An open letter to Mr. Soros

Actually, I don’t really want to write “An open letter to George Soros,” because I respect Mr. Soros more than I respect, for example, Rush Limbaugh, to whom I wrote an open letter a year or two ago. Incidentally, that lightweight piece (published in the Richmond, Virginia, Style Weekly) drew more email than any several columns usually draw, and the fact cannot be too widely known that at least 98% of the emails were in my favor. I myself was amazed at the amount of positive response. Mr. Limbaugh may or may not have that “10 million” audience we hear so much about; I personally doubt it. Believing otherwise is rather like insisting that George W. Bush is “popular,” with the lowest inaugural approval rating in American history.


Still, Mr. Soros has reportedly expressed a wish to counteract the permanent rightwing media campaign, by funding other voices. Good aim. A friend of Rush Limbaugh’s once told me that Limbaugh has been paid probably three hundred million dollars ($300M) by the entities contracting with him.


The purpose of this article is to argue, however, that that goal should not be pursued top-down. The best way to counteract what has been done by Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Krauthammer, the Rupert Murdoch, Rev. Moon and Clear Channel media empires, the “Project for the New American Century” and a host of rightwing think tanks is not to mirror them.


The best way to undo some of the harm done to America over the past thirty years is to repair and restore some of what this well-funded claque has damaged: learning at all levels, literacy and information, an unafraid press, and any small sector independent of the giant media outlets. The good news is that, if you’re going to help the grass roots, money is often most effective in small amounts.


(1)   Small public libraries: Free people, free libraries. Across the nation, we have small public libraries struggling to keep their doors open. They fight for crumbs of funding year after year, while watching everything good swept off the table to support the “war on terrorism.” Incidentally, they’ve seen this kind of thing before: the “crack epidemic” worked the same way. They’re staying open largely through donations and volunteer efforts. Some years ago, one woman single-handedly maintained an exhibit of pre-Columbian artifacts in the public library in Clarksdale, Mississippi, because there was no museum around for these unique items. It’s the big cities (“inner city” in the code phrase) that get the worst press, but the same kind of thing is going on in small towns and tiny towns throughout the USA.

(2)   Small newspapers: Genuine community newspapers are often the spine of communication in their small towns or suburbs. Admittedly, a number of these have been scooped up by chains including Moonie entities, but many still try to be independent. Some are in Rocky Mountain states, some are in the Deep South, several are in Texas – including one in Crawford, Texas, where GWBush bought his property in 1999. They too, like the libraries, are maintained largely through volunteer efforts, and they could use some help. Look to some of the tiny weeklies in Maryland, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho and Louisiana if you really want to strengthen the grass roots.

(3)   Low power radio: Low power FM radio needs all the help it can get. Those airwaves belong to the public, and some of the public knows it. Large media conglomerates are doing everything they can, with assistance from well-paid lobbyists and acquiescent congress members, to shrink the ability of low power radio to exist. Any community effort to get more community radio – on the West Coast, in the South, in Texas, or anywhere else – should be reinforced.

(4)   Freedom of information: Some states are preserving and upholding public records, but others are imitating the Bush administration model. Sometimes they use “security” or the “war on terror” as the pretext for secrecy. Almost any individual researcher and organization who pursues Freedom of Information investigations at the local, state or federal level needs reinforcement.

(5)   Legal assistance for the poor and near-poor: Generally, in the budget constraints intensified by current policy, anyone not actually a homeless indigent has trouble getting legal representation. The problem has social consequences: women trying to get their child support, nonviolent offenders who should be doing community service instead of jail time, women needing protection against domestic abuse, and smalltime clients cheated by their own lawyers all get short shrift. Almost any entity or organization that helps ordinary people deal with the maze of legal language in courts or with the legal process needs reinforcement. This is the kind of thing the hard right has done for years: anyone charged with trespassing at a Planned Parenthood clinic, for example, tends to get legal help and bail money fast, through whatever channels.

(6)   Litigation: Bush is pushing legislation that will expand the already near-absolute power of corporations to get away with killing and other grievous harm. Meanwhile, we have giant media corporations willfully engaged in promoting an unjust war, directly resulting in deaths and injuries for thousands of people; we have private military and security contractors pursuing what amounts to foreign policy, with no redress for people harmed by their practices; and we have a large railroad company using taxpayer-funded Amtrak as its buffer and pockets for its own mistakes. Small cases by ordinary people often need reinforcing.


What these items have in common is that they are all based on examples from small communities that would be understood by almost anyone in the wider community. Also, money even in small amounts would be highly effective for them. And their improvement would have a ripple effect in their communities, sparing public resources and ordinary people’s energy for attention to other matters including home, community and country.


To counteract what the parasitic Right is doing, help the public on which it preys.


In the sphere of partisan politics, if Democrats are going to be constructive, they have to learn that their policies represent 98% of the population in this country, and they have to learn to behave accordingly. But whether the Dems learn it or not, anyone who actually wants to work for the people has to do so.

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