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Ordinary Heroes

Coverage of workers rarely appears in the media. Most major dailies no longer have labor reporters and while business shows (and even channels) proliferate, there is only one TV program devoted to workers, We Do the Work. A one hour special edition of We Do the Work, Heroes 3, will air over labor day weekend on many PBS stations (insert local air time). While Memorial Day coverage often features heroes from the military, Labor Day coverage rarely features working class heroes. The third edition of Heroes, hosted by comic Will Durst, highlights some of those overlooked heroes. The stories range from a retired San Francisco fire fighter, Frank Blackburn, who went into Rwanda with eight volunteers with a system which purifies water to James Kelly, who prevented his employer from closing the warehouse he worked at in Seattle by figuring out ways to bring in new business.A theme that runs through the program is the impact of media coverage. A previous We Do the Work program, Not In Our Town, focused on how the citizens of Billings, Montana fought back against racism and hate crimes. The show was used in a campaign co-sponsored by the Institute for Alternative Journalism to motivate other communities to do similar work. The burning of black churches around the country prompted community leaders in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois to start their own Not In Our Town campaign. Heroes shows rallies, community meetings and other ways they continue this work.One segment tells the story of how Charles Kernaghan and Barbara Briggs of the National Labor Committee brought attention to the working conditions in factories where Kathie Lee Gifford's clothing line was made. This resulted in government officials, like Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, condemning the practice and pledges by corporate leaders to change practices in the industry. In addition to getting coverage in the mainstream media, Kernaghan and Briggs have made their own tapes to educate the public and motivate activists. For their latest campaign targeting Disney, they've produced a video called Mickey Mouse Goes to Haiti.Also featured are Danny Schechter and Rory O'Connor, producers of another PBS series, Right & Wrongs, a weekly news program on human rights anchored by Charlene Hunter-Gault. They both left jobs in network news to produce South Africa Now, which got information out despite the press restrictions imposed by the apartheid government. Rights & Wrongs didn't need Kathie Lee Gifford as a hook to cover abuses of child labor. They did a story on Iqbal Masih, a child who was assassinated because he organized in Pakistan to expose the conditions in the carpet industry. They focus on human rights heroes every week on a fraction of the budget of network news programs. Schechter says human rights coverage doesn't have to be "a downer" and that telling such stories can motivate people to get involved. Unfortunately, not enough PBS stations carry We Do the Work or Rights & Wrongs. If either of these shows isn't carried in your town (or is carried at an hour when many people can't see it), get in touch with your local station.

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