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Progressive Profiles: With New TV Show, Radio Talker Thom Hartmann Brings Substance to Style

With an entrepreneurial spirit, knowledge of history and boundless energy, Hartmann brings the singular mix he honed on national radio to the cable news airwaves.

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More recently, Thom and Louise traveled to the Darfur region of Sudan in March 2009 with Ellen Ratner of Talk Radio News Service, with whom he and Louise now share office space in Washington. They did their radio show for a week about 15 miles from the nearest refugee camp.

"It was a nightmare," he says. "We were doing it and we were 500 miles from the nearest electricity or the nearest paved road. This is a country the size of Texas that, at that time, had less than 20 miles of paved road and one town with electricity. There were 47,000 people. In a town that was originally at 7,000 people there were 40,000 refugees. No doctors, no medicine. The only food was what we had brought in on a plane. There was one well that the UN had drilled about 10 years earlier that people took turns pumping 24/7 so that they could get water. It was just incredible. It was out in the high desert and during the day it was 120 degrees. At night it would get down to 40 degrees."

Ratner and the Hartmanns weren't just there to do radio, though. They traveled with supplies sent in by Christian Solidarity International. "We flew in literally strapped to about five tons of food in the belly of a cargo plane -- a 50-year-old Buffalo C-700, twin-prop cargo plane that was leaking gas out of one engine and hydraulic fluid out of the other," he says.

Sudan is about to vote on a referendum which, if passed, would allow for the secession of the south -- where the population is predominately Christian and animist -- from the northern part of the country, where the population is overwhelmingly Muslim. I asked Hartmann what he thinks will happen if the people of the south, as expected, vote to secede.

"I think that there's going to be war," he says. In Darfur, the radio team spent part of a day with Salva Kiir Mayardit, the de facto president of South Sudan. Mayardit told Ratner in a more recent trip, that's "it's going to get more bloody," according to Hartmann. "The Chinese are involved now, Hartmann adds. "They're arming both sides."

The Insurgency at Home

And what of our politics at home? What advice does Hartmann have for progressives as they look to hold the line against the corporate interests dressed in Tea Party clothing?

First, he offers the obvious, urging progressives to join organizations such as Democracy for America, the group born out of Howard Dean's presidential bid, and to donate to non-profit progressive media outlets. (We're all for that, here at AlterNet!)

But further, Hartmann advocates a takeover of the Democratic Party by progressives, much as the right wing has taken over the GOP. Run for a spot on your local school board, he says, and for positions within the Democratic Party itself.

"[I]f we were sitting around conspiring how to take over NBC -- you know, like Comcast and stuff...there's no way we could do it. You'd have to have hundreds of millions of dollars. But there's a multimillion-dollar organization that makes major decisions about the future of this country -- in fact, arguably influences it more than any individual corporation -- that is literally saying, 'Come on in and take a leadership role in this organization. Come on in and take over.' It's called the Democratic Party. We have to show up, infiltrate it and take it over the same way conservatives did with the Republican Party in the '70s."