Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Beware the puppet

"If I did one thing I'm proud of, it's to make people feel that together they count."
- Studs Terkel

Sigh. It never ends. Yet another story on a bunch of over-zealous cowboys, this time in Maryland, going undercover to spy on such threats to society as peace groups, puppet-makers and Quakers.

As the L.A. Times reports:
Maryland officials admit that faulty undercover operations let state police to wrongly list at least 53 Americans as terrorists in a criminal intelligence database -- and shared some information about them with half a dozen state and federal agencies, including the National Security Agency.

Those on the list include:
...two Catholic nuns, a former Democratic congressional candidate, a lifelong pacifist and a registered lobbyist. One suspect's file warned that she was "involved in puppet making and allows anarchists to utilize her property for meetings."

Of course, these spying tactics are not new. This has been going on since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, across the country and right here in our backyard.

These cases serve as a reminder of the price of fear, of the danger in letting the government bully us into silence and submission. Over the weekend, I attended a memorial celebration for Studs Terkel, a man who could never be silenced and who would never submit.

As the New York Times described him, Terkel was "the father of oral history, the voice of the American worker, a pre-eminent listener, the sage of Chicago and a champion of the underdog."

"The pages of history are cluttered with the pronouncements of presidents and military heroes," Howard Zinn, the historian, told the crowd of 800 at the Great Hall at Cooper Union. "Studs brought people back onto the pages of history, people with feelings, people with anguish and their joys."

"He was always concerned with what he called the 'et cetera' of history," Mr. Zinn added. "The people left out."

Those at the memorial remembering Terkel told wonderful stories of his insatiable curiosity and compelling interest in all those around him. But there is a story, one that was also told at the celebration, that also so clearly illustrated his courage, and the courage of the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson.

In the 50s, Terkel was one of many writers black-listed for his support of civil-rights issues and his refusal to denounce communism. Finally, he was able to land a job when Mahalia Jackson asked him to come write for her on a new show that was created for her. The day the show was to be aired, a corporate exec from the network presented him with a loyalty oath, explaining to him that it was just a formality, but he needed to sign it. Terkel asked the man, "If the communists are against cancer, do we have to be in favor of it?" The man told Terkel that if he didn't sign the paper, he'd be fired.

Jackson overheard the exchange and told the executive that if Studs didn't work, Mahalia wouldn't sing.

Here is a link to the blog Undercover Black Man, that includes a video of one of Terkel's last interviews with Democracy Now host Amy Goodman, in which he describes what happened that day. He begins telling the story at around 2:20.

"Somebody said no. Mahalia said no." Terkel says in the interview. "And you know what happened?" he asked Goodman.


Lauri in York

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Blogger teacherninja said...

I LOVE Studs. Love him. Thanks for that.

11:33 AM  

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