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The power of activism and culture

On the same Saturday when thousands of people participated in the March for Science in downtown Los Angeles and around the world, book lovers also communed nearby at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books for the Activist on the Front Lines panel.

Matt Pearce, moderator and national reporter for The Times, delved into the activism experiences of each of the four authors: Cleve Jones, L.A. Kauffman, Wesley Lowery and Ron Kovic. One of the many topics discussed rested on the power of creating activism narratives to be known and understood.

Jones, an LGBTQ and labor activist, was depicted by Emile Hirsch in the movie “Milk.” In his experiences working with people, he found that many people didn't know who Harvey Milk was until the movie was released. 

“Most Americans don't read what you read. If you are truly about changing the hearts of citizens, we need to be better about using popular culture,” said Jones.

Kovic, who fought in the Vietnam War and became a leading antiwar activist, wrote about those experiences in his bestselling memoir “Born on the Fourth of July” (and was co-screenwriter of the film adaptation) and other books. He agreed with Jones.

"I'll always believe in literature but when you combine literature with film it is even more powerful," said Kovic.

Kauffman, organizer and movement journalist for more than 30 years, pointed out how it could be difficult for a journalist to cover newer movements.

"There has been a broad shift away from the model of leadership. The movements that have sprung up tend to have a multiplicity of leaders, so it can be hard for a journalist and others to see what is going on. That landscape can be hard to get a handle on,” said Kauffman. “But if you look closely there are so many close ties. It really is a network.”
Lowery, a Washington Post reporter and the 2017 winner of the L.A. Times Christopher Isherwood prize for autobiographical prose for his book "They Can't Kill Us All" about Ferguson, Mo., and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, gave his take on the role of a journalist. 

"The news has been democratized. People can give direct and immediate feedback. It also complicates the role of media and it sharpens the need for [a journalist] in the role of verification."

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