The Silenced Majority: Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope

Reporting Resistance
by Wendy Schwartz

The Silenced Majority coverThe Silenced Majority:
Stories of Uprisings, Occupations, Resistance, and Hope
by Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan
Foreword by michael moore
Haymarket Books, 346 pp., $16 paperback

This collection of short pieces is like an extravagant smorgasbord: a large number of disparate items, many of them fabulous and leaving readers hungry for more similar morsels but others well past their prime and too many of them insufficiently described for the novice grazer.  The pieces seem to be three years' worth of columns by Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman (with some, possibly, by Denis Moynihan) that appeared somewhere but, other than indicating a date for each, the book does not supply any of the source information traditional for such collections. Nonetheless, the writing contained in the volume are valuable contributions to political discourse, despite their lack of coherent presentation.

Of most value, column after column lays out the national and international policies that Barack Obama must change in his second term as president. Though the majority were established in previ- ous administrations, both Republican and Democratic, the policies have been either supported or ignored in the last four years. Goodman and Moynihan point out, however, that Obama “responds to pres- sure,” as demonstrated by his changed position on marriage equality and cite Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s admonition to labor organizer A. Philip Randolph - "go out and make me do it" - as a rallying call for readers.

They also are very direct about what readers should go out and make Obama do; in essence, he must reconnect with his inner progressivism.  These "to do list" columns are rich with details, witty commentary, and discomforting facts.  They comprise a wide-ranging radical agenda, with demands such as these: an end to military adventurism and the development of more powerful weapons; a U.S.-signed international Arms Trade Treaty; comprehensive support for veterans; a sharply reduced war budget; the closing of Guantánamo; an end to nuclear power and hydraulic fracturing, and the devel- opment of a truly green energy policy that will contain global warming; and an end to government lying, to hypocritical demands for greater human rights abroad while simultaneously curtailing rights at home, to spying on domestic protesters, and to criminalizing their dissent.

The book’s introduction, through its focus on the way that Occupy Wall Street was either ignored or maligned by the mainstream media and the presenta- tion of some interesting little-known stories about the New York City action, introduces another theme represented by some of the columns: the spotlighting of underreported events. Goodman and Moynihan do indeed introduce readers to some important “lost” stories about rights violations in the U.S. There is also a lot of good new information about WikiLeaks, particularly its revelations about Haiti and Honduras; it provides a more well-rounded view of Assange et al.’s project than has been proffered by mainstream media.

Many of the pieces contained were written three years ago but, unlike most collections of columns, the contents here were not brought up-to-date through new introductions or footnotes. This is a serious shortcoming. Though I appreciate books that spur readers to look at additional sources of information, Goodman and Moynihan should have presented full and current information about the topics covered in the columns. The 2009 column on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, for example, does not report that it finally was rescinded in 2011. While most readers know about the demise of this policy, the final chapter of other stories in the book were not so widely reported in the mainstream media and it is far less likely that readers will be able to provide the missing coda.

Such an instance is the material that sheds much needed light on the reprehensible policy of “rendition” that allows U.S. authorities to move a suspected terrorist to another country for questioning under the threat of torture. Goodman and Moynihan describe the 2002 U.S. kidnapping and torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar who was erroneously believed to be a terrorist. They assert that this Bush-era practice continues under the Obama administration, but they wrote about the U.S. rendition policies in 2009 and a policy change could have been implemented since then. (For the record, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has asserted that rendition, but not torture, continues, though proof of the end of torture is, sadly, lacking.)

The murder of young pacifist Rachel Corrie by Israelis when she was protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes is also the subject of a column whose coda is missing. While Corrie’s death was widely reported, Goodman and Moynihan present poignant and more politically telling information about her parents’ efforts to find justice in an Israeli court, but they do not report on the verdict. In fact, the Corries not only lost their suit against the Israeli government but were ridiculed by the judge and told that their daughter’s death was her own fault.

Columns about the murder Trayvon Martin murder are also outdated in that they do not report on the ultimate arrest of his alleged killer. A larger question about the Martin columns, however, is whether they should have been included in the book at all, given that the story was covered extensively in the main- stream media and that The Silenced Majority’s stated purpose is to present the little known.

All in all, there are enough great columns to justify the time to read the book and its price, and there are a lot worse ways to spend time than searching for recent information on a topic of importance. But certain columns are, unfortunately, actually misleading. Thus, The Silenced Majority is not nearly as good as it should have been and, with a little more effort, could have been. It is sad that a collection that introduces so many important issues in need of attention was not more painstakingly produced.

Wendy Schwartz has worked with the War Resisters League for more than 40 years and is a writer, editor, and researcher for non-profit organizations and publishers.