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Mike Elk Headshot

Jon Stewart Rally Represents Elitism, Consumerism, and Disrespect for the Progressive Movement

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Many Jon Stewart followers see his "Rally to Restore Sanity" on Saturday as a progressive rallying cry. Stewart claims on his website it is not, saying, "If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence... we couldn't. That's sort of the point."

However, over 200,000 attendees, who mostly identify themselves as progressives have RSVP'ed for the rally on Facebook. The rally is being backed by major progressive forces like Arianna Huffington -- who is paying to bus in 10,000 supporters from New York City to attend the rally. Stewart himself on his website compares the rally to major progressive events like Woodstock and the more recent Million Man March for civil rights. Whether or not Stewart intends the Rally to Restore Sanity to be a left wing political event, progressive activists throughout the country see it as an important political statement that counters the message of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party.

It is thus vital for progressive media outlets, including labor publications, to adequately cover the event. After all, the labor movement, with its 16 million dues-paying members, is the financial backbone of the progressive movement. It provides the majority of the funding for progressive causes like universal healthcare campaigns, and major events, like the annual Netroots Nation conference. Further, rather than lead its own liberal insurrection as it is often accused of doing, the labor movement is a loyal -- no, the most loyal -- backer of the Democratic Party and its candidates. According to the Wall Street Journal, labor unions and their members are currently the largest funders of Democratic "Get out the vote" efforts. The labor movement plays a big role making the progressive movement run.

So it came as a great surprise yesterday when Comedy Central denied my request for credentials to cover the rally, as well of those of several other journalists writing for all the other major labor publications as well. Getting credentials to cover the rally is important since it allows labor journalists access to the media tent with Internet and power access, so they can file stories within hours of reporting. If this event is important to the progressive movement, is it not important that key labor journalists be able to get information back quickly to the 16 million members of the labor movement?

I called Comedy Central to ask them why all the major labor journalists were systematically denied credentials to cover the event. Comedy Central Senior Vice President for Corporate Communications Steve Albani responded, "Entertainment publications were given priority over labor publications to cover the event. After all, this is not a political rally, this is an entertainment event."

Stewart's rally is indeed not a political event aimed at informing grassroots progressive activists such as union members. It is an "entertainment event," in the tradition of Glenn Beck, aimed at increasing ratings so Comedy Central can raise the costs of ads and make bigger profits. The rally is about selling TV time and making money off of the Left's long-standing tradition of mass mobilizations like Woodstock and the Million Man March. In fact Jon Stewart is doing the opposite: he is spitting on the progressive movement's proud history of direct action.

Stewart writes on his website that the target of this rally is "people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat." On Larry King Live, Stewart attacked CODEPINK leader and legendary anti-war activist Medea Benjamin, who has risked her life in war zones across the world, for leading an organization (CODEPINK), which is "too loud." Stewart's arguments against direct action seem to mimic the arguments of the liberal, white, middle class pastors during the Civil Rights Movement, who wrote to Martin Luther King telling him that engaging in mass civil disobedience and direct action in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 was counterproductive to the cause of civil rights. .

King responded in his famous "Letter from the Birmingham Jail": "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored."

The history of achieving progressive change in this country is not one of middle class intellectuals sitting around and politely debating politics. The history of progressive change in this country is one of activists taking to the streets and engaging in loud, vocal direct action that creates the tension necessary to force issues to be addressed. It is one of workers occupying 535 factories with sit-down strikes in 1935, to demand the right to join a union. It is one of the Civil Rights Movement shutting down dozens of cities in the South and braving beatings and lynchings to win civil rights legislation. It is one of public support for the Vietnam War eroding when over a million people engaged in a general strike called the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam in 1969.

As the example of the liberal white pastors' opposition to Martin Luther King's tactics shows, confrontational direct action has historically never been popular with Jon Stewart's key advertising demographic: white middle class liberals.

The Daily Show's refusal to credential labor journalists to cover their rally was intentional: the labor movement is just not one of their target audiences. The Daily Show audience is mainly white middle class liberals. They are the type of self identified liberals that do not care as much as workers for loud, boisterous direct action, since the consequences of such actions do not affect the livelihood of well paid, highly educated liberals.

Indeed, Jon Stewart has a long track record of refusing to cover major labor struggles. In September, The Daily Show poked fun at a union for hiring picket line workers at below living wage standards (which I wrote at the time that I agreed with). However, according to Daily Show archives, The Daily Show has not covered a single story about a union organizing drive since 2005 -- a five year period in which 100,000 workers were illegally fired from their jobs for attempting to join a union. Likewise, despite regularly appearing on all of the major network and cable channels and being quite a funny guy, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has never been invited to appear on The Daily Show.

Medea Benjamin calls Stewart's type of economically comfortable, politically non-confrontational liberals "the ultimate "slacktivist" who thinks it's always teatime -- time to sit back and jibber jabber." Many indeed have only recently identified themselves as liberals in response to the anti-intellectualism of the Bush Administration and the Tea Party Movement. They saw anti-intellectualism as an attack on their own identity as well educated middle class people. They see themselves as liberal because of the defense of their own self identity as well educated people, not because they necessarily value the empowerment and respect of all including working class people.

The Daily Show often kicks working class people (tea party members) for their perceived lack of intellectualism or the Daily Show is ignoring the struggles of working class people on their side (union members). The experience of organized labor is outside of the experience of so many middle class people today that an outlet like The Daily Show, whose advertisers are targeting middle class liberals, doesn't even bother to cover it.

As a result of their lack of connection to working class movements, the attitude of many of The Daily Show "slack activists" is elitist and counterproductive to the movement. Last year in an article I wrote entitled "Liberal Elitism Will Make Sarah Palin President -- How Only Union Organizing Can Stop That" I highlighted how childish attacks on tea party personalities would be perceived as attacks on the culture of working class people and would endear working class people to the Tea Party movement. The article was laughed at and jeered by many liberal elites as being an unrealistic fantasy. Now we see how viable Palin's election is as a half dozen mini Sarah Palins are on the verge of being elected to the United States Senate.

The attitude of many Daily Show fans also bristles at receiving criticism for their shunning of progressives allies. in June, a feminist blogger at Jezebel wrote a piece where she said the Daily Show was "a boys' club where women's contributions are often ignored and dismissed" and went on to present indepth statistical evidence highlighting this point. She pointed to the overwhelming amount of male correspondents as opposed to female correspondents.

The Daily Show responded not by saying "Well this is something we never considered that perhaps we should examine more deeply." Instead, The Daily Show staff posted a response to Jezebel on their website in which they berated her and closed the letter by telling blogger to "Go Fuck Yourself." Many Daily Show fans cheered The Daily Show when they told feminists to go fuck themselves.

By turning off potential feminist allies by telling them to "go fuck themselves," attacking progressives activists engaged in direct action, and ignoring allies like working class labor activists, The Daily Show, whose fans largely identify as progressive, is weakening the progressive movement. The Daily Show instead chooses to strengthen its rating and advertising revenue by hyper-focusing on the issues of highly educated, politically non confrontational, white middle class liberals to the exclusion of many liberal allies.

So as a result, I won't be covering Jon Stewart's rally. Instead, I will be covering workers who have to yell loudly with their voices because they are the only tools they have to use against big corporations. Workers like the 220 locked out workers at a Honeywell uranium enrichment facility in Metropolis, Illinois. The se workers are being loud and braving financial distress to man the picket lines against a company who is demanding huge cutbacks despite the fact that the company increased its profits by 3% in the last year. These workers are facing the enormous odds in taking on a massively powerful corporation like Honeywell that is the single largest political donor in the United States according to the Wall Street Journal and has received over $13 billion in federal contracts.

Furthermore Honeywell, by locking out the workers, has threatened the safety of the community by hiring poorly trained scab replacements that have already caused an explosion at the uranium enrichment facility and a gas leak of highly toxic gas used to enrich uranium. Tim Fernholz of the American Prospect lamented that the mainstream media has largely been ignoring the issue saying the mainstream media has "not been talking about is whether a uranium-enrichment plant in Illinois is going to blow up because its trained union workforce has been locked out by management over a contract dispute".

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Jon Stewart does care about working people and the labor movement. So, I invite Jon Stewart to cover the story of locked out Honeywell workers that despite its lack of mainstream coverage, Joe Burns writing for a labor publication Working In These Times calls labor's "highest profile ongoing dispute." I am sure the workers of USW Local 7-669 in Metropolis, IL will welcome him with open arms.

Or perhaps Jon Stewart and The Daily Show will tell the workers to "Go Fuck Themselves".