We lost a great human being when Studs Terkel died on Friday at 96.

A man of great wit and intelligence and erudition, he didn't lord it over people. Instead, he was one with the people. He loved the human comedy, and saw in each individual, and especially the unsung, the poetry and music of their lives.

In his book "Working," he clued us in to his philosophy with this little rumination on the tape recorder:

"It can be . . . a means of blackmail, an instrument of the police state or, as is most often the case, a transmitter of the banal. . . . It can be used to capture the voice of a celebrity, whose answers are ever ready and flow through all the expected straits. I have yet to be astonished by one. It can be used to capture the thoughts of the non-celebrated--on the steps of a public housing project, in a frame bungalow, in a furnished apartment, in a parked car—and these "statistics" become persons, each one unique. I am constantly astonished."

To celebrate the non-celebrated: This was his life's work. To give to every human being the dignity and respect of listening, truly listening.

Studs was a man on the left. Red-baited in the McCarthy period, he had trouble finding work for several years. But he never renounced his beliefs. And he never ratted people out. He stood with labor, he stood with women, he stood with blacks, he stood with gays. He was around for the Great Depression, and he understood how the monied interests played havoc with the lives of everyday people, and he recognized the importance of a democratic government--our government--siding with the people instead of the powerful. He knew what FDR and the New Deal did for people. Hell, he was an actor for the WPA. And he knew we need a new New Deal now.

A supporter of Barack Obama and a lifelong resident of Chicago, Terkel grasped the racial divide that has so marred this country for so long. Yeah, he wrote a book about it. It's called "Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel about the American Obsession." At the end of that book, he interviews Lloyd King, the 31-year-old son of a white mom and a black dad. "The real tragedy between blacks and whites in America is not that we hate each other," King told Terkel. "The real tragedy is that we love and admire each other. . . . The tragedy lies in the complex folds of this love and admiration, which is somehow twisted into intolerance. We're like a married couple that got started on the wrong foot." King said at the end of the interview: "I am guardedly optimistic."

So was Terkel. Or maybe it's more accurate to say he was unguardedly optimistic, and in being so open, he let everybody in, including hope.

See also: A 2004 Progressive magazine interview with Studs Terkel..

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The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

The reach of this story extends from the lowliest working stiff to the highest court in the land.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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