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PERSPECTIVES Democratic Conversations BY GEOFF RIPS Editor’s Note: On October 15 the Texas Observer celebrated 40 years of publication and marked the transfer of ownership from Ronnie Dugger, founding editor and, since 1968 publisher, to the Texas Democracy by Geoff Rips of the Foundation, a nonprofit corporation, and by Ronnie Dugger contemplate the future and reflect upon the past of the Observer. Former Observer associate editor Larry Goodwyn, in remarks prepared for the occasion, considers the Observer ‘s place in journalistic culture and journalism’s place in the larger culture. \(Goodwyn spoke extemporaneously, beObserver associate editor James Cullen concludes with a review of the Observer’s first year of publication. The speeches have been edited. 5 0, WHAT are we doing here today? What’s going on? What’s changed? Why is there a story about the Texas Observer on the front of the business section of the Dallas Morning News? I thought I’d start with a Ronnie Duggeresque construction: Thinking with others, in a continuous and long-ranging conversation among a small group of people of high social conscience and forthright humanitarianism, we came to a moment of clear social resonance and decided, perhaps against our more rational selves, to plunge ahead, taking the bit and the challenge in what may be our only small chance on this planet to change the direction of critical thinking and, thus, critical action, in the world of which we are part. In other words, we’ve been talking for a number of years about how to put the Texas Observer on firm financial footing, or at least on less tenuous footing. And, after much debate and even more work by Cliff Olofson and several abiding and patient experts, we have finally landed on these shores. I want to thank Vivian Mahlab, Craig Davis, Jim Young for their work in this cause. I particularly want to thank Mary Nell Mathis and Herky Bernard for all their work in bringing us to this point today. They’ve shown enormous patience. A lot of thinking has gone into this process over the years. I know Ronnie’s thought about it, Hightower’s thought about it, Joe Holley, Dave Denison and Lou Dubose have thought about it. I’ve thought about it, and probably every Texas Observer editor who couldn’t come up with the money to pay a writer for a story that needed to be written has thought about it. And now it’s done. Much like Frankie Randolph passed ownership of the Observer to Ronnie Dugger in 1967 for one dollar, Ronnie Dugger passed the torch to the Texas Democracy Foundation. The Texas Democracy Foundation is a non-profit foundation, whose board consists of Molly Ivins, Amy Johnson, Dave Denison, Cliff Olofson, Jim Hightower, Frances Barton and me. I serve as president. The foundation provides the Observer with the opportunity to raise money from foundations. Individual contributions are now tax-deductible. What we are looking for is a way for the Observer to survive and grow. Ronnie will continue to be on call as an advisor and seer for Observer editors and this publishing group. He has agreed to keep writing for the Observer. Think of what Ronnie has done by carrying this journal, with the help of his friends, for four decades. While the Observer has been non-profitable for decades, it has never before been able to declare itself intentionally non-profit to make the most of the opportunities non-profit status bestows. This will allow us to bring in new money for new writers and for those who want to stay in or come back to fold. We want to look closely at the culture of Texas, of the Southwest, of this country. We’ve been talking to a number of writers who want a place to talk about these things. The Observer will be a place to take a close look at ourselves so that we can know ourselves better. We have an unparalleled opportunity to look at the new world order as it unfolds on our border. What do international trade agreements mean to the daily lives of people living at the pressure points of economic policy? We need to look at our cities in new ways: What they mean in this new economic order. Is there democratic life possible in cities? Are cities the polities we need to concentrate on in organizing to control our own lives? How will cities evolve over the next decades? Will they split apart? What does that mean in terms of democratic life? To do this, and more, we will be looking for moneyand some of it has already appeared on the horizon. We are determined to enhance our investigative and political reportingthe lifeblood of this enterprise. We have plans to expand our readership into places it’s never been. That is crucial for the survival of this magazine and for any of this to matter. WHY ARE WE doing this? We have to start up conversations, democratic conversations, again. I once heard Larry Goodwyn say, “This country is lonely.” And it is. It is lost, bereft of ideas. Conversations have given way to email, relationships to interfacing. We have to change that. As my friend Ernie Cortes teaches, we have to begin building social relationships. These become the social capital that, over the long haul, provides people and their communities with the power to make decisions about their own lives. We have to build understandingunderstanding how international monetary decisions in far-off money capitals contribute to the closing of a factory in your city, to the overcrowding of your neighborhood school, to the hopelessness of dropouts on your corner. Understanding about what we can do to make a working wage a living wage. About how we can structure our schools and our communities so that our children, even those fighting tremendous odds, have a real chance for productive lives. We have to build that understanding and we have to build the relationships that provide new avenues of hope, new solutions for a society whose governments are stuck in moral and philosophical gridlock. You can’t do what you can’t envision. What we have in this room is a community. A community that has held together for 40 years. We have to re-invigorate that community. We have to enlarge it. We have to build it across social barriers and geographic borders. We have to create space in which to talk, in which to argue, in which to think and in which to act. This is our mission. And our hope. It will take money. It will take courage. It will take us all working together. It will take dumb bull-headedness. But it’s worth the try. We hope you are there with us. iiii 4 DECEMBER 30, 1994