--David Bender, Political Director Progressive Voices
If you combine the great historical perspective of a life actively involved in the political process for more than 40 years with the ability to grasp 21st century technology and its potential impact on our future you begin to understand the wisdom of David Bender, vice president and political director for ProgressiveVoices\. com, a new platform for the 21st century that aggregates and conveys political content.
Bender's four-decade career as a political activist began at the age of 12 when he took a "leave of absence" from the seventh grade to become a full-time volunteer in the presidential campaign of Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. From that day forward, his resume reinforces his commitment and work to progressing liberal ideas. As a high school reporter, Bender covered the presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon, George McGovern and Hubert Humphrey. He was literally a "boy on the bus," traveling in the company of such journalistic legends as Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid. Later, he became a key aide to the legendary liberal activist Allard K. Lowenstein, the former New York congressman who was a pivotal figure in both the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement. He was also on the national field staff of Senator Edward M. Kennedy's 1980 presidential campaign, and in 2003, Bender served as a senior advisor on Howard Dean's presidential campaign.
Combine that political context with the advent of social media and new platforms such as ProgressiveVoices.com and you sense the excitement Bender has in his work that sets the groundwork for more people to be part of the conversation. ProgressiveVoices.com offers a one-click option to live broadcasts of major progressive talk shows, and the Progressive Voices app is the first and only one-stop-shop for everything Progressive: news, opinion, audio and video. More than half a million people a month listen to the Progressive Voices Channel either through the app or on Tunein, another indication that new technology powers the conversations for knowledge-seeking consumers.
"We still rely on touchstones like Ed Schultz, Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann, and Mike Malloy, and all of the people who have built up tremendous followings and credibility over a long time," Bender said in a recent interview with Wisdom Voices about the top progressive voices up and running on the Progressive Voices site. "We know empirically there are more of us than there are Koch brothers. But what we haven't been able to do by the infrastructure of traditional radio is connect with our audience. A lot of that is because the deck has been stacked from the very beginning against progressive voices being able to reach a broad, public audience. Money dictates media. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (co-host of Ring of Fire) has spoken eloquently on the subject of how a free media--not a corporate media--is essential to a democracy. And we simply do not have that. Therefore we do not have a functioning democracy.
"Progressive Voices was founded by some of the same people who started Air America," Bender noted. "Air America was a wonderful idea that never got traction. The idea was sound and what we did see when there was an opportunity to go head to head with the right wing shows was that Air America was beating conservative talk radio in some markets. (e.g., Al Franken vs. Bill O'Reilly). I would offer that Al Franken wouldn't be in the Senate without Air America. It helped to show how gifted and talented a public servant he is. The same is true of Rachel Maddow; we wouldn't have a Rachel Maddow without Air America. For those who say Air America was a failed experiment, they miss what it did do, which was to create opportunities and prove there is an audience for progressive talk.
"What we're doing with Progressive Voices is making it a platform for the 21st century. The means of conveying content are the devices we use everyday to make phone calls and to read our email. Our iPhones and tablets are where most people under 30--and that age keeps going up--get their information. New cars are going to be built with Internet radio platforms.
"We're setting up a platform that aggregates people such as Ed (Schultz), Stephanie (Miller), Mike Malloy, Thom Hartmann, Bill Press, Leslie Marshall, Robert F. Kennedy and Mike Papantonio, (Ring of Fire). I'm serving the function that I did at Air America--that of political director. We're also trying to bring in the new younger voices. We have to deepen our bench; we need the next generation of Rachel Maddows on the air. I invite you to go to ProgressiveVoices.com and take a look at what we're doing; download the app to your phone; be a part of it. There is strength in numbers. We're building this progressive infrastructure without the old obstacles that existed for Air America--the corporate ones. Progressive Voices doesn't depend on that; it depends on having people participate; it goes back to what can happen if we use our economic power. And there are many companies, Whole Foods, for example, that should be part of the progressive universe. Or a great progressive phone company like CREDO Mobile that we should support. I would submit we have to change the model and the only way to do that is through strength in numbers.
"America in 2014 reminds me of Johannesburg hanging on
before the end of apartheid. And what's going to happen if we use our strength
of numbers is that ultimately America is going to look like California. It's
going to be multi-cultural; it's going to have strength in its diversity; it's
going to be very blue; and that's the direction we can move in. But the
dinosaur is not going to go down without a fight. That's what we're seeing now
the current infrastructure set in place by Republicans, who have desperately
poured money in to hang on to their power. This is going to be a fight, and
Progressive Voices is working to provide a voice for millions of Americans to
counterbalance the handful of billionaires who fund right wing media. My bet is
on the American people.
"It's hard to look at America in 2014 and fell like it's the America we grew up in," Bender said in a recent interview with Wisdom Voices. "Our politics are broken; they are not what I knew growing up and what I believed in fervently and worked in. I've watched close up as there's been this evolution in which our politics have become something other than a meaningful instrument of social change. In many respects it's now become an opportunity for profiteering at a level we haven't seen since the robber barons of the 19th century. The income disparity in our country would be shocking if we were in the third world; but this is America.
"From FDR to LBJ, government was viewed as an extension of
"us.' Government is us. It's not a "them.' Government is the person fixing the
road, the teacher or firefighter. But now government has become the evil
"them.' Government--whether in Washington or the state capitol--is viewed as the
"other' and therefore something to be feared and hated. It has now become the
in by which Republicans, many Independents and
frankly some Democrats operate. We've created a system in which it's very
difficult to view our electoral structure as something that can create positive
change. The forces that exist--and they're economic forces--the very things that
(President Dwight) Eisenhower warned against (the military industrial complex),
have created an intelligence structure and a corporate structure that acts with
impunity and without legal consequences. That is so disheartening from when I
began in politics working for Robert Kennedy in 1968."
So for a warrior from the 1960s, where does hope lie? Not surprisingly, the answer is simple, if not easy. It is up to "we the people" to reclaim our voices and our role in shaping the future.
"I'm hopeful only in that just when you think things are inevitable you see change that you can't imagine," Bender noted. "Richard Nixon carried 49 states; two years later he was out of office. Inevitably it's their hubris that brings them down. People who tell you that they know what the future holds haven't done politics for any period of time. That's the one thing I know. I believe we need to find a way to break or remake this broken system; we're not going to get it through the courts until the courts change fundamentally. The (recent U.S. Senate) breaking of the filibuster was a good first step. That, over time, will change some of the right-wing judiciary. Whether we change the 5-4 majority on the court in the next 3 years, I don't know. But we're dealing with something bigger than that. We're dealing with the fact that there is no accountability for corporate malfeasance. Until there's some real oversight--stronger than Dodd Frank--over corporations in America, then it doesn't matter who we elect.
"As long as the institutional levers of power are controlled by the military and intelligence community and contractors and the corporations that are doing billions if not trillions of dollars worth of business and who set public policy based on their agendas and not that of the American people, nothing will change. That's what I see as the challenge. That means we have to come up with a new way of dealing with this. We have to find ways for people to use the power they have--the power of the ballot is not what it once was. In fact, voting has become more theater than substance. We need to find a way to harness the power of the American people and the power they've got is strength in numbers, which can overwhelm the likes of the Koch Brothers, no matter how much money they have. The Koch Brothers can influence public policy but they cannot buy 300 million people. They can distract them; they can mislead them; they can pay for networks like Fox News but they cannot buy the people. And where I see the future and hope is that ultimately through this new technology with a platform like we have with Progressive Voices, we're going to reach the next generation and they're going to recognize something that Europeans have recognized for a long time. When Europeans have a situation in which workers' rights are taken away--as they were in Wisconsin--they stop working. When consumers see a situation in which they are being exploited by large corporations who double and triple oil prices, then the only power you have collectively--if we were to harness it--is to simply tell those corporations "no.' You don't have our money. We are not going to buy your products; we aren't going to participate in whatever this anti-union, anti-worker system is.