Common Ground

An episode of the show "Common Ground," hosted by Warner Saunders with guest Studs Terkel. They discuss social issues, pitting Terkel's optimism against Saunders' realism.

00:00Copy video clip URL Terkel discusses his youth and education, the civil rights era, his book “Talking To Myself,” why he does not believe the Chicago Machine “works,” and the origins of racism. Warner Saunders is heavily critical of Terkel’s position on “Machine politics” and race relations.

02:14Copy video clip URL Saunders and Terkel discuss the role of the sleeping car porters in carrying the news to black people.

03:14Copy video clip URL Terkel introduces E.D. Nixon, who organized the NAACP in Alabama, and began the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1954. Nixon was notable for having chosen  Martin Luther King, Jr. to take the lead on the civil rights movement in the South.

04:50Copy video clip URL Saunders compliments Terkel on his new book, saying that it is the “finest account on the Montgomery Bus Boycott” and calls him the “O. Henry of our time.”

06:30Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about the problems of Chicago, starting by debunking the perception that Chicago is the “city that works.” He further discusses the alienation that plagues Chicago, citing that Chicago is the most racially segregated large city in the world outside of Johannesburg.

08:00Copy video clip URL Terkel criticizes the cliche that “Chicago works,” saying, “works for whom?”  This implies that it is a matter of perspective between those who benefit and those who are left behind.

08:55  Saunders notes that Terkel has long been an opponent of Chicago politics and asks Terkel to comment on the “machine politics” of Chicago. Terkel questions, “Does the machine REALLY work?” He cites the movement to stop the cross-city highway as an example of the machine going against the people. Terkel then talks about “Rosemary and Charlie,” the precinct captains who take care of their precincts, which drives the Chicago machine politics. He goes on to talk about the need for coalitions in breaking up the political machine

11:40Copy video clip URL Studs calls himself a “radical conservative,” using “conservative” to mean he makes an attempt to preserve what is good in this world. He says that “labels will ruin us.” He notes that employment is the root of many of society’s problems and discusses the role that fear plays in driving greed and division between people.

15:30Copy video clip URL Terkel talks about the role of poor self esteem and shame in promoting the status quo, saying this was particularly true during the Depression. He goes on to talk about his feeling that young people do not understand the past.

17:24Copy video clip URL Saunders asks Terkel to comment on racism and how it enters into an issue and disperses the energy. Terkel responds by saying that it all boils down to economics, and tells a story from Lilian Smith called “Two Men and a Bargain” to illustrate that and to talk about the need for redistribution of power.

20:45Copy video clip URL Commercial hole.

21:25Copy video clip URL Terkel and Saunders discuss the Ku Klux Klan and a recent appearance by David Duke (the head of the Klan) on the show. Saunders contends that the majority of America is actually in line with the Klan but unwilling to label themselves “Klan members.” Terkel attributes the issue of racism to the trickery of those with economic power who pit black and white against each other in order to keep both below them. They discuss the racial segregation present in Chicago.

25:00Copy video clip URL Terkel makes the assertion that hostility is better than indifference, because at least conflict recognizes the other person or group. He cites the “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. Terkel makes the assertion that the fact that there have been many recent racial clashes means that we’re in a new phase of progress towards eliminating racism, now that black and whites are actually interacting and dealing with their differences, rather than living completely separate lives, even if it seems that racism is escalating. They discuss the race bombings of Marquette Park.

29:00Copy video clip URL Saunders believes Terkel overestimates people’s abilities to separate intellectual arguments from emotional feelings and that’s why racism persists, despite Terkel’s feeling that anyone would rationally change their feelings if they understood the power structure involved in promoting racial clashes. Terkel tells a story about Mahalia Jackson as a way to convey his message.

30:25Copy video clip URL Saunders brings up the historic racism of working class institutions like unions and trade schools, in order to complicate Terkel’s vision of a unified working class. Terkel talks about the military expenditures and how much money, opportunity, and jobs are lost to the military in this country.

36:07Copy video clip URL Saunders asks Studs about freedom of speech. They discuss Terkel’s feeling that pornography has a negative impact on society. Terkel defines pornography as anything that demeans human beings and makes something salable out of it, and claims television commercials fit in to this category, as well as violent movies. He does agree that it’s a cop-out to single out Larry Flynt (whose court case had recently been the focus of national attention) as the bringer of all that’s wrong in society. There is a discussion of differing historical definitions of pornography. Saunders tries to focus Terkel on the sexual component of pornography, but he will only consider his own definition.

41:45Copy video clip URL Commercial break.

42:20Copy video clip URL Saunders and Terkel discuss capital punishment. Terkel claims that capital punishment contributes to a “national sadism.” He gives the usual argument about capital punishment’s lack of deterrence. Terkel thinks capital crimes will go down if people are given adequate jobs and quality of life. He then discusses every citizen’s imperative to speak their minds: “My credo is ‘Never be afraid to look the fool.'” Then Saunders and Terkel discuss a mutual friend of theirs, the blues musician Big Bill Broonzy. Saunders was his chauffeur, while Terkel talks about a program he did with Broonzy. Saunders then brings the program back to race and discusses the relativity of oppression, and whether it is a concern for us now in the U.S. To illustrate this, he relates the story of a black friend who grew up in Nazi Germany.

52:40Copy video clip URL Commercial hole, end of tape.



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