Amy Goodman on the Importance of Independents

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Amy Goodman, co-host of the global news hour Democracy Now! and co-author with her brother, David Goodman, of Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times (Hyperion), will be talking about her new book, the independent media landscape, and the importance of independent bookstores at the American Booksellers Association Day of Education lunch on Thursday, May 29.

Amy Goodman
Photo: Michael Keel

Standing Up to the Madness grew out of the Goodmans' travels around the country listening to countless stories of everyday people fighting for their own, or others', basic civil liberties. Among them were African-American residents of New Orleans who are fighting racism, City Hall, and corporate greed to regain their homes; four Connecticut librarians who challenged the Patriot Act and refused to turn over their patrons' records; and a group of high school students in Wilton, Connecticut, who were barred from performing their play based on the letters of U.S. soldiers who fought in Iraq. The collection also puts modern day activism in the context of historic freedom fighters like Rosa Parks and Steve Biko.

Democracy Now!, which Goodman hosts with Juan Gonzalez, is broadcast on more than 700 radio and TV stations around the world and on

Goodman is the recipient of many prestigious journalism awards, including the George Polk Award, the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Prize for International Reporting.

Bookselling This Week recently spoke to Goodman about her new book and her upcoming talk at the Day of Education.

BTW: How did Standing Up to the Madness come about?

Amy Goodman: David [Goodman] and I had written two earlier books -- The Exception to the Rulers (Hyperion) and Static (Hyperion). As we traveled around the country for those books and for Democracy Now!, we met people all the time who are just remarkable. These are people who are not looking for trouble, but when it comes to them, they stand up. There are remarkable stories from people of every sector. The librarian in Connecticut who one day had the FBI knocking at his door asking for information about who was using the computer. He told them no, that what they were asking was unconstitutional, and they served him with an NSL. He took on the whole U.S. government.

Or the global-warming scientists who were doing their jobs getting out reports of this terrible problem that imperils us all, and Bush decided that they were the problem. Or the students in Wilton who weren't allowed to perform their play on the Iraq war in their high school and wound up performing their play instead on the New York stage.

BTW: You interviewed Joyce Meskis, owner of Denver's Tattered Cover, on Democracy Now! about her refusal to turn over a customer's records to the police. Do you think librarians and booksellers are in a unique position to stand up?

Amy Goodman: Patriot Act Section 215a refers not only to librarians but also to booksellers. And librarians are not the only ones who have stood up, so have booksellers, like Tattered Cover.... Librarians and booksellers have the same very important role of standing up for people's rights and civil liberties. They're the freedom fighters of our time.

The government would like nothing better than to crack down even further. But people are fighting back all over the country. Dissent is the highest form of patriotism, and libraries and bookstores are sanctuaries of dissent. They're very important places where people who walk in get exposed to a whole universe of ideas. The fact that bookstores and libraries are so important is why they're being cracked down on. We still don't know how many libraries and bookstores have received NSLs. These are very serious times. We can't predict what will happen, but we can lay the foundation that will help determine the future.

BTW: The public at large is often characterized as indifferent -- to the Iraq War, the loss of civil liberties and free speech -- but you say otherwise in Standing Up to the Madness.

I don't think they are indifferent -- that's just the way the media portrays it. We're given a small circle of pundits who know so little about so much. It's amazing the entire country isn't bored silly and apathetic. Because how can you become engaged, when you hear such nonsense? But people are definitely doing things in this country, and they care deeply. How can they not, when so many young men and women, and so many not so young men and women, are coming home in body bags, not to mention the probably more than a million Iraqis that have been killed? There's a ripple effect of violence in families and communities that affects everyone.

BTW: What are some of the topics you'll be discussing at BEA?

I'll be talking about a number of themes. The importance of an independent media. Independent booksellers and independent media are all part of the same media landscape, and they're all under threat. I'll be covering the loss of some of those independent voices. That's a concern that cuts across political spectrums -- conservative, liberal, progressive, independent.... Democracy Now! is on over 700 stations around the country. And I think the reason it's growing so quickly -- we're adding a station a week -- is because of this threat to independent voices. People are hungry for new ideas.

I think independent bookstores are sanctuaries of these new ideas and that's why they have to be protected. I urge everybody to go to, tune in, and support their local independent media outlet.

BTW: Anything you'd like to add?

Amy Goodman: I think the diversity of ideas, religions, and opinions in this country is our glory, is the strength of the U.S. And I think that's why independent bookstores, which are the sanctuaries of that diversity of opinion, are just so important. They are our intellectual watering holes. --Interviewed by Karen Schechner