(Editors Note: Gracie Fleischman is a student journalist at Chapman University participating in the Voice of OC Youth Media program.)

Award-winning journalist and producer of the New York City based podcast Democracy Now Amy Goodman spoke to a crowd of more than 500 people at Soka University in Aliso Viejo this past week.

Her talk was a part of the university’s Critical Conversations series with artists, instigators and thought leaders. Apart from giving her take on current events, Goodman urged the audience made up of mostly local Orange County residents to remember the importance of independent journalism.

“I think that the media can be the greatest force for peace on earth,” she said. “Instead too often, it’s used as a weapon of war, which is why we have to take the media back.”

She spoke for more than an hour about her experience as a political journalist covering events like the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), for which she was charged with “inciting a riot” and potentially faced up to a year in jail before the charges were dropped. 

“What am I, a one-woman riot?” Goodman said to the audience.

Goodman stressed the importance of not assuming someone’s opinion before speaking with them, something she was reminded of when talking to a security guard who had been at the Standing Rock protests. The man told her he understood the Native American’s point of view and was just as surprised as she when DAPL released attack dogs on the protestors.  

Laguna Niguel resident Gary Reineart came to hear Goodman speak despite not knowing who she was. Although he doesn’t agree with a lot of Goodman’s views, Reineart said he was glad he attended. 

“I think it’s good to have truth and reality, but sometimes it isn’t just a snapshot, there’s a bigger picture,” he said. “I believe in an open, free press but I feel like she had a definite agenda.”

Some folks who attended were Amy Goodman fans like Irvine resident Ervin Page who said he listens to Democracy Now to stay informed. He hopes people in Orange County will vote in the upcoming midterm elections to support views like Goodman’s. 

“It is so important that we don’t lose hope and understand that our one vote really does matter, despite what you hear in the media,” he said. 

San Juan Hills High School senior, Amy Medrano attended the event for free with a group of students who belong to an academic program called Breakthrough. As someone who hopes to perhaps pursue a career in journalism, Medrano says she was inspired by Goodman’s words. 

“Some of my teachers say that journalism is dying, but I don’t think that’s true,” she said. “It was very reassuring to see all these people come to hear her speak- her reporting is needed right now.” 

Goodman closed the event by reminding the crowd of the Saudi-born, U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s recent murder and vowed to fight for the first amendment. 

“When media shines a light in the right direction, that is the kind of media that we need to support because it will save us.”

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