Q: You say thereís a lot to do over the next four years. In one of the bookís essays, "An Activistís Lament," you identify some systemic and organizational roadblocks that hinder the progressive movement. How can the left accomplish what it needs to if it canít, as you write, "get out of its own way"?
A: I donít know. I think the Internet is starting to clear some of that away. A lot of these meetings, as I write in the book, turn into sort of group therapy for some of the neediest people. "Oh, Iíd like to share a few things with the group that are personal, that I think are very important for us to clear up," and you know, an hour later, people are saying, "I got a baby sitter."
If you want regular people, you have to make it attractive, you have to make it something thatís functional for regular people. So if people at first are upset, you know, "Jeez, they are killing a lot of kids in Iraq, what can we do about that," so they go to a meeting, and itís someone arguing about the procedure ó I mean, hell.
But I think for the progressive movement to work, it really has to identify and speak more clearly to things that truly are oppressing regular people of all walks of life in this country. And speak to it. And this is not all going to be done through electoral politics.
You can scare the elected people by showing up in big numbers, and taking action and doing things, and making certain things very clear to them through other means. So to just be hung up on electoral politics constantly is not the way to go, I donít think.
Q: How does "preaching to the choir," through media like your book or Air America, help the cause?
A: You know, thatís a form of censorship, just that word, just that slogan: "Oh, you are just preaching to the choir." I mean, sure, of course you donít just "preach to the choir." I wouldnít say my book is designed as something that preaches to the choir. It talks about how I come from a fairly mainstream place in the United States and developed these views. And these views come from a love for a variety of things ó the environment, the people of this country, in compassion for veterans in particular. And I donít think Iím preaching to the choir with that. I think if people would give my book a chance and read it, they might think about some things that they wouldnít think of otherwise.
On the other hand, the people who have been out there fighting the good fight forever do need a shot in the arm, do need support, and do need a chance to hear ó you know, when Air America was first on, we got so many calls from people just saying, "Thank you, I thought I was the only one." People begin to think theyíre crazy. And that, again, is back to the point I made earlier. That itís wrong when such a large number of people are told that they are out of step, that they donít get it, that theyíre wrong. Why, because I believe in peace and justice? Because I believe that when we do something collectively, it should maybe feed, house, clothe someone rather than blow up their house or kill them?
I just happen to believe in government for the common good. Common defense is one thing, but weíre so far removed from that, itís ridiculous. And we have been for so long that once we actually were attacked, they managed to pervert it even that much more. I mean, if you look at the billions being wasted in that war, what could it do for those workers in Ohio, who donít have decent jobs anymore, or wherever, for that matter ó around Boston. I still believe in government for the common good, rather than private interest. And this outfit thatís in there now is just basically trying to do so much damage that if and when they ever lose control, there wonít be anything left to provide the kind of services that a government should provide.
Thereís a lot of things we could do that would promote the economy and make the country a lot better place. Weíre still using an awful lot of stuff in this country that was put together during FDRís time. And this might be a good time to promote something that I would call the "Renewed Deal."
Q: What would be some of the tenets of the Renewed Deal?
A: Concentrate on doing some of the things that sustain and improve life in this country. And that would include things like improvement of the infrastructure, identification of areas of the country where thereís just such economic despair that something needs to be done. So give people a hand by creating programs where they actually improve their own neighborhoods. I think one thing that would be great to do is take a lot of this wasted and abandoned industrial space, as long as it isnít environmentally toxic, and reclaim it for arts projects. Bring hope to communities.
So take that big abandoned warehouse and get some grants, some government grants ó so it isnít something thatís owned by the corporations, like anything else ó and you know, you hire people to rebuild it, to turn it into something that will sustain the neighborhood. And itís a place where the community can gather, where the kids can learn various things. Teach people trades, bring hope, bring the community together. You can never know what will come in these neighborhoods. Obviously the governmentís not going to get behind this right now, with the group thatís in there, but we could begin to figure out grassroots and innovative ways ó just going and squatting in some of these places. Just start turning them into something, so every place isnít full of abandoned reminders of formerly prosperous days.
Thatís just one idea, but you know, who else has an idea? Iím not gonna wait for this unbelievably corrupt, bought-and-paid-for federal government that we have right now to do a lot about this. So weíre going to have to find things that we can do. I love to hear from people what their ideas are. If Kerry had gotten in, I wanted to approach them about that Renewed Deal, about the arts part of it anyway. It just seems like, rather than having these sad husks of prosperity in our neighborhoods, if some of them were turned into something where there was hope and life and joy, you would just get so much back on every dollar you invested in it.
Q: Whatís the difference between being critical of the government and being negative?
A: This government requires a great deal of criticism right now in particular, because if we donít criticize it, if we donít exercise those rights, believe me they will be gone very quickly. Criticism can be a very positive and optimistic thing ó "Iím still trying, Iím not giving up," is what youíre saying. So we need to do that. But we need to look at other things we can do as well. Thatís why I say, we canít just be totally focused on electoral politics because the nature of that beast these days is so extremely negative that you almost canít avoid becoming what you resist. Thatís why you need to rotate the crops and look at other things, and find hope and joy in other places, and take a stand. By standing up and doing things, you can set a good example and not just be negative.
Q: Have you embraced comedy as one way to inject that hope and joy into the political system?
A: Sure. I mean, you can smuggle a lot of content with humor. You can get to people. Peopleís defenses are down when theyíre laughing, so thatís one way to do it. You have to find other ways to get to people.
Q: Does your material ever get criticized for being too over-the-top or too hard-line?
A: That kind of statement, that kind of idea, kinda comes from that self-censorship that weíre all supposed to have. What I say may seem outrageous in the modern context, but in the scope of history I donít think it will be very outrageous at all. I think Iíll be seen as someone whoís maintaining some sanity during this period. As I say in the book, I believe in playing to the ages, not the age, because the age tends to be pretty stupid. So what might be outrageous in the scope of history might be the things that people were letting go on, and what might be sensible would be standing up to them. Iím not out to shock. Things are shocking enough. If people kind of get it, dig what Iím talking about, I would hope in sort of an odd way that they would be to an extent soothed.
From December 9 to 12, Barry Crimmins will appear as part of The Ding Ho Reunion: 25 Years of the Best of Boston Comedy at Jimmy Tingleís Off Broadway Theater, in Somerville. Crimmins can be reached through his Web site, www.barrycrimmins.com. Deirdre Fulton can be reached at email@example.com 2
Issue Date: December 3 - 9, 2004
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