Moyers Moments

“Moyers Moments” are short, curated video clips from both classic and new Moyers broadcasts that are so memorable and meaningful that they deserved to be called out, enjoyed, and easily shared.

Interview Highlights: Saru Jayaraman

Did you know the federal minimum wage for millions of restaurant workers is just $2.13 per hour? Activist Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, spoke with Bill about the group’s fight to improve those wages — and working conditions — in America’s eateries. Below are highlight clips from their conversation.

On the Relentless Attack by the National Restaurant Association
“The truth is that Richard Berman’s been following us around for the last decade, trying to shut us down on behalf of the National Restaurant Association. Over the last year they’ve definitely heated up the pressure, trying to kill our message, whatever way they can,” Jayaraman tells Moyers in this clip.

On Why Wage Increases for Restaurant Workers Is a Women’s Issue
Millions of young women start their work life working in restaurants, and some continue to work in the industry when they get older. “They suffer from three times the poverty rate of the rest of the US workforce, and they use food stamps at double the rate of the rest of the US workforce. So we’re talking about poverty-wage workers, including their tips.”

On Why Mandatory Sick Days Are Better for All
Restaurant workers are twice as likely as other Americans to be on public assistance, so improving wages could reduce their reliance on social services and help many of these workers out of poverty. Mandatory sick days would help customer’s health too: “Two-thirds of restaurant workers report cooking, preparing and serving our food when they’re sick,” Jayaraman says.

On What She’s Learned About The Powers That Be
Jayaraman observes that “there are moneyed forces that have controlled our system. But also there’s nothing that the people cannot achieve once they expose those forces and once they resist.” She tells Bill that she believes she can overcome “even the most hardened, moneyed lobbyists in Washington, DC.”

Watch Bill’s full interview with Saru Jayaraman »

Remembering Activist and Folk Singer Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger, musician, songwriter

Pete Seeger performs during the Farm Aid 2013 concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Pete Seeger, who has died at age 94, will be remembered as a musician and activist who over a career spanning seven decades used his spirited voice to inspire political and social change.

As recently as 2011, Seeger, a veteran of the labor, peace and civil rights movements, led an Occupy Wall Street protest through Manhattan. “Be wary of great leaders,” he said two days after the march. “Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”

Seeger played a key role in the folk music revival that began in the 1950s and helped create songs that served as the backdrop for the tumultuous events of the 1960s, including “We Shall Overcome,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “If I had a Hammer.”

During the Great Depression, Pete Seeger and his friend Woody Guthrie traveled together from town to town, Seeger with his banjo and Guthrie with his guitar, singing songs in exchange for meals. Later, Seeger came to New York where he played in support of unions and against fascism. Throughout his life, and especially during the McCarthy era, Seeger’s folk songs and affiliations with the left, attracted the attention of those in power who branded Seeger a dangerous radical.

In this clip from a 1994 interview, Seeger tells Bill that music has a power that, even after decades of playing it, he still doesn’t fully understand. “All I know,” he says, “is that throughout history, the leaders of countries have been very particular about what songs they want sung, so some people, beside me, must think songs do something.”

The Condemnation of Blackness

Historian Khalil Gibran Muhammad observes in his book The Condemnation of Blackness that “to think and talk about African Americans as criminal is encoded deeply in our DNA.” In this 2012 Moyers Moment from Moyers & Company, Muhammad tells Bill how, during Reconstruction, former slaves were perceived to have a moral failing that made them different from white European immigrants. As a result, he explained, “immigrant communities got police reform. And black people got police repression.”

Watch Bill’s full interview with Khalil Gibran Muhammad.

Toxins in Our Blood

In this 2001 Moyers Moment from Bill’s documentary Trade Secrets, Bill examines the many chemicals that have been introduced into our environment over the last few decades. To find out just how pervasive these chemicals were, Bill volunteered to get his blood tested.

When Industry Manipulates Science

It’s a tactic used by powerful industries time and again: When research findings interfere with your ability to turn a profit, contaminate the field with your own manipulated science. Bill’s 2001 documentary, Trade Secrets, follows the vinyl chloride industry’s attempts to do just that.

In this 2001 Moyers Moment from Trade Secrets, Bill speaks with David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, two public health historians, and Richard Lemen, the director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, about the U.S. vinyl chloride industry’s attempts to cover up scientific research with their own skewed science.

Vinyl chloride is a toxic chemical compound that is used to manufacture PVC plastic. The companies who produce it knew for decades that being exposed even to small amounts of vinyl chloride could be extremely damaging to a person’s health, but documents show they conspired to keep that fact from their workers, who were exposed daily. In many cases, employees died of rare forms of cancer after years of working in factories that manufactured the compound.

Watch Bill’s 2013 conversation with David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz on Moyers & Company.

Bernice Johnson Reagon on ‘This Little Light of Mine’

Bernice Johnson Reagon — a singer, song leader, civil rights activist and scholar — was an integral part of the African American struggle for civil rights. In the ’60s she helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Freedom Singers, and in the ’70s she founded Sweet Honey in The Rock. She is now a Distinguished Professor of History at American University in Washington, D.C., and Curator Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution.

In this excerpt from a 1991 interview with Bill Moyers, Reagon explains how music was used throughout black history to empower and show solidarity, and how one particular song — “This Little Light of Mine” — helped do that during the civil rights movement.

Johnny Cash on Our Personal Prisons

In the 1990 documentary Amazing Grace, Bill Moyers looks at how one song has changed people’s lives across America, from church choirs to opera singers to prison inmates. In this clip, Johnny Cash performs “Amazing Grace,” which he played for an audience at Huntsville State Prison in Texas. Cash reflects on the first time he sang it — in the fields with his family, grieving after his brother died. We also hear from members of Huntsville’s prison choir what “Amazing Grace” means to someone spending the rest of his life being punished for his crimes.

Tom Morello on Music for a Movement

In this 2012 Moyers Moment from Moyers & Company, songwriter Tom Morello — known as the guitarist for the band Rage Against the Machine, and more recently as a solo performer under the name “The Nightwatchman” — discusses the role he and his music play at political protests, and the American tradition of social justice troubadours.

Watch the full conversation between Bill Moyers and Tom Morello.

Pete Seeger on What it Takes to Change the World

During the Great Depression, Pete Seeger and his friend Woody Guthrie traveled together from town to town, Seeger with his banjo and Guthrie with his guitar, playing music in exchange for meals. Later, Seeger came to New York where he played in support of unions and the fight against fascism, joined the communist movement and left it again. Repeatedly throughout his life, and especially during the McCarthy era, Seeger’s folk songs attracted the attention of those in power who branded Seeger a dangerous figure.

In this clip from a 1994 interview, Seeger tells Bill that music has a power that, even after decades of playing it, he still doesn’t fully understand. “All I know,” he says, “is that throughout history, the leaders of countries have been very particular about what songs they want sung, so some people, beside me, must think songs do something.”

John Grisham on Wrongful Death Penalty Convictions

In 2008, Bill spoke with small town lawyer-turned-bestselling author John Grisham about writing, law and justice. In this Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers Journal, the two discuss Grisham’s first nonfiction novel, The Innocent Man, which tells the story of Ron Williamson, who spent 11 years on death row, wrongly convicted of murder. Grisham says Williamson was the victim of a system that deals out justice unevenly, with terrible consequences and cost.

Salman Rushdie on Atheism

In this 2006 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason, author Salman Rushdie — a self-described “hard-line atheist” — talks about the need to “broaden what we can understand and say, and therefore be.”

“I’ve been trying all my life to find a language to express our sense of what is not material,” Rushdie tells Bill. “without having recourse to the ready-made ideas of religion.”

Watch the full conversation between Salman Rushdie and Bill Moyers

Richard Dawkins on the Truth of Evolution

In this 2004 Moyers Moment from NOW with Bill Moyers, author Richard Dawkins makes the case for evolution’s truth, and assesses the argument of “intelligent design.”

“All material should be studied with an open mind and studied critically. What’s wrong is to single out evolution as any more open to doubt as anything else,” Dawkins tells Bill. “Evolution is about as certain as anything we know.”

Martin Amis on Being Agnostic

In this 2006 Moyers Moment from Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason, novelist Martin Amis talks about his inner conflicts when it comes to his own agnosticism.

“Agnostic is the only respectable position, simply because our ignorance of the universe is s0 vast… We’re about eight Einsteins away from getting any kind of handle on the universe,” Amis tells Bill. “But why is the universe so incredibly complicated? That makes me delay my vote on the existence of some intelligence.”

Four Perspectives on God, Atheism and Agnosticism

Over the years, Bill has become well known for his thoughtful discussions on eternal questions about God, faith and reason. Here, we’ve collected memorable moments from his conversations with prominent agnostics and atheists to shed light on issues of religion and identity.

Author Salman Rushdie, a self-described “hard-line atheist,” talks about the need to “broaden what we can understand and say, and therefore be.” (2006)

Watch the entire conversation between Bill Moyers and Salman Rushdie. MORE

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