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    It was 20 years ago today…

    Twenty years ago, give or take a few weeks, the first issue of
    Utne Reader sailed out of our tiny Minneapolis office and
    into the hands of a few thousand readers. I was not on hand for
    that joyful event. I was working at Better Homes &
    Gardens
    as a travel editor, but excitement was still in the
    air when I joined the staff eight months later as executive
    editor.

    Many people (including close friends of mine) thought our
    excitement was naive, if not foolhardy. Ronald Reagan, after all,
    was at the height of his popularity. A wave of resurgent social
    conservatism was flooding America. All the idealistic experiments
    of the 1970s and 1960s looked dead. It hardly seemed the time to
    launch a new magazine devoted to ‘the best of the alternative
    press.’ But that’s exactly what founder Eric Utne, his partner and
    wife Nina Utne (now CEO and co-chair), associate publisher Julie
    Ristau (now co-chair), and office manager Nancy Nance did with a
    lot of help from friends, family, neighbors, and talented freelance
    writers and editors.

    Today, with a staff numbering 28 and a much bigger office, we
    supply a few hundred thousand readers with fresh ideas,
    smart analysis, and inspiring stories. I am deeply proud of the
    role I have played for 19 and one-third of those 20 years in
    helping broaden people’s sense of what’s possible in the world. To
    celebrate two decades of bringing you new perspectives on every
    subject under the sun, we are planning a special anniversary issue
    for September/October.

    More than anything right now, I’d like to declare that the same
    sources of energy and creativity across the land we’ve tapped to
    build a successful magazine have also sparked a sweeping
    transformation of American society, from Pennsylvania Avenue to the
    block where you live. Of course that sounds ridiculously untrue.
    Republicans (hard right-wingers) control both houses of Congress,
    which never happened under Reagan. Grim-faced crusaders of social
    conservatism are more resurgent than ever. Pollution, sprawl,
    violence, and greed seem to be gaining ground across the globe.

    Yet I still hold hope for the future. Utne magazine’s
    20th anniversary stands as one sign of a wide (if still small)
    uprising of new values, new dreams, and new actions. The continuing
    vitality of the independent media (the new, expanded term for
    alternative press), where we find so much information and
    inspiration, offers a reason for optimism even in these difficult
    times.

    My father, a devoted student and teacher of history, loved to
    remind people, especially his impatient sons, that human events
    follow no prescribed path. His favorite examples were the Populist
    movement of the 1890s and the Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs,
    both of which seemed for many years to have left little mark on
    America’s national politics. Then came Franklin Roosevelt and his
    New Deal, which enacted a minimum wage, Social Security, people’s
    right to unionize, the 40-hour workweek, and other commonsense
    solutions first proposed by old radicals like Debs and the
    Populists.

    I believe that some of the bright ideas we’ve championed in the
    pages of Utne — ideas widely discredited as imprac-tical
    or radical in today’s culture — will be revived and someday seen
    as essential ingredients of American life. That’s my dearest wish
    as we blow out candles on Utne‘s birthday cake.

    But none of this is likely to happen until we bring new
    leadership to the White House, Congress, state capitols, and local
    governments. The year 2004 marks the most decisive American
    election since 1936, when Roosevelt’s New Deal policies were
    overwhelmingly affirmed by voters in a hard-fought campaign. That’s
    why we chose to focus on this year’s election for our cover
    section.

    The articles gathered here make a convincing case that 2004 may
    prove disappointing for George W. Bush and the corporate power
    brokers who stuff his campaign chest and draft his policy
    proposals. As mainstream journalists grow obsessed about ‘swing’
    voters, generally well-to-do people who favor Republicans’ economic
    plans and Democrats’ milder views on social issues, we take a look
    at the folks who will really ‘decide’ the election (see page 53).
    Single women, immigrants, and rural folks will flock to Democratic
    candidates if the party takes a strong stand on issues of economic
    justice. To reach these voters, however, Democrats need to make
    some changes — in their political priorities, their campaign
    strategy, and the way they talk about America’s future.

    In an effort to help boost democratic participation across
    America, we have teamed up with several partners (National
    Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, World Caf?, the
    Conversation Caf?s) to launch Let’s Talk America. It is an
    ambitious project aimed at getting Americans from all walks of life
    to sit down together and discuss what really matters to them this
    election year. (For more information on how to get involved, see
    page 60 and
    www.letstalkamerica.org)

    This is the first project of the new Utne Institute, a nonprofit
    organization dedicated to promoting independent voices in the media
    and new ideas in the broader culture. For more information, see
    www.utneinstitute.org

    This issue also marks the addition of a new Utne
    department, Focus, which offers alternative views on issues and
    opportunities we face in everyday life. The focus this time is on
    creating a more natural, satisfying way of living. Next issue will
    look at travel and outdoor adventures, and later sections will
    focus on energy issues, health and food.

    With a mixture of sadness and admiration, I announce that
    executive editor Craig Cox has left Utne to pursue his
    lifelong dream of running a newspaper. His new Minneapolis
    Observer
    covers the politics, culture, and overall spunk and
    spirit of our town.

    Craig made a name for himself as editor of the Twin Cities alt
    weekly City Pages and the national magazine Business
    Ethics
    , before joining us in 1994 as managing editor. Without
    his calm strength, hard work, and quick mind, Utne would
    not be the magazine it is today. He has always stood as a firm
    voice reminding us that we are a marketplace of ideas for everyone,
    not a boutique of fashionable trends for the cognoscenti. While I
    truly miss his talents and wry sense of humor around the office, I
    can’t wait to see how The Minneapolis Observer will shake
    things up around town. (For more information, see
    www.mplsobserver.com)

    Published on Mar 1, 2004

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