by John Javna, Thu Oct 12, 2006 at 01:41:24 PM EDT
We all want to make a difference...and we all can--sometimes doing the most unlikely things. Once you get involved, there's no telling how you can affect the world. Case in point: Mike Stark.
In 2002 Stark, an ex-Marine, was "sitting at home, watching TV like everyone else." He wasn't an activist, but as America prepared for war with Iraq, he decided he had to do something. "I started calling local radio talk shows whenever I had the time," he recalls, "and sharing what I knew about the Iraq situation. I wanted people to be careful--I wanted to remind them that they shouldn't believe everything they heard." He made calls regularly, but didn't tell anyone about his "weird, geeky hobby"--he was too embarrassed. Over the next few years, he added national radio shows to his speed-dial, and did what most progressives only dream of: talked back, literally, to Rightwing radio hosts. Still, he had no idea he was doing anything that people might find impressive or inspiring. Then in 2004 he mentioned his "weird habit" a few times on Daily Kos, and was astonished by bloggers' enthusiastic response. "It just shot up to the recommended list," he says. At the same time, Media Matters noticed that a lot of the calls they were using came from the same source: Stark. "I just called armed with the truth, and forced the hosts to defend their positions," he says. "Things just took off from there."
Gradually Stark's web site, callingallwingnuts.com, became a destination for anyone interested in getting on right-wing call-in shows (Note: Beginning callers can find excellent how-to advice there)--and for the growing number of folks fascinated by his eccentric, homegrown activism. Stark became a hero of sorts. Who else has had the chance (or balls) to ask Newt Gingrich about his pretensions to morality...or ask Nancy Pelosi how she planned to support Lamont? "I love asking politicians questions that they don't want to answer," he says. "And that includes people on my side. As we've found, a lot of people are prone to being lazy or safe. If they're shocked by a question from someone on their side that they don't want to face, it reminds them that they're going to have to be accountable, that they have to work to keep our support." But Stark is surprised people think that what he's doing takes guts. "I'm thinking, how have I exposed myself to any risk here? There's nothing anyone can do to harm me. I'm just willing to confront people who are doing something I think is wrong. Of course, I know a lot of people are afraid of confrontation. But in this case, they've got it backwards...because it's the politicians who should be afraid of us. They're the people who, if they're not careful, will make complete asses out of themselves in their effort to keep their power."
Does activism like Stark's actually affect anything? Well, consider this: If the Dems take the Senate this year, Jim Webb will have to beat George Allen in Virginia. And if Webb beats Allen, it'll be partly because people exposed Allen's racism by asking him--directly--if he'd ever used the word "nigger." Who was the first person to go on record (and tape) doing that? Stark. In August, Stark, now a 38-year-old law student at the University of Virginia, took the day off from classes to go see Allen give a speech to a local chamber of commerce. He paid the $20 fee, and after the speech, "was able to walk up to him, shake his hand and ask if he ever used the 'n-word.' He'd used the word `macaca'--a racial slur--so I wondered what other racial slurs he'd used. I got him on the record saying that he'd never used the word in his life. After that, the larger media got hold of the issue. I have no proof, but I really feel I had a hand in shaping this race. And if what I do has any kind of impact, it's all worth it."
Stark's activism does have a price, though. He's the father of a 14-month-old girl, and "Every time I make a decision on whether to go to Washington, or attend any political event, I'm taking time away from being with my daughter." So why does he do it? "I've had this discussion with my wife a lot," he explains. "These are pretty momentous times, and I think the people who are in charge of things right now are pretty close to just plain evil. We have a responsibility to our country and each other to get involved. I like to think that if I was in Germany in 1939, I'd be hiding Ann Frank in my attic instead of cowering along with everyone else."