Journalist Jesse Fruhwirth left City Weekly this spring to operate a vegan hot-dog stand in downtown Salt Lake City. Fruhwirth previously reported for the Tooele Transcript Bulletin and Ogden’s Standard-Examiner and was twice a finalist in the local Society of Professional Journalists competition for best reporter. He lately has embraced Occupy Salt Lake and has co-written the serialized street play Why Isn’t Anyone Helping Her that will be performed free Nov. 14-18 at noon at various Main Street locations.
Did your time as a journalist prepare you for this new activist role?
I saw my journalism as a form of activism, as a way of creating a more perfect world. But some of the cultural conventions of journalism—where you have to play the middle man, the referee—were constraining. All those years, I always wanted to play the game rather than just referee. So I am really happy to be in the position where I can now. All my career, I tried to expose people who were working hard and playing by the rules and still getting screwed. Those make for compelling stories, as well they should. Largely, the Occupy movement embodies so many different humanitarian goals that so many disparate activist groups are fighting for. So maybe it is my journalism background that makes me value this movement so much because I’ve seen this sort of broad spectrum of inequality and unfairness. This is one of the rare movements that’s bringing them all together.
Have you thrown away a promising career?
As a member of the 99 percent, I was dealing with pretty significant burnout issues in my career. A lot of American workers are working harder than ever but not earning any more real wages than they did decades ago. It wasn’t so much a choice to leave journalism as a survival mechanism. Frankly, I’m angry about the state of my industry and that’s what prompts me to stand up and fight back.
This ridiculous myth that any service that can’t sustain itself in a competitive, for-profit capitalist system is basically worthless and should be allowed to die. We should recognize that news and information is the absolutely required “grease” to keep the wheels of democracy turning and those wheels have largely already shut down and the state of news in journalism is a contributing factor to that.
What do you say to those who sympathize with the Occupy movement from the sidelines?
I would ask them to think about what financial state they would be in if they or someone in their family all of a sudden had a very serious medical emergency. Most American families are one illness away from poverty. While the economic contraction for the American middle class has been going on for decades, it’s worse than ever and more and more Americans are more likely to slip and fall to bottom of the economic heap than pull themselves from their bootstraps and climb the ladder.
What’s surprised you most about the Occupy movement?
That people are ready for revolution [laughs]. I don’t know whether the Occupy Movement is the roots of a revolution, or when the revolution comes, we’ll trace it back to this moment. But I know that the system we have right now is headed for collapse, the American empire will implode, and the question is what will step in to replace it? Will it be something more egalitarian and beautiful or will it be something even more fascist and ugly? I see it as the 99 percent mission right now to establish an alternative route away from the fascist direction we’re currently heading.