Making his voice heard
Political activist and writer Michael Parenti brings timely message to Chico
Political activist Michael Parenti is known for spouting sardonic comments, such as: “If the test of patriotism comes only by reflexively falling into lockstep behind the leader whenever the flag is waved, then what we have is a formula for dictatorship, not democracy.” Or this: “Conservatives are fond of telling us what a wonderful, happy, prosperous nation this is. The only thing that matches their love of country is the remarkable indifference they show toward the people who live in it.”
And yet another observation, timely in this age of Occupy: “Here at home and throughout the world people are fighting back against the forces of wealth, privilege and militarism—some because they have no choice, others because they would choose no other course but the one that leads to peace and justice.”
These quotations foreshadow the subjects Parenti will address during his appearance at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.’s Big Room on Oct. 27, where he’ll share the stage with popular political satirist Will Durst. The event is a fundraiser for local community-radio station KZFR 90.1 FM.
The politically satirical Parenti has a Ph.D. in political science from Yale University and is the author of 23 books, including Democracy for the Few and his newest, The Face of Imperialism.
“I’m going to be talking about imperialism, and tie it into the present-day actions [Occupy Wall Street and similar anti-corporate-greed protests] that are taking place all over the country,” he said in a recent phone interview from his Bay Area home. “Now there’s Occupy Jersey City, Occupy Salt Lake City, Occupy Houston, Occupy Dallas—places that are not normally in the news as direct-action cities. We are seeing direct democracy, versus representative democracy.”
Democracy, he explained, “in its ancient history, originally was direct democracy. People came out onto the square and made their voices heard.”
In present-day America, even though the right to assemble peaceably is protected by the First Amendment, those who exercise that right, such as the thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters, are treated by the [mainstream] media today as quirky,” he said.
“They treat [peaceable assembly] as some kind of anomaly; they patronize it, and talk about the Birkenstocks some people are wearing … or focus on the guy with the bongos. They’ll get a picture of him. If there’s a guy in a clown suit, they’re all over him. They’re using every trick in the book to divest them of their accuracy and legitimacy.”
Parenti likened the situation to the underwhelming Bay Area media coverage of last year’s protests against a controversial round of layoffs at Berkeley public-radio station KPFA 94.1 FM.
“The San Francisco Chronicle described the demonstrations as being ‘reminiscent of the ’60s,’” said Parenti, somewhat peeved. “It was blather, a mistreatment of what the crowd was doing out there.”
On the other hand, he said, the American mainstream media will treat popular uprisings in countries like Egypt, Syria and Tunisia as legitimate “political developments.”
The mainstream media were finally “shamed” into covering the ongoing Wall Street protests, Parenti said, after alternative news sources such as AlterNet, Democracy Now! and Grist.org, called attention to what has been referred to as a “media blackout” of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Those same sources covered the events in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park since the first days of the Wall Street occupation, which began Sept. 17.
“Gee, when 200 tea baggers are out there, we get all kinds of media coverage,” Parenti said. “This is not 200, but 5,000 there on Wall Street. Wall Street has never been directly occupied, and we can’t find reporters to cover this?”
As the nation’s economic woes worsen, which Parenti said was in no small part due to the actions of Wall Street banking executives who took home huge bonuses while creating a financial mess of foreclosures, “a lot of people who have had a comfortable life have gotten squeezed out.”
This, he suggested, has resulted in an increasing number of people coming to understand and support Occupy Wall Street’s anti-greed message.
Parenti ended the short interview on an upbeat note: “It will be nice to share the stage with Will Durst.” Durst, he said, is a “great satirist and comedian … a comedian who is very funny and deadly serious.”