Reclaiming the nation

The Nation editor Katherine vanden Heuvel advocates for citizens retaking the government at Syracuse University's second University Lecture.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation magazine, called for an actively engaged citizenship in today’s political landscape as she spoke to students, faculty and the Syracuse community in the University Lectures series Tuesday.

Audience members in Hendricks Chapel applauded in agreement as vanden Heuvel explored issues of the Tea Party, the corrupting influence of corporate money, President Obama’s current political role and the overarching responsibility of the media.

Photo: Amanda Marzullo
Katrina vanden Heuvel speaks about politics, justice, social movements and media coverage on Tuesday night.

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  • Her lecture, “On the Nation and Our Political Movement,” was a tribute to the 75th anniversary of the Syracuse Peace Council. In it, she highlighted The Nation’s common cause with the council, stressing “citizens of conscience” and advocating for justice.

    Vanden Heuvel analyzed increasing grassroots social movements and efforts to reclaim government, drawing heavily from the ongoing "Occupy Wall Street" protests. She put strong emphasis on media coverage, being critical of the fine line between infotainment and the balancing act of objectivity.

    “There couldn’t be a more revived time for a peace and justice movement,” she said. “It is a time of outrage, with mobilization fused with big, risky ideas.”

    She is the second female editor of The Nation, the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in America. Founded in 1865, the magazine focuses on civil liberties, human rights, social and economic justice as well as American foreign policy. The publisher prided the magazine on its stalwart reporting and longevity, saying it may be the only publication that worked through the debut of the telegraph and Twitter.

    Vanden Heuvel serves as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and is on the board of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Well versed in the language of politics, she is a commentator for ABC, CNN, MSNBC and PBS, and writes a weekly column for The Washington Post in addition to her blogs for

    As co-founder of a feminist quarterly journal and a reporter on women’s issues, vanden Heuvel addressed her position as a female editor.

    “We have strong women voices in media,” she said. “I see myself as an editor first and a woman second because every issue is a women’s issue.”

    Touching on prevalent issues with a liberal slant, she picked apart the Republican Party and the tea party movement, saying there is very little that allows people to distinguish between the two at the moment and that their actions of “taking down the president” are “un-American and unpatriotic.” Though critical of their behavior, she commended members the right wing for their ability to organize and bring people together for a cause.

    In discussing America’s economic state, vanden Heuvel struck a chord with the audience, which included The Nation subscribers and fellow liberals. She garnered nods and applause as she commented on “corrosive” corporations.

    “We don’t want to live in democracy inc.,” she said of the power held by big businesses. “Corporations are not people and don’t have the right to buy elections.”

    Journalism’s role in current political frenzies was a major point, as she stressed that the media need not be “stenographers to the powerful” but instead “give voice to the voiceless while holding the powerful accountable.”

    Vanden Heuvel criticized coverage of major movements, explaining that while the Wall Street protests were reported on, many others events remain unknown to most, such as the Keystone pipeline protests where nearly 1,500 people were arrested. Cases like the Michael Jackson and Amanda Knox trials take precedence over fights against eviction, she explained.

    “The media is how people are having their reality defined,” she said. “Too often our media wants us to be spectators and consumers, not citizens.”

    In addition to the issues, she posed solutions. She called for people to engage in “courageous activism,” balancing “short term actions with long term strategic thinking.”

    Television, radio and film graduate student Andrea Hall was able to examine her own role as a media participant through vanden Heuvel’s proposals.

    “I was really looking at how we should be using our power that we’re given as people in the media and what we can bring to the people, the information that we’re responsible to give,” she said.

    Questions of citizen journalism as well as the function of FOX News and News Corp. were brought up in the question-and-answer session that followed the lecture. Vanden Heuvel dismissed the legitimacy of both, saying, “FOX is not a news network” as an adjunct of the Republican Party.

    Ed Lipson, a physics professor at SU and former subscriber to The Nation, said he believed vanden Heuvel projected considerable optimism. His wife, Carol, approved of vanden Heuvel’s encouragement toward youth, countering movements of the rich and powerful.

    “We both support citizen activism and she’s a strong proponent of that, so we wanted to come and support her, too,” she said.

    Vanden Heuvel left audience members with a message of increased confidence in the future of media and its citizens.

    “I see more promise than peril and hope in younger generations," she said. "By pushing issues into our debates, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish."

    We sat down with Katrina vandel Heuvel during her Oct. 4, 2011, visit to Syracuse University. She is the editor and publisher of The Nation with a strong interest in the role that grassroots social movements and independent journalism play in the development of the world. Host: Emily Maher. Producers: Jessica Cunnington and Julia Palmer. Special Thanks to Nena Garga and Josh Frackleton.

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