20 enero 2010

public politics

I could take this moment to go on a rant about someone who used the misnomer 'socialist' while referring to health care reform and how this person, having used that term, must know more about what certain scare tactic shows have to say about health care and less about the bill itself.

I could ramble on about it but I think that there is no use discrediting a person who has already discredited themselves through a lack of education.

On the subject of education, though, today I was listening to KPFK and there was a wonderful segment on Margaret Prescod's show, 'Sojourner Truth.' The segment was a round table discussion with young(er) activists on the situation in Haiti, on education and the UC fee hikes of 32%, of separatism versus autonomy among activists, etc. You can listen to the archives of the show on the radio's website KPFK.org. The link included will take you directly to the archives.

Anyway, while I was in my car one of the speakers came on and had made a comment about how the concern of the public for Haiti was the current fad. She (if I remember correctly, the speaker was female but that's neither here nor there) had painted - to me - a rather pessimistic portrait of the American public as consciously apathetic. People donated the clothes and furniture they were happy to be rid of or people donated to charity to pat themselves on the back and not because they genuinely cared.

I'm a teacher and have been for a short amount of time - about 6 years approximately - and as a teacher (of the Spanish language) it's easy to be skeptical. I mean, I think that by nature I am a bitter person and it's more than easy for me to say that so many of my students don't really value education, that some of them are really just spoiled brats who want a good grade to be given to them. And to some extent it's true that a lot of students don't value education insofar as they don't really care to be active participants in their own learning. They want a degree.

And it's all fine & good to complain about such things that we experience like that - we need to vent, it's healthy. But it's also important to distinguish spaces that are appropriate for venting and spaces in which we represent ourselves as activists. Speaking as activists in a bitter tone about the public is disparaging and inappropriate, and I don't think that by degrading the public we can seek their support. It's not progressive and that is what activists are supposed to do, ideally - be progressive.

So when I am finished venting among my friends and colleagues and I am in a public forum there is something, as an activist, I realize - it's that my venting is just that and it is simplified, but the situation isn't simple. It's actually quite complex. Individuals are responsible for their education, yes, but we do have to ask ourselves why it is that so many people don't value it? Is there really a question as to how education is viewed in this country? When money is diverted from education to say, prisons, or for example, war, then I don't think one need look too far to find one of the reasons why education isn't valued among students in a way that it should be. It's undermined by too many government figures and policies and lobbyists.

In the case of Haiti, for example, I don't think it's that the public has consciously made a fad out of a tragedy, but that the public is bombarded with so many images in the media that when knowing too much about a subject (Haiti) becomes a problem, there is always a new tragedy or new issue. It's very easy to distract the public because, let's face it, there is a lot going on. How many people are thinking about health care reform right now? They're distracted. And health care reform does matter to them because it has a direct effect on their lives.

Another problem the public face is their access to news resources. Yes, technically many of us have the same access because of the Internet, but when you don't know that a resource even exists can you really call it equal access?

For example, my mother just found out - because a coworker mentioned it to her - that so much of the money donated to the Red Cross during Katrina never actually made it to those suffering survivors. I knew this since it happened. I'm sure many listeners of KPFK, or listeners of KOPN, or other community radio stations knew it - but what about TV viewers? I am pretty sure that viewers of CNN (my mother is) aren't still hearing about Katrina. After all, these channels are parts of a profit-making business and old news isn't profitable. People forget that news sources for the most part are a business. I remember in journalism courses we were always taught that news is to be timely - you know, it's going to be happening now. Katrina survivors are so ten years ago for a for-profit industry. That's the way for-profit works.

As activists it's important that people bring that information to those who because of socio-economic circumstance have less access to resources, but it's also necessary that we bring information - or try to - to the privileged, because while some are unwilling or feel that their position is threatened, others just don't know that the info is out there. It's worth it to try & get messages - and information - out to everyone.

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