Recently, I was speaking with a friend who left journalism for much more lucrative pastures and who is seriously thinking about expatriating from the United States.
I chided him for being overly cynical about the state of the media and our country. He replied that in this day and age, “to be cynical is simply to be paying attention.”
I understand the temptation to believe that. He’s hardly alone in reaching those conclusions.
A recent study showed that 71% of Americans believe that our country is headed in the wrong direction, more than 50% believe that our national media purposely misleads and misinforms, and more than 2 in 5 Americans believe that another civil war is likely in the next decade.
As my friend illustrated, it’s easy to be fatalistic. It’s easy to tap out of civic engagement, believing there is nothing to be done, and that decline in our democracy and our fourth estate is inevitable, that our story is done.
But personally, I reject that notion, not out of denial or delusion but because I simply pay attention.
Because throughout our history, attention has been integral to dragging us from the murk of an existing condition to the dazzle of a fulfilled promise.
When used wisely, it has been wielded as a compass to navigate change — from a nation hesitant to expand its democracy to one that produces an amendment abolishing slavery even without one Black vote, and an amendment enfranchising women with the right to vote despite not a single woman being eligible to vote that right into law.
When used wisely, it has revealed the corruption and deception of presidents, Supreme Court justices, governors, and mayors who believed they were above the law.
When used wisely, I know firsthand that it has helped an 83-year-old grandmother, who is battling health problems, and living near the poverty line, as she raises three grandchildren. She nearly lost her home until a story about her appeared in the South Seattle Emerald. It inspired three different people to contribute to her monthly rent and utility bills, allowing her and her grandchildren to remain housed.
I’m not Pollyanna-ish about our media. I know that it can be used for malevolent intent, and too often is. But God, I also know its force as a tool to level our society’s power differentials, to remind each other that we are not alone and that what we do, how we act, and how we conduct our lives, matters. That these problems of complexity we face, whether racial, environmental, political or economical, will not be solved by simplistic reactions but by meaningful inquiry.
A force that powerful is worth saving — even if you don’t always agree with it, even when it sometimes falters — because it reminds us to pay attention to the possibilities that are still yet to be in our country, even in its darkest moments.
Marcus Harrison Green is the interim editor of Real Change and the founder of the South Seattle Emerald.
Read more of the Aug. 2-8, 2023 issue.