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Who are the Verists?

Verist writers’ long, colorful tradition dates back to Italy of the 1850s, when they revolted against romanticism and classicism -- and began writing about the lives of real people. Verist writers such as Giovanni Verga and Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, shunning the then-prevailing affectation and rhetoric, broke ranks and wrote in everyday speech and simple style. Realism was their focus. Thus they named the movement verismo, an Italian word for "realism," derived from the Latin verus, meaning “true, genuine.” (No relationship whatsoever to the current so-called "reality" television shows.)

        Realism, truth and openness encompass the spirit of Verism in contrast to selling, entertainment and escapism -- the three modes dominating the media today. Verism helps us understand, experience, endure and enjoy life as Proactors, and provides us with the opportunities and choices for changing our lives, our lifestyles and the global world around us.

        The Verist realism spectrum is broad and inclusive as to style, extent and intensity of participation. Some are documenting and dramatize what the global economy and political plutocracies are doing to peoples and cultures. Others are designing new prototypes, systems and institutional models. Still others have come up with new processes for achieving rapid intra-personal and lifestyle changes. There are Verists who are in the trenches actively taking part in bringing about change.

        There is plenty of room for you under the Verist realism banner, and in whatever ways you might choose to participate, as long as you're not committed to being an entertainer peddling escapism or self-absorbed ruminator spinning fantasies unrelated to present-day realities.

        Verist poet Carl Sandburg, for example, like Giovanni Verga in Italy, found great richness in the ordinary language of the American people and "He passionately championed for the everyday working person, those who may neither have had the words nor the power to speak for themselves.” Likewise, Studs Terkel celebrated the working people of America. They didn't write about the lifestyles of the rich and the famous.

        Some of the other Verists that readily come to mind: John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath), Vance Packard (A Nation of Strangers, The Ultra Rich and The Hidden Persuaders), Radio and TV journalist Edward R. Murrow (This is London and "Harvest of Shame"), short story writer Raymond Carver, sociologist John Putnam (Bowling Alone), travel writer Paul Theroux (Dark Star Safari, Overland from Cairo to Cape Town), and Malcolm Gladwell, (The Tipping Point and “Group Think,” New Yorker Magazine 12/2/02).

        Past and present Verists have been in the forefront for laying the groundwork for political, economic and social changes. This is exemplified by the American Verist movement that flourished from 1890 to 1915. As investigative journalists they laid the foundation and supplied the critical mass for the Progressive Era. As muckrakers they spearheaded the revolt against the Robber Barons, the “rapacious predators who grew rich through tactics that were unethical at best, illegal at worst, and contrary to the public interest in any case. They bilked companies, corrupted public officials, and defrauded rivals in their quest for gain.” These were the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, J.P. Morgans, Jay Goulds, and Louis F. Swifts – who shamelessly exploited the American public while inflicting the most brutally inhumane conditions on the people they employed at abysmally low wages and long hours.

        The more notable of the Verists who blew the whistle on the Robber Barons were
Henry Demarest Lloyd , Nellie Bly, Jacob A. Riis, Frank Norris, Ida Tarbell, Charles Edward Russell, Lincoln Steffens, David Graham Phillips, C. P. Connolly, Alfred Henry Lewis and Ray Stannard Baker, topped arguably by Upton Sinclair, and his book, The Jungle.

        These Verists also prepared the public climate for passage of key laws – including The Pure Food and Drug Act, state child labor laws, the Federal Employers' Liability Act, eight-hour work laws for women, workmen's compensation laws, and the enactment of improved insurance and packing-house laws. They also demanded the enforcement of anti-monopoly laws, that broke up the oil, railway, steel, food processing, banking and tobacco monopolies and defanged the Robber Barons.

        A century after the early muckraking Verists helped bring about profound changes in America, a new generation of Verist writers are coming forth to document and publicize – in articles, books, movies, documentaries, broadcasts and on the Web -- the consequences of globalization, the huge increase in power of the multinational corporations and the vast redistribution of wealth that has devastated the middle and working classes and impoverished cultures all over the world.

        Writers like David Korten (When Corporations Rule the World and The Post-Corporate World) and William Greider (The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy) are challenging the present Robber Barons – today’s greedy corporate CEOs and plutocrats who are wrecking the environment, destroying the middle class and turning the American culture into an escapist wasteland.

        Writers like David Shipler (The Working Poor) and Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting by in America) have vividly portrayed the results of the Robber Barons' handiwork -- the agony of the people who have found themselves marginalized. Over 54 million Americans have been downsized since 1979. A quarter of Americans working today earn less than $8.40 an hour. To find out what it is really like to work in a modern day American sweatshop for $7.25 an hour, read my investigative report at Staples.

       Historian Kevin Phillips, in his groundbreaking book, Wealth & Democracy, documents that the United States is no longer a democracy -- it has become a plutocracy, of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.

        On this Web site read the illuminating article Reining in the CEOs, Plutocrats & Robber Barons - The Second Time Around by labor journalist Sam Pizzigati, summarizing his just released book, Greed and Good (Apex Press).

        As excellent as these Verist authors are, none of them provides a detailed, integrated, comprehensive plan of action. And that is one of the key tasks before us: cull the existing literature, add to it, recombine it, and through the benefits of synergy come up with such an action plan. Meanwhile we need to continue to educate the public about the present critical social, political and economic structural issues, the crises that they are precipitating, and how we will need to change course.

        After you had a chance to look over this entire Web site, let me know how you would like to participate. Just don't jump to the conclusion from what you see here, that Verism is merely about economics, politics and investigative journalism. Verism is as broad in scope as the lives we lead and all the things that affect them.

       So do you have an idea for a piece that you would like to do for the Verist Writers Network? Would you like to write a report on a specific situation you are familiar with? On a CEO or the company he or she is heading up? Perhaps the company you work for or used to work for? You can write under a pen name, if you prefer to keep your identity confidential.

        You can find a wealth of information about companies and insider compenastion by simply clicking on SEC's EDGAR database, and inserting "DEF 14A" after "Form Type," then Find (Ctrl+F) "compensation." Or you can blow the whistle anonynously by calling from a public phone 800-741-3158; or going to and report coprorate crime and misbehavior directly to the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

        What about starting a local Verist Writers Group where you live or work? And as a way to get the ball rolling, you might want to talk to fellow writers you know and/or provide them this Web site address by clicking the "Tell Others" tab at the top of this page.

Al Louis Ripskis, Coordinator

If you have an original article or comments to submit for publication on the Verist Writers Network, e-mail it to On the subject line please include NETWORK in caps; otherwise your e-mail may get deleted by the spam filter. It may be edited for space reasons. For more information as to who I am, click author.

Copyright © 2004 Al Louis Ripskis. All Rights Reserved.
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