ORDINARY HEROES

ORDINARY HEROES
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."

Tags: Activism, Calling All Wingnuts, Mike Stark (all tags)

Comments

15 Comments

Re: ORDINARY HEROES

As a friend of Mike's let me just say that I first met him at Dean meetups when he was probably still just a "closet caller." LOL

Mike is a great guy. He was active in our Dean group before the calling started to get notice.

But not all his activities take time away from his daughter. I remember Sep. '05 on the steps behind the state capital in Albany, NY when we were hosting the Bring Them Home Now Bus Tour and Mike showed up with his then 2 (?) month old sleeping soundly (and beautifuly) against his chest in one of those front knapsack carriers they have these days.

Go git'm Mike!

by Andrew C White 2006-10-12 01:54PM | 0 recs
Re: ORDINARY HEROES

Wow!  What a great piece.  Now here's an American who has finally made me feel proud to be an American -- I hope it lasts more than a few minutes.  Now, let me check out that website and get some phone work in.

by gchaucer2 2006-10-12 02:04PM | 0 recs
Re: ORDINARY HEROES

Inspiring!  An activist in the best sense of the word!

by renogal 2006-10-12 02:42PM | 0 recs
Re: ORDINARY HEROES

What a great piece. I wish I could have included the birth of Calling All Wingnuts in DMI's Year in the Blogosphere section of our Year In Review report.

Consider this a retro-active mention.

by DMIer 2006-10-12 02:42PM | 0 recs
Re: ORDINARY HEROES

let's not forget one of my favorite starkian moments.  Mike is the guy holding up the cue card.

by democracyinalbany 2006-10-12 02:54PM | 0 recs
Re: ORDINARY HEROES

I was going to mention that ... a classic moment of guerilla theater. I laughed and laughed at that. I'm chuckling right now.

Just the choice of words ... "sucks ass." Funny, funny, funny.

by BriVT 2006-10-12 04:09PM | 0 recs
Anyone that wants to get some phone work in...

Tomorrow morning at 6AM tune in to the big talker 1210

by Erik 2006-10-12 02:59PM | 0 recs
Re: ORDINARY HEROES

Where ever you are Mike, thank you for your service both as a Marine and now.  

by dorsano 2006-10-12 03:14PM | 0 recs
Did Stark box Allen in on the "I never used

that word" thing?  

I've never wondered this before.

Stark asked him after Macaca but before the UVa football team reporting, and the Shelton guy from NC.  

After the Shelton reporting, Allen had a chance to respond, and went with something along the lines of "I've never used that word."

Was his choice of responses realistically limited by what he'd said to Stark earlier?  Could he have said "yes, i used that word occasionally in my past, blahblahblah", and if someone asked him about his answer to Stark, could he have blown that earlier comment off?  I imagine the press would take his new answer as authoritative and wouldn't bug him much about the fact that it contradicts what he'd said to a pesky activist (!) earlier.  But if I'm wrong, and Stark's ambush helped box Allen into the statement he made post-Shelton, then Stark has got a huge goddamn accomplishment to point to.

Does anyone in campaigns or campaign journalism have a sense of how this stuff works?  I'm quite curious.  If we can use YouTube to get officeholders to make comments that limit their options later... it's an interesting avenue of attack.

I think the old rules were that only certain comments -- those made to the press, vetted by staff, etc -- really count, and things you say on the trail to average citizens don't.  I bet that's still true.  But I am curious as hell to know if that division might not fly any longer.  If not, it'll be with the assistance of cheap video and YouTube, and really clever strategery a la Mike Stark.

by texas dem 2006-10-12 03:26PM | 0 recs
Re: ORDINARY HEROES

John, you did an awesome job.  My wife and I got a good laugh out of the whole "hero" bit, but really, this is a fantastic write-up.

The only thing that I feel even slightly uncomfortable with is the way i characterized myself in the same breath as those that sheltered Anne Frank.  They, were genuine heroes.  Nothing I've done comes close - in fact, it's all punkish in comparison...

But I thought I'd add something alse too...

This whole blogosphere thing - this whole pregressive movement through the dark war days - not a single one of us had any kind of pedigree before 2002 or 2003...  For the most part, nobody was anybody...  today, we've established a movement.  Maybe I'm waxing sentimental, but to me it really feels like the Keroac/Ginsberg days...  More appropriately, maybe, but less tastefully for sure, maybe we're the seeds of a new movement that's analagous to those that grew out of the Goldberg defeat...  either way, this is something new and wonderfully exciting.  I'm glad to be a small part of it, but I'm even more glad to have been able to do all this stuff with a great group of friends and supporters all around me...

yeah, I know, blah, blah, blah...  but it really is true that there are some incredible people that have been drawn to this new medium - I've never seen so much goodness concentrated into any single group of people...

by Mike Stark 2006-10-12 03:33PM | 0 recs
Re: ORDINARY HEROES

Mike, you are The Man.  I laughed out loud at the Hannity Sucks Ass sign when I first heard of it, and now that I know it's you, and you're part of this community, it's that much sweeter.

by pseudo999 2006-10-12 07:41PM | 0 recs
Ya, but
it is wonderful that the internet affords platform it still lends itself to the anointed ones preaching to the masses or the masses echoing the talking points of the day each classified into their own little boxes.  Really, I don't mean to be sarcastic or critical but look at it as fact.  Redstate vs dkos,each vast boards of like minded groups of people, totally isolated from each other, reinforcing their own strategies and beliefs.  Can it be said that this is increasing "partisanship"?  Can it be said that it might increase efforts to obscure meaningful legislation?
And even the blogoshpere has developed it's very own gestapo like tactics to deal with "dissenters"
banning, troll rating, talking "out of topic".
Yes, good things do happen, good people do somehow "emerge", but people, well.
by Lasthorseman 2006-10-12 04:12PM | 0 recs
Re: Ya, but

Oh please.

First, to correct perhaps your biggest mistake:  Trolls aren't dissenters.  They're trolls.

You might not have been around for newsgroups, but the same type of crap happened there.  Once a troll took hold, useful discussions were completely derailed.  Entire days were lost responding to trolls while everything else was pushed out.  Newsgroups died because of trolls.

The solution?  Moderators banned people.  People ignored trolls.  People were told to keep threads on topic.  These are exactly the tools needed to maintain useful discussions in mass communication forums.

In a partisan political arena, where you actually have opponents specifically sent in to disrupt your discussions and not just teenagers who like to make havoc, these are essential tools without which there would only be a mass of useless flaming.

by pseudo999 2006-10-12 07:52PM | 0 recs
Re: ORDINARY HEROES

I didn't know Mike was a jarhead. As the daughter of a Marine, now I'm really a fan!

And in a sure sign of Mike's influence on the media landscape, folks are beginning to use the word "starked" to describe what he's done expose Lush Limpbag and Hannity as the vacuous windbags they are.

by Sharoney 2006-10-12 09:05PM | 0 recs
Re: ORDINARY HEROES

I didn't see this earlier yesterday, but when I did I just had to comment.  Mike Stark is one of the few people who get the importance of wingnut radio.  Since I actually do radio, and since I became acquainted with Mike, I've been thrilled to see him push back hard on these damaging Republican hosts.  Since he's also a Marine, I would say, given all of his work and service, he's actually an extraordinary hero, but a hero for sure.

by Taylor Marsh 2006-10-13 02:00AM | 0 recs

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