Media Narratives

self reflection exercise:

How are you impacted by media narratives?

What is a Narrative? How do you engage with narratives every day?

Narratives are the stories we see, hear, and tell about the world, ourselves, and our place within it. They can be fact, fiction, or a combination that muddles reality. They compellingly invite us to engage and believe. They can be inspiring, and they can be alienating. They can be unifying, and they can be polarizing. They hold our history, our triumphs, and our pain. 

They are also prolific: everywhere, all the time. We are enveloped by narratives each day. Narratives combined with our life experiences and expectations are what give us our unique perspective and shape how we move through the world. We will always find ways to justify our differing perspectives, to others and to ourselves, even when we know they may be wrong. We hold onto these ideas and stories because they take hold of our imagination and give meaning to our lives. In this digital age, it is even easier to get caught in a singular perspective, to not challenge the narratives shaping who we are and how we see the world, and to find all of the justifications for our convictions just a swipe away.

In honor of Black History Month, and the dire need to challenge many of the narratives that hold our collective consciousness from progress, this month we want to engage you with questions, resources, and an extended conversation around narratives.

Reflect with us and ask yourself:

What is a narrative? 
How do I engage with narratives?
How do I create them internally for ourselves and externally for others?
How are narratives created?
Who benefits from their creation and belief?
How do online information systems and the construction of information through them impact my understanding of myself and the world I live in?
How am I impacted by both current and historical narratives?
How can narratives be weaponized?

Reflect on a narrative you once believed but no longer do.

Why and how did you change your views?

How did you perpetuate the old narrative?

How are you perpetuating the new narrative?

Understanding that we don’t always control the narratives we consume and live within can make it easier to challenge and question those put before us. Developing an agile, critical mindset that allows us to change our stance on an issue when new information arises that challenges our deeply held narratives will make it easier to let go of them.

Whether you choose to write your response here or…

Converse with another human

go for a walk

talk to your dog

put it on paper

consider it quietly

draw it out

write a song

put motion to your thoughts

drink some whiskey with a friend.

Take one step towards becoming more aware of the digital forces impacting your life.

Education, Democracy, and the Media in the United States.


intention

While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.

question

How Did We Get Here?


reflection

by: Katherine Baxter, PhD

When I taught 3rd grade in Denver, Colorado, on my drive to work I would often see sleeping bags lining the streets, in shapes that made it hard to determine if there was a human form somewhere lost inside. Each day as I was stopped at a red light looking into these shapes, the sky just beginning to glow with morning light, I would think of the future of the kids in my class: the world they have inherited, the social and civic moment they are living through, and the reality that for my students and for millions of children across this country, education is failing to prepare them to inherit this democracy and to navigate the uncertain future that lies ahead.

In the aftermath of the January 6th storming of the United States Capitol, there seems to be a lingering shock and disbelief hanging in the air that such an event could happen here, in what some say is one of the strongest democracies in the world. What has most surprised me, however, is how few are drawing the connections among the civic crisis we are living through, the toxicity of our media landscape, and the decline in the democratic values underpinning our public education institutions over the last four decades.  

“The neglect of the relationship between education and democracy is in my view our greatest contemporary failure, and it has led us precisely and inevitably to this moment of profound civic crisis.”

– Dr.Katherine Baxter

The idea of democracy, going all the way back to the debates of Plato and Socrates, has always relied upon an educated and informed populace, brought to life by discerning voters capable of telling the difference between truth and dogma, fact and fiction, demagogues and decent politicians. In the United States, we have a rich history and tradition of valuing and protecting this relationship. Thinkers like Horace Mann in the mid-late 1800s and John Dewey in the early 1900s, catalyzed the public education movement in this country, the intention of which was to harness large-scale education as a democratic mechanism. They envisioned a system that would give people such possession of themselves and their minds that they would be capable of living in a way that would uphold and strengthen democratic values – values like critical thinking, dialogue, truth, participation, and justice – and that would empower citizens as active agents capable of shaping their government, their society, and their world, rather than passive, easily swayed and confused bystanders unable to defend their individual and collective interests.

While this was the original intention animating public education in the United States, I would argue we’ve fallen very far from this ideal over the last four decades, and this hasn’t been incidental. It has been the direct result of both state and federal policy changes in education that have embraced values of standardization, linearity, obedience, and economic utility over those more lofty and intangible values that safeguard democracy. And in parallel to this shift in values, we have also seen a substantial increase in government funding to private and charter schools, fueling competition among institutions that should be working towards a common purpose, and skewing the educational landscape in such a way that it no longer ensures access to high quality education for all, setting the stage for the incredible inequality we see in our society today.

This decline was already in progress before we entered into what is being described as ‘the digital age’. If you combine this decline in our public and civic education system with the solidification of an online informational ecosystem inarguably designed to distort, outrage, polarize, and spread misinformation, it creates a very difficult environment for people to be able to make sense of what is going on; to detect logical contradictions, blatant falsehoods, dogmatic reasoning, and corruption; to figure out where and how they fit into this country and who to blame for the difficulties in their lives – all of which ultimately obstructs citizens’ ability to act as competent and informed voters capable of fulfilling their democratic responsibilities.

It is hard to argue with the reality that many people in this country are suffering, and many are deeply confused and misguided about why – the combination of which can easily manifest as hate. I’ve heard a lot of people identify the events of January 6th as at base a manifestation of the currents of white supremacy that flow through America’s veins, which is certainly a reality and almost definitely played a role in the events of January 6th. However, I would argue that if you look even deeper beneath that explanation you will find that this is at base a manifestation of deep individual and collective suffering; of unchecked conspiratorial thinking, ignorance, and profoundly incoherent narratives; and of our inability as a society to equip each citizen, in every part of this country – rural, urban, poor, rich, black, white or otherwise – with the cognitive defenses required to be able to reason through this uniquely confusing and difficult period of history, and find our place within it.

There is no way, short of violating free speech, to ensure that bad and dangerous ideas won’t be thought, discussed, and circulated throughout our society, particularly given the way that social media amplifies outrage and misinformation while allowing for anonymity. This is going to be a fact of life in the digital age until we get serious about implementing the systematic regulation of online platforms. The only way we can truly protect ourselves, our society, and our civic institutions from being held captive by falsehoods, dogma, and delusion is to build our internal cognitive defenses in such a way that each individual is capable of filtering out lies from truth, and of reasoning through propositions in such a way that logic will prevail as the only natural conclusion. The only means by which we can achieve this is education, and more specifically media literacy education.

Last week I watched the second round of impeachment proceedings being brought by the House of Representatives against Donald Trump. As the votes trickled in, following neat and seemingly inviolable party lines, I began to worry that there is no event, action, or threat to our democracy capable of sufficiently shaking those politicians held hostage by ideological conformity and egocentrism to cross this imaginary party line, and I wondered about the millions of citizens that voted these people into office. The neglect of the relationship between education and democracy is in my view our greatest contemporary failure, and it has led us precisely and inevitably to this moment of profound civic crisis. Trump has been a stress test for our democracy, and if we expect it to hold as we move forward into the Biden Administration and into what will surely be a challenging and uncertain future in the United States, we need to learn this vital lesson. 


actions to take

Reflect upon your own education and/or the education of your children. Challenge yourself to fill in any gaps in your knowledge of civics, social studies, sociology, and government. 

Think about what you can do to ensure that the schools in your community prioritize media literacy, critical thinking, and civics in their curriculum choices. Contact your local school board to make sure your voice is heard.

Take pride in being an informed and intelligent citizen capable of holding your elected officials accountable. Encourage those around you to do the same. 

Don’t let falsehoods, misinformation, or conspiracy theories be spoken without challenge. Use your voice in pursuit of the truth.

Reflect on how your community has neglected the relationship between education and democracy.


questions to consider

Who benefits from a society filled with citizens who don’t know their rights, don’t understand how their government operates, and aren’t encouraged to think deeply and critically about the society in which they live?

Think about how the idea of “divide and conquer” is playing out in the ways in which narratives are weaponized and mis/disinformation and outrage are perpetuated online. Who benefits from this?


resources
EXPLORE

News Literacy Project

Checkology: Checkology’s lessons and other resources show you how to navigate today’s challenging information landscape.

WATCH
LISTEN

Use Your Voice


intention

While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.

question

Should you write to your State Representatives?


reflection

by: Bridget Haina

When we start to consider our role in democracy outside of voting, the actions we need to take can become less clear, less quantifiable. I know I have heard my whole life that if I feel a certain way about an issue I should write to my Elected Representatives, that a letter from a constituent is worth 10 lobbyists. But when I look at the trend in policy towards corporate interests it becomes harder to believe that that action, or my voice, could make a difference. 

My grandfather, Carl Streeter, inspired a different perspective in me. Out of all the people in my life, he is the only one I know that regularly writes to his representatives. His pen is relentless in the fight for accountability and fairness, and when he was younger, his presence at every public forum was one to be remembered. Every letter and speech held a dedication to the search for truth and a demand for the answers to difficult questions. 

I can’t help but wonder if I was more like him if I knew more people like him, people who not only cared about but took action to ensure a fair democracy, what kind of democracy would we have?

We will leave you with this question and the actions below to ponder.


actions to take

Find your Senators. Who are they? What do they stand for?

Write your Senators to express your views on the upcoming impeachment vote

View a Sample Letter You Can Use to Start or Scroll to Copy & Paste

Explore Outreach Resources.


questions to consider

In what ways do you feel impacted by the actions at the Capitol on January 6?

How are you civically engaging outside of voting?

What barriers do you face when trying to engage with our democracy?


resources
EXPLORE

APA Guide to Writing to Your Representative

Who to Contact?

Check out After We Vote to learn what you can do to Demand Justice and Protect Democracy Now

READ

Trump Impeachment Efforts Live

Writing to Your Elected Representatives

WATCH
LISTEN
Sample Email to Representative

EMAIL SUBJECT: Demand to Impeach. Time for action.

Dear Senator/Representative [LAST NAME]:

As a constituent, I urge you to find the courage to insist that Donald Trump be held accountable for the damage he has done to our democracy through impeachment and conviction. He must no longer, and never again, be President of the United States.

[Insert 2-3 sentences about how the actions of Donal Trump have impacted your life specifically.]

The depth of Mr. Trump’s corruption demands immediate action. From calling on a hostile foreign government to obtain and leak a rival candidate’s correspondence, to flouting the constitutional Emoluments Clause that bars public officials from being compensated in any way by foreign states, to boasting about actions that qualify as sexual assault (in terms that corroborate a string of allegations against him), Mr. Trump has violated countless standards of public integrity and personal decency. He is dangerously unfit to hold the presidency.

Article Four, Section 2 of the Constitution specifies “high crimes and misdemeanors” as grounds for impeachment. It is not restricted to offenses committed while in office, nor does it require criminal conviction. Mr. Trump’s offenses already meet this standard and will continue to do so through to the end of presidency. The Congress must act in the country’s best interests by impeaching him and removing him from office.

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

[NAME/TITLE/INSTITUTION]

Official Podcast Launch!!!


Introducing Conversations with Canaries:
An American Canary Podcast

by: Lindsay Newman

If American Canary Co-founders Katie and Bird had met in person, they would have closed down any local watering hole; seated at a corner table, deep in conversation about the complexity of human nature, the tenets of quality education, and the foundations of a democratic society. Instead, I introduced them via Zoom, on the assumption that their boundless curiosity and deep seeded passion would be mutually beneficial for the impact of American Canary. This timely collaboration resulted in an effortless fusion of intellect, creativity, and community. Our weekly check-ins, group text messages, and ad-hoc conversations became so enlightening, so intriguing and perceptive, I felt like I shouldn’t be the only one listening in. We also wanted to expand how we could share out with others, beyond the written word, while also exploring how we as individuals can harness conversation as a corrective social mechanism – arguably the best tool we have to work through the problems we face as a society.

So we made a podcast! With the hopes of creating an opportunity to invite you in, to listen to the conversation that we have with each other and so often in our own heads, and to be a would-be fly on the corner-table wall. I hope that you come away from this experience/experiment as stirred, inspired, and perhaps even puzzled, as I so often do. Enjoy.


episode 1

Education, Media Literacy, and Democracy

Where Do We Fit In?


This is the first episode in our Conversations with Canaries podcast series. Join American Canary Co-founders and educators Professor Bridget Haina and Dr. Katherine Baxter in a conversation about the relationships among education, democracy, and media literacy in the United States, moderated by our third Co-founder, Lindsay Newman. 

Future episodes will continue exploring similar issues from different angles, bringing a variety of voices to bear on these important issues that will shape our world for decades to come. Listen, learn, and please join the conversation.

Intro Composition & Engineering by – John Lindsay https://makingrecords.me/


actions to take

Reflect how education, media literacy and democracy impact your life.

Choose one (or more) of these topics and start a conversation with someone on or off-line.


questions to consider

What has your media and technology education been like?

Do you feel as literate as you could be?

How civically engaged are you outside of election time?

How empowered are you to participate within democracy to create change in your own life?


resources
READ

Building Citizenship Skills through Media Literacy Education

Check out our Reflection Page to learn more about Media Literacy & Democracy

Critical Consumption

self reflection exercise:

How critical are you of the influence media has on your everyday experience?

One of the main components of becoming a media literate digital citizen is understanding and reflecting upon how we use the media in our daily lives and, in turn, how the media is impacting us on a daily basis.

Using a critical and intraspective lens to examine the impact media is having on us each day — on our emotional well-being, on what we come to view as true or false, on how we view our role in society and our responsibilities towards others — is all part of the process of not letting ourselves get swept away by the currents of media we are swimming in each day.

Bringing this critical lens with you as you navigate your personal media landscape each day is just as important as being conscious of the fact that you are being influenced by it.

To better understand which media you should engage with, which media you should avoid, and how to develop healthy media habits, ask yourself the following questions:

What media makes me happy/productive/thoughtful? What makes me sad/angry/distracted?

What are the boundaries you could put in place to increase positive engagement and decrease negative reactivity? 

How can you build simple routines and habits into your day that help you use media in the way you intend to?


As you go about your day, try to take a moment and reflect.

Whether you choose to write your response here or…

Converse with another human

go for a walk

talk to your dog

put it on paper

consider it quietly

draw it out

write a song

put motion to your thoughts

drink some whiskey with a friend.

Take one step towards becoming more aware of the digital forces impacting your life.

Conscious Consumption

self reflection exercise:

How conscious are you of the influence media has on your everyday experience?

One of the main components to becoming a media literate digital citizen is understanding and reflecting on our own use of the media and how it impacts our life.

Reflecting upon our own emotional experience as we consume, use, and create media will help us to better understand our own engagement. What use creates joy or wellness? What use creates despair or frustration? What are the boundaries I need to set for myself?

Being conscious of and understanding the emotions that take over as we navigate our own media landscapes takes us one step closer to becoming media literate digital citizens. So please, take a moment and reflect.

Whether you choose to write your response here or…

Converse with another human

go for a walk

talk to your dog

put it on paper

consider it quietly

draw it out

write a song

put motion to your thoughts

drink some whiskey with a friend.

Take one step towards becoming more aware of the digital forces impacting your life.

Emotions & the Language of Understanding


intention

While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.

question

How do you work through your emotional reactions to media?


reflection

by: Lindsay Newman

Taped to my window is a brightly colored, eight-part chart entitled “Emotion Cards” that was provided to me by the outstanding organization Building Bridges. It includes the typical emotions one might think of when they are asked the seemingly simple question, “How are you feeling?”. The headlines are happy/sad/angry/bad etc., but then it drops down to more specific reactions. Under “anxious” are the terms scared, insecure, defensive, and fearful; below those come even more specific language: helpless, inadequate, excluded, exposed. 

I find myself glancing at this chart regularly, my fingers tracing the page, trying to find language for the sensations that arise in my body as I experience a daily barrage of emotional turmoil. I pause the radio following a major headline to review each word choice provided under the broad term angry. I turn off my video during a Zoom call to examine the language surrounding distracted, consciously making an effort to let the emotion wash over my body without judgment, knowing that, for me, this is still a difficult challenge.

This particular moment in history has dredged up so much emotion in our country: Overwhelming loss, ineffective guilt, emboldened vulnerability, and so many more. Taking the time individually to better understand our emotions, how they show up, and to name them in whatever way makes sense is a powerful and necessary means of personal and communal growth. Being able to effectively recognize emotions that bubble to the surface while engaging with media is also an elemental aspect of practicing media literacy.

Often in the United States, we are encouraged to ‘control’ our emotions, to ‘bury’ them, or ‘pull ourselves together’ so we are not ‘overcome’. Yet each of these repressive colloquialisms are indicative of the reality that our emotions live in our bodies, they affect all five of our senses, and they show up in a full spectrum of unique ways. Being curious as to where and why you feel excited or motivated, or taking the time to ask yourself what pride tastes like, or what color signals shame, allows you the space to locate and identify your emotions, and to understand how they are implicitly and explicitly impacting the ‘you’ that shows up in each moment of your life.

We are in the midst of a myriad of holidays, which often entails time spent in the company of, and in conversation with, family, friends and loved ones. How we feel about certain things may not be shared by those who share our DNA. This time of year can be challenging to separate out our emotions and even more challenging to understand how to share our feelings in a way that is accepted or acknowledged. To add to this challenge, many people will be interacting through screens, which can muddle interpretation and context. Those emotions that are so palpable face to face can quickly feel dismissive or hostile.

During the election, I felt like I was trying to untie a massive frozen knot, in the dead of winter, without gloves. I didn’t have the right words to describe all the emotions that were layered in my body. I chose to create a mental image to help me find some tangibility to my feelings. Another friend described her state of being as trying to put soaked and disintegrating puzzle pieces together on a slanted table. Her description helped me better understand her emotional state and made it easier not to judge or try too hard to relate her experience to my own, when that was unnecessary.

This holiday season, we encourage you to uncover your feelings through whatever means makes the most sense to you. Share them with people you trust and in a way that doesn’t project your emotions onto others. The concept of sharing emotions and feelings is not universal, although I wish it was. There is so much we have yet to learn from our emotions, and so much beauty in the difficult process of coming to understand how we feel, why we feel the way we do, how to relate our feelings to those of others through language, and how to accept and reconcile our inability to do so. This is ongoing work. Emotions can change instantly, or they can settle in the crevasses of our engrained selves for extended amounts of time. Please make an effort to stay curious, stay open, and this holiday season, consider being reflective as opposed to reactive. 

P.S. Writing this scares me. I feel it in my throat, and I have to remind myself to relax my shoulders, because they are encroaching on my ear space.


actions to take

Begin a meditation or mindfulness routine.

Choose from a wide range of apps (Headspace or Waking Up would be our recommendations) that can help you build this skill into your day. Just as you need to exercise your body to maintain your physical health, so too do you need to exercise your mind to maintain your mental and cognitive health. 

Watch your emotions bubble to surface. Accept them. Watch them pass, knowing that everything is impermanent; no feeling will last forever.


questions to consider

What emotions does consuming media evoke within you?

What emotions does using technology evoke within you?

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed by your emotions? Do you feel you are able to effectively cope with difficult or unpleasant feelings?

Do you make space for the emotions of others in your life? Loved ones? Colleagues? 

Could you be more empathetic to the people you encounter everyday?


resources
EXPLORE

Mindful Media

Building Bridges

Headspace

Waking Up

READ

Before Your Scroll, Try this Mindful Social Media Practice

How Mindfulness Can Free Us from Our Social Media Tribe

WATCH
LISTEN

Listen to the Mindfulness for Beginners

Listen to The Joy Factor

Find Your Voice

self reflection exercise:

What is the purpose of your online voice?

One of the main components to becoming a media literate digital citizen is understanding and reflecting on our own use of the media and how it impacts our life.

One crucial component of this is reflecting upon the purpose of your online voice: How do you use your voice? On whose behalf? Does engaging your voice online add value to your life and the lives of others? Do you feel your online voice accurately represents you and your beliefs?

Connecting your online voice to a deeper sense of purpose through self-reflection is one step towards becoming a media literate digital citizen. So please, take a moment and reflect.

Whether you choose to write your response here or…

Converse with another human

go for a walk

talk to your dog

put it on paper

consider it quietly

draw it out

write a song

put motion to your thoughts

drink some whiskey with a friend.

Take one step towards becoming more aware of the digital forces impacting your life.

Voting Experiences


intention

While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is to not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.

Election day is Tuesday, November 3. At American Canary, we acknowledge the heightened importance of this election and encourage you to engage your voice – by casting your vote. 

Across this country, millions of people are having unique experiences trying to cast their ballot and make sure their voice is heard. We have been inspired by the perseverance of US voters in this election as they overcome tremendous obstacles in their effort to exercise this fundamental right.  

For the November Monthly Engagement, we wanted to share our own individual voices in response to the following…

question

How would you reflect on your experience as a voter?


reflection

by: Bridget Haina

It was the first time I was eligible to vote, and I remember how exciting it felt, how mature I felt, how important I felt. It was 2008, and I was filled with the hope of electing our first Black President, something I did not fully understand the impact of as a 19-year-old student. I signed up to call in poll results to the Times Union and spent the night in downtown Albany, NY celebrating with the community over that monumental moment. 

2012 rolled out as expected, and I sat back and enjoyed the ride, not understanding that we were losing the momentum of progress that the election of Obama had set in motion as we all sat back and watched, confident that things were heading in the right direction. Then 2016 happened. That election and my experience of it came with a whole range of emotions that I’m still working on processing. I was so overcome with joy that I cried as I voted for the first female Presidential candidate, something I never thought would happen in my lifetime. I remember feeling so certain that progress would continue. I brought my children with me to vote as I have done since their infancy, but this was the first time my daughter, then 5, could understand what was happening. I remember her asking me as I worked to compose myself, “Mommy, why are you crying? I thought voting was a good thing.” I responded, “It’s the best thing. I’m crying because I’m so happy.” I pointed to Hillary Clinton’s name and read it to her as I explained that it was the first time in U.S. history that a woman’s name sat in that box. We were making history voting that day. But as you can imagine that feeling of joy was short lived. 

Ironically just as I started my 2016 voting experience crying, I ended the night crying with the rest of the crowd at an Ani DeFranco concert as we watched the poll results flood in across the country. I woke up the next morning hoping it was all a dream. How could we go from what happened in 2008 to this? And although that night still pricks in my mind, I will not hold onto that despair. Instead, I will choose to focus on the hope that filled my community as Obama led the polls. I will focus on the look in my daughter’s eye when she saw that there was a girl on the ballot running to be President of the United States; a girl like her.  I will choose to focus on the power I know my vote holds, and I will again exercise my right to vote.


by: Lindsay Newman

This morning I pulled out the mail from my Colorado PO box, where voters have received an informative voter blue book and a mail-in ballot delivered to them since 2013. The bright orange markings with “Official Ballot Enclosed” jumped out at me from beneath a flimsy coupon booklet, and my heart leapt. I always enjoy the process of voting. I clear off my kitchen table, stack the voting blue book next to my computer, gather a pencil for notes and the most heavy, official pen I can find to cast my ballot. 

It always astonishes me how many candidates are up for election, despite the U.S. having such a decisive and divisive two-party system. I can’t help but wonder who these other mysterious people are, whether or not they received the 5,000 signatures required to position themselves on the ballot, or if they just fronted $1000 and hoped for the best. When I vote, I try my best to ignore the visuals that enter my mind as I read through names and policies. I am a visual person and am often tempted to be swayed by catchy marketing and flashy slogans. But, while intrinsically tied to election outcomes, politics are generally the opposite; they are awash in minutia and drudgery of detail. Even the term ‘red tape’ is too artistic for politics; it’s a more beige, general purpose masking tape.

However, the very act of putting pen to paper – of making a qualified decision with the hope of creating a positive impact on a large scale – is really exhilarating. The sensation of pride in fulfilling my civic duty, and the emboldened hope for change and advancement, overpowers the general disquiet I feel for politics most days. Election day is special. I am beyond fortunate that I have always lived in a state that allows me the time and space to ritualize this precious right, to vote in the comfort of my home with resources at hand to make informed choices. Now, more than ever, I recognize the pernicious attempt to undermine American democracy through voter suppression, and I yield my heavy pen with ferocity to cut through that beige tape and engage my voice. 


by: Katherine Baxter

Sitting down to fill out my 2020 ballot, from the comfort of my own home in Denver, CO, I put my headphones in and turned on one of my favorite songs, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Democracy’. I remember first hearing this song when I was living in Scotland, and it was one of those pieces of art that I felt gave me the words to know my own experience, even from afar. This line in particular resonated, and made me miss home:

“It’s coming to America first, the cradle of the best and of the worst. It’s here they’ve got the range and the machinery for change, and it’s here they’ve got the spiritual thirst. It’s here the family’s broken and it’s here the lonely say, that the heart has got to open in a fundamental way. Democracy is coming to the USA.”

It was right around the time of the Scottish Referendum on Independence in 2014, in which Scotland would vote on whether or not to leave the UK and become an independent nation. I remember being inspired by the level of civic engagement on the issue, and by the genuine dialogue and fact-based argumentation each side was putting forth to make their case for whether to stay or leave. Everywhere you went people were canvassing, campaigning, and having civil, respectful conversations with one another about the issues underpinning their decision to vote yes or no. A stunning 98% of the Scottish population voted in the Referendum. It was a thriving democracy.

At the time I remember thinking that despite all of the USA’s problems, our democracy (technically our democratic republic) was making progress. Obama was in office, more young people were voting and participating in civic duties than had in a long time, and to my optimistic 24-year-old self, it seemed that hearts were beginning to open. People cared.

2016 rolled around and I was still in Scotland, watching the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns from afar. I went to great lengths to ensure that I would receive my absentee ballot in time for it to be counted, always taking my civic duty to vote very seriously. I stayed up all night watching the results roll in, heart-broken and devastated as I watched him walk across that stage. On my way to teach the following morning, I remember searching for sources of hope and historical perspective to share with my undergraduate students, trying to find some way to convince myself that this didn’t carry the enormous implications that it appeared to. What I told my students, and myself, was that democracy is like a pendulum, and thus can be easy to take for granted in the lead up to the downwards swing. But sometimes it takes this downwards swing, and a populous confronting the worst of itself, for citizens to be jolted back into action and out of a civic dormancy that, in this case, led to a full blown attack on democratic institutions that many people thought could never happen in this cradle of democracy.

As I submitted my 2020 ballot in person here in Denver, Colorado on a crisp Autumn day, an older man wearing a mask and a tweed hat greeted me at the dropbox. He had been sitting outside all day in the cold to make sure that everyone had signed and dated their ballots – one of the main reasons people’s ballots get discarded. I looked back and saw a line of people, each 6 ft apart, all of whom would be greeted by this same man. I thought of the tens of millions of other people across the country that had made a point to vote early, many of whom had to stand in line for hours to cast their ballot, overcoming obstacles that no healthy democracy should put between its citizens and the ballot box. And I felt a surge of hope. Cumulatively, these seemingly small acts of determination are what tip the scale. 

Democracy isn’t a constant. It’s not some abstract concept or set of rules. It’s not an ideal. Rather, it’s a struggle, an ongoing process, brought to life by people who see the value of working together to create the kind of society they want to live in, who may have different ideas about what precisely that looks like. And here in the USA, people seem to have been woken up by the realization that we cannot take it for granted. 


actions to take

VOTE.

Reflect on your own experience of voting and encourage this reflection in others. 

Share your experience with us! Connect with an AC member for a one on one chat. 

If you have friends or family that don’t make a habit of voting, have a conversation with them about why. Remind them of the significance of this civic duty, and of each citizen’s responsibility to bring life to our democracy. 

Make sure you’re informed about how we as citizens can ensure this is a free and fair election: https://www.electiontaskforce.org/ 

https://choosedemocracy.us/

https://protectdemocracy.org/

Watch and host a screening of this short film on voter suppression in the 2020 election: https://www.bravenewfilms.org/suppressed?gclid=Cj0KCQjwit_8BRCoARIsAIx3Rj7EEHhBRy4Hq8R1s60A-6XHpiLrQDPzzoCIRZ2RN4dQRwbvaC41WV8aAjVREALw_wcB


questions to consider

What resources are available to voters in your state to help them make an informed decision?

What can you do to help ensure that the people in your local community have the resources they need to be able to vote? Child care? Transit? Time off work? Think of what you can do to tip the scale.

Whose interest is it in to make it harder for people to vote? Why would those in government want to obstruct the ability of certain people to vote?

Should where you live determine the relative ease or difficulty of your ability to exercise this most fundamental democratic right? 

How much change do you feel voting can cause?


resources
EXPLORE

When We All Vote

Vote.org

Rock the Vote

Spread the Vote

READ

Learn about the voting restrictions in place in your state.

Learn about the law suits taking place across the country to protect our elections, tracked by the Healthy Elections Project.

WATCH
LISTEN

Listen to the Last Stop Till Election Day Podcast

Hyperpartisanship & Democracy


intention

While we recognize the limitations of any singular blog post’s ability to answer big questions like the ones we’re asking, our intention is to not to tell you everything there is to know about this issue, but rather to open up a space for conversation, reflection, curiosity, and a consideration of all the other questions this one question sets in motion.

question

What effect is hyperpartisanship in the media having on our democracy?


reflection

by: Bridget Haina

In the past six months, I have been called a liberal scumbag, mindless leftist, TWAT, pedophile lover, and my all-time favorite, fascist. Standing up for Black lives and the fight for racial equality online has automatically made users who disagree with my views paint me as a donkey-riding believer carrying my blue flag of righteousness. 

These people might be surprised to find out that I do not identify as a Democrat. I am not loyal to any political party. My beliefs and what I am willing to fight for stems from my core values and from my understanding of how I can use my gifts to better humanity. I am a progressive-minded activist who believes small acts of bravery and kindness can make a difference. I believe in equality, justice and freedom of expression for all, across the political spectrum. So why does this make me a “liberal?” Why put me in that box? Why see me as a decontextualized representative of a political party, instead of an individual human being, with complexity, history, a family, and a nuanced story of my own?

The word polarization has been flying around a lot lately. Politics are polarized; the media is polarized. Polarization seems to be seeping into every aspect of our lives, especially in those moments in which we turn our backs to our neighbors, colleagues and family members who are of a different political persuasion. We are so bent on our political side being the right and moral one, that we are willing to sever these essential communal ties. Polarization, or the division into two sharply contrasting groups, sets of options or beliefs is perhaps best illustrated by the moment in which I was called a fascist. By the moments that we speak up for our beliefs and those who oppose us relegate us to an idea. We are no longer a person; rather a dehumanized, virtual representation of a set of beliefs that they had come to equate with fascism. I was no longer the person they went to school with, drank beer with, played soccer with, or raised children with. I was the embodiment of all that they hate. How is it possible that we have gotten to a place where one person’s belief in freedom for all equates to another’s fear of fascism? How has our public debate become this confused? How has critical analysis come to be seen as unpatriotic?

But I am not a one-dimensional person. There is more than one side to my opinions,  to my actions, to who I am. I am not just ‘on the left’ – I am a whole person, with whole ideas that I build and challenge every day. And I know there are people ‘on the right’ who do the same thing, and who feel equally frustrated with the oversimplification of who they are into a neat politically-aligned ideological box.

So how did we get here? How did we arrive at calling each other names like toddlers online? How have we become so intractably divided that we see no common ground left to stand on? Are we really as polarized as life seems on Facebook or Twitter?

Exploring these questions can help us to understand how our engagement with one another through online spaces is impacting our offline lives and our democracy at large. It is well known that these platforms create echo chambers through the employment of relevancy-based algorithms. The more I like, the more I see, the more I like… a vicious cycle that is hard for any user to break free from, regardless of political affiliation. These echo chambers amplify legitimate grievances and create a misidentification of what is really happening, placing citizens at odds with one another over something as simple as wearing a mask. The lines between political beliefs and morality have become blurred, making it more and more difficult to see those who hold alternative views as good, decent people.

These digital platforms, in tandem with traditional media outlets, create idolized figureheads who personify the politics that they represent. Figureheads that discourage people to engage empathetically and consciously as if an actual human being was the one they were delivering their Tweet to. And in the new Attention Economy the more extreme the content and the language, the more amplified it becomes, weaponizing a fear of “the other” in a way print-based media never could.

To truly understand the social issues impacting America today, to truly understand racism, sexism, wage-gaps, climate change, and all the rest involves the development of a web of knowledge and the ability to critically analyze the information available for each given issue. It also requires that that information be trustworthy, credible and verified. But think about the primary means by which we receive information: consider how a broadcast news segment, a Facebook post, a Tweet or a meme is created. The end goal for each of those pieces of media is a segment of information designed to capture attention. These pieces of information might lead to a deeper investigation, but at first glance all four of those examples, if taken as is without any further diving, would provide only a de-contextualized, often oversimplified portion of the actual story. And we are happy to eat up these partial segments of information, perfectly packaged for our fast-scrolling digital lives. 

The brain craves this simplicity making it easy to place all of the blame for hyperpartisanship on the media and our government. But just as we should be reflecting on these mechanisms of polarization, we should at the same time be looking in a mirror.

We live in a media landscape of our own making. While we can’t control the content that is available to us, or other people’s reactions to it, we can choose what we decide to give our attention to. We can build our own networks and develop our own voices. We can challenge ourselves to find a way to create commonality, to strive for an empathetic understanding of each other and our differences, online and offline. 

It can be overwhelming and exhausting to confront all the problems we face in our online ecosystem. It feels that way because it is hard for us to believe that great change can come from the smallest places. But it can. I have felt it in the moments I connected with a student, friend or family member. In those moments when we stop feeling powerless and start feeling the power to create change that is in each and every one of us.

As more and more of our lives become digitized, it is imperative to the success of our democracy that we find a way to build compassion into our interactions with each other online; that we strive to communicate with decency and integrity; that we seek truth and avoid misleading oversimplifications. That we educate ourselves and generations to come on what it means to be a media literate digital citizen, engaging online with one another.

United We Stand. Divided We Fall. 

Let’s Unite.


questions to consider

What can we as citizens do in our daily lives to address hyperpartisanship and polarization?

How can our schools and other civic institutions help us develop a way of thinking about the world that positions critical analysis as patriotism?

How can you retain hope, for yourself and others, when there are no easy answers or solutions?


actions to take

Challenge yourself to seek out sources of information that present contrasting viewpoints to your own. Maintain an open mind.

Have a conversation with someone whose views don’t align with your own politically. Ask them questions. Listen to their answers. Avoid the need to correct, argue, or assert your own beliefs.

Pause before entering into a confrontation with someone online. Think about where that form of interaction is likely to lead. Is there a better, less publicly adversarial, way to discuss the issues? 

Avoid oversimplifications of issues, others, and the world at large.


resources
EXPLORE

How media reflects polarized politics in this page by Pew Research dedicated to articles analyzing political polarization in the US

Divided Politics: Divided Nation. The United States is caught in a partisan hyper conflict that divides politicians, communities—and even families. Politicians from the president to state and local office-holders play to strongly-held beliefs and sometimes even pour fuel on the resulting inferno. This polarization has become so intense that many people no longer trust anyone from a differing perspective.

READ

We need political parties. But their rabid partisanship could destroy American democracy article by Vox

The Disunited States: How partisan politics is polarising the US article by AlJazeera

U.S. Media Polarization and the 2020 Election: A Nation Divided

America’s political system isn’t broken. The truth is scarier: It’s working exactly as designed. In this book, journalist Ezra Klein reveals how that system is polarizing us — and how we are polarizing it — with disastrous results.

WATCH
LISTEN

Listen to the Podcast Unpacking Political Polarization