Sunday, January 9, 2011

Heal America? Let's start with our local communities.

A horrific day in Tucson yesterday. Representative Gabrielle Giffords shot and severely injured, six others dead, thirteen wounded. Right up the road, on Ina and Oracle. So tragic for Tucson, and the whole country, really. Regardless of the motive (and, really, insanity was the motive, politics merely the channel through which it was funneled) this has become politicized, has become something to blame each other for, a talking point in the endless stream of "news." I do agree that the current hateful tenor of politics contributed to this, but clearly the individual responsible was seriously unhinged, and perhaps his rage would have been directed elsewhere if not here. Who knows what pushes people over the edge, but the bottom line remains: we must bring civility back to our political debates. We must stop the fear-mongering, the stunning lack of empathy, the scapegoating, the oversimplification of complex issues into vitriolic soundbites.

How do we go about doing that? How do we keep our politicians and media accountable for the way they frame things? (I conflate the two here because it's hard to know the difference anymore. They seem to be two sides of an equally toxic coin.) Are they a mirror, simply reflecting what we, the public, demands? Violence and hate sell, so that must be what we want?

I tend to think the contemporary media plays a more active role than that. There is a concerted effort to shape people's entire worldviews - to develop a mythology that can be applied to any situation and demonize any point of view labeled as "other." I frankly can't comment intelligently on much of this, since I never watch television news, but suffice it to say that's because it ceased to be news a while ago. So the question remains: what can we do about it?

My cynical side tells me: "nothing." But the earnest urban planner in me believes that most people really want something better for our country and for their communities. But how to fight propaganda? It can't be with more of the same.

Sometimes I think this country is just too big, that part of the problem is that we all feel so disconnected from each other, our communities, the politicians in Washington, and certainly from the rest of "the American public." What is that, anyway? How can we possibly refer to a group of 350 million people spread across thousands of miles of geography as a generalized or cohesive group? There is no "American public."

And so we must localize. It's the idea I come back to again and again when thinking about national- and global-scale problems. If the world is not how we think it should be, perhaps it's because of this disconnection from our local communities. At the very least, since we cannot change the world, the only way to feel any measure of empowerment is to start to work and connect locally. So turn off the mainstream media and go dig in a community garden, volunteer at a school, introduce yourself to your neighbors. We have more in common than the talking heads want us to think. It's so much easier to hate each other if we don't know each other, but it's nearly impossible if we do. That's the level at which we average citizens can have an impact. That's what would make Gabrielle Giffords proud.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree with your comment more - the country is too big, too disconnected. My stepmom commented after we watched the memorial that we have so few unifying events as a nation, and it tends to be that they are negative - 9/11, assassination attempts, etc. So rarely are we all tuned to the same show, the same story, unlike in the old days when there were only a handful of stations, or even just one radio news program. We have little reference that is common across the country, and likewise, how can we expect to relate or more difficult negotiate with one another?