Liberals Drink Here
The Nation: Guide to the Nation
Founded in 1865, The Nation is America’s oldest continuously published political weekly for liberals, lefties and progressives. About 10 years ago, Richard Lingeman, the magazine’s senior editor and longtime executive editor, came up with the idea of providing readers with a way to connect with the history of the left, as well as with other like-minded Americans. The result is a resource that includes a national listing of musical action committees, farmers’ markets, watering holes, sex shops, graves of famous liberals and much more. Guidelines for various activities are also provided, making planning that anarchist film festival a whole lot easier.
The astonishingly gracious Mr. Lingeman talked with the Alibi about a range of pinko-Commie topics.
Do you see this as a departure from the magazine's political focus, or is it an extension?
I think it's kind of an extension ... in kind of another dimension, so to speak. We're reaching out to our community and so it's kind of an act of solidarity, of creating a virtual community of the left ... the purpose being to connect people with all sorts of different groups, resources, information and ideas so that there could be a recognition of people that are doing things I'm interested in.
What sorts of resources did you use in developing Guide to the Nation?
Again, one of them was our own community, namely our subscribers ... I was head writer on it and had two ex-interns working on it. We were really feeling the need to reach out to the rest of the country and get people on the ground, so to speak. So we would send out these e-mails to our lists and say, What's a great restaurant near you that has some sort of local food or organic or some progressive tie? Or, What's a great bar where the lefties hang out, or Where's a great bookstore? And people were very committed and involved and would respond. We put out a special issue on food about a year or so ago that Alice Waters edited and we made a trial run quizzing our readers on restaurants that were organic or local ingredients sort of places, and it was such a good response.
Will this lead to other versions in the future?
Well, we hope so ... I'm already cowering for the blows from people who say, Why didn't you include this or that? I quoted the poet Allen Ginsberg who once, when I interviewed him a long time ago, said, “Be just, but if you can't be just, be arbitrary.” We sometimes were a little arbitrary to keep the size down. But anyway, the point is there's a guide at thenation.com. There you can complain and name your favorite restaurant and we would put it in the next edition. That's the hope. It's like a living thing, these books on the web. You can keep adding to them
What categories weren't you able to include?
I was thinking about doing what I consider city weeklies, like your paper and the Boston Phoenix and papers like that, and I just couldn't get a handle on it. I did more of a miscellany. I would like to do those. And there's always more of these organizations and think tanks and activist groups that we should have got in. They're very numerous and so we had to be, again, arbitrary. This is not a Yellow Pages of the left. There is a personal stamp on it to some extent. We bring in the voices of people, the voices of our readers, and so that's interesting in its own right. I think it's a book to read and not just a series of entries.
In the process of addressing a particular community, were you afraid there was something limiting in that?
Well, I've heard that criticism, the preaching-to-the-choir sort of thing. I turn that over and say we're following the adage, “Write what you know.” I think this is a big community. There are a lot of people that share our views, probably some 20 million that self-identify as liberals. And then there are also the libertarian-type people, free thinkers, and I think the book would radiate out to them. I think it comes out sort of fortuitously at this time. There is this new enthusiasm on the left and then of course the lifting of the pall of the Bush years. So I think it’s a good opportunity, and people want to look around at what’s going on and want to join these organizations. Or you can get ideas from this book. This serves that purpose. It’s a book that will, I hope, work to express and solidify and support the values that people in our “community” hold.
Richard Lingeman; The Nation: Guide to the Nation (Vintage Books) $19.95