Suemedha Sood

Conversation with Amy Goodman

Journalist Amy Goodman has been called everything from a hero to a threat to national security. The founder and host of Democracy Now!, she has won numerous awards for her courage and perseverance. From getting exclusive interviews with figures like Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Hugo Chavez to relentlessly reporting on Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, Amy Goodman is respected worldwide for her journalism and activism. Her fierce commitment to investigative journalism has put her life at risk on a number of occasions. In 1991, Amy and fellow journalist and activist Allan Nairn were shooting a documentary depicting the genocide in East Timor, then occupied by the Indonesian military. In the midst of a massacre of a huge group of Timorese, she and Allan were brutally beaten and almost killed by Indonesian soldiers.

With her book, The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media that Love Them, she challenges the policies of the Bush Administration, holding the corporate media accountable for reproducing the lies of those in power. WireTap Magazine spoke with Amy Goodman about her career, her thoughts on U.S. foreign policy, and what we can do to support free and independent media.

WireTap: What inspired you to pursue a career in journalism?

Amy Goodman: In high school I saw it as a way of documenting what was around me and holding those in power accountable -- at the time it was my school principal. And so, it was just something I always did. I was editor of my high school newspaper and it was a way to try to improve the situation; it was my way of dealing with issues by exposing injustice, and trying to improve things.

WT: Who were your sources of inspiration in your twenties?

AG: My parents, who were peace activists. My grandparents, who were immigrants to this country, fleeing persecution.

WT: What did you do before your work with Pacifica Radio?

AG: I was lucky enough to find what most journalists look for their whole lives at the beginning of my career at Pacifica (then WBAI), and that is independence. I was always involved with newspapers from when I was a kid. But on WBAI I heard all of the rawness and realness of New York by just tuning in. It was all the various accents and experiences of New York and hearing all of that in people's voices and it just amazed me and mesmerized me.

WT: In The Exception to the Rulers you talk about the responsibility that journalists have to "go where the silence is." Why is it more difficult for the mainstream reporters to carry out this responsibility?

AG: It's not more difficult to do it, they just don't do it. I think the obstacle is media consolidation. The fewer the owners, the more similar the points of views expressed. And I think the media was at an all-time low when leading up to the invasion [of Iraq]. All the cheerleading for war and singing the praises of those in power -- it was a tremendous disservice to the people of this country.

I definitely don't have unlimited access, but if you can't get information one way, you pursue it another way. But I think it's very important that we not partake in the "access of evil" -- we talk about it in the book -- the trading of truths for access. It happens when journalists go to press conferences and ask soft questions just to get access, just to get a quote. But we can't trade truth for access. Because politicians need journalists more than journalists need politicians.

WT: You talk about mainstream journalists contributing to the "access of evil." But what about reports that came out about the Abu Graib scandal or Hurricane Katrina where it would seem the mainstream media has been somewhat critical of the government?

AG: I say that journalists indulge in the "access of evil" in that they trade truth for access to these politicians so that they can get a direct quote. I think what counts is the repetition -- how often the story is told. It's very important that the Abu Graib prison story was broken -- it was broken by CBS and by Seymour Hersh at The New Yorker. At CBS, they held on to it for a few weeks, but they did break it.

But it can't just be broken once -- the story has to keep on being told, and those in charge have to be questioned, and it has to be investigated. And the investigation can't be limited to one place because we now know that these things have been happening in many places. And we should see the same level of investigation as we see with celebrity journalism. When celebrities are covered, we see every minute detail of their lives and each day something new happens. We hear that Tom Cruise walked outside today, and his girlfriend Katie walked out on the street, or they got on a plane and on and on. And we have to take the same approach to stories that matter, to issues of life and death; because I think people would deeply care -- more than they care about celebrities -- if they really knew what was going on. And that's the trick, that's our responsibility

WT: What are your thoughts on the use of political satire as a means for reaching out to young people? For example, many have praised The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for representing dissent through comedy.

AG: It's extremely important to break the sound barrier every way we can because the more TV channels there are, the more illusion there is that we're getting diversity of opinion, but what really matters is who owns the media and how many media moguls there are and how they operate.

WT: On your book tour, you've been meeting with groups of people all over the country. What are some of the concerns echoed across state lines?

AG: They are all concerned with the state of this country -- with poverty, with the state of dissent, with the minority elite, consolidated power, and what's happening in Iraq. They're concerned about the number of soldiers dying, the number of Iraqis being hurt, the thousands of people unjustly detained whether at Guantanamo or Abu Graib. I think people are very scared that it's undermining the basic principles of this country; and it's crossing the whole political spectrum. I think conservative Republicans are concerned about the violation of privacy and corporate control the same way they are about U.S. soldiers coming home in body bags.

WT: What would you say about claims regarding so-called "liberal bias" in the mainstream commercial media?

AG: I don't know where it is. It's an illusion that right-wing pundits use to pressure the media to become even more in line with them, and it's not true. The problem with the corporate media is that it ices out dissent. It should be a sanctuary for dissent, that's what makes this country healthy.

WT: How could independent media like Pacifica and AlterNet reach out to a more conservative audience?

AG: I think all sorts of people are turning to independent media. I think the audience is increasing in all sorts of ways because the issue of Weapons of Mass Destruction not being found exposed the Bush Administration, it exposed the media that reproduced these false claims. People are starting to look for something else. And the mainstream media -- it shouldn't even be called mainstream. It's extreme media.

WT: What are some examples of corporate media outside the U.S. that could call themselves democratic? Specifically, where can we find a media system that isn't plagued by the problems of concentrated ownership, influence of advertisers, uniformity of content, etc.?

AG: I think in a lot of countries there is a lot more media. What matters is just having a diversity of media. I spent time in Nigeria, and there is a very vibrant media there. In other countries I think what matters for all people is to reach outside of the media in your own country so you can find a diversity of perspectives. It's really essential to seek out a lot of different media to seek out different perspectives and different angles on what is happening. As for Americans, the decisions that the president of this country makes have far-reaching effects on people all over the world.

WT: What are some specific matters of foreign or domestic policy that are currently being overlooked by the corporate media?

AG: Torture. Poverty. Health care in this country. What I mean by saying that these are overlooked is that what matters is repetition. It's not enough to just tell the story once, no matter how big the expose. But what gets pulled on the front pages of the newspapers on a daily basis, day after day, that's what sinks into people's consciousness. Hurricane Katrina, for one, has very much put into perspective the fact that poverty and the racial divide are important problems that need this kind of repeated coverage in the media.

WT: Democracy Now! recently reported on Seymour Hersh's article in The New Yorker regarding the possibility of a U.S. military attack on Iran. The Bush Administration has denounced such claims as has Iran's top nuclear negotiator who says Hersh's report is part of a U.S. psychological warfare campaign. What's your take on this?

AG: As for Iran and Seymour Hersh's very important expose, what we're seeing the Administration saying is a replay of Iraq. Before the invasion of Iraq, Bush was saying there were reports that Iraq was months away from getting a nuclear weapon and it turned out there was no such report. And they're citing the same type of information in talking about Iran. The difference is that we have Iraq behind us and people no longer trust what the government is telling us.

WT: For the past few weeks, DemocracyNow! has been covering the immigration debate, which some are likening to a second Civil Rights movement. Can you comment on this incredible display of democracy?

AG: The issue of immigration -- it's just astounding what has happened in the last month or so. We have never seen this level of protest in this country on any issue. And it's coming from people who have been marginalized more than any other -- who have been targeted, victimized and here they are marching in the streets of Chicago, Florida, Texas, everywhere. In Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, and many others, these are the largest protests in these cities' history. Tens of thousands -- even millions of people have taken to the streets, spreading the message that, 'Yes we can, it's possible.' And these are the people that have the most to lose -- and yet if they don't speak up, they lose everything. And to see this demonstration of solidarity and anger, it's changing policy in America. It proves that grassroots action makes a tremendous difference. It is extremely inspiring.

WT: You often report on issues that expose the darkest sides of humanity. Where do you find the strength to keep going? What inspires you today?

AG: I think I find the strength and I am inspired by the people I cover. The people I cover and work with have hope and continue to believe that the world can be better -- that has always inspired me. From people in Timor, people in Haiti, people in Nigeria, and people right here in the United States. And that's what gives me hope.

WT: What can students and young people do to support progressive, independent media?

AG: Get involved with it. Make media. Use Public Access TV, get involved with independent radio and independent media in this country and around the world. There's no better way to understand independent media or support it than by doing it. There's no better way to understand how it works than by making your own. Build independent media and challenge corporate media because they control the airwaves. Whatever we're involved with we need to recognize that the media are the most powerful institutions in the world. They really determine so much about what people understand about the world and about what the rest of the world understands about us.

Black Youth Want More than Voting

About 200 high school and college students from 20 different states came together in April for the fifth annual Black Youth Vote (BYV) Civic Leadership conference held in Washington D.C. This year’s theme, “Hip Hop Activism: Revolutionizing Black Power,” focused on strategic political action leaving young black leaders from all over the country energized and full of hope.

With all the grassroots activity around election time, why did BYV conference took place months after the 2004 presidential election? “It’s not just about getting out the vote among black youth,” explains Melanie Campbell, executive director and CEO of BYV. Campbell wants young leaders to think, “How do you utilize the vote in civic engagement?”

Given that many crucial state elections are coming up next November, the three-day conference participants discussed specific issues that directly affect the lives of black youth: affirmative action, the impact of HIV/AIDS, corporate media and the long-term consequences of war. The panelists emphasized the importance of building strong national coalitions and provided practical tools necessary for effective organizing.

BYV is a national grassroots coalition of youth organizations that works to increase political engagement of black youth under age of 30. This demographic now represents 50 percent of black electorate in the U.S. BYV identifies and trains youth organizers in colleges and local communities around the country.

Many BYV participants agreed that the election itself seemed to foster divisiveness rather than unity, said Campbell. But despite that the overwhelming attitude among the conference participants was full of optimism and hope.

On the first day, the young leaders met and discussed legislative goals with representatives of the Congressional Black Caucus. They later split up into smaller groups and spoke with their congress representatives. The next two days of the conference included discussions with world-renowned civil rights speakers followed by practical workshops on message development, coalition building, fundraising, and more.

The last day of the conference on April 9, attracted most participants. Despite the early start at 8 a.m., the rooms were crowded with highly energetic partakers. Hip hop music played as people shuffled in. The BYV members had become connected and grew closer by discovering that many share similar experiences and struggles, even though they all came from different generations, communities, and backgrounds. The wide range of ages from 13 to 35 didn’t prevent connections, as it became evident through the rising cloud of noise from impassionate conversations and laughter.

The interactive sessions were especially effective in fostering youth-driven discussions. “The Politics of Hip Hop Media,” revolved around issues of corporate exploitation of black identity. The presentation charged that corporations thrive on their use of the “urban mindset” to market products to a young audience. Advertisements for everything from soft drinks to cell phones portray negative common perceptions of what it means to be “urban,” largely brought to you by hip hop artists and other black celebrities.

Conference participants urged their peers to put pressure on corporations to be more socially responsible in their marketing and advertising. “Things like hip hop are used to sell everything other than the positive black image,” Illai Kenny, a 16-year-old from Georgia said. She thinks this can only change if “we maximize our own gain from relationships with corporations.” She suggested making group demands from certain corporations since many products are targeted to black urban youth.

A lively debate emerged around the engagement of black celebrities in advocating for the black political agenda. “All you know is what you see and what you see isn’t all there is,” insisted Illai. “The people who portray us the most are the people who are the least involved politically.” “You don’t see BYV on the cover of the paper because we’re doing something positive, not raunchy or wrong,” she added. Participants decided to promote local artists and independent media, as they often provide alternatives to negative stereotypes in the mainstream media.

Since black youth make up a significant fan base for artists like 50 Cent, Lil’ Kim, or P. Diddy, they could also demand more civic engagement from the hip-hop celebrities, participants agreed. This requires more communication between artists and their young fans. Seeing politically active celebrities among their icons, young kids—of all races—might be motivated to get politically involved within their communities.

Dyresha Harris, a 23-year-old from Washington D.C., promotes global activism as the best way to motivate political action among all age groups. “On the corporate level, it’s important to think of activism globally, maintaining alliances with our friends in the developing world,” she said. She expressed hope that young people can be at the forefront of such action.

“We’ve come to see politics as this shady, corrupt, impenetrable thing, so young people need to take back its credibility,” Dyresha added. This becomes difficult, said Dyresha, when structures in the media seem to counteract such effort. For example, she pointed out, the one-sided post-election reporting in the news media that accused youth of not coming out to vote. It was reported later, however, that a significantly greater number of young people—by most accounts an increase of five to eight percent--voted in 2004 than did four years prior.

Dyresha also echoed a common sentiment of the conference, which views cross-cultural integration as the strongest binding force among the hip-hop generation. “I personally think one of the advantages our generation has is integration,” she said. Dyresha feels it helps move beyond a limited dialogue on race that considers only “black, white, and the other.”

But she also added that the tendency to just say, “We’re all the same” can be detrimental. “In terms of working with white progressive organizations,” Dyresha continued, “there needs to be a lot of work on both sides.” She expressed hope that both white and black activist groups will take the time to listen and internalize the concerns of both. Dyresha urged black communities to be more patient while the slow process of cultural understanding takes place.

As the conference was coming to its closing session, young black leaders left seemingly charged and inspired. Conference organizers hope it will help sustain the energy and focus needed, as black youths tackle issues in their back yards across the nation. “I am confident that … participants will go home and make a positive difference in their communities,” said Campbell.

Generation Mix

Just 38 years ago, interracial marriage was banned throughout the United States. The 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia not only made interracial marriage legal, it also contributed to fundamental changes in the country’s make-up. The 1970’s was marked by a surge of interracial marriages, followed by a multiracial baby boom which would change the face and color of this country forever. Today, in the Western states of California, Oregon, and Washington State, more mixed-race babies are born than any other race but Caucasian. The 2000 Census was the first time Americans were given the option to choose more than one race to describe themselves.

As members of the multiracial baby boom are reaching adulthood, several advocacy groups have emerged to raise awareness about the issues they face. The Mavin Foundation is one such group. The Mavin Foundation creates projects that explore the experiences of mixed heritage people, transracial adoptees, interracial relationships and multiracial families.

“You still run into people every day who don’t know that organizations like Mavin exist,” says founder Matt Kelley. This is why Mavin is kicking off its Generation Mix National Awareness Tour in the spring. The tour, led by five mixed-race youths, will travel 8,000 miles through 16 cities from Seattle to Boston in an effort to spread awareness about multiracial issues and the resources. It starts this April.

Despite the fact that multiracial Americans constitute a rapidly growing population, few schools and social service agencies are dedicated to multiracial youth. Kelley hopes that the Generation Mix Tour will make evident the need for such resources. He also criticizes current employment, educational, and other institutions for failing to transform with the times. “Too often we are confronted with having to check just one box, making us feel like we don’t exist,” says Kelley. Complying with this demand not only forces people to choose one race over another, he says, it also forces the resignation of multiracial people to statistical insignificance. This can lead to very serious issues. For one thing, multiracial individuals encounter different problems of health care than monoracial people. In particular, it is more difficult to find matches for bone marrow transplants among multiracial people, increasing the threat of diseases like leukemia. Raising awareness about such problems will lead to increased availability of local resources with which to tackle them.

Kelley, half-Korean and half-white, explains that he created Mavin in part because of his own struggle with issues of identity. “Growing up, I didn’t feel like I had full access to both cultures,” he says. Transracial adoptees also encounter very specific questions of identity. When children of color are placed with white parents, questions arise that go far beyond differences in complexion. Exploration of one’s heritage takes another dimension when one’s parents belong to a different ethnicity. Kelley says the Mavin Foundation is working to bring light to such issues of identity, but he emphasizes that this cannot be accomplished without parents, teachers, and social workers becoming more aware of racial issues.

And, of course, there are lots of great things about being multiracial. Marinda Melonson, 20, says "I think a lot of people feel that because you're mixed-race you might be confused about your identity or have some issues with incorporating multiple sides of your heritage into one." But she is also helping plan the tour because also knows that not everyone has it so easy.

"I think my family life was very secure and great support for me, so I don’t have any too severe identity issues,” she adds. “But I think we all struggle with identity particularly as adolescents and young adults trying to fit in.

As a student at the University of Washington, Marinda joined a group called “Mixed” and they helped connect her to Mavin. This spring, she and the other participants on the tour will be offering a “Student Station” for high school and college students to find information on how to get involved with and start a multiracial student organizations.

In its journey from West to East Coast, the Generation Mix National Awareness Tour first and foremost seeks to make the public aware that multiracial Americans are growing in number and in voice. Its objective is not, however, to create a new label or category to place multiracial people under. “It’s not about creating a new group,” Kelley insists. “It’s been about how to identify ways we can create spaces for mixed heritage people within existing communities.” It is a movement to recognize and acknowledge how people identify themselves. It is not merely another attempt to increase diversity, but an effort to expand the dialogue on race in our country.

In addition to information booths, the tour will also provide the tour members to speak about their own experiences and an hour of time in which members of each local community will have the opportunity to participate in a facilitated discussion about what it means to be of a mixed-race background.

Kelley expresses excitement at the prospect of creating a more complex and constructive national dialogue on race. Both multiracial and monoracial individuals are beginning to understand that race in America is no longer a matter of just black and white. “It’s not just about mixed people being frustrated by a black/white paradigm,” says Kelley. “It’s also about black and white folks understanding that this dichotomy may be based in history but is not representative of the make-up of our country today.” A more open discussion of race will also bring to the surface issues of inequality experienced by both monoracial and multiracial people. This discussion is threatened, says Kelley, by people who still push for the idea of colorblindness. The only way to battle inequality is to take the approach of color consciousness, because, as Kelley reminds us, “race may not exist, but racism certainly does.”

Melina sees the tour as having the potential to expand what she considers a movement being built around multiracial awareness.

"I think in the beginning of a movement, there is one big push in the direction toward national recognition," she say, adding “I have a feeling that next year when we do it again it will be even bigger and reach a lot more people.”

The Generation Mix tour kicks off on April 4 and is scheduled to run through May 11, 2005. Visit to learn more.

Bob Woodward Visits My Campus

Investigative journalist and author Bob Woodward spoke to a packed auditorium at the University of Virginia last Thursday about one of the most controversial topics of today: President George W. Bush. Hundreds of students listened eagerly as Woodward painted a picture of the president with respect to the war in Iraq, the upcoming presidential election, and the issue of terrorism. He also used the forum to promote his best-selling book, “Plan of Attack.”

Woodward, currently the Assistant Managing Editor for The Washington Post, was made famous for his work with Carl Bernstein in uncovering the Watergate scandal. He and Bernstein won the Pulitzer Prize for this reporting on President Nixon and the Nixon Administration. Woodard is also the author of ten best-selling books, including “All the President’s Men,” “Bush at War,” and “Plan of Attack.”

Judging from turnout and audience response, Woodward was well received by the UVA crowd. In light of the upcoming presidential election, it seems students are taking more and more of an interest in politics and current affairs. Many students had with them copies of “Plan of Attack” ready to be signed after the talk. The sold-out event took place in the Old Cabell Hall auditorium, which seats about 850 people.

In past weeks, Woodward has also spoken at schools like the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His tour is quite possibly an attempt to educate young people about their president and commander in chief. It may also be an effort to get more students out to the polls in November. After all, college students are often more educated and better informed than the general public.

The sharp polarization of the country over this election is certainly mirrored by campuses like UVA. According to recent polls conducted by university groups here, the student body is fairly split politically, with a slight leaning to the right. Woodward’s audience last Thursday, however, was not very representative of the entire student body. Beginning his speech with a quick poll of the audience, Woodward drew attention to the fact that the majority of his audience leaned to the political left.

In discussing “Plan of Attack,” Woodward explained that the book seeks to depict George W. Bush’s presidency in the 16 months leading up to the war in Iraq. Much of Woodward’s information comes from his three-and-a-half-hour interview with Bush, in which he asked the president around 500 questions. Woodward said it was the longest sitting interview with a president in history.

Woodward began describing his interview with the president by informing the UVA audience that George W. Bush is in fact not as “dumb as he sometimes sounds.” Woodward also described Bush’s reluctance to answer questions on issues such as Weapons of Mass Destruction.

Furthermore, Woodward was somewhat critical of Bush’s pre-war planning. He said that Secretary of State Colin Powell felt that President Bush did not understand the consequences of invading and launching war with Iraq. He also went on to reveal that Bush contacted the ambassador of Saudi Arabia about his decision to attack before he told Powell.

This criticism was, however, accompanied by high praise for the president. Commending Bush’s conviction in his decision to go to war, Woodward told the audience more than once that Bush said he would stick to that decision even if it meant he would be a one-term president. “Courage often means walking alone,” said the journalist of Bush’s decision. Woodward even said that history may depict George Bush as a hero.

Along with praise for Bush came criticism for Senator John Kerry. Woodward rebuked Kerry for failing to tell the American people how he will use the power of the presidency. Woodward implied that Kerry has a responsibility to make it clear to the public what his primary goal will be as president. He joked that Kerry should not simply say, “I will use the power of the presidency to not be George Bush.”

In the question/answer section of the reporter’s talk, Woodward revealed quite openly his beliefs about terrorism. When asked how he thought a terrorist attack could affect the outcome of the presidential election, Woodward said that he did not think an attack would be planned before the election because he believes a terrorist attack would be planned based upon the goal to destroy America’s economy. Woodward also said that al-Qa’ida should have attacked again after September 11th and the fact that they haven’t means that someone is telling them not to for a reason that we cannot understand.

Woodward ended the questioning session with facetious conjectures for the outcome of the upcoming election. “Bush will win by a little bit or Bush will win by a lot,” he declared. “Or Kerry will win by a little bit or Kerry will win by a lot. Or it will be a tie.”

UVA students had mixed reviews of the journalist’s speech. Third Year history and foreign affairs major Meg Fosque applauded Woodward for his honest portrayal of the president. “He did a really good job of humanizing Bush,” Fosque said. “It seems he has the resources to establish a believable sketch of Bush’s personality.” She added that Woodward’s approach to writing Plan of Attack contributes to a better understanding of Bush’s policy-making. “I think [Woodward] did a good job of conveying how Bush sees himself, and this opens our eyes to what leads the president to make the decisions he does,” she said. Furthermore, Fosque heard many of her own feelings about George W. Bush echoed in the journalist’s speech. “What I think is disturbing about Bush is that he does have a paternalistic attitude, not just with our country but with the entire world,” she said. “Woodward did well to illustrate Bush’s mentality that he knows what’s best for everyone.”

Fourth Year foreign affairs major Brandon Major felt that Woodward’s talk left something to be desired. “I can't understand why a person with the chance to interview the president and ask him whatever he wishes wouldn't pursue the questions that matter,” said Major. “It seems he merely accepted so many of the president’s non-answers instead of pursuing the topics further.” Major went on to say that Woodward failed to ask some of the most important questions concerning Iraq. “I don’t understand why he didn’t ask questions like why Wolfowitz was pushing so hard to simply take over Iraqi oil fields, or was this simply a war to secure oil interests, or why the US can have WMD's and it's okay but no one else can,” he said. Major did, however, have words of praise for Woodward’s discussion of terrorism. “I really appreciate how candidly he spoke about his views on the war on terror and how and when another attack could occur,” Major said.

New Kid For a Bloc

Last weekend, Ben Yoon, a student at Bates College in Maine, had the opportunity to attend a youth campaign training session held at the convention by Democratic GAIN (Grassroots Action Institute and Network). GAIN recruits and trains professional staff members for campaigns on the local, state and national level.

In Boston, Ben and thousands of other young people learned about developing an effective campaign message, targeting methods, canvassing, getting out the vote, fundraising, and Election Day operations. The interesting thing about Ben, though, is that he attended GAIN’s events by way of another grassroots group. This group, called Asian Pacific Americans for Progress (APAP), works to give the Asian American community the political voice that it still lacks. WireTap contributor Suemedha Sood had the chance to talk to Ben about his involvement with GAIN, APAP and the democratic convention.

Suemeedha: First off, how did you get interested in politics?

Ben: Politics was always a dinner table conversation topic in my house. My father is really republican while I'm more of a conservative democrat, so we find ourselves caught up in many political discussions. Just like a lot of other people out there, I’m getting tired of politicians thinking that they only need to cater to certain special interests and voting blocs. As an Asian American, I can’t help but feel disenfranchised by the lack of Asian presence in politics.

How did you get involved with APAP and GAIN?
This opportunity really just fell into my lap. One day at work, I was talking about politics at lunch and a co-worker told me that he’s one of the coordinators for APAP and I should check it out. Turned out, that was my ticket to the Democratic National Convention and a whole new world of political activism

As it stands now, do Asian American voters constitute a voting bloc?
Not really. In terms of voting, the group is pretty much split between the two major parties. More importantly, I don’t think that Asian Americans have the political presence that a lot of other minority groups do. There are only a handful of prominent Asians in the House and Senate, and only six federal judges, five of which are part of the 9th Circuit.

What can Asian Americans do to find a unified voice in American politics? Or, do they even want a unified voice?

Since Asian Americans are split in polling, this matter becomes somewhat problematic. If they could see past a superficial tax cut that some politician dangles, Asian Americans could really unite to find a powerful voice that would fight for the things that they really need, like more money invested in our youth through the schools, law enforcement better equipped to keep our streets safe, a health care system that actually will protect patients and allow the doctors and nurses to do their jobs. Affirmative action, immigration, racial profiling are all hot issues that need to be addressed, but as the Asian community, we just haven’t found the issue that will galvanize the electorate and get us out to the polls.

What is the biggest barrier between the Asian American community and the political process?

I think there is a lack of political education in the community. And let’s be honest, the way for a minority group to have a voice in politics is through donations. Most candidates, especially on the national level, have very limited contact with the people. Monetary contributions can get donors time with the candidates, and if there are Asian Americans contributing to your campaign when you’re running for a senate seat, you will remember who was supporting you. I can’t speak for other countries, but Korean politics has a history of corruption and a lot of Asians are hesitant to donate money to politics for that reason. We need to educate them about the process and how they can have their voices heard.

Why should Asian American youth care about politics? Why should they care about the Democratic and Republican Conventions?

Everyone should care about politics, but the youth especially. The Democratic and Republican Conventions are important because the November 2 election is extremely important. Within the next four years, three or four Supreme Court Justices will be retiring, and the president will appoint their replacements. These are lifetime positions probably for the next 30 to 40 years, and these judges will have a huge influence on how laws that Congress works on are actually used. For the next 30-40 years, the judges that get nominated in the next four years will dictate how policy is formed on huge things like abortion, civil liberties, and stem cell research.

Obviously people involved with GAIN must already care a lot about politics. What is the organization doing for young people who don’t even plan on voting?

That’s exactly what the program is all about. GAIN trains us to effectively mobilize those 17 to 25 year olds who couldn’t care less about politics. The grassroots effort is essential in showing youth that their voice and their vote really can make all the difference.

Did you see any celebrities at the convention events?

I saw Natalie Portman at the Rock the Vote party. Biz Markie was the DJ and Jerry Springer was there too, he was great.

Do you think using musicians and movie stars to target youth is an effective tactic? Should more be done in the way of magnifying youth-related issues?

I think it’s great to see celebs and musicians trying to get youth active in politics. When you hear it from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, its way different than hearing it from Dick Gephardt. But education is still the best way to get young people to care about the issues that they need to be voting on.

What have you personally taken from this experience?

I’ve never really been heavily involved with political activism in the past. I’ve only ever talked about it and read about it. But after this convention, I’m really charged to get out there and work in the field. In the next months I’m going to be very involved with the DNC and/or the Kerry campaign.

The Bitter Story of Your Favorite Sweets

The International Labor Organization says that approximately 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries, at least 120 million on a full time basis. Child labor currently helps support the economies of many developing nations. According to reports by such groups as Human Rights Watch, some cases of child labor may also be supporting American corporations. But who is supporting the children?

All over the world, poverty forces kids as young as four-years-old into hard labor. Child laborers often work long hours, are given dangerous tasks, and are paid extremely low wages. Furthermore, labor obligations frequently prevent young workers from receiving an education. These illegal working conditions deprive kids of their childhood and ultimately endanger their lives.
In West Africa, the chocolate industry benefits from the exploitation of child workers in cocoa fields. In India, some kids are forced to toil in cotton fields while others work their fingers to the bone weaving silk. In El Salvador, sugarcane plantations count on the dangerous labor of children as young as eight years old.

The case of El Salvador has recently been investigated by Human Rights Watch. The 139-page report found that the 30,000 Salvadorian children who work in the sugarcane fields are constantly subject to severe injuries. The job of cutting sugarcane, considered the most dangerous of all agricultural work, leaves kids with deep cuts and gashes from the machetes and knives they are required to use. Further health risks are attributed to smoke inhalation and burns, because the sugarcane is often burned before it is cut.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Salvadoran sugar industry is not alone in profiting from child labor. In its report on El Salvador's sugarcane cultivation, HRW states that The Coca-Cola Company is one of the many businesses that buy sugar from El Salvador and is thus supporting the use of illicit child labor. The report also states that the company's local bottler buys sugar refined at Central Izalco, the biggest sugar mill in El Salvador. HRW found that at least four plantations that supply sugar to Central Izalco use child labor.

The Coca-Cola Company denies connection with child labor, as it does not purchase sugar directly from the law-breaking plantations. The company told HRW that it holds true to its guiding principles, which assert that Coca-Cola's direct suppliers "will not use child labor as defined by local law."

Regardless of Coca-Cola's involvement or lack thereof, the issue of child labor presents an imminent threat to the lives of innocent children in developing nations around the world. To learn more about child labor check out Fields of Hope or to learn more about other human rights violations, check out Then, discover what you can do to help.