Saturday, November 1, 2008

Studs Terkel Travels West

Studs Terkel passed away peacefully yesterday at age 96 in his home. Terkel was a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, a political activist, one of the last of the old New Deal liberals, who "never met a picket line or petition I didn't like."

His writings included Working, Hard Times, Division Street: America, & The Good War, for which he won the Pulitzer in 1985. Fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama said of Terkel on Friday: "His writings, broadcasts, and interviews shed light on what it meant to be an American in the 20th century," Obama said in a statement Friday night. "He will be deeply missed by all who knew him, all who loved him, and all whose lives were enriched by the American stories he told."

Terkel, like my parents & the rest of that generation, was formed by the Depression, the New Deal, & World War II. While government is always flawed, one thing seems clear about the New Deal: it offered opportunities for common folk, whereas more recently it seems that government is about getting out of the way so corporations have a clear field to run roughshod over us. Terkel was a broadcaster for the WPA; my father was a worker in CCC. While it would never do to romanticize the 30s, it does strike me as a time when government was able to respond in a helpful manner to a very deep crisis. As we approach this next election day, we might reflect that our current circumstances are again not good, & ask ourselves how we may best address this thru the electoral process. To my mind, the politics of divisiness, of culture wars, of blaming those who are less fortunate for needing some assistance, is not the way to rise out of this current morass.

Terkel was about the things that we have in common, even while he acknowledged deep divisions; we need more of this, & a lot less of everything that fosters polarization. You can read a lot more about this good man here. As Obama said, he will be missed.

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