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McCallum: Action And Distraction

I recently sat on the edge of my seat in a packed house listening to two icons of resistance speak about the state of politics, environment and the media. Vermont’s own Bill McKibben, who jump started what’s now a global movement to fight climate change, shared the stage of Randolph’s Chandler Center for the Arts with advocacy journalist and investigative reporter Amy Goodman. Both champions of independent media, they discussed the current broadcast news preference for sound bites, sensationalism and the cult of personality instead of in-depth analysis. And they agreed that any movement aiming to effect social change through ongoing incremental effort can’t possibly be covered adequately in a snappy ten-second sound bite bookended by paid advertisements. And yet, for most consumers of news, that’s too often what we get.

In addition, main stream media has lately become addicted to the nonstop drama of tweets and depends on their inherent shock value to boost ratings. But the more focus there is on twitter content, the further diminished is any effective discussion of underlying, complex issues. As a result, people can become distracted, may tune out and possibly choose to watch no news at all. When that happens, we all lose.

In an atmosphere where established journalistic voices can be publicly silenced at a televised news conference, it’s more crucial than ever to pay attention to the steady erosion of diversity of coverage available to us and seek out additional sources. Goodman, who hosts her own independent award-winning daily news program, says that she sees the media as “…a huge kitchen table that stretches across the globe that we all sit around and debate the most important issues of the day. War and peace. Life and death. Anything less than that," she concludes, "is a disservice to a democratic society.”

And sitting there in the Chandler audience, I realized that one of the great challenges of our new political reality may be to keep that table growing, and to make room for ever more people around it. Goodman and McKibben, longtime passionate activists, urged the audience to pull up a chair, get involved, organize and take action at whatever level possible, whether in the local or national arena.

And in a climate where the loudest voices grab the most attention, Goodman’s closing words of advice were to “Go where the silence is and say something.”

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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