Being A Good Citizen

I've been reading a lot more lately. And for me, that's saying quite a bit, because I read all the time: books, magazines, newspapers; in print, online, it doesn't matter.

But WHAT I've been reading has changed. I've become more discriminating online and have banished what "clickbait" I can from my newsfeeds. I delve deeper into articles -- sometimes verifying sources, other times looking up the author.

As a good citizen, I've always read up on the issues set before me before voting day. But now I keep tabs on our 115th Congress as well. I know more names of the 535 senators and representatives today. Not only do I know how my own senators and representatives are voting on issues, I know how some of these others are voting, too. And not just the ones who make the most noise.

I'm sharing the new information I've learned. I'm speaking up about it. I've had well-informed people say "welcome to the party," and other people say "I didn't know that!" I've had others call me names, claim I'm "ill-informed," and in one case belittled and called "stupid" (this coming from someone who claims fake news is real news, so I'm not devastated).

Ever a concerned citizen, I've generally thought of myself as a knowledgeable citizen. But in light of how much I've learned about politics in just the last six months, I never knew how much I didn't know -- and that scares me. How much have I missed because I didn't know which questions to ask?

I consider myself an intelligent woman, but in the last year I've delved into researching the Women's Movement and was shocked at how much I had taken for granted as a child born in the mid-60s, growing up in the 70s, and pursuing higher education in the early 80s. I am horribly dismayed at realizing my own parents (born in the early 40s) never spoke about the revolutionary ideas and ideals of the 60s and 70s -- neither as they happened, nor afterwards. Growing up, I was blithely unaware of the issues (political and otherwise) people were facing; or, in the case of my own family, turning away from facing.

We all know the Civil Rights Movement hasn't received 1/10 of what it deserves in America's history books and classes. I can personally attest to that dismal fact: as a white girl growing up in a middle-class family in a middle-class, predominantly white Midwest town, this important point in America's history was sorely missing in conversation around our dinner table and at school. I had to play "catch up" later on, despite my otherwise excellent public school education. And still, there's so much I don't know.

Information overload is real. I know that. And parents are faced with the Herculean task (and no instruction manual) of educating their children about The World. I know. I am the mother of a 17-year-old, and many of those 17 years were as a single-parent as well. But I've never flinched from talking to my son about what's happening in the World. With the advent of 24/7 "news" and cellphones, one is never truly unplugged from information dissemination. And unfortunately, much of what is reported is now recognized as "fake news." I'd rather tackle the tough subjects and be sure my child is getting accurate information, thank you. As a graduate holding a degree in English and journalism, this "fake news" cuts me to the bone. From rookie grammar mistakes and blatant typos, to twisting the truth and stating outright lies, I was one who often moaned "I weep for the future of journalism."

Then something miraculous occurred.

A lone publication -- often overlooked as "fluff" and one not usually noticed for groundbreaking subject matter -- called out the current administration. Factually and intelligently, this magazine stepped up to the challenge other publications and news outlets were afraid to tackle. On Dec. 10, Teen Vogue published a "scorched-earth" opinion piece by Lauren Duca, a 25-year-old award-winning professional journalist. She wrote the piece titled "Donald Trump is Gaslighting America" for the magazine's website. The article immediately went viral, and Ms. Duca went from a relatively obscure weekend editor and freelance writer to being a national newsmaker as well.

With this move, along with other recent editorial shifts toward social issues, identity, and activism, Teen Vogue is giving its readers what they have been asking for alongside the beauty tips, celebrity interviews, and fashion news. And the publication surprised the rest of us with what we didn't know we needed.

In her op-ed, Duca wrote that it is now the job of all Americans to take responsibility for the information they consume. Might I add, and also for what they DON'T consume.

Regardless of your preferred political outlook, Ms. Duca's article is the kind of journalism we must have regularly -- not only in the United States but around the world. Frank, fact-based opinion pieces are designed precisely to get people TALKING. Isn't that what we need more of at this point in history? Because of filibustering and outright refusals to discuss policy, our government and our citizens are diminished in our capacity to overcome obstacles. These ideals are not new, but they should not be forgotten.

I admit it: I allowed my jaded sense of where journalism was headed to blind me to the fact that good writers -- good journalists -- are still out there. The medium may have shifted recently from print to online, but if you know where to look, there are still thoughtful and intelligent articles and newscasts filled with the facts we need to make informed choices and take action, even if it means we need to shift our perspective -- both politically as well as in our reading choices.