy Now!, we’re joined by Noam Chomsky. You wrote a chapter in a book, “The Loneliness of Noam Chomsky,” and referred to him as Chomp-sky. We are joined by Winona LaDuke, the great Indigenous rights activist, Native American leader. As well, we’re joined by Angela Davis, among others. And I was wondering if you have messages for them, too, and for our whole global audience?
ARUNDHATI ROY: I just look at them and me and you as beads on a beautiful necklace. You know? And long may it be so. I think it’s such a great, great salute to Democracy Now! that you have the people you just mentioned coming on your show. I don’t think they’re people who would easily show up, you know, to remember what great work you’ve done, and what great people they are.
AMY GOODMAN: Arundhati, thank you for inviting us into your home tonight. Thank you so much. It has been wonderful spending this time with you.
ARUNDHATI ROY: You are welcome, darlings. Lots of love to you.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And now we’ll hear from the wonderful musician Lila Downs.
LILA DOWNS: Happy 25th anniversary, Democracy Now! Thank you for being a very important platform for freedom of speech. ¡Felicidades! [performing “Clandestino”]
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the amazing Lila Downs performing Manu Chao’s classic “Clandestino.” And for more Lila on Democracy Now!, go to democracynow.org, where she does a whole performance of songs and we interview her. We did that a few years ago. You can check that out. But today, in honor of our 25th anniversary, she did that special recording.
And we’re asking you to do something special. If you can possibly afford to pledge, a generous donor has offered to triple match your donation tonight. Just go to democracynow.org, and you can click on the donate button. Your contribution will be tripled, so please be as generous as you can. Oh, you can also text the word “celebrate” — that’s C-E-L-E-B-R-A-T-E — you can text the word “celebrate” to 66866. And, well, if you understand QR codes, there’s the QR code, and you can just donate there. If you can’t give, I mean, we’re talking $10 or $10 a month, maybe you could do $50 or $100, $1,000 or $10,000 — remember, it’s a tax-deductible charitable contribution, and your donation is being tripled. It means so much to Democracy Now!, and you’re keeping Democracy Now! a free service for everyone all over the globe. Enough said. Please think about it. Democracynow.org. But we’re going to turn right now to a video message that’s just come in from professor Cornel West.
CORNEL WEST: My dear sister Amy, 25 years of truth telling and justice seeking and being true to your calling and vocation. I’m standing here over our beloved Harlem, and I’m wishing you the best, with all my love, all my respect, and all of those who work with you to deliver what we need so bad, which is insights, courage, and exemplars of service to poor and working people.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, as we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we are now joined by the longtime Indigenous leader Winona LaDuke, first appeared on Democracy Now! in our first year on the air, in 1996. At the time, she was running for vice president. She was Ralph Nader’s running mate on the Green Party ticket. Winona is now head of Honor the Earth. She’s an Anishinaabe activist who lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota.
It’s such an honor to have you with us 25 years later. Of course, we’ve spoken to you many, many times since then. I was in your tepee that you had set up at Standing Rock in 2016. But going back to that first year, you are a longtime activist on the ground. I can’t remember when your last arrest was. I know it’s in the last few weeks, as you protest Line 3. But how would you compare grassroots activism with running for vice president and electoral politics? You’ve done both.
WINONA LADUKE: I think that — first of all, hello. Nice to see you again and be on Democracy Now! You know, there’s a lot of things that don’t see the light of day. You know, people see people running for office, and there’s a lot of limelight on a national political arena. But change is made in many ways. And I am someone that really believes not only in informed citizens make the best democracy, but also that change has got to be made at a very local level and that that should provide the leadership and the guidance for a lot of things that might happen in Washington or elsewhere. And, you know, so I have done pretty much everything I can to try to change the way things are, to make things better for all of our communities, you know, from standing up on the local level to bad guys, whether mining companies or GMO corporations or pipeline companies, and also at the same time I have joined with many others saying sometimes a public — you know, private citizen — Ralph would say sometimes a private citizen must become a public citizen. You’ve got to step outside of your arena of comfort, and sometimes you’re going to need to run for office. And more principled people should run for office, because we certainly can see that with the election of AOC and the Squad and other really remarkable leaders, getting out the vote does matter. So I’m someone who says change happens in every arena. Let us make that change.
AMY GOODMAN: So, there you are in northern Minnesota. And the Line 3, the Enbridge Line 3, about how far is it from you? And if you could talk about the protests, set the scene for us, and why you go there and get arrested?
WINONA LADUKE: So, where I live is one of the centers of biodiversity. You know, on a worldwide scale, Indigenous people represent about 4% of the world’s population, but we represent about 75% of the world’s biodiversity. My community has all of this wild rice. You know, we’re the largest wild rice territory in the North, in this Anishinaabe territory. There are seven Ojibwe reservations that are all surrounded with wild rice, in our treaty territories and on our reservations, the 1837, the 1842 and the 1855 treaty territories. So this is basically the northern third of Minnesota, which is where all of the wild rice is in the 10,000 lakes. So, we have lived here for 10,000 years, harvested the same rice from the same lakes for all those years. We certainly know what it is to have a sustainable economy. You know, we are people who have maple syruping operations and maple sugaring operations. And so, you know, we have a way of life which is a sustainable way of life. And that is what we are fighting to protect, our way of life, because it is really an economy that is the only economy that is durable in the long term up here in northern Minnesota.
You know, we have had a number of assaults come towards us, the genetic modification of wild rice proposals that existed, and then, you know, various other mining projects. But the big one is Enbridge. Enbridge is the Canadian multinational. It is the largest pipeline company in North America and produces and transports 75% of the tar sands into the United States. Line 3 is what they call the replacement line, but they were forced to move into a new corridor by the Leech Lake Reservation, which put them in the middle of the 55. And my tribe, the White Earth Anishinaabe, and our people fought this pipeline for eight years. What started as a $7 billion project ended up as a $9 billion project, I think three years late. And it turns out you don’t get a tiara for putting in the last tar sands pipeline. The most expensive and the last tar sands pipeline was put in by Enbridge. In that process, our resistance — you know, we and other Indigenous people helped keep about 25% of the fossil fuels and the carbon that would have been produced through the tar sands in the ground, because we fought on all of these pipelines, whether it was Trans Mountain — I call it Trudeau West — or whether it was the Keystone XL pipeline or this pipeline, Line 3. You know, despite every attempt, despite us pursuing every legal and regulatory angle to protect our water and our wild rice and our people and our future generations, Enbridge shoved this pipeline down our throat. And, you know, it was wrong. It was wrong eight years ago, when they had the idea, and it was wrong now.
And to carry out that pipeline, they of course had — you know, the state of Minnesota approved the pipeline and then said that Enbridge had to pay for the police to ensure that their pipeline was put in safely and that if there was any problems, they would have to pay for them. And so, Enbridge basically took and militarized the police force in northern Minnesota, and, you know, hundreds of thousands of hours of police time were put in repressing water protectors, like myself, in northern Minnesota. And the consequences of that are that a thousand people have been charged in northern Minnesota, including myself, for standing on the Shell River. I was charged in Aitkin County, I was charged in Hubbard County, and I was charged in Wadena County. And I joined many others who stood there in a nonviolent manner to say, “I’m putting my body on the line because you are wrong.” And, you know, I’m very proud of our water protector movement, born under a hail of bullets in Standing Rock and continuing strong to resist the destruction of our water.
AMY GOODMAN: Winona, I wanted to play this new music video that Jackson Browne did, featuring you and six other women water protectors called the Shell River Seven. And it shows you right there. It shows you getting arrested, fighting the Line 3 pipeline. Without further ado.
WINONA LADUKE: Yeah, this video is done by Keri Pickett, but Jackson Browne and Steven Van Zandt supported us in producing this video.
JACKSON BROWNE AND THE SHELL RIVER SEVEN: [performing “I Am a Patriot”]
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Jackson Browne singing “I Am a Patriot,” but the real stars here are you guys, you know, the Shell River Seven. And we watch you getting arrested as the Line 3 is being built. And it’s a call for all those charges to be dropped against — how many people have been arrested so far?
WINONA LADUKE: About a thousand people were charged on Line 3. A thousand people. And, you know, we’re not criminals. We’re patriots. The corporation is the criminal.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to end by asking you about independent media. I remember in 2016, when we first tried to interview you, you were in a North Dakota TV studio, but it didn’t work, not exactly clear why. You were protesting, of course, at Standing Rock. But we ended up — you were in this nice studio, but you were on the telephone talking to us. And so, that clearly wasn’t enough for us, and we headed out to North Dakota. But, overall, the importance of independent media, of Democracy Now!, of what it means to have fossil fuel-free, not sponsored by the oil, gas, coal companies or the weapons manufacturers or the insurance companies or Big Pharma, an independent media?
WINONA LADUKE: You know, someone — we need to tell our stories. And we need our stories not to be edited by Monsanto, DuPont and Enbridge. And how you get your story out there is through independent media. That is through, you know, people on the ground who tell our story. We’re not embedded journalists. We live here, you know, and then people come visit us. And you can see from your eyes what is happening in the Deep North.
Where I live, it is the Deep North. There are Native communities that are living in these very repressive areas, where one county arrested 434 people in the last few months just as water protectors. That is the Deep North. And the media here reflects that. And so, we must bounce bigger than that through whether it is our tribal media or Democracy Now!, which not only is provided on our tribal radio stations, because of you, but also because we have — but also allows us to share our stories to a much bigger audience. And it is clear that, you know, it is hard to have access to independent media in the North, in the Deep North, and so we must make that access. And it is a good thing you came out to Standing Rock and that it would not work in a studio of North Dakota Public TV, which is barely funded, and that you had to come and get yourself arrested with the rest of us.
AMY GOODMAN: That was not intended. But just to put out —
WINONA LADUKE: Welcome to the Deep North, Amy. Welcome to the Deep North. Everybody gets arrested. They arrested all kind of journalists up here, you know? Guy walking towards them, oh, with his press credentials and a microphone got arrested. It was like —
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Winona —
WINONA LADUKE: But we need y’all. Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you so much, and thank you for being there all these years and for joining us in that first year of Democracy Now!, in 1996, right until today, 25 years later. Thanks so much, Winona.
WINONA LADUKE: Thanks for having me, Amy. And you be well and continue on.
AMY GOODMAN: Winona LaDuke, speaking to us from the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota. As she talks about sustainability, I think about a young person who Democracy Now! broadcast a few years ago, when she was 15 years old, Greta Thunberg. It might have been one of the first times she had a big global broadcast. And it was on Democracy Now! when she came to the U.N. climate summit in Poland. We’ve followed Greta after that. And when she was 16, she didn’t want to take a plane, and she took a boat, ultimately, from Sweden, made her way from Europe to the United States by boat. And at a certain point in this trip — now she was getting enormous attention — the 16-year-old Greta Thunberg came into our studio. I think it was the most extended interview she did during that trip to the United States, where she also went to Native American reservations. And Greta, we know, talks so much about sustainability, was on the U.N. summit in Glasgow, called it a failure because leaders weren’t taking seriously or enough action to deal with the climate emergency. But when she came into our studio at 16, we asked her why this issue was so important to her and how she came to be such a serious climate activist at her very young age, even years before 15. It was so deeply moving that we just wanted to play a part of that for you tonight.
GRETA THUNBERG: I think when I — I think I was maybe 7, 8, 9 years old when I first heard about the problem. And then, of course, by time, I read about it more and more and sort of understood how important it was and how severe this crisis was. And so, it was around that age and maybe 10, 11, 12. I think I became really into the climate movement when I was 12, 13. And that’s when I became like a climate activist. I went to demonstrations in my spare time, and I tried to join organizations and movements and so on. But then I just thought that everything was still happening too slow and that it wasn’t going fast enough. So then I just decided that I’m going to do something on my own, and that might not work, but there’s a chance it will — it can have an impact. And I thought, “Why not try?” So then I started school-striking for the climate.
AMY GOODMAN: You went through a crisis in that period, after you were 8 years old. Can you talk about what you went through?
GRETA THUNBERG: Yeah. It was after that I sort of caught up with reading about it, and I understood, and that made me very depressed, of course. And when you are the only one who really reacts about this crisis, and everyone else seems to just, “OK, it’s very important, but I am too busy with my life” — and I just thought that it was very strange that no one else was behaving in a logical way. And so, I —
AMY GOODMAN: What would that logical way have been?
GRETA THUNBERG: To do something, to step out of your comfort zone and to realize that, “OK, we cannot continue like we have done now. We need to do something drastically. And I am going to do everything I can to help to push in the right direction.”
AMY GOODMAN: That’s, at the time, the 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg. She had come to the U.S. by boat. This was the most extended interview she did at that time. We met her the year before at 15 in Poland. She was supposed to join us tonight but wasn’t able to, and we just wanted to just bring her voice into this conversation. Nermeen?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So now, everyone, we go to musician and activist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine.
TOM MORELLO: I’m Tom Morello. And a big shoutout to Democracy Now! and a big thank you for allowing the people to speak for themselves. Thank you for being a news service that unapologetically stands on the side of human rights and peace and justice for all. Especially thanks to Amy Goodman. You’re a true hero. And thank you for your service, one and all at Democracy Now! This song is for all of you. This is called “Let Freedom Ring.” Check it out. Here it comes. [singing “Let Freedom Ring”]
AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, Tom! Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine. As we continue to mark a quarter of a century of Democracy Now!, we’re going to Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, where we’re joined by the great poet Martín Espada, who just won the National Book Award for his book of poetry, Floaters, which honors asylum seekers who have drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande in Texas. Juan?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Martín, thanks so much for joining us on this anniversary. And could you tell us about the title, Floaters, and why you chose it?
MARTÍN ESPADA: Well, much of the book focuses on the theme of migrants and migration. And that ranges from the migrants crossing the southern border to the migrants who made their way to Puerto Rico — from Puerto Rico, rather, to the United States. And so, that encompasses not only Óscar and Valeria, who were the Salvadoran father and daughter who drowned crossing the Rio Grande in June 2019 and then were the subjects of that photograph we all remember that went viral, it also encompasses people like my father, Francisco Luis Espada, Frank Espada, who came to this country in a boat. And he, too, was a migrant. So that makes me the son of a migrant. And so, much of the book focuses on that sort of struggle, that sort of survival or loss of life, and ultimately some form of transcendence for that community and the descendants of those who cross over.
“Floaters,” by the way, refers most literally to a term used by certain members of the Border Patrol to describe those who drown crossing over. So, where I got it was after Óscar and Valeria drowned and that photograph went viral, there was a post in the “I’m 10-15” Border Patrol Facebook group alleging that this photograph was a fake. And that’s where I saw the use of the word “floaters” for the first time. And then there was a border activist of my acquaintance who confirmed that this was a term commonly in use. Obviously, you know, this kind of oppressive force that’s brought to bear on the border has its own vocabulary. And so, “floaters” is a part of that.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, you mentioned your father, Frank Espada, himself a renowned photographer, activist and chronicler of the Puerto Rican migration. He was a big influence on your life, big influence on my life. I met him 60 years ago, and he was a mentor to me. Could you talk about his influence on you, and also, if you can, maybe read one of the poems in the book where he figures?
MARTÍN ESPADA: Absolutely. My father, Frank Espada, was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, in 1930, died in Pacifica, California, in 2014. He was a community organizer. He was a leader, some people would say the leader of the Puerto Rican community in New York City in the 1960s and early ’70s. That was a community of almost 1 million people.
He was also the creator of something called the Puerto Rican Diaspora Documentary Project, a photodocumentary of the Puerto Rican migration, because he was a great documentary photographer. His work is now included in the collections of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery and the Library of Congress. He also published a book by that name, Puerto Rican Diaspora.
And so, his photographs hung on the walls of our apartment in the Linden projects of East New York, Brooklyn, from earliest memory, which means they’re also hung on the walls of my imagination. And I was able to see, from earliest memory and earliest imagination from my youth, the nexus between art and activism, the nexus between craft and commitment. To me, it was all one. I thought everybody did it this way. And so, my father, although he was a photographer, had a great influence on me as a poet and as a poet of political commitment, a poet of the political imagination.
Well, all this came back for me when Hurricane Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico four years ago. We just marked the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Maria. And my father, of course, was already gone. And yet I couldn’t help thinking about him. Why? Because suddenly I saw his hometown of Utuado everywhere. I saw it on television. I saw it online. I saw it on social media. I saw it in the articles coming from major publications like The Washington Post. In fact, Jon Lee Anderson, in the pages of The New Yorker, said that Utuado had become, quote, “a byword for the island’s devastation.” And here I was in western Massachusetts watching helplessly.
And so I began talking to my father. Now, it’s not unusual for people to talk to the dead, especially if it so happens you have their corporeal remains in your possession, as I do. I have his ashes in a box on my bookshelf wrapped in a Puerto Rican flag, which is the way he would have wanted it. And so I began talking to the box. And it was strange, because I was talking to the box as if my father could hear me, but he did not know what was happening in his beloved Utuado, his beloved Puerto Rico, where ultimately 4,000 people would die, not only due to the hurricane, but, of course, due to the profound negligence of Donald Trump. And so, in the poem I wrote for him, I tell him what’s happening, but then I call on him to rise again. The poem I ultimately wrote, which is the last in this book Floaters, is called “Letter to My Father: October 2017.”
You once said: My reward for this life will be a thousand pounds of dirt shoveled in my face. You were wrong. You are seven pounds of ashes in a box, a Puerto Rican flag wrapped around you, next to a red brick from the house in Utuado where you were born, all crammed together on my bookshelf. You taught me there is no God, no life after this life, so I know you are not watching meet type this letter over my shoulder.
When I was a boy, you were God. I watched from the seventh floor of the projects as you walked down into the street to stop a public execution. A big man caught a small man stealing his car, and everyone in Brooklyn heard the car alarm wail of the condemned: He’s killing me. At a word from you, the executioner’s hand slipped from the hair of the thief. The kid was high, was all you said when you came back to us.
When I was a boy, and you were God, we flew to Puerto Rico. You said: My grandfather was the mayor of Utuado. His name was Buenaventura. That means good fortune. I believed in your grandfather’s name. I heard the tree frogs chanting to each other all night. I saw banana leaf and elephant palm sprouting from the mountain’s belly. I gnawed a mango’s pit, and the sweet yellow hair stuck between my teeth. I said to you: You came from another planet. How did you do it? You said: Every morning, just before I woke up, I saw the mountains.
Every morning, I see the mountains. In Utuado, three sisters, all in their seventies, all bedridden, all Pentecostales who only left the house for church, lay sleeping on mattresses spread across the floor when the hurricane gutted the mountain the way a butcher slices open a dangled pig, and a rolling wall of mud buried them, leaving the fourth sister to stagger into the street, screaming like an unheeded prophet about the end of the world. In Utuado, a man who cultivated a garden of aguacate and carambola, feeding the avocado and star fruit to his nieces from New York, saw the trees in his garden beheaded all at once like the soldiers of a beaten army, and so hanged himself. In Utuado, a welder and a handyman rigged a pulley with a shopping cart to ferry rice and beans across the river where the bridge collapsed, witnessed the cart swaying above so many hands, then raised a sign that told the helicopters: Campamento los Olvidados: Camp of the Forgotten.
Los olvidados wait seven hours in line for a government meal of Skittles and Vienna sausage, or a tarp to cover the bones of a house with no roof, as the fungus grows on their skin from sleeping on mattresses drenched with the spit of the hurricane. They drink the brown water, waiting for microscopic monsters in their bellies to visit plagues upon them. A nurse says: These people are going to have an epidemic. These people are going to die. The president flips rolls of paper towels to a crowd at a church in Guaynabo, Zeus lobbing thunderbolts on the locked ward of his delusions. Down the block, cousin Ricardo, Bernice’s boy, says that somebody stole his can of diesel. I heard somebody ask you once what Puerto Rico needed to be free. And you said: Tres pulgadas de sangre en la calle: Three inches of blood in the street. Now, three inches of mud flow through the streets of Utuado, and troops patrol the town, as if guarding the vein of copper in the ground, as if a shovel digging graves in the backyard might strike the ore below, as if la brigada swinging machetes to clear the road might remember the last uprising.
I know you are not God. I have the proof: seven pounds of ashes in a box on my bookshelf. Gods do not die, and yet I want you to be God again. Stride from the crowd to seize the president’s arm before another roll of paper towels sails away. Thunder Spanish obscenities in his face. Banish him to a roofless rainstorm in Utuado, so he unravels, one soaked sheet after another, till there is nothing left but his cardboard heart.
I promised myself I would stop talking to you, white box of grey grit. You were deaf even before you died. Hear my promise now: I will take you to the mountains, where houses lost like ships at sea rise blue and yellow from the mud. I will open my hands. I will scatter your ashes in Utuado.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Martín Espada reading his poem, “Letter to My Father,” the last of the poems in his National Book Award-winning anthology called Floaters.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Martín, I wanted to ask you — you’ve appeared on Democracy Now! numerous times over the last 25 years. What has this show meant to you as a poet, academic and activist?
MARTÍN ESPADA: Democracy Now! was a place where I could get the truth. Democracy Now! was always different. Democracy Now! was not network television. It was not cable television. It was not center to right. It was not mildly liberal. It was a place where I could get the truth, the real story, where I could count on the voices I wanted to hear broadcast, of course, over both television and radio. I can remember many times driving down the road somewhere, going to my next gig, because poets are that way. We’re like jazz musicians in that sense. I’d put on the radio, and there was your voice, Amy, or your voice, Juan. And it felt like home. Not to mention all the times that I was able to appear on this program and speak my own truth — not something to be taken for granted at all if you happen to be a left-wing Puerto Rican poet. Kind of a narrow window there. So, it’s meant all that and more. And I want to — I want to acknowledge that on this 25th anniversary, to keep telling truth.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Martín Espada, who just won the 2021 National Book Award for his book of poetry, Floaters. Martín is just the third Latinx poet to win the National Book Award.
Well, we are celebrating and so honored that Martín and Angela Davis and Arundhati Roy and Winona LaDuke and Danny Glover are here with us, so honored that you are all a part of this broadcast. We’re going to go to another Danny right now, before we go to Noam Chomsky. That’s Danny DeVito. We are just hooking up with him, but, oh my god, it seems that — and this is the beauty of live here — Danny Glover has just reconnected with us, and so has Danny — so we’ve got Danny G., and we’ve got Danny D. And they did not know that they were going to be on together. Danny, look who’s here.
DANNY DEVITO: I can’t find my hat.
DANNY GLOVER: Hey, Danny. Where the hell is your hat?
DANNY DEVITO: Hey, Danny! Hey, Dan! Look at us. I can’t find my Democracy Now! hat. I just barely can find the computer.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh my god, this is fantastic.
DANNY DEVITO: Oh my god, it’s so good to see you, Dan.
AMY GOODMAN: So we’ve got Danny — wait a second. Danny G. just was telling our audience to contribute as much as they can to keep this available to everyone for free.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, Danny D., you just like piped in.
DANNY DEVITO: I look forward to Democracy Now! every single day. I’m like — you know how much I love the show, because it’s really — not only because it’s listener-supported, which is why I’m asking you to give as much money as you can to Democracy Now!, because we have to keep it on the air. It’s been on for 25 years. We need another 25 years. Danny and I are going to be there on the next 25th anniversary.
DANNY GLOVER: Is that a promise?
DANNY DEVITO: You bet it. And I’m telling you, like, we know — you know, Danny and I had the pleasure of working together recently, and we had such a great time. And the first thing that came up when we were talking was Democracy Now! and Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh —
DANNY GLOVER: Absolutely.
DANNY DEVITO: — and Juan González and these people who work tirelessly to get us the best look at what’s going on in the world, not the clouded stuff, not the stuff in the closet.
DANNY GLOVER: Not the corporate stuff.
DANNY DEVITO: You know, because the corporations and the government doesn’t want us to hear it, the reverse totalitarian view. We don’t get that. We get the real deal. We talk to the people all over the world every day. We listen to them, listen to what’s going on in their lives. And that’s what we dig about it. And I’m a supporter. Danny G. is a supporter.
DANNY GLOVER: I’m a supporter.
DANNY DEVITO: A devotee.
DANNY GLOVER: A major supporter, yeah. We get the news that’s important for us as citizens.
DANNY DEVITO: That’s right.
DANNY GLOVER: We’re getting — we need information. We can only respond as citizens to what our needs are by getting the right information. And Democracy Now! provides us with the right information, and has done that for a quarter of a century.
DANNY DEVITO: I really feel like one of the most important things that happens, you know, besides listening every day and being on there and getting all the real stuff from Democracy Now!, I try to give my kids and their friends and their younger kids — I wear my hat all the time. I was looking for it. I must have stuck it in a closet. I wear the hat all the time. You’ve got to wear the colors. I carry the bag. I go to work with it. I do everything with it.
But the idea is that what we need to do — and I feel like everybody who’s a friend and is going to be a friend of Democracy Now! once they listen to it and watch it is to tell younger people about it, because I think we need to get it out there. Kids don’t know where to look. They have so much information coming in with this, that and TokTik and this, that, TikTok and, you know, who’s that and what whats and what’s that, and there’s so many channels. You know, when we were younger, there were the three channels, and you got all the lies from CBS, NBC and ABC. That’s it. And we believed it. But now we have somebody who’s going to give us the truth. And I think it’s really important for us to, like, tell kids, tell younger generations of it.
I’ve done it, where I’ve gone up to people, you know, who said — they mention a movie, a kid movie that I’ve done. And I go up, and I’ll talk to the family, sitting there with the father and mother. And I ask the kids — I don’t ask the parents. I say, “Do you know what Democracy Now! is?” And usually they go, “No, no. I don’t know.” So I get an opportunity to tell not only the kids, but the parents, while they’re right there. It’s really important for us to spread the word to Democracy Now!
You can visit democracynow.org/donate. That’s a general, easy way to do it. Or you can text “celebrate” — C-E-L-E-B-R-A-T-E — to 66866, and do it that way. Or use the QR code that’s about to appear on your screen. We’re committed to Democracy Now!, and I know Danny is, too. Right, Dan?
DANNY GLOVER: I’m committed to Democracy Now! and getting the truth out. It’s about that. You know, there’s so much that we need. We need the information that we receive from Democracy Now! We need that information. It’s vital to us as citizens. We need real information, information that activates us to be and to tell our truth. And it comes from Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to turn right now to Noam Chomsky. But I remember getting — we got a call at Democracy Now! from an actor in Los Angeles who heard that I was coming out to L.A., and said that if I wanted to come backstage, where Danny DeVito was in a play with Judd Hirsch and others, they would bring me backstage after. This was going to be an amazing moment for me. I was meeting Danny DeVito for the first time.
DANNY DEVITO: That was a treat. That was a treat for me.
AMY GOODMAN: But this is what I just wanted to say about it. I went backstage after the performance. And this was going to surprise Danny DeVito. I didn’t even know that he knew about Democracy Now! at the time.
DANNY DEVITO: Oh, I knew about it.
AMY GOODMAN: But Danny was in his dressing room with the door closed with his family. And the actor that he was performing with knocked on the door and said, “Danny, Danny, someone is waiting to meet you.” And he said, “I’m with my family. I’m busy. Tell them to come back another time.” And he said, “No, Danny, you have to come out right now.” And he said, “I’m not coming out unless it’s, what, Noam Chomsky.”
DANNY DEVITO: It was almost Noam Chomsky.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, they said — I said, “OK, I’m not Noam Chomsky, but if you wouldn’t mind coming out anyway.” And then, Danny, you came out.
DANNY DEVITO: That was amazing. Yeah, that was a real —
DANNY GLOVER: I would come out if it was Noam Chomsky, too.
DANNY DEVITO: It was a real treat, yeah. I was introduced to Noam Chomsky by Amy Goodman in person. But before, way before I met him, I had went to the studio one morning to — because I heard he was going to be in town, in New York. And I was in — I happened to be in New York. I went over to watch him be interviewed by Amy. And it was really, really — you know, it’s a special thing. I mean, you know, I’ve met Sinatra. You know, I’ve met some of The Beatles. But Noam Chomsky, man, that was like the highlight of it all. And I’m just honored to be on the same show, the same broadcast at Democracy Now! with the great Noam Chomsky.
AMY GOODMAN: We are celebrating our 25th anniversary tonight. And as we do this, we are going to Tucson, Arizona, where we’re joined by a guest we’ve had on repeatedly for the last quarter of a century. We are joined by Noam Chomsky. And, Noam, before you even say a word, we have a very important message for you. You can’t see us, though we can see you. You’re going to have to guess what it is that I’m holding, based on what I’m about to wish you.
[singing] Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday, dear Noam! Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday, Noam, all 93 years. What an enormous accomplishment! And Nermeen also wants to wish you — what is it?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: A happy birthday, Noam!
NOAM CHOMSKY: Thank you very much. Do I have to blow out the candle?
AMY GOODMAN: You do.
NOAM CHOMSKY: How’s that?
AMY GOODMAN: Congratulations, Noam! Before we start, what is your secret to these 93 years?
NOAM CHOMSKY: The only thing I know is what’s sometimes called the bicycle theory: If you keep going fast, you don’t fall off.
AMY GOODMAN: Would you say you’ve been speeding through life for 93 years?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Pretty much.
AMY GOODMAN: You have been one of, I mean, the most important voices for the importance of independent media, the way people learn about the world and the way the rest of the world learns about us, going back to — well, we’ll just go back to that book you wrote with Ed Herman, Manufacturing Consent, that has become an absolute classic, what, like 30 years ago, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Can you talk about the importance of independent media, I mean, places like Democracy Now!, which has been there for a quarter of a century, but you go way back before that, and also the role of the corporate media and how it shapes what we know, how it, as you say, manufactures consent?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there have been changes over the years, some positive, others negative. One very negative one is the collapse of local media, which used to be lively, independent. Often, when I was growing up in Philadelphia, I could read Izzy Stone in the morning newspaper, The Philadelphia Record. All of that’s disappeared. And the role of media like Democracy Now! has only increased in significance as other sources declined. And it’s a very real tribute to have not only survived but flourished during this period of media decline.
The corporate media have narrowed significantly. There’s, by now, really only one national newspaper, The New York Times. Other newspapers don’t even have, apart from the Post, have Washington bureaus, let alone foreign bureaus. That means the role of a truly independent media source like Democracy Now!, which reaches around the world, brings information that you won’t find in the narrowing mainstream, that role becomes ever more significant.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Professor Chomsky, we are marking this 25th anniversary of Democracy Now! during what in some places might be the beginning of the end of this most devastating pandemic that the world has witnessed in the last century. And despite having access to an embarrassing number of highly effective vaccines, a significant minority of Americans have refused to get vaccinated. This phenomenon you’ve termed a, quote, “symptom of severe social disorder.” You have also suggested that although those who refuse to get the vaccine shouldn’t be forced to get it, but should instead isolate themselves. At the same time, the vast majority of people in poorer countries around the world have barely any access at all to vaccines. So could you talk a little bit about what you think explains why so many people in the U.S. have refused the vaccine, and what the origins are of this vaccine skepticism — principally, of course, on the right, but not only?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s overwhelmingly a far-right phenomenon. Others have been drawn in. And I think there are many sources. Actually, one of them is probably social media, which does circulate lots of dubious or even false information. And if people are wedded to a particular part of it, that’s what they’ll be fed. But beyond that, there is skepticism, which has justification, about the role of government. Happens to be misplaced in this case, but you can understand the origins of the skepticism.
And it’s not just the pandemic. Much worse than that are the attitudes of skepticism about global warming. So, one rather shocking fact that I learned recently is that during the Trump years, among Republicans, the belief that global warming is a serious problem — not even an urgent problem, just a serious problem — declined about 20%. That’s very serious. Here we’re talking not just about the spread of a pandemic, but about marching over the precipice and ending the prospects for sustained, organized human life. That’s the kind of thing we’re facing. Well, you can talk about the origins of the skepticism, but it has to be dealt with and overcome, and very decisively and without delay, or else the whole human species and all the others that we are casually destroying will be in severe danger.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you how January 6th, how you see it playing out. Do you see it as really not so much the birth but continuation of a proto-fascist movement? You’re in Arizona, the recounts over and over again of the votes, questioning Democratic votes all over the country. Where do you see the U.S. going? And do you see President Trump becoming president again?
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very possible. The Republican strategy, which I described, has been successful: Do as much damage as you can to the country, blame it on the Democrats, develop all sorts of fanciful tales about the hideous things that the communists, the Democrats, are doing to your children, to the society, in a country which is subjected to social collapse, to atomization, to lack of organized ability to respond in ideas and actions that can be successful. And we’re seeing it right now. So, yes, it’s very possible that the denialist party will come back into power, that Trump will be back, or someone like him, and then we’ll be simply racing to the precipice.
As far as fascism is concerned, there are some analysts, very astute and knowledgeable ones, who say we’re actually moving towards actual fascism. My own feeling is, I would prefer to call it a kind of proto-fascism, where many of the symptoms of fascism are quite apparent — resort to violence, the belief that violence is necessary. A large part of the Republican Party, I think maybe 30 or 40%, say that violence may be necessary to save our country from the people who are trying to destroy it, the Democrat villains who are doing all these hideous things that are fed into their ears. And we see it in armed militias.
January 6th was an example of — these are people from basically petit bourgeois, moderately affluent Middle America circles, not — there were some militia types among them who really feel that it’s necessary to carry out a coup to save the country. They were trying to carry out a coup to undermine an elected government — it’s called a coup — and came unfortunately close. Luckily, the — and they’re now taking — the Republican Party is now taking sophisticated measures to try to ensure that the next time around, it will succeed.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, before we wrap up, just last few questions. Julian Assange — what do you think will happen, should happen, and what do you feel people need to do — facing extradition to the United States, over 170 years in prison here?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, this is a pretty incredible situation. Julian Assange has been subjected to years of torture. Actually, his years in the Ecuadorian Embassy, which is actually not an embassy, it’s an apartment house, those were years of torture. I visited him there. Others did. Being stuck in an apartment without any — even the ability to go out and look at the sky, that’s, in many ways, even worse than being in prison. Prisoners at least have a couple hours when they can go out and be in a courtyard. Under guard by the British — sensitive British forces, finally forced into a top-security prison, it’s essentially torture — in fact, the U.N. rapporteur on torture called it torture — for years, all for the crime of having exposed to the American people and the people the world things that they should know, things that it’s their right to know.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up and celebrate your 93rd birthday, let’s end with that question: What gives you hope?
NOAM CHOMSKY: What do I hope? I hope that the young people who are demonstrating in the streets of Glasgow, the mine workers who are — in the United States, who are agreeing to a transition program to sustainable energy, many others like them, I hope that they will be in the ascendancy and can take the measures that are feasible and available to create a much better world than the one we have, and the one that the people of the world deserve.
AMY GOODMAN: Noam, thank you so much for joining us tonight as we celebrate our 25th anniversary and your 93rd birthday. Happy birthday to you! So, we’re coming to the end of this broadcast tonight. I’m here with Juan González and Nermeen Shaikh. And in honor of our 25th anniversary, whatever you can give to keep Democracy Now! going, available to everyone free all over the world, a generous donor has offered to triple match your donation to Democracy Now! if you can give tonight. Yep, your donation will go three times as far. You can do it all different ways. Make that donation. You go right here online at democracynow.org. And if you can’t contribute, that’s OK, too. Just keep tuning in, because Democracy Now! is a free service for all. And that’s what we see it as. It’s a mission. It is a critical lifeline. Independent media is essential to the functioning of a democratic society. Juan, it’s something you have always stressed in all the years of your journalism career.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, and I want to thank all of the listeners and viewers who have supported us all of these years, and look forward to many more years of continuing the work of Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: And, Nermeen, it has been so amazing doing this show with you and with all of our team through these 25 years. It has been such an honor. It has been the great honor of my life. And I am most excited about what we have in the future.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Thank you, Amy. It’s been — and all our listeners and viewers. It’s been such a privilege to co-host the show. And also I want to thank our amazing team of producers and others, without whom, of course, the show wouldn’t be possible at all. And I look forward to another 25 years, at least.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, to our DNA, which is what we call everyone who’s been a part of Democracy Now!, which includes all of you, too, Democracy Now! alum, we’re going to end tonight’s show where we hope to be in the future, which is live together. This was a musical highlight from our 20th anniversary celebration at the historic Riverside Church in Harlem. There, among others, Patti Smith was with us, performing “People Have the Power,” and a special guest jumped up in the middle, Michael Stipe of REM.
PATTI SMITH: [performing “People Have the Power”]
AMY GOODMAN: Wow! That’s Patti Smith, Michael Stipe and friends at the 20th anniversary of Democracy Now! And soon, I hope, we’ll all be personally together again, like the thousands who came out that night at Riverside Church in New York. But for tonight’s virtual 25th anniversary special, deepest gratitude to Erin Dooley, Mike Burke, Tey-Marie Astudillo, Sam Alcoff, Julie Crosby and Miriam Barnard. I also want to thank our entire remarkable team: Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Messiah Rhodes, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, John Hamilton, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud and Mary Conlon, as well as Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude, Dennis McCormick, Ishmael Daro, Neil Shibata, Isis Phillips, Angie Karran, Brendan Allen, Karen Ranucci, Simin Farkhondeh, Clara Ibarra, Igor Moreno, Narmeen Maria, Eli Putnam, Emily Gosselin, Jackie Sam, Juan Carlos Dávila, Rob Young, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Danielle Wu, Zina Precht-Rodriguez, Vesta Goodarz, Anna Özbek, Matt Ealy, Kieran Krug-Meadows, Carl Marxer, Ivan Hincapie, Carmela Chirinos, Aryn Kyle and Edith Penty. I also want to thank everyone who’s helped Democracy Now! grow over the last 25 years. You’re all a part of our DNA — that’s right, Democracy Now! alum — from our former staff to our volunteers, donors, too, and the staffs of the radio and TV stations and websites across the world that run Democracy Now!, and to those who listen, watch and read at democracynow.org and all our social media platforms, I want to say thank you so much. With Juan González and Nermeen Shaikh, I’m Amy Goodman. And remember, wearing a mask is an act of love.