Which Side Are You On?
Historian Howard Zinn says, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” Indeed, in a time of crisis, you can’t sit on the fence and wait for others to make the decisions for you. An engaged citizenry is the essence of democracy. The classic union song asks, “Which Side Are You On?” If we are all rendered as mere spectators and onlookers then what does that say about our democracy? It’s easy to blame the media which to some extent contribute to a general feeling of helplessness and fear, thus leading to apathy and inaction. But individuals cannot escape responsibility. I visited Studs at his home and had to practically yell my questions to him. He was hard of hearing. He had his signature red socks on and he denounced Cub fans. “They’re tourists,” he told me. A memorable interview.
Interview by David Barsamian.
Studs Terkel was never neutral or passive. The longtime Chicago radio host was the Pulitzer Prize-winning pioneer in oral history capturing the voices of Americans from all walks of life. In the 1930s, while acting in the theatre, he dropped his given name, Louis and adopted the name Studs, after the fictional character Studs Lonigan. He was the author of numerous books including Working, Hard Times, The Good War, and Hope Dies Last. He was the recipient of many honors including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critic’s Circle and the Presidential National Humanities Medal. He was a legend and his voice and work will endure. Studs Terkel died in Chicago on October 31, 2008. He was 96.