Tony Perkins, the Family Research Council, and the Ark

Shreveport   My middle south tour was once again on the road for a new year with visits to Greenville and WDSV, the radio station we help manage, time in Little Rock with organizers with Local 100 and KABF, and then a zip over to Shreveport to bargain the renewal on a nursing home contract with Local 100 stewards and representatives.  Between stops there is a lot countryside full of cotton, soybeans, timber, and cattle.  Managing radio stations, I find myself trying to listen on the lower end of the dial to noncommercial radio whenever and wherever I can find it.  You always learn something!

Well, I found myself riveted to one show I stumbled onto when I heard myself listening to callers talking about standing tall over a controversy that was new to me involving a replica of an ark, purportedly THE ARK, as in Noah’s ark.  The Bible story holds that God told Noah a flood was coming and to build an ark large enough for people and creatures to float out the storm, so he did so.  In and of itself, that story has provoked endless controversy and crises of faith between believers and scientists who scoff at the impossibility of the situation and cite the geological records as evidence as well.

This controversy was different, though I couldn’t quite puzzle it out from the radio call-in and talk fest being conducted on “Washington Watch” by the notorious rightwing gay basher and politician threat hurler, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.  Callers were complaining that school children were not being taken to visit this ark replica because of some “Democratic communists’ atheists in Wisconsin.”  Perkins was egging them on.  They were encouraging teachers to bring kids on their own at the risk of being fired by their school districts in order to stand up for religion.  I was going down a wormhole and wasn’t sure there was a way out!

The internet tells me that a guy named Ken Ham with something called Answers in Genesis has built both the Creation Museum and Ark Encounters in norther Kentucky.  Ark Encounters purports to be an over 500-foot replica of sorts.  He got an $18 million package of tax incentives from the state of Kentucky to build the thing in 2016, and over a $1 million rebate check from the state on sales taxes last year.  Attendance isn’t what they had projected at over one-million in the two years it has been opened, but 800,000 isn’t shabby.

That’s part of the bruhaha, because the heavy breathers are complaining that they would have more ark folks if they could get the public schools to roll the yellow buses up to see for themselves.  The Freedom from Religion folks sent a letter to school boards all over Kentucky and anywhere else telling them don’t pay the admission because of the separation of church and state.  Of course, the admission runs from $15 for children to $48 whooping bucks for adults and that might be part of the turnstile problem as well.

On the radio, they were filled with righteous indignation and fired up about this whole ark thing.  I just wanted you to know what you’re missing in the deep red heartlands.

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Lessons from the Oaxaca Rebellion…Before and After the Internet, There was…Radio

Mexico City     The pace of modernity is blistering.  That’s a fact, and it’s inarguable.  The internet has sped communications to a level that once again we learned last year that even the wizard inventors of Silicon Valley are unable to fully control nor are governments able to completely comprehend as they attempt to assert dominion.

At the same time what many perhaps forget is how uneven these communication developments have been and continue to be.  The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article recently on Amazon’s retooling to bring its empire to rural India where a new business model was required utilizing local small businesses as both delivery depots, help desks, and ordering posts that would be totally old school in Europe or North America.

That lesson was also brought home to me in learning more about the famous grassroots mobilizations in the state of Oaxaca prompted by the repression of the teachers and social movements more than a dozen years ago.  Oaxaca is not only the poorest state in Mexico, but also the most indigenous with sixteen different ethnic and language profiles in the area.  The teachers’ union annually would hold a planton or sit-in in the zocalo or main square of the capitol, Oaxaca City, in order to raise their demands for more pay certainly, but also to demand multi-lingual education, infrastructure support, free textbooks, and other social issues.  A new government in 2006 violently and militaristically attempted to end the tradition, break the union, and popular support.  In a misjudgment, a peoples’ movement sprung up to not only support the movement, but to raise the myriad issues that people had with the lack of democratic government, corruption, and more.

The outline of their heroic struggle is well-known.  What I had not known as well until I happened to pick up and read Teaching Rebellion:  Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca by the CASA Collective and a team of supportive editors is the critical importance that community radio played in this epic development.  Radio was both king and pawn in the back and forth between government and popular forces.  When the attack began one observer after another gave testimonials to the importance of independent community radio, especially Radio Universidad at the autonomous university, which acted not only as a broadcaster, but also listening post, gathering reports from all over the state and struggle, and putting the word on the air.  When the government knocked out their transmitter, protestors temporarily took over all eleven commercial radio stations, and then retained control of several calling them different names, including Radio Cacerola or Pots and Pans Radio after a women’s march that triggered some of the takeover.  The government at one point established its own pirate radio in order to create disinformation which gives a sense of how critical community radio and the voice of the people was.  Organizations understood as well.  The teachers had their own Radio Planton which they lost when the police attacked.

As one organizer, David Venegas Reyes stated, “Oaxaca isn’t the only place where radio has played a central in the mobilization of the people, but…the effects of popular media control and the struggle to maintain it is impossible to underestimate.”

Radio, especially independent community radio, continues to be a critical communication tool bridging individual and collective voices of people to each other very directly with or without access to the internet in communities throughout the world, as true in Oaxaca in 2006 as it is everywhere today no matter how modern we might presume to be.

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