In 1980, I was teaching journalism at Austin Community College and working in an organization of white anti-racist people who wanted to do something about the Ku Klux Klan and their marching and organizing all over Texas. The KKK also was conducting paramilitary training camps near Houston and terrorizing Black people and immigrants. We felt that racism was a white problem and we wanted to come out and deal with racism in our own community. We wanted to be true allies with people of color.
So, I started taking classes in television production at Austin Community Television which was then located in a small office with lousy equipment and worse acoustics. I named the program “Let The People Speak!” which is my philosophy, that the masses of everyday folk who want a good life – but not at the expense of justice – are the hope of democracy.
I wanted to interview the people who are made voiceless, because they do not have money or the access to television production. I wanted to give them the respect to express their own feelings and experience – without censorship – and to help break down the barriers of isolation, hopelessness, and disinformation. I financed “Let The People Speak!” from my earnings and from small donations from friends. From this shaky beginning, I documented the alliance among African -American activists, white anti-imperialists, and Mexican-Americans who wanted to fight racism as a united, but different force. We videotaped with a small, reel-to-reel, black and while recorder. Later, we used tube and color cameras to record anti-KKK, peoples’ demonstrations for justice, musical events like the W.C. Clark Blues Revue, SPEAK-OUTS! against racism, exposes of police brutality against people of color, and cultural events honoring diversity.
In 1984, I met Genevieve Vaughan. I was impressed with her desire to share her resources for social change. She gave me a grant to document the work of the Nicaraguan people to build their country, especially the women center AMNLAE. I was able to go to Nicaragua four different times, the first in 1984 to the Sandinista rally the evening before the very first free election. I will never forget the look on the face of an elderly man as he slow walked with his cane to his first time to vote. The excitement of possibility was joyful in the faces and dancing feet of the young people and those who had survived the brutality of Somoza.
After the Sandinista victory, the contra war against the people caused so much suffering and death. I went back to Nicaragua to interview the mothers whose daughters and sons had been murdered. 1 traveled to collectivas where women and men shared knowledge, resources, and food. 1 videotaped the murals in Managua so colorful and proud of the advances the people had made. I learned so much from the literacy campaign about dignity. I was changed forever by these experiences. We have many hours or programming about Nicaragua which will go into archives. Also in this period of the ’80’s, I went to El Salvador. I came to realize the power of this medium – television that was committed only to the truth – because the death squads and United States’ duplicity resulted in so much pain. Unbelievable pain. The figures of dead bodies thrown into huge garbage dumps remain burned in my eyes. the courage of those who searched for the disappeared, the labor organizers, the students a teachers, the church people, the COMADRES (Mothers of the Disappeared), the women’s groups. They daily faced torture and death to represent the rights of the poor. Sometimes 1 could hardly hold my camera I shaking with rage and tears.
Back in Austin, many volunteers helped me record all kinds of community events sponsored by the Foundation for a Compassionate Society and other organizations. The Foundation was instrumental in bringing speakers from other countries to Austin like Rigoberta Menchu from Guatemala, Maria Teresa Tula of El Salvador, a variety of speakers from warring countries in the Gulf War period, people from Israel and Palestine. There were so many and we recorded them all.
With volunteers – – always needed and important – – we packed up the heavy equipment of ACTV’s multi-cam and recorded music and dance: “Graffiti Man: The American Indian Music of John Trudell”; feminist, Holly Near; the indigenous music of Los Folkloristas; Dia de la Raza, music and dance celebrating the unity of Mexican-American and African traditions; “A Tribute to Audre Lorde”, African-American lesbian poet who died of breast cancer, with a dance tribute by Sally Jacques and songs by the Washington Sisters the Palestine Dance Troupe from Ramallah, the beautiful rugs from the weaving project of the Dine and the Navajo “Weaving on Sacred Ground”, And so many more!
Many times I have worked in cooperation with groups or individuals to get the job done! Recently, we documented in cooperation with the Women’s Economic Development Organization the entire “World Women’s Congress for a Healthy Planet” with distinguished women scientist:, and activists. In 1993, The Foundation for a Compassionate Society sent a delegation to the United Nations’ Conference on Human Rights in Vienna and with the Center for Women’s Global Leadership we produced “Women’s Rights ARE Human Rights”, eleven hours of testimony from women who are surviving incredible abuses. Another example of sharing is the work with videographer JEB. We recorded eleven hours of the 1994 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi-Equal Rights and Liberation.
From the 1993 trip to the United Nations’ conference in Vienna, I went on to Zagreb, Croatia, to interview the Bosnian women who are refugees in camps there. Their stories of losing their home’s, their families, and of surviving organized and group rapes were almost too awful to hear. The video “Spansko Refugee Camp” which came out of this visit was sent to many people and organizations around the U.S. and helped us raise medical supplies, vitamins and winter clothing for the refugees.
“Spansko Refugee Camp” won the 1994 HOMETOWN USA VIDEO FESTIVAL, the most prestigious award for public access producers in the United States. In l988,I won this same award for my interview with Maria Teresa Tula of the Comadres of El Salvador.
As you can tell from this partial list, for over 14 years “Let The People Speak!” in cooperation with Genevieve Vaughan and the Foundation for a Compassionate Society has been doing the peoples’ work, documenting herstory, producing quality public access programming on a limited budget. (Even public access television costs a lot of money.) We have sent 3/4 broadcast tapes to Europe. We have Cablecast “Let The People Speak!” on other public access stations at the requests of peace activists. (The amount of money spent on sending me to other Countries, buying equipment, duplicating tapes, etc., for over 14 years is tremendous.)
“Let the People Speak!” has produced a phenomenal amount of programming. LTPS’ can be viewed also on Washington, D. C.’s DCTV and on Madison, Wisconsin’s WYOU each week. We are working on “bicycling” tapes to other public access cities.
I am currently editing material from the Foundation’s The Breast Cancer Epidemic and the Environment” Conference which gives us valuable information from scientists, grassroots activists, and cancer survivors about radiation and breast cancer. From uncensored data and group action, we can DO SOMETHING about our lives, for the people, for the Earth.
Network Television makes people passive with its continual violence, women-hatred exploitation, and triviality. Feminist, pro-human rights television must help us become activists by telling the truth, giving us access to hard-to-get information and networks, and helping us remember our personal, political, and international power! We want to network with you! Perhaps you would like to put “Let The People Speak!” on in your town. We also have VHS copies of our programs available at a very low cost. Support “Let The People Speak!” and the work of the Foundation for a Compassionate Society. Please give us a call (512) 441 2816 or 1-800-852-9741 or write 227 Congress Avenue, Austin Texas 78701. On behalf of all of us who have worked to make “Let The People Speak! a wonderful series, thank you for your interest.
– Trella Laughiin, Producer and Director