Category Archives: Minnesota Voters

Information and media – Not weapons, but tools

Informational Power is where a person possesses needed or wanted information. This is a short-term power that doesn’t necessarily influence or build credibility. Vivian Giang

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. Malcolm X

The fact is, information and media are unique and powerful tools, to be wielded by sentient creatures for good or for evil. When the American Library Association was promoting the “information power” theme years ago I worried at the value-free assumption that the information would be put to good purposes. And when we hyped the potential of the communications media, from cable to the web, I wondered more….

My skepticism is affirmed today as we experience the reality of information and communications expertise brilliantly coupled to disrupt our democracy.

This should not be news. It was either Mark Twain or H.L Mencken who advised his readers to “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.”   The technology, but not the meaning, has been updated here. http://www.adweek.com/fishbowlny/ink-by-the-barrel-on-the-internet/252889

But that’s a diversion from the real fact – that the administration has effectively wed the power of information with the power of the media to shape reality.   Those in power wield information as a sword to silence, to pervert, to foment, to shape, to craft alliances and to conceptualize, then propagate, alternative truth.   We who are but “subjects” are ill-prepared to meet the challenge; we lack, or fail to unsheathe, the information/communications skills and attitudes to withstand the onslaught.

And still it is a real fact that we are not a passive people. The Women’s March and forthcoming March for Science clearly reflect our power to harness the human power to resist.

The first line of resistance to alternative facts is well-meant but knee-jerk –- placing blame and responsibility on the communications channels, or even the sources, of misinformation and disinformation is short-term and futile.

We are challenged to fully accept that information and communications technology have been “weaponized” – and that it is incumbent upon us to “arm” ourselves. We need to assume the responsibility to become critical thinkers – and to shape a learning environment that enhances the critical thinking of future voters, including both youth and future voters.

We can’t fall for the press-bashing and post-truthiness cleverly designed to divert our focus and our energy. Instead, we need to embrace the challenge to seek the truth and to stand firm when it is information is thwarted, perverted, suppressed, hidden from public view – or is not collected in the first place!

Thomas Jefferson, a man who dealt in truth, had this to say on the subject

Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.” –  Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789

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Related posts – Selected:

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/marchers-will-support-research-science-real-facts/#respond

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/discovering-truth-starts-with-independent-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/creating-a-culture-of-encounter-some-info-tools/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/relax-learn-then-resolve-to-resist-post-truth-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/information-literacy-curriculum/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/national-information-literacy-awareness-month-2016/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/11/19/facing-the-facts-about-facts/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/scrubbing-history-scrapping-the-facts/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing the facts about facts

I’m telling you a lie in a vicious effort that you will repeat my lie over and over until it becomes true. Lady Gaga

There are longer, but no more compelling, characterizations of the scourge of disinformation – so serious that the sitting President of the United States brought up the subject just this week – notably at a joint press conference with German President Angela Merkel.  In that meeting President Obama spoke of the perils of  “active disinformation, very well presented.”

The heart of the matter, the President said, is that, “if we are not serious about the facts, about what is true and what is not, and especially at the time of social networks, when so many people receive the information in one sentence on their phone, if we cannot tell the difference between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have a problem.”

The power, influence and tenacity of disinformation is evident – everyone has a story of having been duped, even having shared or acted on a kernel of disinformation planted with malice aforethought to skew public perception and action. We are conditioned to believe what we read or see, particularly if the information is well presented by “credentialed” spokesperson and/or, better yet, backed up by inscrutable, and thus infallible, metrics.

Disinformation is no respecter of receiver: Did any of us believe, if just for a minute, that Pope Francis favored a presidential candidate in the recent election? Or that that climate change might be just an overblown theory? or that the CIA was somehow behind the Malayzia Airline crash? Or that Ford Motors was planning a major move to Mexico?

Back in the pre-social media day the term “information literacy” was fashioned to put a name on an emerging Information Age challenge. Last month we even offered a hasty nod to Information Literacy Month. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/

The fact is that efforts to build information literacy skills lag far behind the ubiquity, fluidity and instant gratification of social media.   Far more insidious is the harsh reality that the wizards of disinformation have mastered the tools to manufacture palatable lies, to present the fake information in irresistible nibbles, to package propaganda a fact — then “repeat the lie over and over until it becomes true.”

For me the spark of hope that springs eternal ignites when Gaga and Obama sound the same alarm – that the power of disinformation is real, pervasive and a threat to this democracy.

The forefathers established a nation built on the premise of an engaged citizenry.   Informed voters (as narrowly defined by the white men who wrote the rules,) would have access to information by and about their government and the skills to consider both the source and the content of information. Relevant, valid information would be communicated to the citizenry not in 140 character blips but in pamphlets, newspapers, orations, even books! http://www.constitutionfacts.com/founders-library/founders-reading-list/

Disinformation is hardly a new idea. In 1710 Jonathan Swift penned The Art of Political Lying” in which he expressed his dim view of fake information:

Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man, who hath thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed, or the company parted; or like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead.

Information power and politics – An implicit but real challenge

It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes

Nearly two decades ago, 1998 to be exact, the library community launched a vigorous campaign in support of “information power.” That campaign morphed in time into the push for “information literacy” as described in last month’s blog post.

(https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/) The distinction is subtle – and the message is clear. Information, misinformation, communication, control and permutations of the truth matter.

More than policy, money, good looks or ground game it is information that will determine the Election of 2016.

On the scale of egregious crimes and/or sins with which this democracy should come to terms is the fact that messing with the facts – the misuse, withholding, manipulating, skewing, or otherwise communicating anything other the truth — is wrong.   The fundamental premise of this and every democracy is the power resides in an informed citizenry. That truth is pretty well spelled out by the Forefathers in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

On the one hand, the meaning of information – whether in the form of the great American novel, a database or a tweet — is inherent. Still, that meaning is influenced by the medium of communication and, ultimately determined by the recipient. Individuals and institutions produce information that is conveyed by a plethora of media –all of which have a stake in the information game. The sources and conveyors of information then interact with receivers who bear the responsibility to evaluate both the content and the source. The power of the information rests in the source, the medium of communication, ultimately in the receiver who weighs the complexities then acts accordingly in light of source/content validity and personal values.

Information power and communication power are inextricably linked. Decades ago, Marshall McLuhan, author of The Medium is the Massage, laid out a framework for re-thinking information power. A review of those basics is in order at this juncture. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OseOb_wBsi4)

The fact is, instant transmission of information and misinformation leaves no time for reaction or reflection – there is no pause between communication and action! Though we may know how to locate information, we are ill-equipped to assess the information, the source, the channel of communication, the ownership, the relevance, much less the validity or value of the overload of information with which we are bombarded.

Within hours of this post the last vote of the 2016 election will have been cast, counted and verified. The influence of information/misinformation and of communications media is stark and inexorable. This election is a wake up call for this democracy to get a grip on digital age information skills, attitudes and values.

No matter the outcome on Tuesday we have some serious thinking to do. My hope is that we will embrace the challenge to grapple with the some tough issues including information power, the role of the media, and about how we as a democracy shape and share the power of information to create a better world.

As we struggle to restore the soul of this nation it is wise to reflect on the reality that good information in the hands and minds of good people has immense power to heal.

 

Voting matters – Early, curbside and with a smile!

This morning I braved the chill, boarded the #32 bus, and headed for the WaterBar on Northeast Central Avenue to cast my vote. (I had long since affirmed that the WaterBar, a community hangout, was simply leased for the duration of the voting season). Possibly because the pop-up voting site was at the WaterBar, my after-voting sense was one of “cleansing.”

The process was beyond efficient; it was inspiring. I walked into the site a lone senior, a bit apprehensive that all of the paperwork was okay and that I could pass for an eligible, even informed, voter. What I found was a welcome, a sense that I was among fellow citizens, all engaged in a powerful process that, despite the ugliness of the campaign, rises above the tawdriness of the day.   My instinctive response to the warm environment was, Yes, when they go low, we do go high.

Basic fact, the process was assembly line efficient. It took me less than 10 minutes to go through the proof of registration and to cast my vote. If there were a gap it was only in my pause over down ballot choices where I had not been as diligent as I should have been about the research….

With pride I thanked the cordial staffer who offered the “I voted” sticker with a smile and an appreciative citizen-to-citizen nod.   I left the WaterBar with the clear understanding that the voter reigns in the voting process.

As I headed back to the bus I cast a sidelong glance at the sign that read “curbside voting.” I might have left it with that quick glance had I not encountered a proud staffer en route to the bus stop. At about 20 paces she spotted my “I voted” sticker – and took time to thank and congratulate me. Wow!   Ignoring the fact that the good woman was freezing, I succumbed to her warm smile and decided to ask the question that was on my mind: What’s “curbside voting?”

What I learned is that curbside voting means that anyone with physical challenges to poll access has a host of friends at hand. Staffers will reach out to verify registration, provide ballots, witness the secret vote, submit the secret ballot, and otherwise assure in every way that the voter enjoys equal access to the voting process. Curbside voting works! The challenge is to spread the word and the ways!

En route home I stopped to reflect over a cup of Aki’s famous coffee – My experience indicated that the mechanics of the voting process were in perfect order. Yes, I had fulfilled my duty. Far more important, my appreciation of a fair and open process was affirmed. And so I sipped my coffee with a powerful sense of good will, patriotism, and affirmed commitment to the common good. I had experienced the support of committed staff who clearly cared that the system works for all.

I also thought about the ways in which the WaterBar, a Northeast treasure, is yet another example of that sense of good will and affirmed commitment to the common good – a perfect polling site. Learn more about the WaterBar here:

 

 

Lively mix of issues and media at ESFL this month!

The East Side Freedom Library (www.eastsidefreeodmlibrary.org) continues to explode with creative ideas, provocative programs, and an open door to all who wish to share the energy that fuels this amazing community resource. Here’s what’s up in the weeks to come:

  • Wednesday, October 5, 7:00 p.m. Free and open — Deregulating Desire: Flight attendant activism, family politics, and workplace . Author and former flight attendant and union activist Ryan Murphy will discuss his book by this title. Held at the ESFL 1105 Greenbrier Street in St. Paul.
  • Friday, October 7, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. Screening and Discussion of What Happened Miss Simone? (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4284010/mediaviewer/rm346220288) The evening, is co-hosted with A Greener Read Used Bookstore. (http://www.agreenerread.com.  Festivities  begin at 5:00 p.m. at the bookstore (506 Kenny Road) with viewing and discussion of the documentary. This will be followed by discussion of Come Back Africa (https://comebackafrica.com) at 7:00 at the ESFL, 1105 Greenbrier Street.
  • Friday & Saturday, October 15-16, it’s a “political graphics workshop” featuring Design and Screenprint from the Living Proof Print Collective. (https://wehavelivingproof.com) Presenters are Aaron Johnson-Ortiz and Aaron Rosenblum. Attend one day or both – it’s free but take time to register at http://goo.gl/forms/NXeFeJVBV7tqewlf2
  • If you actually survive Election Day 2016 you‘ll need to pause and reflect on it all by taking in a series of post-election talks on “Turbulent Times in the Race for the Presidency: An Historical Overview.” The series will explore the issues that have “driven political energies in the past two years – and in the more distant past. Presentations are set for Tuesdays in November (the 15th, 22nd, and 29th) 12:30 p.m. at the Roseville Library, 2180 Hamline Avenue North. The series features presentations by Peter Rachleff, History Professor Emeritus at Macalester and founding Co-ED of the East Side Freedom Library.   The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is co-sponsor of the series.

Questions? info@eastsidefreedomlibrary.org or 651 230 3294.

 

Equal Means Equal – Time to get serious about the ERA!

Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged

or denied on account of gender.

In recent weeks I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz around the theme Equal Means Equal.   Though the theme is of longer standing, I believe the local buzz was fanned by the t celebration of Women’s Equality Day on August 26. I must have been distracted by the start of the Great Minnesota Get-Together because, sad to say, I missed the occasion and the opportunity to learn more about this important movement. (http://www.nwhp.org/resources/commemorations/womens-equality-day)

Specifically, I missed the local screening and discussion  of Equal Means Equal sponsored by ERA Minnesota at the St. Anthony Main theater. I’ve been trying to catch up ever since. I’ve learned from attendees at the screening that ERA Minnesota not only showed the documentary, but lit the local ERA movement fire by hosting a panel that included powerful state and federal elected officials and leaders of the burgeoning Equal Means Equal movement.

No wonder there’s a buzz….

Just in case others, like me, are not up to speed on the full implication of Equal Means Equal here are some of the basics.

Equal Means Equal is a national campaign to tackle the challenge to (finally) pass the Equal Rights Amendment. The premise is that the need for a Constitutional Amendment must remain a priority.

The term Equal Means Equal is propelled and informed by leaders who have produced both a book and an award-winning documentary film that tell the compelling story:

Equal Means Equal: Why the Time for an Equal Rights Amendment Now is the book, written by Jessica Neuwirth, published in January 2015. The book “tells the story of the legal cases that inform the need for an ERA, along with contemporary cases in which women’s rights are compromised without the protection of an ERA.”  Topics covered in the book range from pay equity to violence against women to pregnancy discrimination and other stories that underscore needs that are not yet recognized or remedied..

The companion piece to the book is the documentary by the same name. Directed by Kamala Lopez the film has received numerous awards. The documentary, which features an all-star cast including Patricia Arquette, Gloria Steinem, Eleanor Smeal and others, presents real life stories and legal cases that depict the ways in which “outdated and discriminatory attitudes inform and influence seemingly disparate issues, from workplace harassment to domestic violence, rape and sexual assault to the foster care system, and the healthcare conglomerate to the judicial system.” Again, the thesis of the documentary is that present inadequate laws prove the compelling argument for passage of the ERA.

Needless to say, ERA Minnesota (http://www.eramn.org) can provide much more information on the book, the documentary and the Equal Means Equal campaign.

Though I’ve been slow to tune in to the buzz, I get it now and am eager to share the message!

Sharing the right to vote — The right, the reason, some resources

Intentional suppression of the right to vote is an overt travesty we abhor; as a democratic society we establish laws and regulations that facilitate, not impede, access. Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act over a quarter century ago has open the election process to millions of Americans by requiring physical accommodations ranging from ramps to Braille ballots to wider voting booths and audio instructions.   Over the years, focus has been on reaching the disabilities community with information about their voting rights and accessibility.

The great good news is that, in its first 26 years ADA has changed the lives of millions of Americans. More good news is that the changes implemented by federal mandate reap powerful benefits for all Americans. In some ways we are just beginning to realize the broader implications of ADA – the 2016 Election offers a challenge and an opportunity to build on ADA as a powerful tool for universal suffrage.

The first challenge is to assure that everyone who needs accommodation is aware of the range of possibilities and their legal right to expect access. Clearly, focus of ADA is on the disabilities community, a community that is itself expanding as Americans age and incur physical challenges that go with the territory.’

Which leads to the need to share information about the right to access with a broader public. This demands collaboration with agencies of every stripe that is in a position to share information about access with members of the public who do not identify with the disabilities community. There are countless Americans who do not identify as “disabled” for whom physical and mental challenges present unrecognized impediments to voting.

Basically, we all need to know more about the laws and procedures that ensure that every American is free and able to exercise the right to vote – and that all Americans are aware of the legal rights and accommodations accessible to every citizen for whom physical or mental access may present a barrier.

A basic step is to ensure that every eligible voter is registered. An earlier post describing the REV-UP initiative focused on voter registration as an Election 2016 priority. (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/rev-up/) Sponsored by the American Association of People with Disabilities the REV-UP campaign continues to hone in on public awareness and support materials – a great starting point for learning what’s happening this election season. http://www.aapd.com/our-focus/voting/

Voter registration not only opens the door but also offers the ideal opportunity to share the vast information resources about the voting rights of people with disabilities. It’s important to remember, too, that absentee voters who may not need information about access at their precinct, still need to have ready access to registration procedures.

The general public and agencies that serve people with access challenges need to know the law.

The legislation that codifies the voting rights of people with disabilities is the Help America Vote Act. (HAVA) Enacted in 2002 HAVA can seem as complex as it is fundamental. The straightforward basics are spelled out here: (http://www.eac.gov/about_the_eac/help_america_vote_act.aspx) For more comprehensive information on background and provisions of HAVA check Ballotpedia, the indispensable guide to all things voting related. Ballotpedia offers a good overview of the law and the process of implementation – a solid starting point for understanding the intent and the possibilities ensured by this federal legislation: https://ballotpedia.org/Help_America_Vote_Act_(HAVA)_of_2002

At the state level the right to vote for people with developmental disabilities is contained in Minnesota State Statute §204C.15, subd. 1. The basics are spelled out in detail in this publication from the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities: http://mn.gov/mnddc/news/newsitems/righttovote06.html

Municipalities have created their own systems for meeting the needs of voters who need assistance. As an example, Minneapolis residents who are visually impaired or hard of hearing are given this directive: For reasonable accommodations or alternative formats please contact the Neighborhood and Community Relations Department at 612-673-3737. People who are deaf or hard of hearing can use a relay service to call 311 at 612-673-3000. TTY users call 612-673-2157 or 612-673-2626.

The U.S Department of Justice offers a useful guide more specifically geared to the information needs of those charged with responsibility to implement HAVA: http://www.dspssolutions.org/resources/section-two-ada504-compliance-ocr-letters/us-department-of-justice-ada-links-documents. Written for compliance people, this may be more than mere mortals need to know about HAVA….

During the past election Access Press ran a very accessible guide on the topic of voting rights and accommodations for people with disabilities. It’s a great introduction, the only problem being that not everyone who serves the disabilities community reads Access Press or knows the story http://www.accesspress.org/blog/2014/10/10/voters-have-the-right-to-ask-for-assistance/?utm_source=Access%20Press%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=006cae818b-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_7c7ff77da6-006cae818b-418448557

In spite of legal requirements and the unstinting work of the disabilities community it remains to the vigilant to monitor the implementation of federal, state and municipal laws. There is concern among these groups that people with disabilities are “invisible,” thus not included or even identified in exit polling or election analyses. Another concern is that absentee voting solves all the voting problems for the disabilities community. The contention of some polling monitors is that, if people with disabilities were to vote at the same rate as non-disabled, there would have been 10 million more votes cast in the past election.

The fact is that the responsibility to know and share information about the voting rights of and accommodations for people with disabilities is “everybody’s business and nobody’s business.” The general public who are not immediately affected must begin to take a more active role in reaching a broader constituency who may not be fully aware of the comprehensive legislative requirements that accommodations be made for voters who face physical or mental barriers to voting.

As always, ignorance of the law is no excuse. In truth we as a society have not harnessed the human, political and communications resources at our disposable to inform people who need assistance to exercise their right to register and to vote.  It is only through broader understanding of the law and the possibilities that we can share the basic facts about the registration/voting assistance to which every voter has a right. We also need to acknowledge – and counteract – the sad fact there are some Americans who think that their vote doesn’t really matter!

During this election season we need to ramp up the pitch, to share the word with and through mainstream agencies.   Those who serve the public – which includes just about everyone — need to seize the opportunity to learn about HAVA and the accessibility of registration/voting resources. It will take the combined energy and attention not only of the disabilities community but also of institutions, e.g. neighborhood associations, health care providers, small businesses, libraries, the faith community, advocacy and good government groups, to assure thatchallenged voters know their rights and needs, that mandated accommodations are readily accessible to every potential voter, and that every voter knows how much his or her vote counts!

Election officials who take their positions seriously are committed to conforming to the law and meeting the needs of every voter.   The missing link seems in many cases to be that people with disabilities, their families, care providers, and others in their lives don’t fully understand, and thus do not make fully clear, that access to the polls is within the reach of every eligible voter.

Fortunately, there are rich resources for people with disabilities and for election officials who want to better meet the requirements. Though my interest is as a concerned citizen, not an expert, my shallow dive into the possibilities came up with some, certainly not all, helpful resources that demand to be known and shared by more public and nonprofit agencies:

United States Election Assistance Commission http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/resources_for_voters_with_disabilities.aspx

National Disabilities Rights Network http://www.ndrn.org/en/contact.html

Center for an Accessible Society http://www.accessiblesociety.org/topics/voting/

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Other Federal Laws Protecting the Rights of Voters with Disabilities https://www.ada.gov/ada_voting/ada_voting_ta.htm

 

Minnesota Council on Developmental Disabilities: http://mn.gov/mnddc/news/newsitems/righttovote06.html

National Federation for the Blind – Voting, Accessibility, and Law https://nfb.org/hava-legislation

National Association of the Deaf

https://nad.org/issues/civil-rights/help-america-vote-act/be-prepared

https://nad.org/issues/civil-rights/help-america-vote-act/making-polls-accessible

Voting and Alzheimer’s Disease http://www.alzheimersblog.org/2014/11/03/