Thursday, 27 October 2011

There's Something About Bill Moyers

There is something about Bill Moyers.  That simple and direct manner, that drawl and unhurried speech, hiding sharp intellect and keen insight.  It's easy to forget he's spent most of his life living in Manhattan, quietly changing journalism and the world - he seems like your nicest neighbor or a country doctor who prescribes good sense instead of pills.  In the world of progressive, liberal thinkers, he's the one who will always bring it back to faith and God and spirit.

I was privileged to be in the room last night to hear him speak to an audience of hundreds, maybe a thousand people for well over an hour.  Plain talk.  Unafraid to tell his own truth.  It was like taking a bath in value and clarity. 

To hear someone bring America full circle - back to our founding documents - to hold us accountable to the tenets we set up - leaving rhetoric, ideology, sensationalism, cynicism and frustration behind - was a clear bell ringing, resonating beyond the stretch of chaos we inhabit.  (Spoken word artists take note - herein lies the difference between just another rant and truly affecting speech.)

He opened his talk with some meditations on violence (this being Oklahoma City and the site of the devastating bombing in 1995) and spoke of the America's "culture of cruelty."  He asked when we had become "the Walmart of weaponry,"  a question that sliced through the audience. 

Moyers came out firmly for the Occupy movement, saying that what the Occupy movement knows is that,"Wall Street has  occupyied America,"  as well as putting it in historical perspective.  He reminded that all movements have started in this way - from the Suffragette movement to the Civil Rights movement, and that is perhaps not yet right to condemn the protesters for not having a platform.  However, he said that they must politicize in order to achieve any goals.  He called upon us to exercise our right to Democracy repeatedly, and also said he supports the Dream Act.

Moyers straight talk moved the audience to several standing ovations.  The 99% were in full effect (I'm not kidding - some people brought signs!) and they are not who you think they are   The audience was over 50, truly over 60 and 70 all the way up to 89.  There was a lot of white and grey hair in evidence.  The few students in the crowd stood out.  Mostly couples, primarily middle class, sensible and church-going people sat in the chairs watching him and supporting every word and, I think, wishing he'd run for president.

His words for the 1%?  "Money is a dagger aimed at the heart of democracy."  While Moyers believes that wealthy people should be allowed to buy more homes, cars, boats, "gizmos," and other comforts, he does not believe that wealth should allow people to, "buy more democracy."

I am your father
It's easy to forget, with his modest manner, that this man in front of you has changed television, journalism and the world several times over, but his reach is not to be underestimate.  If he had only made The Power of Myth with Joseph Campbell - only that and none of his other work - he could be said to have changed the face of Western culture in the 20th and 21st centuries.  Putting Campbell's work out in front of such a broad audience has not only changed our language and dialogue, it has changed and informed the way we make art and discuss it.  American movies and culture have invaded the world with its hero's journey principles and these insights on story and structure throughout the ages came from Campbell, and it was Moyers who gave him the platform to speak.  Arguably, one could pin the New Age movement at least partially on Moyers, but I won't go that far.  He certainly changed the face and reach of public television, or perhaps, more accurately, helped create its credibility, scope and formats.

Moyers has quietly carved out his own brand of journalism, infused it with faith, the idea of healing and proactive motion.  He has imposed intellectual rigour on religious and creative discussions and demanded that intellectual and analytical discussions do not discount spirit.  His Language of Life series put poetry out in front of American audiences in a new way (if you think this didn't help jump-start the spoken word world, think again).  His Genesis series was a revelation (pun intended) and a breakhrough multi-denominatonal exploration of the sacred text.  Looking back at his prolific body of work over time, it is clear that he has used his power to create the purest expression of his intentions.

From Obama to finals stages at NPS and WOW and IWPS, we get inspired.  So what.  The question is:  what happens next?  If we just go home and look at the piles of our life and feel helpless again, or overwhelmed or frustrated, then what good was all that sweet talking?  Like a sexy drifter looking for a bed for the night, the orator in question seduced us pretty and we fell for it.  Then he or she left town, leaving us with a hangover and dirty sheets.

If Moyers spoke to anything last night, he spoke to process and continual involvement -- in life, in community, in government.

We've forgotten somewhere along the line that hope and inspiration are only the first step in a chain of actions to be taken.  There is a process to betterment of self and community that requires critical thinking and analysis, collaboration and action.  We have radicalized our reactions - inspiration versus dejection, hope versus fear, status quo versus revolution - because somewhere along the line we have let go of the tools of building - we are leaving out all the steps in the middle.  You don't necessarily have to tear down a system to fix it.  You have to break it down analytically, thoughtfully, critically; hopefully in a room full of people with good minds.  The colonists didn't destroy England to create America.  They locked representatives in a room to debate the idea, structure, and form of government and came out with the Declaration of Independence, and later the Bill of Rights and the Articles of the Constitution (yeah - they're hyperlinked - go ahead and read them - when was the last time you did?).  England and her charters still stand.  They formed a new system from thought and debate and then built it to inhabit it.  As we discover cracks in the foundation, as our family expands, is the solution always to tear the house down?  When did we stop fixing the cracks and leaks, repairing damage from weather and time, and adding new rooms to accommodate new occupants? 

Moyers fears we  have abandoned "We the People" in favour of "me, myself, and I,"  and wonders if   we have already gone too far, creating problems beyond our ability to fix.  He cited other times in our history when this was the case - most potently the Civil War, when we could not resolve the issue of slavery.  (Like now, the pre-Civil War period was indicative of social and economic conditions becoming entwined in ways that required the dismantling of a system and the jeopardization of a privileged way of life to move forward.) 

I cannot think that we want to create internal strife and violence in order to solve the problems we have created in our financial and social systems.  I have to think that we can do better than that.  Yet we cannot fix these things sitting on our couches. 

We must go discover our own truths and live them intentionally, but we must also create balance between personal, political, and communal.  We must dance with what Moyers calls "the animal spirits of money and power," - there is truth in his assessment - these forces are primal and hiding from their reality only increases their strength.  We cannot keep anesthetizing, hate-mongering and name-calling.  It's just too silly and no way to spend a life, let alone the millions of lives being spent this way.

Most importantly, I think, we must listen to voices of reason and experience when and where we can find them. They are there, hiding behind and between the endless drone of Fox News and the Father Coughlin-replicants spewing hate rhetoric, like an SOS on a low-end frequency they are there.  Listen.

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