On Valentine's Day, 2008, Al Franken announced at the end of his radio show that he was running for the U.S. Senate. That was his last broadcast. Since then, he's done amazing things. But there's been a hole in the media universe ever since. And I think any reasonable person would agree that America's spirit has been slowly leaking out of that hole, and into a sea of fire.
That ends now. Today, with support from MoveOn.org and guest appearances by, among others, Senator Al Franken and the legendary activist Heather Booth, I'm announcing a new show: The Good Fight, with Ben Wikler.
The show is for people who like satire, progressive politics, and the stories of David versus Goliath battles told from the behind-the-slingshot point of view. It's on iTunes, it airs on DC's We Act Radio 1480 AM--and you can listen to the first episode right here:
Here's why I'm doing this.
I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, which is just about the greatest place in the universe.
As a kid, I loved comedy. The Onion started in Madison, and in high school I got to start writing for them. My first headline was: "I'm no proctologist, but I'll take a look."
I loved comedy, and I loved politics and activism. My friends and I were constantly organizing campaigns -- defending our teachers from budget cuts, kicking Coca-Cola marketers out of our school district, creating a student seat on our school board. We helped elect the first out lesbian to Congress -- Tammy Baldwin, who's now a Senator. For me, for us, idealism was't naive -- it was realistic.
I loved comedy, I loved politics -- and I loved epic stories about heroism. Stories about people taking on unimaginable odds and changing the world. I collected comic books. I played Dungeons & Dragons. I memorized The Princess Bride.
I loved the description in The Princess Bride of what made a great story: "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!"
But there was a problem. I thought I'd been born in the wrong decade.
Once upon a time in America, there had been real-life stories just like the ones I loved. The great social movements of the past. The struggle against fascism and the Nazis. The civil rights movement. The struggle to stop the war in Vietnam.
There had been times, in decades past, when the future of America and even the world came down to the courage and vision of ordinary people standing together and doing the impossible.
But surely, I thought, all that was over now.
Those days were gone, and you could tell -- because when you watched the news, activism didn't matter. Politicians were all equally to blame. The people everyone celebrated were CEOs, athletes, and movie stars -- people making lots of money, not people making a difference.
I'd arrived in the world too late. History was over. The big stories were finished. Now it was just the happily ever after, or the unhappily ever after, or the search for happiness, which was, to me, a lot less exciting than the fight for justice.
But then I discovered a secret.
Those fights were still happening. The stakes hadn't gone down. The heroes weren't any less inspiring.
It was just that almost nobody knew about them.
When I was in college, I met a guy named Zackie Achmat in South Africa who was in the process of saving literally millions of lives. He'd been an anti-apartheid activist. When he found out he had HIV, he refused to take AIDS medicine until it was available to everyone in his country -- facing down the global pharmaceutical industry and his own government, and nearly dying in the process. But he, and a movement, had won.
Nothing in The Princess Bride could hold a candle to that. That was new history, world-changing history, being made.
I was hooked. I poured myself into the biggest fights I could find. Global AIDS. Global warming. And here in the US, I was lucky enough, when I was 21, to meet Al Franken -- who at the time was building a team of people to combine comedy and politics to challenge George W. Bush, Fox News, and the right-wingers who were driving the country off a cliff. I got to help him rally progressives to fight back, at a time when US politics looked incredibly grim.
That's when I found the progressive movement: the informal network of people and organizations working across race, class, sexuality, and origin to hold America to its best values, to the vision that all of us are created equal, and with inalienable rights. And that's when I found MoveOn.org, an organization giving millions of people a voice who had been silenced by politics and media as usual.
For the last decade, I've worked with amazing, inspiring activists and political leaders at home and abroad. I've helped save lives, win elections, challenge corruption, and bring people together. I've met heroes.
So my view has changed. I'd misunderstood the problem. The problem wasn't that I was born in the wrong decade.
Perhaps the real problem is that so much of the media is stuck in the wrong decade. Or the wrong century.
In this decade, in this century, regular people still have extraordinary power -- perhaps now more than ever. But it doesn't look the way it used to. A million people marching might not change a law, but a million personal stories can change the way we define a family. Around the world, most people fighting wars aren't wearing uniforms. And the most successful revolutionaries never pick up a gun. Change hasn't gotten any easier. But the contours of power have gotten harder to see through the lens of a camera. And so a lot of the best stories aren't being told.
When you don't meet the movements, the organizers and activists, the dreamers and the fighters --when you don't get behind the slingshot when David fights Goliath -- news can just feel like one damn thing after another. Things just happening. And when things just happen, it's numbing -- because, what does any of it have to do with you?
But the truth is that people make things happen, for good and for ill. The world is incredibly complex, sure. But that just means that at any moment, there are a ton of different fights going on. And if you can get inside those fights, as I've been so lucky to have the chance to do, the world isn't numbing: it's thrilling. The dungeons are real. The dragons are real. We all have superpowers. There's fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles -- and all of us, you and I, have this incredible gift: the chance to be part of it.
There's a lot of crap out there. But we don't have to be proctologists to take a look, and to do something about it.
The stories we tell, the heroes we choose, wind up defining who we become. And that's why we're launching this show. To tell the inside stories of the fights that matter -- the good fights. To find the joy and humor in the absurdity of it all -- Lord knows there's plenty of that -- but then to roll up our sleeves and pull back our slingshots and jump into the fray.
We just launched the first episode of the show. We have a long, long way to go to realize our vision -- and I know it's idealistic. But I think it's realistic, too, because this our time, this is the world we have, and today, we make our own media.