Governor Deval Patrick of MA Gives Exclusive Interview on WBCR-LP

How cool is it to have the Governor of Massachusetts stop by the small offices of WBCR-LP, Berkshire Community Radio in Great Barrington to give a one-on-two interview with local amateur radio show hosts Graham and Barbara Dean?

Governor Deval Patrick takes questions from Graham and Barbara Dean in the studio of WBCR-LP FM on July 3, 2012

It was citizen journalism at its finest.  Barbara, having met Governor Deval Patrick at another event, simply asked him if he would be a guest on her radio show.

He said sure, she followed up with his staff, and the rest is history!

The half-hour interview will be rebroadcast and streamed on July 11 on the Deans’ show, Common Sense Songs, between 8 and 10 p.m.

The Governor had a lot to say about the hot topics of health care affordability, education, and labor relations.

Calling himself a “labor man,” because of his childhood experience of how his mother’s life improved dramatically when she got a job at the U.S. Postal Service and joined the union, the Governor was also positive about teachers and their union, saying that the secret to an effective partnership with teachers is “respect.”

Lots of politicians talk about respecting teachers, but their actions say otherwise.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick at WBCR-LP, Great Barrington

Governor Patrick seems to be different.

Under his leadership, new emphasis has been put on “bringing a culture of innovation into every school” by empowering and supporting teachers who have new ideas about how best to meet the needs of their students.

“The question is, how do we tailor education to meet kids where they are,” the Governor said, recalling his own “great public education on the South Side of Chicago.  I had inspiring teachers, who loved me and loved teaching and were thinking about educating the whole child.”

He also talked about the importance of focusing on the “whole person” when it comes to health care, and he was justifiably proud of his record in making Massachusetts one of the most progressive states in the country in terms of health care reform.

“Rather than limiting ourselves to the usual choice between doing nothing and going all the way to a single payer system, we made a decision here in Massachusetts to pick a third option, a hybrid, private, market-focused solution in which we require everyone to buy insurance, but we subsidize them if they can’t afford it,” he said.

Under the Governor’s leadership, premium growth in the state has gone from 16% per year to less than 1% increase in the past year.

It made me proud to be a citizen of Massachusetts to watch Governor Deval Patrick taking the time to give a serious, thoughtful interview on our hometown low-power radio station.

As Barbara Dean reminded the Governor at the outset of the interview, he is only the fourth African American to be elected Governor of an American state.

I am glad to be among the many who gave him my vote, and I rest easier knowing he is on the job in Boston, working for ordinary people like me.

Deval Patrick just published a memoir, Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life, and an e-book, Faith in the Dream: A Call to the Nation to Reclaim American Values.  Youthful politicians who publish memoirs often have their eye on moving up the political ladder.

I hope that Patrick has the stamina and courage to keep moving on and up in American politics.  We need more strong men like him to come forward and stand for integrity and social justice in American politics.


Let a million local media outlets and citizen journalists bloom

As we head into the 10-day countdown to May Day, once again the mainstream media is snoozing its way into irrelevance.

Check out today’s New York Times and you will find nary a mention of the busy preparations going on now for the day of action in New York and around the country on May 1.

This seems to just prove the point of media pundit Dr. Alan Chartock, founding president and CEO of the 20-station, seven-state Northeast Public Radio Network here in my neck of the woods.

Speaking last Sunday at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Dr. Chartock depicted a coming media landscape dominated by a few big national and international players, reaching audiences principally through the World Wide Web.

Progressive media analysts have long been concerned about the homogenization of the news that comes as a result of corporate conglomerates controlling vast swaths of the airwaves, as well as almost all print news outlets.

The good news is that at least so far, it has been impossible to impose corporate control over the internet.  Witness the huge outcry over the proposed PIPA and SOPA legislation last winter, which critics said would have limited free speech on the Web.  Millions of signatures were collected on petitions against the legislation, and the proponents backed down—at least for now.

Dr. Alan Chartock

Dr. Chartock is worried about the wholesale media move to the internet for two good reasons.

One, accuracy: it is often impossible to know for sure that the information on a given blog or even larger online media outlet has been carefully and objectively reported.

Two, money: Where is the business model that will support the reporters and editors needed to continue to perform the traditional watchdog role of the press?

It seems to me that his own Northeast Public Radio Network provides a good answer to these issues.  It is supported by local listeners and underwriters who put their dollars behind the station because they recognize a good thing when they see one.  They would start to withdraw their support if the quality of the programming went down.

To counter the drift to a globalized corporate media desert, let’s let a million local radio stations, blogs, vlogs, livestreams, tweets and You-Tube videos bloom!

Let’s not only support our locally owned, locally produced media, let’s start producing it too!

Here in the Berkshires, we not only have WAMC and other Northeast Public Radio affiliate stations, we also have WBCR-LP, which is not only 100% listener-supported but also all-volunteer and open to any citizen journalist who takes the trouble to get trained as a programmer.

We have the Berkshire Record, our hometown print newspaper in Great Barrington, and we also have iBerkshires and various locally produced blogs and small websites.

And let’s not forget the countless Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and You-Tube channels devoted to getting us localized news we can use.

The truth is that the Occupy movement doesn’t need the New York Times to reach its target audience.  The fact that the mainstream media is ignoring the upcoming May Day protests is just one more example of how dominated by the 1% these big media corporations are.

Whose media?  Our media!  Mainstream media?  Who needs’em?

Love Letter to Great Barrington MA

Just this morning in the shower, I was mulling over what I would like to write about for my submission to this year’s Made in the Berkshires Festival, and it came to me that I want to write a kind of love letter to Great Barrington, the dear little town that I call home.

What a surprise to get to my media studies class today and learn from my students that dear little Great Barrington was just named the number one small town in America by no less than Smithsonian Magazine!

Railroad Street, Great Barrington MA

In justifying their choice, Smithsonian writers Susan Spano and Aviva Shen cite the town’s hip cultural scene, its local foodie economy, complete with CSAs and farmers’ markets, denizens of note like W.E.B. DuBois, Arlo Guthrie and Alan Chartock, and the fact that we have our own printed currency, the BerkShare.

Even my own alma mater and current employer, Bard College at Simon’s Rock, gets a mention!  We are, after all, the first and still the only residential four-year college dedicated exclusively to highly motivated students who choose to leave high school early, after 10th or 11th grade, to begin their undergraduate studies.

In my dreamy early-morning shower reflections, I was thinking about celebrating other aspects of Great Barrington.

For instance, the incredible camaraderie of the cultural community here, especially, in my experience, the community of women artists.

Berkshire Festival of Women Writers special presentation of Made in the Berkshires, co-curated by Hilary Somers Deely and Barbara Sims

I have led, participated in and witnessed so many outstanding cultural events here in the Berkshires, many of them centered in Great Barrington, where artists, writers and other creative types have collaborated with such grace and panache, with such incredible generosity and unusual willingness to leave their own personal ego at home.

This doesn’t happen everywhere.  In fact, I’d venture to guess it’s pretty rare.

For instance, almost everyone who participated in this year’s Second Annual Berkshire Festival of Women Writers did so pro bono, offering free events at which they shared their passions and talents with all comers.

As one of nearly 100 women who gave a Festival workshop for free, I can tell you that there is tremendous satisfaction to be gained from simply sharing one’s talents and knowledge with an appreciative, receptive audience, without expecting financial reward.

That spirit of generosity is one of the many reasons I love living in Great Barrington.

The Smithsonian article also failed to mention a few other aspects of Great Barrington that I really love.

One: having town leaders, our elected Select Board, who are vibrant creative folks in their own right.  Check out Selectperson Alana Chernila, who just published a wonderful cookbook, or Selectperson Andrew Blechman, editor at our homegrown national environmental publication Orion Magazine, or Selectperson Sean Stanton, part of an extraordinary local family of sustainable farmers and foodie entrepreneurs—and you will see what I mean.

Atop Monument Mountain

Two: the wonderful natural resources at our doorstep in Great Barrington.  The Housatonic River winds through the town, and polluted with PCBs as it may be (thank you General Electric), the Housatonic is still visually beautiful and a lovely, peaceful river to walk beside on our very own Riverwalk.  The town is shadowed by East Mountain, the north side of which houses our ski area, Butternut Basin.  On the north side we are bounded by Monument Mountain, a steep, wooded reserve that got its name from the Mohicans who used to live here, who left their signature on the mountain in piles of stones.  All over town there are beautiful places to walk, hike and meditate.  This kind of open space is quickly vanishing in so much of our country, and should not be taken for granted.

Three: Having a community that truly cares about its young people, and its disadvantaged folks.  The support for wonderful local organizations like Railroad Street Youth ProjectCommunity Access to the Arts, and Volunteers in Medicine is truly heartwarming.  We also have a lively Senior Center, and a weekly Occupy Great Barrington protest and meet-up.  A town that doesn’t forget its kids, its old folks, its most vulnerable citizens and its radical fringe is the kind of town I want to live in.

And not only that, but we have our very own community radio station, WBCR-LP, 97.7 FM, where anyone who makes the effort to get the requisite training can become an autonomous radio broadcaster, subject only to FCC regulations as to what they can or cannot announce.  This year I started a new Citizen Journalism Project, seeking to get local teens involved in producing news for the radio–and it’s been a great success.  We also still have a homegrown local weekly newspaper in Great Barrington, the Berkshire Record–which is pretty rare in the US, as more and more local newspapers are swallowed up by big media clones.

The Smithsonian Magazine description of Great Barrington was right on target, but there is also so much more that goes into being part of a truly outstanding small town.

I will write a longer love letter to Great Barrington in the future, but for today, let me just end with a big smacking kiss.  GB, I am proud to call you home.

Coming to you live from the studios of WBCR-LP, 97.7 FM, Great Barrington….

This spring, students from Bard College at Simon’s Rock and Monument Mountain Regional High School are getting ready to go on the air with a series of Citizen Journalism Project news shows, broadcasting stories of local, national and even international interest from the intimate studios of WBCR-LP in Great Barrington MA.

Bard College at Simon's Rock students in radio board training

In preparation, students in my digital media studies class have been listening to great radio from NPR affiliates, Pacifica and other serious news radio outlets, as well as to homegrown shows on 97.7 FM, WBCR-LP.

We’re not sure yet how polished our programs are going to sound this spring, but in this first go-round, it’s really all about learning the process, from conceptualizing and pitching interesting stories, to interviewing and structuring the script, to recording, editing and putting it all together live on the air.

What could be more fun?

But also, what could be more important for young people than to hone their civic engagement skills through becoming not just consumers, but also producers of informational media on topics that really matter?

In keeping with the state of the profession of journalism, my class will also be working on student-produced video and online print stories, recognizing that in today’s media environment, it’s essential to be able to move fluidly across a variety of platforms.

When I came up with the Citizen Journalism Project initiative, combining my service on the WBCR-LP Board with my media studies teaching and my interest in getting Simon’s Rock students out into the local community and collaborating productively with their peers, it was one of those moments when you get into the flow and know the universe is with you.

Everyone I talked to about the idea loved it, from students to school administrators and the WBCR-LP programming committee staff, all volunteer, who are contributing their time and talents to getting the students trained and on the air in just a few short weeks.

When internet radio burst on to the media scene a few years back, some predicted the end of old-fashioned broadcast radio.

But there’s still something very special about being part of a community radio station grounded in the heart of a particular dot on the planet, where the people who live there are the ones running the board, conceiving and hosting the shows, and pumping out the music–not for money, but for the sheer joy of it.

When you drive through Great Barrington and tune in to 97.7 FM, it’s your friends and neighbors you’ll be hearing on the radio. And now, some cheerful, intelligent and very media-savvy students, too!

If you miss the live broadcasts, or you live far away, we’ll be archiving our shows at WBCR-LP later this spring.  Come by and check us out!


Activist strategies for the times we live in: Flying under the radar

Josh Haner/The New York Times)

Some good old-fashioned protesting went on in lower Manhattan today, with folks coming out to tell the Wall Street tycoons and corporate elite that they do not rule unopposed.

Protests like these are a good thing, like online petitions and letters to Congressmen or to the editor.  But they’d have to get a lot bigger and fiercer to really create change–as they did in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East in the past year.  Things have to get ugly.  People have to get hurt.  It’s so much easier to just stay home and try to make the best of it.

I am really doing a lot of puzzling lately over what kind of protest movement would be most effective for the times we live in.  On a spectrum from the riots in London to the dignified sitdowns in front of the White House this fall, it seems like something inbetween is likely to get the most attention.

But it has to be a BIG movement.  The powers that be will not listen to a few hundred protesters, or even a few thousand.  It has to be big and national and coordinated, like the Civil Rights protests were.  Although there are a few movements going on now that are national, or even international–for example, Moving Planet, scheduled for next Saturday–there’s still nothing on the horizon that has anywhere near the draw power of, say, Monday night football.

So maybe protests are not the way to go, at least not until people are really hungry and desperate, at which point it might be much too late for any kind of harmonious transition to a new planetary paradigm.

Margaret Wheatley, whose work with the Berkana Institute I admire greatly, thinks that we need to think about leadership in a different way than we’re used to.  Instead of waiting for a charismatic leader–say, the next Martin Luther King Jr.–to step up and lead us all to sweeping changes, we need to think smaller and more locally, focusing on what we ourselves can accomplish within our own spheres.

“The process that creates change in the world is quite straightforward,” she says. “We notice something that needs to be changed. We keep noticing it. The problem keeps getting our attention, even though most people don’t notice that there’s even a problem. We start to act, we try something. If that doesn’t work, we try a different approach. We learn as we go. We become very engaged with the issue, spending more and more time on it. We become exhausted by our efforts, but still we keep going. The issue keeps calling to us. Any time we succeed, no matter how small the success, we gain new energy and resolve. We become smarter as we learn more about the issue and understand it better. We become more skillful at tactics and strategies. As we persevere, and if we are successful, more people join us. Sometimes we remain as just a small group, sometimes we give birth to a movement that involves tens of thousands, perhaps millions, of people.

“This is how the world always changes. Even great and famous change initiatives begin this way, with the actions of just a few people, when “some friends and I started talking.” Including those efforts that win the Nobel Peace Prize.”

So maybe each of the few hundred protesters gathered in New York City should go home to their own communities and continue to agitate locally against corporate monopolies and the stranglehold of Wall Street on Main Street.

Maybe someone decides to find out more about local currencies like BerkShares, and starts a movement to create a local currency or a time bank in her town.

Someone else decides to work with young people in his town to create a community garden that will bring fresh produce into the elementary school cafeteria.  Another group goes home and decides to file for a license for a low-power radio station, like WBCR-LP here in the Berkshires.

What we need now are a million local actions, all animated by the desire for community resilience, collaboration and service to the common good.  Put together, they’d make up a mighty movement for change.  But for now, I think they’ll be more effective staying small, local and under the radar.

Who needs those riot police coming around anyway?

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