Monday, February 20, 2017

Dumbfounded

One month ago today, January 20th, I was on a bus bound for DC to participate in the Women's March. It was during the bus ride that I decided I really wanted to engage in conversation with the "other side". I watched my fellow marchers devouring books, seeking information, desperately trying to understand these people who feel so differently about the direction of our country and our country's institutions.

I haven't been particularly successful at stimulating dialogue on the blog but I have had ongoing conversations with some of my more conservative family members on their Facebook pages. I am discouraged and dismayed by what I hear, but determined to keep the conversation going as long as they are willing. (No one has unfriended me yet.)

I started this invitation to dialogue with these questions: where do you get your news? what sources do you trust and why? A handful of my liberal friends have responded but I can't get any response from conservatives, on the blog or in private. This exchange yesterday left me dumbfounded:

She:
The media works overtime to make up bad stories about Trump, and swoon over Hillary. ...
 Me:
I've been trying to reach out and learn more about how we get our news and information. When I read what you say about "the media" it makes no sense to me. But it's equally clear that what I say makes no sense to you. I have a few blog posts on this subject. Please read and comment on the blog (you can be anonymous if you prefer). I really do want to understand.
She:
You really can't see how biased the media is? Even liberals talk about how the media always sides with the left.
Me:
"The media" is not one monolithic entity which is why I'm posing the question. "The media" is tens of thousands of journalists writing & producing for thousands of print, video and digital outlets. Our democracy depends on this activity: scrutinizing, questioning, demanding transparency. When 45 suggests that all media that is not favorable to him is "fakenews" and lies about everything from the size of his electoral victory to what he said the day before (on tape, in front of dozens of journalists), we should all be very afraid. It is a nail in the coffin of democracy.
She:
No, the media does not determine democracy and we are a republic not a democracy. The majority of the mainstream media is biased and that is a fact. 

This is pretty consistent with what I'm seeing in my (admittedly limited) "conversation" with conservatives: I can't get an answer to the question about what they read or where they get their information, only attacks on professional jouranalists. From 45's mouth to the ears, via sensationalist videos (carefully edited to remove any clarifying context).

This is what we're up against, friends. It really is an alternate reality where anything that doesn't fit the limited world view simply isn't real.

#FactsMatter
#MakeAmericaThinkAgain

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Information, Misinformation, and Child Marriage

I was recently asked to respond to a video showing a wedding celebration of an 80 year old man to a 12 year old girl. The person who shared this video held it up as an example of the abuse of Muslim women and children under Sharia. I decided to respond on my blog as a way of engaging more people in the conversation and hopefully putting a few more cracks in the walls that form our own echo chambers.

Dear friend,

About 18 months ago, we laughed together at the irony that we found ourselves on the same "side" of an issue because we don't often agree about much of anything political. We both thought that Trump's candidacy was a disaster and you posted something on Facebook like, "I can hardly  believe Kristin Brown and I actually agree about something political!"

So, I want to begin my response to the video from that place: the place where we agree. We have a lot in common. We are both middle-aged white women who grew up in the Midwestern United States in Christian families. Both of our families of origin are relatively conservative although I believe your upbringing was more conservative than mine. And yes, we both find the idea of an 80-year-old man "marrying" a 12-year-girl abhorrent. 

The video you shared raises (at least) three issues that I will address:
  • Child marriage is an abhorrent practice and should be prevented. The practice is not associated with any particular religion.
  • The Internet is a source of both information and misinformation. 
  • Context matters. Don't fall prey to the campaigns to present "sensational" stories as "information". Check the sources. Make sure you get the whole story. #FactsMatter
Child Marriage
Child marriage is an abhorrent practice and should be prevented. Child marriage is not a practice of a particular religion. Rather, it is a practice that is found around the world and is associated with poverty and low levels of education. Educating girls is the most effective deterrent to child marriage (as well as sex trafficking and other forms of violence against women and children). There is a wonderful documentary, Half the Sky that addresses this issue comprehensively.

Almost one-quarter of the world's population is Muslim. It is therefore not remarkable that many countries that have high levels of poverty and correspondingly low levels of education also have large Muslim populations and that some of them practice child marriage. UNICEF's data show "rates of child marriage are highest in sub-Saharan Africa, where around 4 in 10 girls marry before age 18; about one in eight were married or in union before age 15. This is followed by Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa, where 24 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively, of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married in childhood."

Islamic law, or Sharia, does not encourage or support child marriage. But yes, there are communities that identify as Muslim and allow child marriage. That does not make child marriage a "Muslim practice" any more than burning crosses on people's lawns is a "Christian practice".

For more information on Sharia for the layperson, I found this 2008 article in the New York Times, Why Sharia? and this 2016 academic essay, The Myth of “Sharia” and Child Marriage by Megan Luckenbaugh. 

Moreover, lest you think that sex trafficking is not a problem in the US, I urge you to see this February 4, 2017 article, Flight Attendants Train to Spot Human Trafficking.

Fun fact: Evanstonian Frances Willard and the WCTU led a worldwide campaign in the early 20th century to raise the age of consent from as low as 7 in Delaware. "By 1920, every state in the union, with the exception of Georgia, had raised the age of consent to 16 or 18 years of age."  

Information and Misinformation
Since the dawn of the Internet, it has been as much a source of information as of misinformation. A lot of misinformation is shared by well-meaning people who unwittingly spread the most recent urban legend. Internet and email scams abound. More recently, spreading misinformation has unfortunately become big business. Sensationalism sells. It is more important than ever to have a healthy skepticism about whatever you read online. I have always appreciated sites like Snopes.com, devoted to debunking or verifying stories trending online.

In previous  posts I've asked my readers where you get your news and what sources you trust. Personally, I appreciate getting information from a wide variety of sources representing diverse perspectives. I trust major news outlets like the New York Times because they employ hundreds of journalists committed to researching, fact checking, and are held to high standards. That said, every writer has a point of view, whether they are identified as an "opinion" or a "news" columnist. When I lived in Europe, I remember being impressed that major cities had a dozen newspapers that wore their political party identification on the masthead: there was no pretense that news is not subjective. In contrast, major American cities typically have a single major paper.  

Now, when someone shares a link to story, the first thing I look at is the source. If I don't recognize the source, I look for more information before I click the link. A lot of online sites make money off of clicks, so I avoid clicking links that may enrich those that are spreading #fakenews or sensationalist stories. 

Context Matters
I didn't click the link my friend shared showing the child marriage. I know her to be a good person who is sincerely concerned about the treatment of women and children. I believer her when she says the video shows people celebrating the marriage of an 80-year-old man to a child and, as I said above, I agree with her that it is abhorrent. 

However, I didn't recognize the source, "Louder with Crowder", so I looked it up. The first thing I found was a story about how Crowder lost his position with Fox News in 2012 for editing a video to remove the context for a point he was trying to make. He is described as a conservative "pundit and comedian" who considers himself a leader of the "alt-right". He dropped out of college after two semesters. In other words, he is an entertainer who has turned his opinions into a successful business. As long as his audience understands that are being entertained, that is fine. However, it is dangerous business if they believe they are being informed.




Sunday, February 12, 2017

An Invitation to Dialogue: Part 2

I've been an inconsistent blogger over the years, but I've often wondered why no one comments, ever. Finally, this week, I think I've learned why: when I created my blog, I checked the box to use "Google comments" and unintentionally limited the ability of the vast majority of readers to participate. I reset it today to the "blogger" defaults.

Recently, I have tried to use my blog to engage in a dialog about the current political climate. Starting last August, I wrote an open letter to Republican friends and family to try to find out where they stood. (Four years ago I wrote about our shared values.) I sent it to my family and shared it on Facebook. Several family members emailed me very thoughtful replies but no one commented publicly on the blog. I just discovered that no one could!

Meanwhile, since the election, I have had an on-again, off-again private dialog on Facebook with some of my more conservative family members. I can't say it's been satisfying, but I think it's at least a little bit useful: I'm trying very hard to listen to what they have to say (and it is hard because we disagree strongly about most things). BUT, at least we are communicating. I don't know if they would say they're trying hard to listen to what I say or not. However, neither "side" has shut the other out.

In my original Invitation to Dialogue post I tried to start a conversation about where people get their news. I've tweaked the settings on my blog and I believe that now anyone can comment, even anonymously. For now, I do not intend to moderate the comments, but will do so if I (or my readers) feel like people are behaving badly. So, please reply to this, or any of my previous posts and let me know what you think.

Where do you get your news? What sources do you trust? Why?


Friday, February 10, 2017

Safety pins and pussy hats

I've been wearing a safety pin almost daily since shortly after 48% of the American electorate voted to make America hate again. The safety pin emerged as a symbol to demonstrate support for immigrants and refugees after Brexit and it didn't take long for us to adopt it in the US when faced with a comparable situation.

Almost as soon as I started wearing the safety pin, I saw an article criticizing white liberals for putting it on. I read some more and found another article that made an even more compelling argument for keeping it on: know what it means and have a plan. Wearing a safety pin is not just a symbol; it's a commitment to intervene when you see someone being bullied. I wear it for immigrants and refugees, for Muslims and Jews, documented and undocumented, for LGBTQ. In short, I wear it as a commitment to stand up for anyone who is being attacked for who they are or what the bully thinks they represent.

Since the election the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented a spike in hate crimes. The safety pin movement reminds me of an experiment a professor of mine did once: a student walked out of a grocery store, tripped and spilled a bag of groceries. The student bent to pick them up and no one in the crowded parking lot helped. An hour later they repeated the exercise: the student tripped and spilled a bag of groceries. Another student came to help and as soon as that one person helped, others joined in as well. 

This principle has been demonstrated over and over recently, most publicly when a rider on the New York subway stood up to clean swastikas from the windows and was joined by many of his fellow passengers. For me, wearing the safety pin is a commitment to be the one that initiates action and does the right thing.

A few weeks after I started wearing my pin, my husband and I were in a crowded airport gate in a "red" state. I asked a woman sitting alone if we could share her table. She agreed and went back to her book. A little while later, she ended up joining our conversation. I didn't know it to look at her, but she is Muslim and a first generation American. At one point she told me, "When you asked to sit here, I saw you were wearing a safety pin so I knew you were okay." 

In early January, a good friend that knits sent me a info about the pussy hat project and asked me if I wanted one. "Yes!" I replied. Why wouldn't I want to wear a symbol of women's empowerment? I love the idea of grabbing back the term "pussy" from the offensive (then) president-elect who believes that money and fame give a man the right to abuse women and "grab them by the pussy". And yet, I have heard from two women who find it offensive - one on the far left and the other pretty far right. My conservative friend asked me to change my Facebook profile picture and in an effort to keep the dialog going, I agreed. I have, however, continued to wear my hat to work and here in the Evanston bubble, I have not  had one critical comment yet. Every single day I am stopped by strangers who comment, "nice hat", some of whom strike up a longer conversation. What do you think?




Tuesday, February 7, 2017

I say, you say: an Invitation to Dialogue

We had plenty of time on the bus to and from DC for the Women's March on Washington to talk about what comes next. I am particularly interested in trying to understand the "other side". What do they read? Where do they get their news and information? From where I sit, the question is, "How can they possibly think the way they do?"


I imagine they ask themselves the same questions about us. IF they even think about us. Do they?


At least in my circles, many of "us" are trying to figure out a way to reach across the chasm and l
we certainly think a lot about "them". We're reading books like Strangers in their Own Land and studying World War II.


I had an idea. What if I reached out to some of "them" in my own extended family. We don't agree on much politically. (We never have - but at least 16 months ago we agreed that Donald Trump should never, ever be President. But then that changed, at least for some of them.) Since I was on the bus with half of my book group, I thought that I would ask them to pick a book for me to read. I would suggest a book, too. And then we could take a road trip and meet with a small group of their friends and mine for a discussion of both books. So I tried.


I started by responding to a family member's comparison of opposition to the new administration with criticism of the Reagan administration. I shared a link to an article by Peter Wehner who served in the previous three Republican administrations and says: Why I Cannot Fall in Line Behind Trump: Conservatism is a philosophy, not just a policy checklist.


She responded by calling me a sheep and sharing an article from http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/.../figrues-organizer-dc.../ that claims Linda Sarsour is an islamic fundamentalist because she wears a headscarf.


We were not off to a great start, but I replied with my idea:


Thanks for sharing this. I actually had an idea yesterday that I wanted to run by you: I will commit to reading a book of your choice if you will read one of mine. My liberal friends and I are actively trying to figure out how to breach the ideological divide in this country and seeking sources of information. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to try a "purple" book group. You and a few friends pick a book and my friends and I pick a book. We all read both and then road trip to meet to discuss them and really LISTEN to each other. Let me know what you think. In the meantime, I googled the source of this article you shared because I wasn't familiar with the Gateway Pundit. I hope you also check my sources. We need to understand where each of us is coming from.


Her reply: thanks but no thanks, " I will never change my Religious nor Political views...not for anyone, anything, nor any reason. ... I have no desire to change who I am..."

Meanwhile, I have a blog that I titled, "Dico Dici" or, "I say, you say". I started it as a reflection on language and related it to my consulting business. I've been an inconsistent blogger and often just write to get something off my chest. Right now, I have a lot to get off my chest about the current political climate. So, I'd like to revive DicoDici as an invitation to dialog.


Let's start with the two articles linked above. What do you think? Where do you get your news? What sources do you trust? Why?