Monthly Archives: January 2016

MLK Day – A Day to Remember, Learn and Share

“Happy Martin Luther King Day!” – if I hear that thoughtlessly trite comment one more time . . . . . . !  Happy is not the theme of MLK Day. This special commemoration is not just a national holiday, nor is it a day for big box sales or simply hunkering down.   Instead, MLK Day offers a day to remember, to reflect, to spend time with friends, neighbors, people we don’t even know yet. This is a day to realize the significance of the man and the movement he represents.

As the decades pass, memories fade, reflections disperse, while the imperative to realize must prevail.

When my first-grader grandson announced that Monday is a “free day” it raised my awareness of the challenge.   Will assured me he had learned all about Martin Luther King in kindergarten – when pressed, he patiently explained that what he had learned was that MLK “had a dream.”   To the great credit of his Yinghua kindergarten teacher he had learned to recite the “I Have a Dream” speech – in Chinese.

This was the time to connect the dots of history;  this was “the teachable moment.”  The brief conversation sent me on a search for resources that would not only verify but illustrate my personal memories of Dr. King and of a time long past and surely beyond the lived reality of most Americans. The stories of that era have never been more relevant.

Aware of the media preferences of a first-grader, I started with digital options. Though back-in-the-day technology was not up to 21st Century standards the resources I found offered an historic record sufficient to augment the memory and generate discussion.

These quick references are just the tip of the digital iceberg. Each will lead to many more resources that amplify the message.  The learning lies in the quest itself.

So, if the arctic temps hamper mobility those who actually remember MLK and the Movement may be well-advised to stay home, explore the resources, and think about or start a conversation with friends and family members too young to envision the reality of an era – or the relevance to what’s happening today.

Still, intrepid Minnesotans will undoubtedly brave the elements to celebrate the life and legacy of MLK. Some will be at the Ordway Center bright and early Monday morning. (htpps://www.facebook.com/mnmlkholiday) Others are on the invitation list for the traditional MLK Holiday Breakfast sponsored by General Mills Foundation and the United Negro College Fund at the Minneapolis Convention Center. (http://www.mlkbreakfast.com)  And for the armchair celebrants, the latter event will be broadcast live (8:00 a.m.) and rebroadcast at 8:00 PM on TPT.

Throughout the community there are several MLK day events scheduled at churches, colleges and other public sites. The MN Department of Human Rights has published a helpful list with details on several of these activities (http://mn.gov/mdhr/public_affairs/events_mlk2016.html )

Still, many offices, stories and other institutions remain open – people not only have to work, they have to get to work, so buses and trains are running. Many folks will have daytime obligations or choose to learn on their own. Bus riders and armchair learners have access to hundreds of great – and some not so great – books written about MLK and the Civil Rights Movement. The written word conveys not only facts, but depth, interpretation, nuance to a life and a movement marked by complexity, observed and recorded from diverse perspectives. Libraries and bookstores feature great displays of decades of research and analysis for MLK Day and anytime. For the bibliographically overwhelmed the King Center in Atlanta has produced a useful annotated listing of books by and about Dr. King and the Movement. http://www.thekingcenter.org/books-bibliography

With sincere wishes that MLK is more than “happy” – that it is a special day filled with learning, listening and sharing the legacy of Dr. King and the Dream that shaped the Civil Rights Movement and paved the way for the 21st Century challenges we are called upon to recognize, understand and face with wisdom based on our knowledge of  the legacy of those who have gone before.

 

 

 

Stories amplify the adventure of open government

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”Lewis Carroll

As we approach the fifty year anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) we are challenged to balance these parallel forces of “adventure” and “explanation”. We need to consider the possibility that the “dreadful time” spent on legal and journalistic explanations of the Constitution has somehow sapped the “adventure” out of the right of the people to information by and about the government. In truth, the right to know is itself an adventure so bold, so woven into the very fabric of this democracy, that the essence may be obscured in endless explanation.

Proponents who staunchly defend the fine points of FOIA have brilliantly and adamantly fought for open government. Wise defenders of the principle creatively respond – and help to shape – evolving social structures and communication strategies. Advocates collaborate to ward off insidious threats to the people’s right to know. Still, the democratic tenet remains as implicit as it is complex. After a half century of worthy service, FOIA hovers on a precipice reconstructed by fundamental change in politics, the media, economics, technology and the body politic.

When a naïve reporter recently referred to FOIA as “obscure”, advocates wisely shifted from mere explanations to fiery examples of adventures, to stories of how and why FOIA matters – why, after a half century, FOIA is itself an adventure in preserving a democratic principle in an era of cataclysmic change.

The fact is, the right to know is by definition linked to content, complicated by the essential reality that information is implicit, invisible, elusive, built into the genetic structure of the ultimate decision or end product. Information remains inert until and unless sentient beings transform it into knowledge that supports “adventures.” It was neither a politician nor a journalist but Goethe himself who reminded us that “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” The adventure lies in the doing….”

The challenge has always been to trace, to describe, and to realize the value and essence of transparency. The sine qua non is the right of the people to hold government accountable as an authoritative and accessible source of information that ultimately matters “in the doing.” Fifty years after passage of FOIA we may need more adventure to make it real!

In an earlier blog post my emphasis was on “putting a face” on information, https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/open-government-putting-a-face-on-an-implicit-right/  I now favor the energy that “adventure” suggests. Though we need explanations of how to exercise the right to know, as FOIA turns Fifty we need adventure stories in which FOIA is the weapon the hero wields to save the day!

Adventure engages today’s body politic, not as inert consumers but active players in the challenge to sustain this democracy. Participants in the adventure who once relied on established media are overwhelmed, and often misinformed, by the political, economic and technological transformation of the media. Today’s information environment places greater demands on engaged citizens to be independent seekers, learners and interpreters of the facts, of truth.

During the build-up to “FOIA at Fifty” advocates are mounting a major campaign to “Fix FOIA”. The partisan initiative is under Congressional discussion now as members consider recent legislation, action precipitated by a recent congressional report that concluded that the FOI process “is broken and in need of serious change.” (http://www.standard.net/frontpage/2015/02/09/Lawmakers-move-to-strengthen-freedom-of-information-act.html

The challenge now is to add zest to the explanations that politics demand. My humble hope is to collect and share stories that illuminate the adventure – anecdotes that amplify the contributions of individuals who first inspired the mandate, to celebrate those who preserve that same spirit of adventure even as they craft the legal structures that preserve the essence of open government.

Journalist and writer Jon Meacham offers this guidance in the pursuit of the adventure of an informed democracy:

The American Dream may be slipping away. We have overcome such challenges before. To recover the Dream requires knowing where it came from, how it lasted so long and why it matters so much.

In fact, the Dream lasted so long, in part at least, because informed citizens have exercised their right to know. Stories that illustrate FOI at work matter so much because they illustrate the impact of the law. Adventures matter simply because “explanations take such a dreadful time.”

 

Media color the image of “Out There” Americans

In recent weeks I have been confused, nay aggravated, by the myopia of the press, the fresh-faced millennials upon whom we depend to report the news and views of the people “out there.” My confusion comes from the dubious distinction of “out there’.” On the one hand, I recall that, in my youth, “out there’” referred to life, albeit alien life, in outer space. At the same time, I deduce from its ubiquitous use that “out there” now refers to the distant state or region that is the native home of potential primary voters who may play a role in determining the direction of the nation. So I checked a recent slang dictionary for the contemporary definition and use of the term “out there”. What I learned was unexpected but somewhat explanatory:

out there    (adjective) unusual.

His ideas are really out there.
Pay no attention to Wyatt – he’s really out there.

In today’s media parlance “out there” refers to any community that exists, citizen who resides, or idea that flourishes outside the Atlantic corridor. ((Paranthetically, voters and campaigns in New Hampshire are “up there” which is clearly distinguished from those who are “out there”.)

The epitome and essence of “out there” is Midwest oriented; potential voters who live “out there” are frequently portrayed as uncultured, uneducated, probably unwashed Americans whose intellectual and cultural mores are not only “out there” but “other” from East Coast sophisticates.  By definition, the ideas of the unwashed masses “out there” are at best “unusual”; the ways of the denizens of “out there” are generally unfamiliar to media sophisticates whose circle is presumably “in there” – as in “Inside the Beltway.”

Of course the media wouldn’t think or know about – much less send reporters to – the far reaches of “out there” were it not for the Iowa primary. Because the results of the primary will tilt next moves in the presidential nomination process, the media bird dog the candidates and heed corporate directions to parrot the voices of “out there” voters.

There is a bit of cognitive dissonance in the reality that some notable politicians have caught the collective ear of the voters “out there.” Candidates count crowds while the rookie press corps observe, then interpret and report with observable disdain, the thoughts and politics of the local rubes.

These asteperious* reporters/conveyors of the message personify the dictionary dictum to “pay no attention” to the speaker on the grounds that “he’s really ‘out there’”

As a voting resident of “out here” America I take umbrage at this not-so-subtle geographic classism. As I see, hear, view and read the breathless reports of these vapid reporters, I chortle, then critique, then ardently wish there were an authentic – and readily accessible — way to capture the unfiltered voices from “out there.” It would help me to understand the thoughts of the good people who care, who have something to say, whose voices must be heard, even if they are the humble voices of people who live and vote “out there.”

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*Note: “Asteperious”, a favorite word that is not in my spoken vocabulary, conveys the thought: http://arnoldzwicky.org/2009/10/22/asteperious/)